Deer shooting is a popular sport in the UK and is undertaken at many levels. From the novice stalking their first beast, professional hunters who shoot for the pleasure and challenge of the hunt and or venison. Others are all about trophies wanting the biggest, best and even unusual in their pursuit of glory. However all have one thing in common : they require suitable land to shoot over and more important a healthy deer population. To this end management is paramount.
Improving the species
Many inexperienced hunters assume the deer will always be there and all they have to do is turn up and shoot. But this is not the case as successful and most importantly, sustainable stalking is all about understanding the species, seasons and the land they live on. In the UK we have closed seasons for all the deer species apart from Muntjac, which is classed as a pest animal, so let’s take the Roe deer as an example. In England and Wales bucks are in season between April 1st and October 31st, does come in on November 1st until March 31st.
The rut (breeding season) is around mid-July to mid-August. Though mating occurs, the fertilised egg does not start growing until January, probably to avoid the depredations of the winter. Gestation is nine months, four of no embryonic growth followed by five of foetal growth with kids born around May – June. This gives near 5-months for the youngsters to grow and the does recover as they are not legal quarry until November.
Though the end results are profit and sport we must consider the species and its improvement. To this end we should be selective of the animals we hunt. For example old bucks that have had their day and done their duty might be wounded by younger stronger males, or simply will not take another winter so need to be removed. These are fine targets for new hunters and will have no affect on the general population, likewise anything that is not of good health or quality. The rut itself can also be harsh as males literally fight and mate 24/7 giving little consideration to anything else. Often never recovering from their excesses; can be found dead of exhaustion or malnutrition!
However, mature animals in good condition still have a lot to contribute to the species so we have to be selective and conservative on the numbers we take. Part of the job is assessing deer numbers, age and condition, which gives an indication of the state of the population. On good years numbers can rise with many animals successfully born and raised, too many will have a negative effect in the winter when food is scarce. So number have to be controlled before they suffer by selective shooting (culling).
Deer are tough animals but winters can be hard and if so thought should be given to providing extra food. Equally maintaining their habitat will also help them survive and prosper.