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Red deer. Image copyright © Johnny Kingdom

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.

Red deer hind. Image copyright © Johnny KingdomFor 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 areas.

Red 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.

Red deer stag roaring. Image copyright © Johnny KingdomThe 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 Bolving Stag?

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!

All images on this page are copyright © Johnny Kingdom.



We need volunteers to help marshal people and cars on the night of the event. It's not a particularly arduous task, so if you're interested in getting involved and helping raise money for a worthwhile charity please email Mal or contact us via The Rock House Inn (see Contact Us Page).

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