Deer antlers hold a deep fascination for many of us sporting folk. We even decorate our homes with skulls which, unless periodically dusted, become dusty and the abode of spiders, a source of domestic disharmony. What is it about trophies? An unassuming roe head can hardly be thought of as a status symbol like a valuable picture or a BMW in the front drive, but it?s a matter of pride to the stalker who shot it, and even sometimes to others.
An interesting example of continuing affection for a trophy came to light recently. Mr C. Brown wrote to me enclosing a photograph of some antlers that have been in his family for more than 50 years. They belonged to a buck, which was found dead on the north side of Croydon Hill, near Minehead, in Somerset, in 1953 ? a time when roe deer were not known to exist on Exmoor. It was thought that it could have been a victim of the disastrous floods that led to the Lynmouth disaster in 1952. This appears to be a fully mature, six-point buck, probably quite old.
The incident was reported in Country Life,One of two people, when told of this find, were incredulous, and the existence of roe within six miles of Minehead was not generally known. I have as yet met no-one who knew or suspected that roe had spread into these traditional haunts of red deer, though it would seem almost impossible that roe could live and breed here without hunt servants or gamekeepers becoming aware of their presence.
This was not strictly true, as even then there was a roe head hanging in the bar of the inn at Exford with, I think, an inscription saying that it had been hunted and taken in 1937. Perhaps an ST reader will correct the details? So, even then, occasional roe were travelling away from their known haunts on the Devon/Dorset border. My own first buck was taken in 1953, near Honiton, 30 miles off as the crow flies, and they were pretty scarce even there. My correspondent?s parents, who found the buck, recalled being alarmed at night hearing a roe barking near their home at Rodhuish. This was years before the area was fully colonised.
They salvaged the antlers, had them mounted on a plaque and a local artist, sadly anonymous, not only painted the head, but embellished the sketch with a roebuck, a pair of blackgrouse and a red grouse. Both these gamebirds existed in the area at that time. It was titled ?Antlers of Roe Deer from dead buck found at the foot of Black Hill, November 1952?. The trophy has become a prized possession of the family.
For the record
No-one who was in the British Deer Society?s tent at last year?s CLA Game Fair could mistake the enormous interest in the two notable roe heads that were brought in for measurement. Likewise, by the crowds clustering round the CIC trophy judges at work at the four game fairs, one can have no doubt how important it is to stalkers to find out how their heads compare to an International standard. An onlooker might take this interest as some kind of competition, but, in fact, that is not true. If a trophy reaches a preset number of points, it is judged to be of gold, silver or bronze standard.
Quite apart from the interest to the stalker concerned, encouraging stalkers to come forward with their heads has a variety of very valuable functions. First, as antler growth is an indicator of the wellbeing of a deer species, a long-term decline among the heads measured would signal a clear deterioration in management. Fortunately, the reverse is true in the case of roe and muntjac ? quite apart from the two record heads, the number of first-class heads recorded annually has been increasing steadily.
Without the trophy-measuring service, the old argument that pay-stalking was creaming-off all the best roebucks with disastrous results could not be proved untrue. In contrast, our mismanaged wild fallow deer are not often allowed to achieve antlers which compare with those shown in other countries.
The eager gatherings at game fairs are also an opportunity for the exchange of ideas between stalkers, who in the normal course of a lonely occupation would rarely have the chance. In a less spectacular way, the flow of house visits to the seven trophy judges through the year have a similar value and also bring in information which otherwise might be lost.
Yes, we delight in our trophies as souvenirs of exciting stalks and wonderful country enjoyed at its best at dusk and dawn, but each head is so individual in looks and associations that one can never claim ?mine is better than yours?. In true sports, as contrasted with games, there should be no competition. So, decorate yours or hang a gold CIC medal round it as respect for a fallen opponent. And share the delight of a fellow stalker with his own trophies without a trace of envy ? if you can.
The roe deer reviews will be appearing in the 18 and 25 January issues of Shooting Times.