As anticipated the stag season has finished and the hind season started- with the rut only now in full swing.
Research (including data from the long-standing Red Deer project on Rhum) now backs up the anecdotal evidence that the rut is starting later than it used to.
This presents problems to both the deer and the people controlling them.
For the stags a later rut means less time to build up lost reserves before winter sets in. For the hinds and calves it means the calves are born that bit later in the year. Again, the calves have less time to grow before the winter. It also means that the calves are that little bit more dependant on their mothers when the hind season starts.
Any decent deer controller does his utmost to prevent calves being orphaned but, unfortunately, mistakes do happen. Likewise, if the winter kills a milk hind the fact that her calf is a month younger than it would have been 20 years ago might just make the difference between it surviving or not.
All this is of concern to the deer managers too. It’s not in anybodys interest to have a herd in poor condition or to have beasts dying on the hill. Furthermore, the late break-up in the stag herds (prior to the rut) can lead to lower ‘harvest’ of stags. This can mean reduced income for the estate and pressure on the habitat due to increased numbers.
The first weeks of the hind season can be a time when deer managers ‘bag-up’ on their hind cull. The stags will still be corralling the hinds into small groups and their minds are on “other things”. That said, I’m having a torrid time trying to get near my hinds. Yes, every group has it’s dominant stag but then there are dozens of young ‘hopefuls’ surrounding the group. And just because they’re cross-eyed with sexual frustration doesn’t mean they wont spot you at the drop of a hat should you make a mistake trying to penetrate their perimeter.
The heather on my beat has been under a lot of pressure over the last few years and it’s really starting to show decline in some areas. This is due to a mixture of overgrazing, bracken encroachment and a past outbreak of heather beetle. For my part, I have to reduce the resident deer population. To achieve my new cull figure, I’ll be having to bring home 3 red deer every working day until mid-February. When you consider the weather, the short days, rivers in spate, hillwalkers, mechanical issues etc etc. etc. a late rut is the last thing I need.