Three days ago, I would have told you that the rut was drawing to a close. It was, but it was then given a fresh lease of life by a sudden drop in temperature and frosty nights. Certainly the stag who was roaring directly outside my bedroom window at 4.00am this morning was still in fine voice. Still even if the cold weather continues it will move slowly to a close over the next week.
The rut this year has been very different from last year. Last year it started, then stopped and eventually started again. It was very disjointed and spread out over an extended period. We have seen the results this year with calves born over a long period of time. Some of them were born very late and are still too small for the onset of winter. If we have a bad winter I expect our losses will be high.
This year the rut also started early but then continued fast and furious. We heard our first roar in early September, the rut was in full progress by the 20th and by the 10th of October you could already see stags resting up, having retired from the action.
A good active rut always helps the stalking season, as fair weather and a good variety of wind. We benefited from the first two, but not the third. For the second year running we seemed to have winds from the south and west throughout the main period of stalking activity, restricting our ability to stalk in some parts of the estate. We finished our last day’s stalking on 9 October. This is a little later than usual for us, but still well before the legal end of the season. We find at Croick that we have a relatively early rut and by the second week in October the stags are ‘well run’. They have lost condition and are much less attractive – on the hill or in the larder – than they were a few weeks previously.
We intended to increase the number of stags taken this year, and did so. We aimed for 30 and ended up at 29. Our largest stag weighed in at 20st 12lb but our average was down a little bit from previous years at 16st 4lb. I suspect the reduction reflected the fact that we stalked a bit later than in previous years and shot more stags towards the end. Stags will lose significant condition over the course of the rut and may lose several stone over the course of the rut.
The sika stalking preceded the red deer stalking and was largely finished by mid-September. We shot slightly fewer than intended, because of bad luck on a number of stalks, but ended up with 16 at an average of 8st 8lb. That’s the heaviest average over the last ten years.
All in all, it was a good and productive year.The stags were well distributed across the estate, and looked good. We had some lovely days, were spared too many midges and too many soakings. What’s not to like!