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Velvet Time
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Colin Davey in his iconic book ‘Deer on my Doorstep’ finished off with a chapter on the twelve month life of red deer. According to him mature stags in the wild shift to antler-growing country from about the start of November, mob up with their mates and unless pressured by hunters feed up in those areas big time. Antler growing country is a region where the food resources are good year after year, is in an out of the way place, and consists of mostly open bush faces. He made the observation that every big rutting stag he saw in April could have been observed back in November in antler growing country. By December they will have full velvet heads.

Apparently, the stags get quieter and quieter as they scoff out on good tucker, and in his words by mid-December are downright stupid compared to other times of the year. Big and fat, life is good if no hunters are around. The hinds are dropping their fawns so seemingly disappear, leaving adolescents and young stags a bit leaderless, and in wander mode. Many end up on the Xmas barbeque.

A few years back a Kaikoura hunting guide took me to an area where he knew big mobs of velvet stags hung out. The date was early February and we found out we were too late by then. The spot was barren; no stags. By then they were stripping the velvet, and obviously doing so somewhere else.

Hanging out with the stag boys, while growing velvet is also a good way for mature stags to solve some if not most of the dominance spates pre-rut. No point a stag putting his life on the line in the roar if he already knows that his rival weighs more than him, has a killer instinct, and is a true blue fighter. He only has to see such a stag when the roar commences to know he is outclassed, and it is time to sneak away.

The photos accompanying this entry were of a group of velvet stags I had got close to during a light shower one afternoon. Straight away I could see there was a dominance hierarchy in the mob. Some were tolerated, some were bullied, and some gave the biggest boys a wide berth. There were a lot of subtle squeals, nips, lunges, and ear and eye language going on and seemingly every stag pretty much knew the pecking order. The antlers on these stags will be stripped soon.

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