Ready to rut and roar

Stirling Observer - - READERS’ PICTURES - With Keith Gra­ham

For the most part red deer stags are rea­son­ably even­tem­pered.

But as sum­mer drifts to­wards au­tumn, as their new antlers reach ma­tu­rity and the vel­vet is rubbed off, testos­terone lev­els rise and a new spirit of in­di­vid­u­al­ity, self-worth and ag­gres­sion im­bues them with a very dif­fer­ent mood.

They have lived in bach­e­lor herds, in equa­nim­ity with their fel­low stags – un­til now.

Now is the cli­max of their year, a time when they can at last ful­fil the pur­pose now fac­ing them in the guise of ri­vals which un­til now have been com­pa­tri­ots. Now those erst­while com­pan­ions must vie for the right to sire the next gen­er­a­tion of red deer.

Stags are now de­cid­edly no longer even-tem­pered. Ev­ery other stag must be con­sid­ered to be a di­rect ri­val. Thus they pos­ture, strut and roar. Some­times they must fight, head to mighty head, push­ing, strain­ing ev­ery sinew to achieve suf­fi­cient ad­van­tage to emerge tri­umphant.

To qual­ify for mem­ber­ship of this ex­tremely ex­clu­sive club the ap­pli­cants must first be big and strong. There­fore mem­ber­ship is re­served for older an­i­mals which have as­sumed rel­a­tively gar­gan­tuan pro­por­tions and, of course, de­vel­oped ex­tremely fine heads con­tain­ing many points.

They must also be pos­ses­sors of nerves of steel and be full of at­ti­tude. There is no place among the elite for shrink­ing vi­o­lets and a sonorously deep voice will add to the in­vin­ci­ble aura they must achieve.

Thus is there a real sense of drama about the an­nual rut. These days it is gen­er­ally con­ducted in glens and on fa­mil­iar hill­sides yet, as our grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of red deer in­creas­ingly re­turns to the low­land wood­land they once might have re­garded as their nat­u­ral habi­tat, new bat­tle­fields are be­ing cre­ated.

The destruction of our woods and forests dur­ing the 17th, 18th and 19th cen­turies forced red deer to es­tab­lish a new way of life out on the bare hills and moors, most notably in the moun­tains and glens of the High­lands.

As may be imag­ined, life in the ex­posed High­lands is con­sid­er­ably tougher for to­day’s gen­er­a­tions of red deer than it is in a low­land for­est. On the Con­ti­nent most red deer live in the dense forests that still cover vast ter­ri­to­ries, es­pe­cially across Eastern Europe. A red deer stag in that environment has the ma­jor ad­van­tage of shel­ter, more choices of food and an al­to­gether kinder environment. It can weigh in at least a third heav­ier than a Scot­tish stag, if not more.

Monar­chs of the glen, how­ever, are more vis­i­ble and against such a back­ground per­haps ap­pear so much more im­pres­sive. That is cer­tainly the case at the time of the rut.

I have red deer roar­ing lo­cally but these deer are not gen­er­ally easy to see for they dwell in a sub­stan­tial and dense for­est, which is in places al­most im­pen­e­tra­ble be­cause of its ex­tremely boggy na­ture. Thus the roar­ing is muf­fled and dead­ened by the trees. Out on the open hill the roar­ing is stri­dent and far-car­ry­ing.

I have fre­quently wit­nessed the fe­roc­ity that is gen­er­ated by the rant­ing of red deer. Mas­ter stags will take up what they re­gard as ad­van­ta­geous stances on the hill and roar their im­pos­ing pres­ence upon that land­scape, their sten­to­rian voices car­ry­ing far across the glens.

They will gather to­gether loose harems of hinds which are the ul­ti­mate prizes. The win­ners take all.

The deep roar­ing seems to come from deep within the an­i­mal. It is gut­tural and it is ex­tremely chal­leng­ing. Other mas­ter stags join in the cho­rus, re­spond­ing to the chal­lenges and re­turn­ing them in kind.

Of­ten two well-matched stags will ap­proach each other and march side by side in a par­al­lel war dance. Sud­denly they will turn to face each other. Heads lower and come to­gether with a mighty clash. Now it is a test of both phys­i­cal strength and nerve. They strain ev­ery mus­cle as they push against each other head-to­head. The more ex­pe­ri­enced pro­tag­o­nist will seek to gain the up­per ground and thus the up­per hand.

If the two are re­ally well matched this strug­gle could go on for a long time. If they are not so well matched the one in the as­cen­dancy will quickly re­dou­ble his ef­forts. Of­ten, when a stag is un­der pres­sure and knows he is fac­ing de­feat in the face, his nerve will snap and he will at­tempt to break away and flee, prob­a­bly get­ting his flank raked in the process.

No quar­ter is ex­pected and no quar­ter is given. A vic­tor may find him­self quickly chal­lenged by an­other and an­other and by the end of these chal­leng­ing weeks the mas­ter stags will be tired, even close to ex­haus­tion, and some of the pro­tag­o­nists dam­aged both phys­i­cally and men­tally.

It is not en­tirely un­known for two stags to be­come so in­ex­tri­ca­bly locked to­gether in such com­bat that they can­not sep­a­rate them­selves. Young stags may some­times com­bine to cut out the odd hind or two from a mas­ter stag’s harem when he is oth­er­wise en­gaged in bat­tle. These op­por­tunists may, by their very bold­ness, be on the way to de­vel­op­ing as the mas­ter stags in wait­ing. Such clan­des­tine op­er­a­tions may be a vi­tal part of the learn­ing curve they must tread if they are in time to seek their own places in the pan­theon of monar­chs of the glens.

Fight­ing fit A red deer stag

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