This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Stag or Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), Fig. 59, belongs to the order Ruminantia, or ruminating animals, and is included in the family Cervidae. The adults, male and female, in the summer have the back, flanks and outside of the thighs fulvous brown, with a blackish line running down the spine, marked on each side with a row of pale fulvous spots. In winter, these parts are of a uniform grey-brown, and the head, sides of the neck, and underparts of the body and legs are also grey-brown; the buttocks and tail are always pale buff. The young, during the first six months, are brown spotted with white. The male (stag) is distinguished from the female (hind) by the magnificent branching horns, the long bristly hair of the throat, and the canine teeth in the upper jaw. The first year the horns are represented by a knob or protuberance; the second year by pointed spikes; the third year by two or three tines or antlers, and the horns become more branched every year up to the seventh. After this the horns do not generally increase in the number of branches, but become thicker and stronger.
The horns are shed in spring, the old stags first, and the young last, and the new horns are completed about the month of August. The rutting season follows in September, when the males become exceedingly fierce, waging desperate contests with each other, and sometimes attacking other animals and men. The hind goes with young eight months and some days. The calf (fawn) is dropped in May or the beginning of June, and remains with the hind all the summer. In winter red deer of all ages and both sexes congregate in herds, from which the older stags and the hinds withdraw as the spring approaches. The stag is very swift, and is an excellent swimmer. Stag-hunting has always been a favourite amusement among the great, and still is practised similarly to fox-hunting, but with tame deer, in a few districts in England, while deer-stalking is a favourite pastime of the wealthy in the Highlands of Scotland. Formerly the stag was protected by the most stringent forest laws. William the Conqueror is said to have "loved the tall deer as if he had been their father," and to kill a man was a slighter offence than to kill a deer.
Red deer only exist wild in Great Britain in the Highlands of Scotland.
Fig. 59. - The Red Deer.
Red deer, astray, cause considerable damage during the nighttime to meadows and farm crops, also in orchards when the apples and pears are beginning to ripen. The hinds eat voraciously of all the fruit within their reach, while the stags stand on their hind legs for the purpose of bringing down the smaller fruit-laden branches. In the forest these animals are also notable for:
1. Biting off the top buds and succulent shoots of young ash, aspen, beech, hazel, hornbeam, larch, maple, oak, silver fir, sycamore, and willow, also, in lesser degree, birch, elm, Scots pine, and spruce, during the late autumn and winter months.
2. Gnawing and stripping the bark from oak of fifteen to twenty years of age, and spruce of twenty to forty years, while alder, birch, larch, Austrian and Scots pine seldom suffer after attaining an age of twenty years. The "stripping" usually takes place in the spring and summer months, and more frequently by stags than hinds; "gnawing" mostly occurs during the winter months., The wounds heal most quickly in ash, larch, oak, Weymouth pine, and silver fir; very slowly in maple, sycamore and spruce.
3. Rubbing the velvet from their antlers during July and August, and again towards the beginning of autumn, using sapling aspen, horse chestnut, larch, lime, maple, Weymouth pine, silver fir, and willow as "fraying" stocks; the fraying taking place at night, and scattered trees being most exposed to danger.
4. Treading down the growth of young seedlings and transplanted trees with their sharp-cutting, horny hoofs.