I have just updated our stalking records with the figures for this year’s stag season. It will be no surprise to anyone familiar with the weather over the past twelve months to know that our numbers and weights are significantly down on last year. Our average weight is about a stone below our long term average.
The year started with severe frost over Christmas and New Year, and was followed by the ‘Beast from the East’. We had several feet of snow, and severe drifting, on top of already frozen ground. Deer starved and the mortality rate was high; just how high we didn’t appreciate until later in the year. The spring’s calving rate was also poor as many surviving hinds had lost foetuses over the severe winter.
After that severe winter we had a pleasant spring followed by a hot, dry summer. As a consequence, the grass simply did not grow as we would usually expect. Our silage crop was way down from the previous year and there was simply not the volume or value of grazing to get the surviving deer back into peak condition. As a consequence, the rut was slow to start and spasmodic, presumably because hinds were slow to come into season. As I speak, a few stags are still roaring, indicating that there are hinds in season now. The whole season is running at least a month behind its normal schedule.
This will not simply be a one year problem. The hinds are going into the winter in poor condition and unless we are remarkably lucky we shall further winter losses and a poor calving rate next year. Of course, with a few mild winters numbers and condition can and will rebuild but we are faced with a whole in the age mix of our deer population that will take years to roll through the system. This winter’s deer count will be absolutely crucial to baseline our population and plan what it is realistic to cull over the next few years.
The sika deer are tougher than the red, and better survivors. But they have suffered too and numbers are undoubtedly down. But they seemed in better condition than the reds so we shot more and their weights are much closer to our long term average.