More heads were presented for measuring but roebucks are being shot before they reach their full potential, warns Iain Watson

There are two aspects of trophy roe from Scotland that remain consistent. The first is the overall numbers that are presented for evaluation; the second the locations whence they come. Last year proved to be no exception, with the eastern side of the country producing the pick of the trophies, and in particular the highest-scoring heads. Having said that, there was a spread of heads from all parts of the country in 2015, from Caithness in the far north, down to the border and out to the south- west, in Wigtownshire. Weather patterns may change and, while we endlessly speculate as to how they will impact on our deer, the outcome as far as roe are concerned seems to be more of the same. (Read our report on other species here.)

A noticeable change

However, the tables show that the numbers last year are biased towards Bronze medals, which is a move away from the norm, though this trend was beginning to appear in 2014. Usually, the bulk of the scoring trophies come from the Silver medal category. The change was noticeable particularly during major game fairs, where judges get the opportunity to assess large groups of trophies, so have the chance to compare and contrast the quality, colour and form of the best Scottish trophies, as well as the overall condition. There were noticeably fewer Gold medals in 2015. It would be fair to acknowledge that, when looking at groups of trophies awaiting evaluation, there were striking similarities, both in size and structure.Scottish roe deer review 2015 piechart

The main reason behind the change in medal classes is not down to any reduction in trophy quality, nor the overall health of Scotland’s roe, but is due to the age at which bucks are being harvested. There can be no doubt that, as stalking has grown in popularity, the pressure on bucks, particularly early in the season, has increased, coupled with the desire
of stalkers to obtain a medal head.

One of the main outcomes of this is that mature bucks are being shot before they have reached anything like their full potential. In the long run, if Scotland is to maintain its place as a provider of international-class roe, restraint needs to be shown to allow maximum potential to be reached, and preferably passed, before trophies are taken.

Local genetics and climate

While the spread of areas producing medal heads has increased season on season, there are still parts of the country that provide very few trophy heads. This is in part related to local genetics, soil conditions and climate, but there are also elements of chance, management and opportunity likely to be involved. What is important here is the phrase “very few” — as opposed to none. Some undoubtedly do turn up. Sometimes their appearance is linked to new colonisation of a locality; in established populations more often than not the trophy comes from a mature animal at its peak, or just past it.

While it is likely that the major stalking effort largely takes place in counties
with a track record of producing quality roe, there seems to be no lack of effort in areas not known for trophy quality. It is beneficial to the national record to be able to include animals from new locations.Scottish roe review 2015

At 171.70 points, the top-scoring head for the year was one of two major trophies brought in by Peter Grubb taken in Perthshire. The second scored 155.83 points and dates from the mid-1980s. No doubt there are many trophies of great potential from yesteryear, lurking in sheds and garages, whose evaluation would help add to the details of Scottish trophies maintained by the CIC in Budapest.

Jonathon Dow had a strong trophy of 169.38 points from a specimen that had been found dead in Aberdeenshire. The new CIC recording system allows for casualties to be recorded and certificated as such on the international Trophy Evaluation Database.

The best head from 2015, so far scored, came from J. Readhead at 170.15 and was every inch a Class 1 international trophy, for which the Kingdom of Fife is famed. With an average length of 29cm, which is notable for any UK roe trophy, Mr J. Fraser’s East Lothian trophy scored 149.63. Shooting in Perthshire, Andrew Jardine- Paterson had an even eight-pointer, which achieved a Gold.

As far as oddities go, 2015 did not come anywhere near the highs of previous seasons. There were fewer perruques and no reports of intersex animals, though some trophies of antlered females from previous seasons were taken to game fairs.

No evidence of frostbite

Overall, winter conditions were relatively kind to roe, and the lack of harsh cold weather was reflected in few trophies showing the typical tine bulge attributed to frostbite in the growing velvet-covered head. Rutting activity was reported from some parts of central Scotland rather earlier than usual, in what weather-wise was a rather poor summer.

Scottish roe, like their southern relatives, continue to produce endless variations of non-typical heads. Bob Strachan had an unusual Silver-medal head trophy from Aberdeenshire, which was awarded Silver at 119.22 points. Clackmannanshire, a county not known for many medal heads, produced two in 2015: a Gold for Mr McMeechan and Bronze for Mr G. Ellice. Much further north, Ross-shire provided Silver for Ronnie Rhoden and a Bronze for Mr D. Smith.

Looking towards 2016, a plea to stalkers: if you come across unusual animals, particularly those that seem to be intersex, keep a photographic record and tissue samples. Both can help to determine the nature of the condition and add to our understanding of roe. The measuring team will be at the Deerstalking Fair at Kelso (9-10 April), the Scottish Game Fair at Scone (1-3 July), and the Highland Field Sports Fair at Moy (5-6 August). As always, trophies can be evaluated at Bushwear at Stirling and Perth, or by post.