Deer stalking – antler deformities

Among all the deer species in the British Isles roe are probably the most likely to throw what we call a malformed head i.e one that does not conform to what we generally consider a representative head for the species.

Abnormal heads are also often seen in Muntjac and of course red deer will also produce what is called a switch – two long spikes with maybe a small brow tine, as opposed to the 12 point Monarch of the Glen, or Royal.

An unusual head can be produced for many reasons but it’s often down to the animal damaging itself accidentally on fences, in road traffic accidents, disease or through parasite burden.

Oddities can also be caused by animals knocking seven bells out of each other in fights over territory.

And believe me, this can be an incredibly violent business – the strength and effort put into a true ‘Clash of the Titans’ can even make the observer wince!

A FIGHT TO THE END

If two male deer decide they are really going to go for it they can fight until one is seriously injured, or dead.

Fatalities don’t happen that often because both fighters usually have more sense than to continue, but occasionally there’s no stopping it.

Deer stalking - antler deformitiesBuck shot in the rut. The damage was done the previous winter as the antlers were growing. We saw him throughout this period.

Go down to many city centres these days and you may be unfortunate enough to witness male stupidity fuelled by alcohol.

In the deer world it is the all-powerful hormone – testosterone.

When deer are full of it, the woods and hills are alive with the sound of aggression and it’s a fantastic, awesome, spectacle.

The size and weight of antlers can depend on many influences but the three main constituents that produce really magnificent heads (or not as the case may be) are:

» The genetic material in the line, which is the quality of the breeding history

» The quality of the feed available; the better the grub the bigger the head and the animal

» The amount of disturbance the animals have to contend with in day-to-day living.

Yes, stress happens in the animal world too! The more deer and disturbance on the ground, the more stressed that population will be, and that will affect growth.

Ill health also plays a part because if animals are brought down by either disease or a heavy parasitic burden then they will not thrive and their physical condition will be poor.

Genetics depend on the deer population in the vicinity, which is why good deer stalkers try to manage numbers to the best of their ability.

Of course we all like to bag the odd trophy animal but there really is no point shooting all the biggest and best heads, to do so will simply weaken the genetic pool and leave poor, weaker animals on the ground.

An unthinking – or uncaring – approach to deer management will affect your deer population for years, indeed it might never recover.

Boys will be boys and they are full to the brim testosterone at certain times of year.

However I can honestly say that I have never experienced a season where the deer have been as aggressive as this one and the level of ‘violence’ has surprised me.

It may be that having survived the hard winter the bucks have been held back by a month and then came into the ‘T-level’ at the same time.

Whatever the cause, it has been spectacular.

WHAT MAKES A CLASSIC ROE HEAD

Roe antlers are made up of the pedicel, which is the bone or stem that the antler grows on. The coronet – the crown formed at the base of the antler – is followed by the beam and tines sprouting from them.

A classic roe head has three points either side producing the six-pointer buck we all know and love.

Those antlers do not all develop in deer at the same rate so you certainly cannot age an animal by his headgear.

Six-pointers are not always mature and two or four-pointers not always youngsters.

The pedicel can be damaged by many things and fighting is one.

Once the pedicel is damaged then the antler growing from it will always be misshapen and many unusual shapes and sizes can be produced by a damaged pedicel.

We stalkers are always fascinated by them… in fact I have often said we probably need therapy for the affliction!

An antler can also be damaged during growth.

For instance when the antler is growing in its protective covering of velvet it is particularly vulnerable and can be damaged by freezing weather or a knock on a fence.

If you watch deer in this stage of antler growth you will notice that they take a deal more care with their head than they do later on.

Roe deer of course cast their antlers in December when the ‘T-level’ has dropped substantially and they are not aggressive: nature isn’t stupid, imagine growing new antlers when you are building up to the rut and feeling punchy!!

Deer stalking - antler deformitiesThe most aggressive week I have seen among bucks… and the result.

Antlers are often seriously damaged in the build up to the rut when bucks are thrashing out their territory and I suspect this is when most of the serious damage is done to their skulls and pedicles.

My picture last month of two deer that had been involved a right old ‘rumble in the jungle’ showed all too well the sheer power of these animals.

They are blessed with huge hind, back and neck muscles and the energy in their clashes is formidable.

It’s just a good job they are still frightened of man but my advice is not to go near rutting stags because people with less sense have actually been seriously injured and killed by them.

Furthermore, when it comes to the rare occasions of having to approach a wounded roe buck in cover I am always very wary of the animal’s reaction. They are rarely the sweet Bambi of Walt Disney fame, so show them some respect.

Deer stalking - antler deformitiesThe picture here of the fractured skull and broken pedicel is from a younger buck that had tackled an older and wiser buck and even with that awful wound the youngster was still game.

Looking at the damage it is hard to believe just how he could carry on, he almost certainly would have died from the wound later.

If he had not been shot and recovered I wonder what his pedicel would have produced had it all healed back?

Kenny – the reader who asked the question – started something here as it’s one of my favourite subjects, one I could drone on about forever but I sense the editor peering at me through cyber space with that ‘Enough’ look on his face! Good hunting.

Jon Snowden

Tel: 01434 344067

greenleehouse@aol.com