The Exmoor Red Deer Rut

The annual red deer rut on Exmoor has got to be one of THE wildlife spectacles the UK has got to offer. The sight, the sound, and even the smell (yes the smell , more on this later!) makes this event unmissable in my book.

The Sight

Imagine seeing amongst the golden bracken covered hills that create the autumnal backdrop the sight of the UK's largest mammal standing proud, master of all he surveys, surrounded by 20 or 30 hinds (females) all seemingly under his control. He will try and mate with each one but most often they are not "in season" at the same time and so a larger version of cat and mouse begins.

The stag will rely on  his extremely acute sense of smell ,using the Jacobson organ located around the mouth /nose area, to detect which hinds are in season . This is mainly done by pushing each hind when they are sat down so that they get up and the stag can then smell the patch that the hind was sat on. If she is not in season he goes on to the next one until he has visited each hind in his group. If he detects the right amount of pheremones then quite often he will chase the hind licking his  lips in a kind of comical Benny Hill fashion, if she is not ready to mate however, she will keep running away until the stag tries another hind.

If she is ready then the stag will try and mate, this can take him several goes to get right and he will have as many as 10 attempts to do this!

Of course a hind that IS in season will be detectable to every stag around. Each stag will try and establish a territory during the rutting season known as a rutting stand. Many "stands are used year after year and indeed have probably been used for 100's of years by previous  generations of the Red Deer. Normally the side of a hill is a suitable place  and each face of surrounding hills will often have a stand and a stag. Therefore the scent from any hind in season will be quickly picked up by another stag, say on the opposing hill face and then the stag will face another problem - a rival.

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