Of all our native wild animals, the Red Deer stag is undoubtedly the largest and most striking. Its prime habitat is woodland, and it is here that maximum size is reached as the lifestyle is relatively easy and there is an ample food supply, as opposed to the far harsher conditions to be encountered on mountain and moorland.
The Lake District is one of the areas of England in which there is sufficiently extensive and relatively wild open country to accommodate them. A mature Red Deer stag may be expected to measure some four feet to the shoulder, and to have impressive antlers. A set of 12 points is termed ‘royal’, while one of 14 points is termed ‘imperial’. The overall impression with that coarse red coat, the height and haughty bearing, topped with a fine array of antlers, is impressive indeed.
Red Deer are largely nocturnal; they tend to lay up in secluded spots during the day, venturing out to feed from dusk to dawn and in consequence it is around such times that sightings are most common. They usually keep fairly well clear of humankind and are not easy to approach, but those which are farmed or are otherwise accustomed to human company often become remarkably tame and even quite friendly. They are not normally dangerous, but should be treated with caution, especially during the mating season - the rut - of September and October. Stags and hinds live largely separate lives during most of the year, but each stag will do its utmost to gather together a hareem of 20 or so hinds in the breeding season, which it will guard jealously and from which it will be prepared to fight off any other approaching male.
Stags do not eat during this period, and the calves are born the following June. The stag will declare its presence, ward off intruders and guard its territory by emitting a very considerable roar, which can be heard for miles around. On one particular dawn foray I was in deep woodland when a stag roared in cover very close by – an experience unlikely to be forgotten! Deer are often around but their habits are such that they are not necessarily noticed. Signs of their presence include muddy ‘wallows’, wet and muddy patches in which they roll, and prints of their three-inch-long cloven hooves in soft ground.
They grow fresh antlers each year; old ones are cast off, new ones are grown, and covered in fur known as ‘velvet’. As this velvet dies, it is scraped off on lower branches and similar places and the appearance of these ‘fraying stocks’ is another sign of their presence. The Red Deer stag is a magnificent beast indeed, and well worth looking out for
28 May 2019 by George Fisher
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