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Rippingale nature columnist advises to look out for rutting fallow deer this autumn

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Autumn is the rutting season for fallow deer, says Rippingale nature columnist Ian Misselbrook.

So, as there is an enormous herd of deer very close to my home, I was determined to witness some of the action.

My first visit in early October was probably too early as the does were grazing peacefully unmolested by the bucks, who were merely posturing at each other. It was only my third visit to the site in late October, that proved lucrative.

Fallow deer. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Fallow deer. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

I arrived at the wood just as dawn was breaking. Tawny owls were still calling; the males hooting and the females making their “keewick kewick” calls. My destination was a grass field at the far end of the wood which as soon as I entered, I could hear the bellowing of the bucks half a mile away.

As I made my way through the wood the wildlife was moving ahead of me. A cock pheasant exploded into the air on noisy wings accompanied by the raucous alarm all. A hare, an animal we normally associate with open fields ran across my path and squirrels had come down from the trees to forage on the ground. The first deer I saw in the half light was a tiny muntjac; not my quarry on this occasion. Then I became aware of a group of fallow deer moving through the trees, does or perhaps young bucks, it was hard to tell in the half light.

Soon I reached the edge of the wood and in the adjacent field were upwards of 500 deer. I stood with my back against a tree and alternated between watching through binoculars and shooting with my camera.

Black Buck during the rut. Photo: Ian Misselbrook
Black Buck during the rut. Photo: Ian Misselbrook

Most of the deer were a good 500 metres away but I had to settle on observing them from this distance as I dare not break cover from the wood. The dominant bucks with the biggest antlers had herded their does into groups around them. They were all bellowing loudly in contrast to the high pitched calls of some of the does.

In this particular herd of wild fallow deer, the whole spectrum of colours can be seen from some almost black specimens, through reddish brown, dark brown, traditional dappled deer and some pure white animals.

A dozen or so does were clearly the “property” of a very large brown buck with a fine set of antlers. Amongst them was a very dark doe and as I watched I realised that this had become the object of desire for an equally dark, almost black buck. On several occasions he left his own harem of does to make sorties into the group of does which included the dark one. On most occasions his advances were repelled by the other buck, but finally he succeeded in separating the dark doe from the group and shepherding her into his harem.

Upon realising that I had spent nearly two hours entranced by watching this drama, I retreated back through the wood and home for a late breakfast.

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