The Natural History Bit About Red Deer
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) are the largest wild land
animals in England and are one of the two indigenous deer
species in the UK (the other being roe). Adult stags stand
up to 1.37 m at the shoulder while hinds are about 15 cm
shorter. Only the stags grow antlers, shedding them in April
and early May and new ones start to grow immediately. As the
stag gets older the antlers have more ‘points’ until they
reach old age and start to ‘go back’.
Most are found in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
(population is about 300,000).
Exmoor is unique in England as red deer have been living
here since prehistoric times. In other parts of the country
they became extinct, although they have been re-introduced
in some areas, but Exmoor still has half of all the red deer
in England. There are at least three thousand in North Devon
and West Somerset, living on the moor and in the woods.
For most of the year the males (stags) and females
(hinds) remain in separate groups. In
open habitats hinds are organised into groups of nine to
forty animals, consisting of a dominant hind, her dependent
offspring, and her mature daughters together with their
offspring and feed on the better, grass-rich habitats. Stag
groups are smaller and less stable, comprising of unrelated
individuals staying on poorer predominantly heather feeding
deer are mainly silent animals, although hinds will bark at
intruders, especially if their young are about. However,
during the mating period (or "rut") you can hear the stags
"belling" or "roaring". This is a series
of deep guttural sounds from one breath, which can be
repeated many times. The word "bolving"
seems to be very localised to Exmoor, but means exactly the
same as roaring or belling.
The main rut starts in late September and may continue until
early November. Larger stags, perhaps 5 to 10 years of age,
seek out hinds at traditional rutting sites. They round up
as many hinds as they can hold (often around 10 to 15) and
then defend them against other stags. During the rut, stags
engage in roaring contests, accompanied by parallel walking
and locking of antlers. Serious injury is not uncommon in
these battles for hinds. Stags stop eating during the rut
and their constant roaring, fighting and mating causes them
to lose condition quickly and they can lose fifteen to twenty
percent of their body weight.
The hinds are ready to mate in their second year and calves
are born from mid-May to early June.
So Why Imitate The Sound Of A
Red Deer have been hunted across Europe for many
thousands of years for food and because they have presented
a problem to farmers. But they have a very keen sense
of smell and hearing, so approaching a deer is a difficult
feat and locating this normally silent animal is not easy
However, during the rutting season stags are particularly
easy to locate because of their loud bolving and their habit
of sticking to traditional rutting areas. In addition, any
stag hearing the noise of another stag bolving will come to
contest him. If you can imitate the sound well enough then
the stag will come to you, rather than the other way around.
This has always been a traditional way of hunting stags
throughout Europe. Now, we don't do it around here for
hunting purposes. People have gone out bolving for many
years just for fun. It has to be said though, that it can be
a dangerous pastime, as an arriving stag is likely to be in
bit of an aggressive mood and it's not unheard of for it to
charge a good bolver!
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