By Flora Hackett
On a dusky September’s evening against the striking silhouette of the Paps of Jura, I watched on last month as two young stags locked their antlers in tense embrace. A starting gun to the rutting season, this triggered the beginnings of clashing antlers and bellowing groans echoing across the Isle of Jura and beyond. These juvenile stags had broken into a local farmer’s field and whilst their stooped postures seemed genuine at first impression, it became clear they were merely practicing their finest rutting technique for the testing weeks ahead. Now well underway, I wonder how those two stags are faring in the aggressive arena of the rut. Here are the top 10 best places to spectate:
1) The Isle of Jura
Anywhere in the Scottish Highlands makes for ideal viewing of the rut, but after visiting Jura since childhood I’m quite biased towards this particular island. With the population outnumbered 30 to 1 by their Red Deer co-habitants, an encounter with rutting stags is inevitable. Boasting stunning scenery and renowned local whiskey that is ideal for the dwindling temperatures, this is an excellent place to witness the autumn spectacle.
2) Exmoor National Park, Somerset
If the Scottish highlands are a wee bit too remote for you, Britain has many other rutting regions to enjoy. Exmoor National Park is home to Red, Fallow and Roe Deer so is a great place to observe the rut in action. A host of luxury safaris are on offer, including a coastal drive to Devon’s most northerly point. Costing £20 per person, £15 per child or £55 for a family, this expedition to Foreland Point allows you to view the rutting contests through the safe windscreen of a 4×4.
3) Lyme Park, Cheshire
The National Trust estate of Lyme Park is thronging with strutting deer fighting for domination within this ancient hunting park. With tree guards in place to protect the woods from being on the receiving end of their powerful antlers, these grounds are a perfect place to glimpse the rutting rivals.
4) The Ashridge Estate, Herefordshire
Awash with the golden tones of Autumn, the Ashridge Estate is home to Fallow and Muntjac deer. This many not include Red Deer, the dominant face of the rutting season, yet there are deer rutting observation events running throughout October to allow you to witness the rutting underdogs, rather underdeers, of autumn. These early morning walks take place between 7-9am, costing £15 per adult and £10 per child.
5) Galloway Forest Park, Scotland
Established in 1977, the Red Deer Range is a great location to observe the clashing antlers from the safety of the viewing hide. One of Scotland’s Big 5 and their largest land mammal, this park provides a fantastic opportunity to see Red Deer in the peak of their physical condition.
6) FountainsAbbey and Studley Royal, North Yorkshire
You’re sure to see some elaborate displays of superiority occurring in this deer park where 500 roam wild. With crisp autumnal leaves crunching underfoot, John the experienced deer warden has mapped out a Deer Rut Walk for visitors to enjoy this autumn occurrence.
7) Eastern Moors, Peak District
The autumnal moorland may act as camouflage for the russet-coloured coats of the red deer, yet their rutting routine is hard to miss. Home to around 130 Red Deer, this exposed national park is an ideal location for a sighting of stags in battle.
8) Margam Park, Neath Port Talbot
Red, Fallow and the lesser known Pere David Deer are the roaming residents of this parkland. Ranging across 500 acres, Deer Herd Tours are available from local experts for a first hand encounter with an ultimate autumnal experience.
9) Minsmere, Suffolk
As the stags vie for supremacy, the RSPB reserve of Minsmere is offering a close up view from one of their 4×4 safaris. A brilliant opportunity to get some impressive photos, this rutting ride will occur at 3 intervals everyday until the 25th of October, costing £155 per vehicle or £90 for members.
10) New Forest, Hampshire
All 6 of the UK’s deer species found in the wild have been spotted in the southern oasis of the New Forest. Only locking antlers at certain renowned rutting grounds that date back as far as a century, be sure to catch the fearsome action this autumn.