Wildlife and the animal kingdom has always been a massive passion of mine. As a child I always collected animal cards and facts and posters when everyone else was collecting football stickers. As I’ve got older and started upon my hill walking and mountaineering I have seen many wonderful creatures gracing the landscape around my walks and adventures, but my favorite mammal is easily the Red deer. Many times whilst walking in the Scottish highland I will go for several days without seeing another human being but you can be sure somewhere high on a Munro standing watchful with an err of majestic grace and royalty will be a red deer stag with his hinds not far away.
It’s because of this I wanted to follow and film the deer but there very illusive most of the year apart from October when its rutting season where the males compete to mate with the females. Luckily there are several wild herds in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park and I’ve been walking those hills since I was 6 years old. My plan was to shadow the herds for one week capturing them at different times of the day and spend a night out on the moors with them wild camping. Follow me on this journey with this magnificent beast.
Day 1: Started well for me, I tracked the deer down to the back edge of the moorland away from all the public pathways. Straight away I was amazed by their vocal roars known as bolving, a sum what haunting and menacing sound that can travel for miles in the right conditions. They use the roar as there first line of defence against other stags with the biggest and strongest stags producing the loudest and deepest roars. I was lucky enough to see a short battle on my first day, despite it only being short and more of a test of strength for maybe a later battle my adrenalin was high and felt lucky to have witnessed my first battle.
Day 2: 06.30 saw me heading out early to try to get some action in the cooler conditions . After walking through the boggy marsh land I began to climb a hill to where I could definitely here several deer. By this point the sun was up and as I arrived at the top I was faced with 4 young stags who were certainly not intimidated by a bearded man and his camera. As I stood there alone with 20ft between me and 4 stags stood side by side playing who could blink first and feeling I was in some form of spaghetti western stand-off all was thinking was “i bet they can run a hell of a lot faster than me!” After a while they lost interest and went about their business and the rest of the day was fairly uneventful.
Day 3: late afternoon and what a warm and beautiful day starting off following some deer runs through the long grass up onto the flats. There was such a large gathering of red deer from young males to large groups of females to a few large older stags. I was almost totally surrounded by the pure volume of them, it was so impressive to see these numbers thriving in their natural envioroment. I got my tripod set up and mounted the camera only to discover after taking a short video that my memory card was full and I had no spare! “Dam it what an absolute idiot i am!” My only joy was that I actually just got to then sit down, relax and have nature be my TV screen for a couple of hrs.
Day 4: 06.00 and the weather turns for the worse with mother nature showing up and disrupting the filming for the day. However no amount of weather was going to stop me enjoying being out so i set up a base tarp, strapped the GoPro to the dogs and got some doggy cam footage. After firing up the Jet Boil and enjoying some hot soup whilst listening to the distant roars carrying in the wind I made my way back to the van.
Day 5: Today I decided to go the long way round to take in some of the other animals and wildlife that the red deer share their habitat with. My first encounter was the very intimidating yet gentle Highland Cattle which look so powerful and cuddly at the same time, they had young ones with them too which alway makes me take extra caution just incase we have an over protective mum. The rest of the way was filled with sightings of furry caterpillars, grouse, sheep an abundance of bird life including a beautiful kestrel that was constantly in sight while it hovered silently above looking for small rodents to swoop down on. Upon reaching the main deer herd there was a very large male being extremely vocal and doing allot walking back and forth constantly keeping his group of hinds close to him, it was as though he was preparing for something.
Wild Camp and final Day: I set up camp around 10pm using a green tarp, roll mat and sleeping bag in the hope of getting some recordings of them bolving at night which is when they seem to be there loudest as there is less noise pollution but unfortunately it was a fairly quiet night, however all was not lost. As I lay in my sleeping bag I do begin to hear the odd roar so I venture out of my warm bag into the somewhat gloomy cold misty morning grab my camera and begin to look around. As I stand there I could pick out the distant noise of a clatter, and again, and again. I suddenly realised it was the noise of antlers crashing together, wow I was so excited “this is it” i thought “come on time to get the money shot.” Quickly but quietly I walked up a slope to wear the noise was coming from, it was getting louder and so was my heart beat. As I came over the top there they were, two big males going head to head in a full on battle! The power was amazing, the strength and resilience each one showed neither one wanting to back down, antlers locked in and I could see their breath as they gave it all they had. Everything around them seemed to stand still everything was silent other than the noise from the battle. The conditions were perfect, it was misty, dull, cool and damp it was almost like we were in a movie until the reality of natures battle to survive hit home to me as one stag finally turned and fled limping as he went, before long he sat down in the grass panting heavily exhausted from battle, whilst the other stood there in all his glory with the mist and hinds in the background he roared away announcing his victory to all his challengers.
The time I spent with the Red Deer has been absolutely amazing, I enjoyed every second regardless of the time or weather conditions. I feel privileged to have these animals so close to me and to witness their power and struggle in their constant battle to be at the top. These are wild animals at their most aggressive time of the year so please be aware of that if you see them in the wild and give them the space and respect they deserve.
Below is a video diary of my week so crack open the whiskey, chuck a log on the fire and enjoy!