The Red deer population in the New Forest is around 150.
It is thought that Red deer migrated into Britain from Europe 11000 years ago and prior to the Deer Removal Act 1851, they were more numerous on the Forest than Fallow. It is the largest land mammal in the UK – male (stag) height at the shoulder is 107-137cm whilst females (hinds) are to 107-122cm. Mature stags can weigh over 400lbs. Their coat (pelage) is reddish brown to brown in summer and brown to grey in winter – they have a short tail and cream coloured rump. Their young (calf) is covered with spots in its early months but no spots present in the adult coat. They can live for between 16-18 years.
Their antlers are highly branched. The number of branches increases with age – up to 16 points in native animals. The angle between the brow tine (the base point of the antler) and the main beam is always more than 90 degrees. This is an easy way to distinguish between a Red deer and the related Sika deer antler. Stags are often named according to the number of their antler points. Deer with their first set of short, simple, unbranched antlers are referred to as brockets. Over subsequent years, the antlers should become progressively larger and branched (up until the stag is about 10 years old, after which the number of tines starts to decline). A Red deer with 12 points (six per antler) is called a Royal stag, while 14 points make an Imperial stag and an animal with 16 points or more is referred to as a Monarch. Antlers are cast in April each year with older stags casting first.
They are generally active 24 hours a day with peak times of activity at dawn and dusk. They prefer to graze on grass but when this is scarce they will browse tree shoots, heather and small shrubs. In woodlands red deer are largely solitary or occur as mother and calf groups. On open ground, larger, single sex groups assemble, only mixing during the rut. In the New Forest, the biggest stags spend most of the year off the Forest on adjoining land and only start to appear around the time of their annual rut. Younger and less mature stags tend to remain in the Forest as a herd.
Stags roar and grunt during the rut. Hinds bark when alarmed and moo when searching for their young. Calves emit a high-pitched squeal when alarmed and may bleat to their mother.
The breeding season (the rut) occurs from the end of September to the end of October. Mature stags return to the Forest and compete for hinds by roaring, parallel walking with an opponent and fighting head to head with their antlers. The dominant stag then controls a group of hinds with which to mate and they are referred to as his “harem”. Only stags over 5 years old tend to achieve mating despite being sexually mature much earlier. Hinds over a year old give birth to a single calf after an 8 month gestation, in June each year.
During the Red deer rut, the New Forest Keepers have noticed a change in deer behaviour and distribution patterns in recent years. Increased disturbance by the public is causing these majestic animals to move out of their usual rutting areas, increasing their susceptibility to traffic collisions and causing them to move onto private property where they can be shot by landowners who don’t want deer on their land or by “trophy hunters”. Unfortunately, too many of the mature stags have been lost in this way over recent years which may ultimately have an affect on the gene pool. During the Red deer rut, the Forestry Commission maintain “deer patrols” to ensure that disturbance by the general public is kept to a minimum.
View the British Deer Society – Red Deer Distribution Survey
Red Stag rutting call