Red Deer

The Red deer has a rich red colored coat, darkening down to a grayish brown in winter. A mature stag carries a large rack of antlers, which are at peak condition in the early autumn for the rut, when they are used for bouts of sparring between rivals. A dominant animal may have 18-20 points (tines) on the antlers, although 14-16 is more common. A stag with more than 12 tines is known as a 'Royal'. A fully-grown Red stag can stand 120cm (48'') high at the shoulder and can weigh anything up to 190kg (420Ibs). A female (hind) is smaller with shoulder height up to 110cm (44'') and a weight of up to 110kg (240Ibs).

Red deer are a protected game species and may only be hunted with a license from the National Parks and Wild Life Service. Red stags may be hunted from the 1st of September until the 28th of February and Hinds may be hunted from the Ist of November to the end of January (February 28th in Wicklow).

Habitat & Diet

Red deer are a herd deer but group size is influenced by habitat, they form larger herds when living in open country with smaller groups in woodland areas. They are primarily grazers and will graze all year round, however they will eat heather shoots, mosses, lichens and even unpalatable mat-grass to see them through winter to the following spring. Stags grow antlers in late Spring and have a soft skin covering called velvet. Antlers will grow until late summer; the velvet dies and is scrapped off. Neck muscles will swell, thick manes grow on the throats and aggression increases. The antlers are fully grown by late summer and will remain until they are shed in early spring. Antler size to some extent depends on age but more importantly on the deer's health and nutrition. In the wild the best heads are found on 6-8 year old animals.

Reproduction

The breeding season (rut) is in October. The timing of the rut is controlled by the length of the day. By mid September, aggression is more marked. Mature stags are increasingly intolerant of each other, and there are short chases as they attain peak condition. These animals are first to rut. Traditionally, the first roars (loud deep low-pitched call) are heard in the last week of September, signalling the commencement of the rut. Each stag is seeking to gather hinds to herd together for his harem (on average 5 hinds), he will then endeavour to possess exclusively, by marking and defending the territory over which the hinds roam. He will mate with the fittest hinds, which normally come on heat by the second and third week in October. During the rut, while the stag waits for each hind in his harem to come in season, he will wallow in peat, thresh the vegetation with his antlers, as well as roar and clash in contest with competing males. As October draws to a close, the, majority of stags have finished the rut. The priority at this stage of the year is to build up fat reserves for the winter.
Hinds may breed at a year and a half, with calves born in June. The placenta (afterbirth) is eaten by the female, to hide any sent or evidence of the birth. The calf is hidden while the hind feeds alone.