Quantock Hills Blog

Tracking the red deer rut

- This weekend I’ve been having the pleasure of showing members of the public the red deer rut, well trying to show them!

Andy Harris

Posted by Andy Harris on 13 October 2009

Tracking the red deer rut On Saturday Tim and I took 14 photographers out over the northern end of the hills as the sun came up.  It was surprisingly mild and the views were fantastic but sadly there was little evidence of rutting deer. 

We heard a stag roaring somewhere in Hodder’s Combe and took the group down into the woods.  To try and improve our chances of seeing some deer we split into two groups Tim taking a route up and over Somerton Hill and I led my party to Black Ball Hill.  Both groups managed to see some deer but sadly nothing close enough for a really good photo but I think it’s fair to say everyone really enjoyed just being out there.

Sunday saw another early start when I took a group by minibus to meet Boyd Hay (Forestry Commission Ranger) in Great Wood.  We took the group just outside the forest boundary to overlook Aisholt Common and this time after only a few minutes a stag could be heard roaring a few hundred metres away.  As the light conditions improved we could see four hinds in between the holly trees and bracken whilst the stag followed and made his presence known. 

Forty minutes later we changed our view and again following our ears we managed to come across another stag holding onto a small group of hinds.  A much younger stag momentarily tried his luck and wondered into the area only to be chased off disappearing from sight into the forest.  By 9 o’clock we had returned to Fyne Court and everyone said they had really enjoyed the morning.

There was one final walk to lead on Sunday evening, again with Boyd.  My nerves began to increase as the weather turned for the worse and showed no signs of abating.  However by the time we were back in the forest it was a beautiful autumn evening, phew.  The first stag we saw was probably the same young stag we saw disappearing into the forest earlier in the morning.  The group were fantastically patient waiting and watching over the common but whilst we waited we were able to watch flocks of pipits and linnets bouncing around in the golden evening light.

Just as the final rays of light were lost we heard a stag roaring about 100m away.  I could just make him out and it was the same one as we had heard first thing this morning, he was still holding his ground.  One final drama developed when we returned to the minibus parked in the middle of the forest and when I turned the ignition key nothing happened, the battery was completely flat.  Thankfully after a few minutes under the bonnet Boyd found a loose connection on the battery, again I tried the ignition and much to my relief the minibus sprang into life.  Time to head back to Fyne Court.

It’s great to share these moments with members of the public but you always worry that things won’t go to plan but watching wildlife is always whether dependant; whether you see something or not it it’s always great to be out there.

Please let me know your experiences of the rut this year.  If anything my view is that it seems to be a little quiet, but it may still need a bit of time to get going.


Comments in chronological order (Total 3 comments)

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  • No avatar available

    14 Oct 09

    We were up on the hill just along from Halsway Post yesterday evening and saw several stag including one which may have been a royal stag - well spotted Lauren!  The sights and sounds were amazing, and on such a beautiful evening - it doesn’t get better!

  • No avatar available

    22 Oct 09

    Andy, thanks for the awesome tour. It took   while to find the second stag and hear them rut, but it was worth waiting! I uploaded photos from the tour and would like to share it with all.

  • No avatar available

    10 Nov 09

    I spent many days up on the Hills, attempting to witness and photograph the rutt this year.

    Starting early on i witnessed at closed range(too close) the final days of the stag herd, just prior to them breaking up and going their separate ways in search of hinds, on this occasion the biggest stag thrashed his antlers in the drying bracken, whilst younger stags practiced fighting, the clash of antlers clearly heard as they were a mere 40ft away. one young stag walked directly at me, only noticing me when within 10ft of me, he turned and leapt away, grunting to alert the others, motionless i stayed and they resumed their grazing, after 20 or so minutes the big fella walked across in front of me 12ft away, the only camera i had was a poor quality mobile phone, which made a terrible shutter release sound on depressing the button. He didn’t hang around and after a few grunts he ushered his boys away from me..
    To get close to the action i chose an area where i know there to be a wallow. Approaching it in Autumn is tricky as the dry fallen leaves crunched under foot, i could here numerous bellows from all directions around me so i knew i was in the right or potentially the wrong place.

    As i got near the wallow i could here antlers clashing and stones and water being trampled, so i quietly headed towards the sound, being ever alert as i knew there would be other stags and very wary hinds nearby. Unfortunately all i saw were legs and splashing as low branches and my bad position made for a poor view, at one point during the fight, a young stag ran right at me, his attention was focused more on the battle below than where he was heading. He spotted me from a several feet away and scarpered, moments later a hind did just the same…. And then all was quiet and all was gone…Again no pics…

    My next chances came below the slades on the new plantation above cockercombe rangers hut, a stag of reasonable size had gathered around ten hinds and the few younger, smaller stags stayed close by, but never got too close, intimidated by the bigger male, i’m sure they stayed persistent through the season though, only a couple silhouette pics that evening.

    The next try i went back to where i’d seen a large stag a few days prior, on the flanks of lady’s edge, in failing light and drizzle, it was not a night for photo’s, just memories of a large stag having to fend off two stags of good size, from different approaches, up the hill, then down, he bellowed and chased in a desperate attempt to keep his two ladies, even grabbing a moment to mate with one of them…

    Off Lowsey thorn was popular this year, a good sized collection of hinds was well defended one evening by a stag here.

    It seems there is little physical threat from other stags of the same size, there’s many hinds to go around and lots of young stag not nearly big enough to need more than a good bellow and short chase to keep them away.

    This (monday)evening in the fog a few bellows were heard, though i feel this is the call from a few late hopeful ones.

    All in all a i’m more than happy with the few pics i did take and feel very privileged with what i’ve experienced during this years rut,  many of which i haven’t the time here to share, well not this morning at least.

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