The Management of Red Deer in the New Forest
- Friday, 10 May 2013
Charly Green discusses Red deer stalking and the management of Red deer in the New Forest, along with some of the challenges of managing this iconic species.
Living and working in the New Forest my whole life I have been lucky enough to become heavily involved in the management and observation of the Red Deer in this area. The subject of managing and stalking this population in such an open public space has become somewhat contentious over the years. My company regularly comes under pressure from all sides with varying opinions on how best to conserve these iconic animals.
Our Red deer herds are primarily woodland dwelling, tending to come out to graze arable crops and high quality pasture at all times of the day. Grazing parcels of forty to sixty animals are not unusual and can cause considerable damage to a field of beet or even wipe out an acre of cover crop in one night. This of course creates conflict with local farmers and estate owners faced with unacceptable crop damage. The other side of the coin is voiced by what we refer to as `The Red Deer Protection League` , largely made up of fanatical photographers and conservationists, who believe that the deer should be allowed to self regulate their numbers. Of course a middle ground must be found and you will never please everyone completely.
Our culls are kept conservative with the aim of promoting a herd of sustainable numbers with high body weights and large, but not grotesque, classic trophy stags. In order to achieve this we formulate cull numbers based on the existing herd but also remain flexible if the rut is poor or bad weather has left us short of calves. The cull itself encompasses a true cross section of the herd; young, old and middle-aged animals are removed in line with the plan but each individual cull is taken after careful assessment. Weaker or smaller animals within their respective category are taken first as are extremely old or injured beasts including road casualties. Despite what the plan may say we must be ready to adapt at any time to maintain the vitality and quality of our Red Deer.
One of the hardest jobs is to assess the potential quality of a Spike stag or Brocket- in a park it`s easy and you have all the time in the world; out in the wild it takes skill and careful consideration, sometimes all in a few fractions of a second. Our maxim is ` if in doubt leave him another year, he has no chance of breeding yet and will show his true potential given time`. On the other hand short, light or misshapen spikes are taken on sight. By managing your stags in the early years you will find that less and less mature stags fall short of the standard for your area.
Red Hind stalking too can be a challenge. Fast and accurate decisions are based on, length of face, condition and body shape. All need to be reviewed and spotting barren hinds in a group can test the best of us on the open hill and in woodland it is an art in itself. What`s most important is that you stick with your conviction, based on the above factors, and complete a clean and ethical cull that you can justify to your landowner and those concerned with the preservation of lowland Reds.
One of the most contentious sectors of our cull is when mature Red stags are addressed. This is where many are blinkered about the cross section policy of culling and would not shoot stags until they have gone so far back that they lose body condition and eventually expire. Our views differ in this respect. By the time a stag has reached trophy potential with good width, weight and symmetry he will be aged around eight to ten years and will have been allowed to run on for three or four years before falling firmly into the category of mature male in the cull plan and chalked down for a trophy cull. These stags are truly massive and highly sought after as trophies, they will almost certainly reach a gold medal standard and we only market a few each year.
Any stags of eleven or less points at maturity are culled as a matter of course, as are mal-forms. Working this way we have achieved a core group of large mature stags ranging from approximately seven to eleven years of age and sporting heads of twelve to twenty points, heavy in beam and exceptionally wide. Each of these stags will manage to hold twenty or so hinds during the rut and are given ample time to pass on their genes before even being considered for the trophy cull allocation. Feeding vast stag herds, of which most are superfluous, is counter-productive despite the fact that many of those beasts would be good trophy animals. They should be entered into the cull plan in order to maintain a working balance.
(Red Stags of eleven or less points and Malforms are culled as a matter of priority)
Given the nature of our terrain, which consists of ancient broad leaf and conifer woodland, lowland heath, peat bogs and large arable fields, we employ a number of different techniques to achieve our cull. Most of our deer stalking is conducted on foot in order to keep up with the herds since they move from cover to cover often in large woodland blocks with little or no vehicular access. High seats are the preferred approach to arable ground or woodland clearings where longer shots may be required and the shooter has ample time to ensure a clean kill with a steady rest and a good backstop aided by his elevated position.
A common question when discussing Red Deer stalking comes in the form of calibre choice. To be totally honest a well placed .243 Winchester will drop even the biggest stag on the spot with a premium bullet. I believe that issues have been encountered in the past due to poor shot placement and inappropriate bullet choice in all calibres; even a .300 win mag is no guarantee that the beast will drop. Bullet placement is the key and a level headed shooter will, rightly so, wait for the shot that he or she is one hundred percent confident in.
Clients, however, are encouraged to use heavier calibres in order to minimise the risk of a lost trophy due to a poorly placed bullet. Most importantly the visiting stalker must be proficient from sticks and well practiced in their use; hitting a one inch bull’s eye on paper is easy but the prospect of taking a two hundred kilo stag at one hundred yards daunts many.
Red Deer in the New Forest have a bright future under proper deer management and will be retained in healthy numbers for future generations as long as those charged with their control continue to do so with an ethical, long term approach.
If you'd like to learn more about Red Deer Stalking click here: red-deer-stalking