For the first part of my new wildlife photography project, following British nature spectaculars through the year I focused on the Red deer rut.
The Red deer rut is one of the British Isles most visceral and primeval wildlife spectacles. The Red deer stag is Britain’s largest and most majestic land mammal. To watch red deer rutting is a powerful experience that dates back to Neolithic times.
Earlier this year I moved to Richmond, very close to Richmond Park National Nature Reserve. Photographically there is no better place in my opinion to watch the rut unfold. I feel I am well placed to say that having worked pretty much exclusively with wild deer for the last five years. It’s also a great place to take my little one who is four now and was very excited to see the ‘King’ deer roaring!
Fights can vary in length, from a few seconds to five minutes, as the rival stags try to push through each other’s guard, by twisting and turning as they push. It takes a very powerful and determined challenger to unseat a dominant stag. With the winner getting the opportunity to mate with fifteen or so hinds the stakes could not be higher. The risk of injury is also high with some fights being to the death. I found one dead stag this rut sadly.
The images in this blog were taken over a period of a few weeks. I was very selective about when I went out, watching the weather forecast carefully for the misty, atmospheric conditions I favour. The images featured here are my own personal highlights of the rut.
Once at the rut, the large competing males spend a lot of time roaring at other stags as they try to assert their dominance, gauging the fitness and virility of rival males. Their powerful, deep, guttural bellowing calls can be heard for up to 20 minutes at a time. The noisiest stag is usually the most dominant. Incumbent stags with harems always roar more frequently than their hind-less challengers.
Red deer stags also thrash around in the undergrowth with their antlers during the rut, as part of their show to their rivals, to such an extent that they end up wearing a ragged crown of dangling bracken.
Red deer stags put on a lot of muscle during the rut. Their necks are thicker, so they hold their heads high. Mature stags can have up to sixteen points on their antlers, ready to do battle. Their coats are often darker also as they roll around in mud and their own urine.
I am now working with the British Deer Society and Royal Parks to establish a Code of Conduct for Deer Photography. I feel it is something well overdue with so many people now enjoying getting out there to photograph the annual red deer rut, truly one of nature’s autumn highlights.