Red Deer are the largest wild animals in the country. A mature stag stands about four feet high at the shoulder, and weighs up to three hundred pounds. The stag is famous for its proud bearing and magnificent antlers. The antlers are long – thirty six inches is considered a good head – hard and spikey. The head or trophy is referred to by the number of its points eg. a ten pointer.
A twelve pointer, incidentally, is grandiloquently called a ‘Royal’ and its points are described as ‘Brow, bay, trez and three on top. The brow tine branches out at the base of the antler, the bay and trez further up, and the top may branch out into three or more separate spikes. The definition of a point is simple. If the strap of one’s binoculars can be hung on it, then it counts as a point. This definition dates from the last century, when deer stalking was about the only public interest in deer. It is, nevertheless, a satisfactory definition, being simple and easy to test.
Feral deer are not often found with more than fourteen points, but in captivity they will produce many more. There are several twenty eight pointers in parks around the country. The heads are an indication of the well-being. They shed, or cast, their antlers every year, usually in March or April. The new antlers start to grow at once and reach maturity about the end of July. As with all deer, the antlers in the growing stage are soft and pliable, and covered with a furry skin called velvet. When they are fully developed the velvet dries out, withers and rubs off, leaving the antlers bare, hard and insensitive. They stay that way until they are cast.
The stag’s coat in winter is dark brown in colour, possibly tinged with grey. The hind’s coat tends to be somewhat lighter. In summer the coat of each sex is a rich, dark red and the stag grows a considerable mane. When the fawn is born it has a white spotted coat, which changes in five or six weeks to a dark brown, fluffy one.
The rut is usually at its height in September and October. The stag then tries to round up as many hinds as possible. A good master stag will usually collect quite a harem. It is a desperately busy time for him. When he is not engaged in collecting his hinds or fighting off rival males, he will be busy bringing errant hinds back to the harem. In between he has to find time – and strength – to serve them and to snatch a few mouthfuls to eat. It is then that the stag finds his voice, roaring his challenge to all comers. It is only then that fights occur, victory going to the biggest and strongest stag. But they are uncommon. More often than not a display of size and strength will suffice to discourage the lesser rival, without any clash of antlers. There is a great deal of strutting and posturing. Stags will be seen walking side by side showing off their size and muscle. But only occasionally does it end in a battle. Stags know all about valour and discretion…By the end of the rut the stag will be quite exhausted and will have lost a great deal of weight.
Fawns are born about June, twins being rare. The first rudimentary antlers appear on the young stags about Christmas, taking the form of small knobs. They will not have proper antlers until their second year.
The Red Deer are forest dwellers and browsers by nature, but they are one if the most adaptable beasts in nature. They can adjust themselves and thrive in almost any surroundings. They are the deer usually chosen by deer farmers, principally on account of their size, and they flourish on farms where there is no browse but the grass is good.