Wildlife & Nature to See in October : Red Deer Rut

October heralds the start of one of the most amazing wildlife spectacles in the world, the red deer rut.

Wildlife & Nature to See in October : Red Deer Rut


October heralds the start of the Red Deer rut. Image by Laurie Cambell

October heralds the start of the Red Deer rut. Image by Laurie Cambell

Red Deer are the largest land mammal in Britain and although traditionally associated with Scotland they can be found throughout Britain. For most of the year the deer remain in single sex groups with hinds giving birth to a single calf or very occasionally twins in May or June.

Each year stags grow and shed antlers. Antlers are usually shed in April and new growth begins soon after. The size and complexity of the antlers grows each year and although stags reach sexual maturity before they are two it is not normally until they are five that they can successfully complete in the rut.

When the antlers are growing they are covered with soft velvet. The velvet has nerves and blood vessels which feed the growing antlers. Stags are careful with their antlers during this phase as the antlers are sensitive. If stags were to rut with the velvet in place it would be painful. Once the antlers are grown velvet dries up and can be rubbed off on trees and fences leaving the hard bone structure. Once the velvet has died and been removed the rut begins.

In late August and early September, hormonal changes in the stag bring about maturation of the gonads, thickening of the neck and hair to produce a shaggy mane, and development of the larynx. With its antlers now fully grown, the stag is ready for the rut. The bachelor herds that are maintained for most of the year now split up and come late September the roaring of stags can be heard echoing around the glens. This is the beginning of the rut when the stags compete against each other for the mating rights of a group of hinds, called a harem.

The Rut

Red Deer UK

Image by Laurie Campbell

As well as growing antlers stags go through hormonal changes in the run up to the rut. In late August and early September the stags neck begins to thicken and it grows a shaggy mane and the larynx develops which enables the stag to produce its bellowing roar.

The bachelor groups that form during the year now split up as each stag tries to gain control of a hinds. The stag’s aim is to gather as many hinds into his harem as possible. The hinds only come into season for a brief period, a matter of hours, so it is vital that the stags protect the harem from rivals if they are to produce offspring.

Rival stags frequently challenge the power of dominate males but this does not always lead to the clashing of antlers. Often males will walk parallel to each other, gauging the size and power of their rivals. Only when too males are equally matched will fighting take place.

The clash of antlers is a spectacular sight and poses risks for the stags. Although the males will often injure one another it rarely leads to death as one will usually give in and run off.

As the rut draws on and the dominant stags become tired and weaker rivals may gain control of the hinds. Usurpation is common and once a stag’s rutting season is over they can concentrate on building up reserves in preparation for next year’s event. At the end of the rut in early November the exhausted males spend the winter feeding to regain strength for the following year’s rut.

Red Deer with antlers

Image by Laurie Campbell

How to Watch the Rut

The best time to watch the rut is early morning or early evening. The key is to watch from a distance and don’t get too close. Even in deer parks they are still wild animals and they behave naturally. If you get too close, disturb them or get between the stag and his hinds you are likely to get charged. It is best if possible not to take dogs, if you do take one please remember to keep it on a lead and give the deer a wide berth so that they do not feel threatened, causing alarm amongst the deer may cause the stag to act aggressively towards you. Remember that the stag can weigh up to 190 kg and those antlers are incredibly sharp.

Places to Watch the Red Deer Rut:

New Forest http://www.thenewforest.co.uk/
Exmoor http://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk
Aviemore http://www.visitaviemore.com/
Thetford Forest, Norfolk http://www.forestry.gov.uk/thetfordforestpark
Richmond Park http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond_park/
Fountains Abbey, Nr Ripon http://www.fountainsabbey.org.uk/
Woburn Abbey http://www.rabycastle.com/park_gardens/deer_park.htm
Cannock Chase http://www.cannock-chase.co.uk/
Raby Deer Park http://www.rabycastle.com/park_gardens/deer_park.htm

Article by Lizzy Dening You can follow Lizzy on Twitter or go to her website