Stalkers Blog

by | Apr 22, 2024 | News, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Despite the recent changes made in Scotland where the close season for male deer has been abolished, most deer managers I speak to fully intend to honour the old seasons, and so the significance of the 1 April 2024 was not lost. Many stalkers’ thoughts will have been turning towards the Roe buck for some time. It is always one of the most eagerly awaited times of year, and there is little to beat the excitement of heading out at first light on opening morning.

And whilst this is mostly about the excitement of getting out after a buck, it also has a lot to do with the longer daylight hours and some warmer weather as we say goodbye to the winter. There is a definite and tangible feel-good factor in the air. As a deer manager, I am constantly monitoring roe on my ground but particularly so in early Spring when I can fully assess how the deer have fared over the winter months. Strangely, it is the most critical period for many species.

Few animals do well if it has been cold and very wet; this causes them to lose condition rapidly, with the younger and older deer being most susceptible. It is bizarre that the time of highest mortality is just as we are on the cusp of nutrient-rich buds and shoots emerging, with better times literally around the corner.

I almost hesitate to mention the word ‘trophy.’ There is such a stigma that surrounds the term, which is mostly complete and utter nonsense and is borne out of misinformation and often downright lies. I have never in all my years as an outfitter met any stalker who only wants to go out and shoot only large males.

This was brought home to me recently after a conversation with one of my regulars who seemed almost embarrassed to ask me about the possibility of shooting a quality roe buck. This is someone who has stalked with me for around 20 years, shooting many deer, all of which were cull animals and taken as part of his efforts to assist me with some ground that I manage and, in the main, were taken for his own table; he is trying to live as sustainably as possible. However, he had decided that he would like to try for a decent roe buck and have that mounted on his wall. There is nothing wrong with that, and it is a great shame that folk are uncomfortable at wanting to do this.

To consistently produce superior quality roe bucks, then the management of the roe in the area must be good. Sufficient males must be left to mature, with deer numbers in balance in the habitat that they occupy, with the females also being controlled. The first thing that suffers if this management is not in place are the deer themselves and the habitat which they occupy.

When I first set up approaching 20 years ago, some of the ground that I now manage had been syndicated, so guys were travelling from different areas south of the border for 2 to 3 days at a time, independently for their stalking. They shot roe as the opportunity presented but followed no clear plan, little point leaving a young 6-point buck to mature and continue to look for a lesser beast when they might not get another chance, or the next guy up might shoot it. I have been in the same situation myself and have done just this, which is perfectly understandable. However, now by applying some management principles, we produce medal class roe bucks each year from this same ground where only 10 years ago this simply did not happen. I might not shoot any younger bucks here which are showing promise until they are starting to go back, or there are mature bucks coming through on the same block.

It is incredibly satisfying to see a tangible and obvious improvement in the quality of the roe. I do accept that where there are commercial considerations, then the roe population must be maintained commensurate with damage tolerances and the like, but do not forget that a dominant buck will keep the youngster in check, which will significantly reduce fraying and browse damage.

So where are the best areas to find the big Roe bucks in Scotland? Traditionally, most of the medal class roe bucks over recent years have come from Aberdeenshire, Perthshire, Fife, and Angus, along with the Scottish Borders. Recent years, however, have seen other areas of Scotland starting to feature by producing top-end bucks. These are areas well populated with arable farms situated on fertile, rich, and well-drained soil. Similarly, there are high numbers of game shoots and even if these are not the large commercial ventures, there will be game cover crops and feed hoppers distributed throughout the ground and kept topped up well into February. Consequently, this provides both cover and readily available sustenance throughout the winter months. Little wonder then that the roe population thrives here.

I recall well my first trip many years ago now to try and catch up with a medal class roe buck. I was taken out that evening into a field of around fifty acres of carrots, which were sandwiched on either side by a strip or mature firs, bounded by maize and close on ten large feed hoppers. This was deer heaven, and it was not long into my evening vigil before deer began to emerge to munch on the carrot tops, shortly thereafter I had a thumping silver medal buck which takes pride of place on my office wall.

But for all these near-perfect conditions, the deer population must be managed correctly and cannot simply be left alone – you must accurately assess the deer numbers on the ground and establish a healthy and sustainable balance. It is no good having too many females or shooting too many of the good bucks coming through the ranks all for a quick buck – forgive the pun! To do this will create a problem which will take many years to redress.

However, even on lesser ground where conditions are not at all favourable, careful management of a small population can produce some spectacular roe bucks; they just need longer to fully develop. The Roe buck season runs from the 1 April to the 20 October, but the best times to catch up with the mature bucks is either in April and May when the cover is still not too dense and the bucks are quite active, and during the rut. The larger medal class bucks will be clean of velvet and coloured early, and so by the opening day of the season will be impressive as they patrol around their turf. During late July and into the middle of August is usually the peak of the roe rut; the further South you are, the earlier they will start rutting, and at these times you will often be able to tempt the dominant bucks from cover by calling them.

We should not be made to feel awkward about a wish to try for a representative or medal head from any of the deer species; there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as this is done from an area with a healthy deer population that is sustainably and ethically managed. Actually, the very fact that you have the option to do this is likely a strong indication that the management of that particularly species in that area is being done correctly.

By, Chris Dalton
South Ayrshire Stalking




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