The Shooting Times published last week their annual survey of red deer stalking in numbers. It was gratifying to see that while the number of stags we cull each year is modest they continue to be amongst the heaviest average weights reported across Scotland. As we do no supplementary feeding this reinforces my view that we have a very sustainable population of deer on our ground, and of course we have good ground and good forest cover to support them.
Bit it is not a god time for deer at present. The combination of two very hard winters and, this year in particular, a long period of cold followed by wind and rain is certainly testing their ability to survive. Yesterday, as the hind stalking season comes to an end we despatched a red deer hind who weighed in the larder only 64lbs, about half the weight you would expect of a healthy animal. The poor animal would not have survived more than a few more days. And we have seen more dead and orphaned calves this year than I have ever seen before. It is really very concerning when the most difficult times are still to come as the deer struggle to find food until new grass comes through in late April or early May.
The sika deer seem much more resilient and they continue to look in good order. But our small population of fallow is also suffering and must really be said to survive rather than than prosper this far north.
Our other concern at the moment is where all our mature stags have gone. Over the last 8-10 years we have seen a good resident population of stags on the estate, drawn here by our low ground pasture and our woodland shelter. This year they have largely disappeared after the end of the rut in November. And we don’t know where they are. They could perhaps be hiding in the woodland and simply not showing themselves, as they undoubtedly do for a period during the summer when preparing for the rut. But we would expect to see some, particularly out feeding on the greens at night. And we are not seeing them. The other possibility is that they have gone on to our neighbours’ land. But our neighbours are not reporting increased numbers and it is not clear why they would have gone this year when they have not gone before. We shall continue to look out for them.