This is an introduction all about red deer and a few stories from experiences I have had over the years. The red deer (Cervus elaphus) are the UK’s largest land – mammal. Hunters travel from all over world to hunt these magnificent animals and most of them come to the wilds of Scotland. In southern Scotland the red deer’s habitat is largely forest and woodland but in the highlands they are roaming the open hills and moor ground. Woodland red deer hinds (females) can breed at 16 months old. Smaller hill deer may not reach sexual maturity until they are 2 – 3 years old. Red deer are herding deer. Herd sizes vary according to sex, habitat type/quality, deer density, degree of disturbance, animals gathering on a food source or hard weather. The sexes are usually segregated for most of the year, stags move into hind areas as the rut approaches. The mating season, known as the rut, begins in mid September and continues to late October. The stag then tries to round up as many hinds as possible. 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 hinds back to his group. 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. Hinds normally give birth to single calves from late May to June. Twins are sometimes born, but they are rare. Red deer are herbivores and graze a wide variety of plants from grasses and heather to shrubs and trees. In summer the adult deer have a distinctive reddish-brown coat which becomes darker brown or grey in the winter. Their weight is variable depending upon the food available and, in the Highlands, stags average between 90-140 kg and hinds 65-70 kg. The stag is famous for its proud bearing and magnificent antlers. A twelve pointer is 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 a wedding ring can stay on a spike it’s a point. 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.
A woodland stag know as a ‘Spiker’
Red hind with its calf
Stag with his hinds in the rut
I have been working with red deer for the last 5 years in the forests and hills of Scotland. Of all the deer in the UK they are definitely my favourite to hunt. They can be very challenging to stalk so I’ve always liked to call them the ‘unpredictable’ deer because you can never guarantee what’s going to happen when stalking into these beasts. I first got introduced to red deer when started working for ‘Strahanna Stalking’ in 2009 and where I still work today. After taking clients out for stags and hinds I had never shot a red deer myself until the next year in the stag rut. I was lucky enough to have the evening off and my boss said I could go to a small piece of forest and try for a stag. On the start of the stalk I could of shot a fox but decided not too (which is not like me but I’m glad now I didn’t shot it!). Sneaking around the forest edge slowly I turned a corner, I looked under a group of larch trees which was quite open and I could see the body of a red deer only 90m. It was hard to tell what it was but I was sure it was stag. I stalked closer to get a better look and got into position and waited. It was a stag but couldn’t see the antlers. It was covered by a fallen tree and he was only 60m away from me. I remember saying to myself “it doesn’t matter how big or small you are I’m going to take you”. The stag moved forward, saw the antlers and then the chest so I took the shot! It ran and crashed through the trees and I just could see it fall over 30m away. I slowly walked up to it and it was stone dead. It was an young 8 pointer! I was so happy! My first red deer and it was a stag! Next I had a problem… How I am going to get this out of here? So I got an idea and had the farmer I do fox control on bring his Argo cat. That made it easier than dragging and I thanked him a lot and my boss! Whiskey flowed that evening!
In the forest with my stag
Shot with my Tikka t3 6.5 x 55
After working with red deer in the forests of Galloway I decided I would like to try a new adventure in the highlands. I got a job as a Ghillie for the stag season working on the deer stalking estate Corrour. This was when I got to see a different type of stalking that I was not use to. Open hill ground with no trees to hide behind and plenty of walking. One of the highlights I experienced was too see the red stags rutting. I hadn’t witnessed it in the south because they usually rut inside the forests, you only hear them roaring now and again and never see them fighting. But that all changed when I was in the highlands. Sitting on the hill tops listening to the glens echoing of the roar of stags, watching them fight each other and trying to control their herds from other competition was spectacular! I was lucky enough to get the chance to shoot a very nice stag at the end of the rut which was a surprised gift from the stalkers! The stalker I had been working with through the season took me out and I was told to bring my rifle but I didn’t know why. We saw a stag on the hillside far away in the distance and when I was told I was allowed to shoot him I couldn’t believe it! He was holding around 40-50 hinds by himself. The wind was going straight towards them from us so we had to do a long walk round over the hills which nearly took 2 hours and we got caught in a snow blizzard as well. We stalked into them from above and we were getting close but then a hind had spotted us so they got spooked and ran a little around the hill but settled down again for my luck! Got within 300m and then I had to crawl the rest on my own until I was in a suitable range to shoot. Eventually I got 220m from him and realised I couldn’t go any further or I would be spotted. I laid down by a rock and put the rifle on the bipod. The stag was directly in front of me and standing broadside. I didn’t hesitate and tried not to get stag fever. I aimed a few inches high for the shot and squeezed the trigger. He jumped and ran for 50m heading across the hill. I saw him stumble over and disappear behind a bank. I had a good feeling he was down, I was happy with my shot. I started to walk towards where I last saw him and by this time stag fever had kicked in! Anxious to see him, I looked over the bank and there he was. This was first time I had properly looked at his antlers and he was much bigger than I thought! A beautiful 13 pointer! I was overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness! A dream come true. Whiskey flowed that night too!
Red stag roaring on the hill
Myself with my trophy
After the stag season I stayed at Corrour and helped with the winter cull. This was another great experience to be part of. I learnt a lot more about red deer and methods of stalking them in these periods. When I finished at Corrour I went back to Strahanna for the spring, summer stalking and later returned to Corrour to do another season with the stags. After that I was back at Strahanna and I have stayed there as their deer stalker. I have shot quite a few red deer in this time and have taken plenty of clients out stalking but what I like most about red deer is I always seem to be learning new things about them and everytime I’m stalking the situation is never the same. This to me is what makes them so exciting to hunt!