Red Deer are Britains largest land mammal and live in separate sex herds for most of the year. The breeding season, or rut, occurs from the end of September to November. Stags return to the females (hind’s) home range and compete for access to hinds by engaging in elaborate displays of dominance including roaring, parallel walks and fighting. Serious injury and death can result but fighting only occurs between stags of similar size that cannot assert dominance by any of the other means. The dominant stag then ensures exclusive mating with the hinds.
I first visited Bradgate Park in Leicestershire in 2009 when I joined photographer Danny Green on his annual Red Deer workshop which was a great introduction to the annual rut. This year I have managed to visit the park on eight separate occasions. It has been a difficult year for photographing the deer due to to a bumper crop of acorns! There is an area of the park off limits to the public and this is where the deer spend a lot of time. Because of the mass of acorns, the deer have not needed to venture into the hills or meadows to feed. There has been only two dominant stags who have kept the females to one small area and the most productive photography for me has been in the afternoons.
The females were gathered in one small area in amongst the trees and bracken and occasionally wandered onto a ridge which provided great opportunities to photograph them. If they wandered too far away the dominant stag soon herded them back to the main group.
My best shots of the stag were taken late one Friday evening. I had decided to stay in the park and risk the Friday night traffic delays on the M1 motorway on my way home. The light had almost gone when a group of females crossed the small stream from the sanctuary into the park. The stag soon followed and for a few minutes he thrashed around, roaring and bellowing.
For much of October the weather has been very poor, lots of grey, wet days. Last week though I was lucky to visit the park on a morning when the temperature had dipped and the skies were clear. The meadows were bathed in a beautiful orange light just as a stag walked through.
The following morning it was back to overcast skies and unseasonal warm temperatures. Still it was worth the walk around the hills to capture this stag as he made his way down from the hillside.
I have really enjoyed concentrating on photographing one subject. As always I would have liked more time and I will definitely be looking forward to next October and having another opportunity to photograph this amazing wildlife spectacle.