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Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)

History of the red deer

The mighty red deer is a true king of the wild. They have long-tined antlers that form an impressive crown at the top. They are one of the largest of the deer species and are farmed as a prime source of venison in many parts of the world. They have a reddish-brown coat.

The red deer are native to Europe, Asia and some parts of northern Africa. Fossil records show the first evidence of red deer back 12 million years ago. 

Regal red stag

Today, red deer are present in free ranging herds around the world, including New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada and South America. The Barbary stag, a subspecies of red deer, is the only deer species to naturally inhabit Africa (although fallow deer have since been introduced to South Africa).

The red deer is listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Many countries have classified the red deer as a pest species due to the damage they inflict on native and cultivated vegetation. Hunting is one of the most effective and humane methods for keeping populations of red deer in check. Not only are the numbers managed, but hunters can utilise the meat and antlers from the red deer they harvest.

Description

In body size, the red deer falls behind just three other deer species – moose, elk and sambar deer. Adult males (stag) typically reach 120cm at the shoulder with the females (hind) growing to approximately 90cm. The males are also heavier weighing in at between 160-240kg. The females weigh, on average, 120-170kg.

Red stag and his harem

There size greatly depends on where in the world you are hunting red deer. For example, the Caspian red deer can grow as large as 140cm tall at the shoulder and 320kg in weight. On the other hand, the Corsican red deer (one of the smallest subspecies) weighs only 80-100kg.

The male stags grow an impressive mane in the autumn, which makes for a very royal appearance alongside their crown-topped antlers.

Their antlers are shed once a year, generally at the end of winter. They grow an entirely new, larger set before autumn of the next season. A soft, velvet covering protects the growing antlers until they calcify and harden before the autumn mating season. The stags then rub the velvet off by scraping their antlers on small trees and scrub ready to fight each other for territory and females.

Behaviour

Autumn is the beginning of the mating season (the rut) for red deer. The deer grow thicker coats ready for the winter, which can change their appearance quite considerably. Before the rut, the stags stay in bachelor herds. They often consist of a mature stag with a number of younger males. The hinds form a herd with each other and their young.

Red stag roaring

During the rut, the stags separate and begin looking for hinds. Only the mature stags will be successful in holding a group of hinds, also known as a harem. The stags attract hinds and defend their harem using their distinctive roar. The hinds are drawn to the stags that have the loudest and most frequent roar. If challenged, stags will fight each other using their antlers.

The sound of the roaring and the sight of mature red stags fighting make the rut an extraordinary time to hunt red deer.

Due to their larger body size, it is recommended that a larger calibre (min .270”) is used to hunt red deer. The ideal shot placement is either on or just behind the front shoulder. This is where the shot is most likely to hit the animal’s vital organs resulting in a quick and humane expiration.

Red stags fighting

Habitat

Red deer like to form large herds, of up to 50 deer, with a developed social order. A few individuals will keep watch for danger while the others feed. If attacked, the larger and more mature stags and hinds exhibit protective behaviours such as kicking with their front legs or grunting and posturing.

Herds of red deer are often found in open forest areas where they have both shelter and grazing area. They are comfortable in mountainous, steep terrain, which makes hunting red deer physically challenging.

Hunting red deer in New Zealand

Red deer were first introduced to New Zealand in the 1850s by European settlers. With no large predators to hunt them, they have become a well-established species on both the North and South Islands. Due to the resultant population explosion, they were classified a pest by the New Zealand government in the 1920s and most of the restrictions on hunting them were removed. Today, red deer populations are controlled by recreational hunting, and both government-organised and commercial culling.

New Zealand red stag

The Department of Conservation (DoC) handles most of the licensing and permit requirements for hunting in New Zealand. There is no seasonal restriction on hunting red deer in New Zealand, but you do need an open area hunting permit to hunt them on public land. These can be applied for online. You can find out more here.

Hunting red deer in Australia

The red deer is the second largest of the deer species present in Australia, behind only the Sambar. They were introduced in 1860 when a small herd was gifted to early settlers by Prince Albert. Further releases were made by the various ‘acclimatisation’ societies in existence at the time. The largest population in Australia, today, is in Queensland. Although, there is an established population in Victoria in and around the Grampians National Park.

Red deer can be found and hunted in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Each of these states has its own rules and regulations for hunting deer. You can find out more below.

Queensland

There is no permit or seasonal restrictions to hunt red deer in Queensland. You must have a current Australian firearms license and permission from the landowner. The RIDGE Group and the Australian Deer Association manage hunting access to more than 420,000 hectares of land in southern Queensland. They charge a yearly membership fee in return for access, with a portion of this going back to the landowners.

New South Wales

You must hold a current Game Licence and a current Australian Firearms Licence to hunt deer in New South Wales. There is a season for red deer, in which they can be hunted between 1 March and 31 October. There are two licence options – one for both public and private land (Restricted game hunting licence) and one for private land alone (General game hunting licence). You can find out more on the NSW Department of Primary Industries website.

Victoria

There are no bag limits or seasonal restrictions for hunting red deer in Victoria. However, you must have a current Australian Firearms Licence and you need to apply for a game licence from the VIC Game Management Authority. Red deer are present on both public and private land in Victoria. The largest concentration is in the Grampians National Park.

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