For most of us autumn will conjure up thoughts of deciduous woodlands transformed into a splendid array of mellow colours, wind-swept days, and acorns and conkers falling to the ground. As a wildlife enthusiasts equally evocative of autumn for me are the sound of clashing antlers and roars of stags that signal the on-set of the rut for the three largest of our six free living species of deer in Britain.

Roaring stag and hind

The mating season for red, sika and fallow deer may stretch out over eight weeks, but for all reaches its peak sometime during October. Having lived placidly together in bachelor groups over the summer, in September the mature males develop thickened necks and manes, become increasingly aggressive to one another, and set off in search of female groups and mating grounds.

The ensuing spectacle of the rut has all the ingredients of a cinema blockbuster, as high-ranking males lock antlers in fierce battles for supremacy and access to females, which can lead to injuries and sometimes death for the looser. Such battles are preceded by a wide range of ritualistic displays including thrashing of vegetation, wallowing in mud, and parallel walking to suss out the opposition, all backed by a soundtrack of the loud roaring of red stags, the deep belching groans of fallow bucks, or eerie high-pitched whistling of the sika. The prize at stake is to be one of the small proportion of sexually mature males to dominate the vast majority of matings that season, either over a large harem of females that a stag may repeatedly chivvy to keep together, or within a prime mating territory he will defend fiercely against other males. 
Aside from well-known deer forests such as Cannock Chase, The Forest of Dean, The New Forest, and the Scottish Highlands and Islands, some of the prime places to observe the autumn deer rut are the numerous readily accessible deer parks located within easy reach of most of our major cities. 

If observing the rut however please arm yourself with binoculars or camera with zoom lens, and don’t be tempted to approach the deer closer than about 200 metres, to avoid disrupting the natural behaviour of the deer as well as for personal safety.


One other consequence of the heightened mobility of deer during the rut, is that they will often blindly run across roads with little else on their mind, leading to a spike in fallow, red and sika deer road casualties around end of October – an issue Autumnwatch will be investigating more during this year’s live programs.

 

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  • Comment number 6. Posted by Tigerlily

    on 2 Nov 2013 12:40

    I have to say that a few years ago Simon King did that continuous reporting on the rut of the red deer on Rum..that was by far the best and most exciting piece ever ,we were following our favorite stags as they contested for the girls , the contests ,the heart break of the losers ..How I wish it could have been continued over the subsequent years .

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  • Comment number 5. Posted by Dr Jochen Langbein

    on 2 Nov 2013 00:22

    Some very good points - including Carol Gunn. I relation to suggestion that existing electronic signage VMS (virtual message signs) present on major roads should be used to alert of heightened deer risk at certain times, it so happens that this is being done throughout north and north east Scotland trunk roads for a four week period from 29 October, to co-incide with times when clocks went back bringing rush hour even closer in-line with peak activity times of deer around dawn and dusk. Some speed activated deer warning signs have also been introduced e.g. along A82 and A835 at major deer hotspots, but agree much more and also animal activated signage is much needed. Limiting factor is of course as always needing to compete for limited road safety resources. ... and indeed lack of consistent data to id hotspots.
    So grateful to all who can help log deer road casualties seen or collisions with deer using online form or the Free OhDeer Smart Phone APP. Links to both are on the Participation page the deercollisions uk website.

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  • Comment number 4. Posted by Jade

    on 1 Nov 2013 23:13

    I was in collision with one of three red deer hinds that broke roadside cover on my nearside less than four feet from my car. Sadly. one, slightly behind the other two, I hit and killed and caused major damage to my vehicle but first port of call was the police to get a local to despatch the animal. I felt awful, but it wasn't an avoidable situation. These three were in full flight from a stag who tanked across the road immediately behind my car. This was daylight but fairly early in the morning. I've also had a red deer stag actually run along side my driver's door on the A82.

    I fully understand what Carol Gunn is saying. Most of us who regularly drive on roads know there is always a potential issue but anyone can become complacent!!

    I also would like to say that super bright headlights do not help, except for the driver of the vehicle having them spotting the hazard. Appreciate that in many circumstances and with modern vehicles' lighting legislation you're stuck with them but at least dimming headlights will lessen the deer's confusion - reflective posts installed at favourite crossing/danger spots are negated if you don't do this.

    For most of this spring/summer, I and my neighbours have had a 12 point red deer stag, with lady in tow, consuming various leaves and plants in our garden, also sleeping in our gardens (not quite suburban style ones) and seemingly oblivious to major building work 40 feet below us.. For those of us with dogs, it's been a constant check any time you go out because, although he'll tolerate about 20 feet between dog/me and him with no aggro. But don't kid yourself, these are wild animals and will go for you if the mood takes them and it's the wrong time. It's not the antlers, at least with reds, it's their hooves - you should see what they can do to a very solid hard wood door!

    Don't get me wrong - they're wonderful animals and I feel it's a real privilege to have such regular close up views but we have to have respect.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Carol Gunn

    on 1 Nov 2013 22:33

    The deer collision problem is one which is likely to have many solutions. I live in the North Highlands of Scotland and all year round diving up and down the A9 the "beware of the deer" signs are there, and they become almost unseen - part of the landscape so to speak. My suggestion would be; when deer are known to be on the road i.e. in the rutting season or when the weather is particularly hard, the "beware of the deer" signs would have flashing lights which can be switched possibly remotely. This would alert drivers that the hazard is actually there - much the same way as flashing lights are activated when children are commuting to schools. I think this model is used in some regions in the US. Other existing electronic signage could also be used for deer alerts, often the electronic signs have benign messages when it would be really useful to see "deer on the road at Loth" rather than "for up to date information visit trafficscotland.com". A deer helpline number could be available where folk could call with sightings. Much of the infrastructure which could have an impact already exists and would only need minimal resource to perhaps have a very positive impact on deer collisions.

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Vicki Galt

    on 1 Nov 2013 21:26

    The report on the rut and car accidents is an important point - well done team. Our neighbour went to work up in Aberdeen two weeks ago hit an adult deer. His car is now wrecked. I didn't realise that there were deer local to us, as no road signs! until 3 young deer jumped out in front of us in Forton ( Lancashire) and surprised us. Any undergrowth could be a good hiding place!!!

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Tim

    on 31 Oct 2013 19:58

    For the past 20 years or more deer have been living and breeding in the wild on the Isle of Wight.

    Red and Roe deer are native to the area and occurred there naturally after the end of the last Ice Age.

    When deer are present at low density such as they are on the Isle of Wight their light browsing and grazing has been shown to increase biodiversity and assist in preventing valuable woodland edge habitats reverting to scrub, whilst their droppings provide an environment for coprophagous invertebrates which bats such as the Greater Horseshoe feed on.

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