Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
Red deer are the second largest of Australia’s wild deer species and are probably the deer with which most mainland Australians are familiar because of their presence in large numbers on deer farms.
A mature stag stands about 120cm at the shoulder and weighs somewhere between 135kg and 160kg. Hinds are considerably smaller standing about 90cm and weighing about 92kg.They are called red deer because their summer coat is a rich russet-brown on their body and outer legs. The underparts of the body and neck tend towards grey. Both sexes have a distinctive straw-coloured patch on the rump or caudal area. In winter, their coats vary between dull brown and grey. Calves have white spots at birth but this coat is soon replaced and, at about six weeks of age, they are a uniform dull brown in colour.
The antlers of a mature red stag are quite impressive and consist of a main beam and three tines on the lower half of the antler. These are the brow tine which grows out of the main beam just above the coronet, the bez tine which is normally situated just above the brow, and the trez tine which protrudes from the main beam just below its half-way mark. The main beam usually ends in a terminal crown of two or three tines. A stag having brow, bez and trez tines and a crown of three terminal tines on both ant- lers is referred to as a ‘royal’. An abundance of good food may influence antler growth to such an extent that mature stags will commonly grow antlers with more than twelve points.
Red deer are natives of Europe, Asia and parts of North Africa. They are the deer most often referred to by those brought up in the ways of European hunting traditions. The two most important sources of Australia’s red deer are Windsor Great Park and Knows- ley Park in Lancashire, England. Windsor Great Park was in existence in the 13th cen- tury and the herd had a large infusion of German red deer late in the 17th century. A few animals of Scottish bloodlines were also brought into Australia but their influence is much stronger in the Queensland herd than in the southern states. The most im- pressive antlers are certainly those grown by the Queensland deer.
The most important herd of red deer to be established in Australia was at Thomas Chirnside’s Werribee Park homestead between Melbourne and Geelong. Deer from this herd were sent to various parts of Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland and New Zealand.
At the present time, the main Australian red deer herd is well established in Queens- land’s Brisbane and Mary river systems both on private property and in State forest.
The Grampians herd in Victoria is fairly stable and relatively safe because most of the area is National Park and the habitat is not likely to suffer change except from natural causes. Because the area is restricted in size and surrounded by a sea of grassland, there is little likelihood that the deer will increase dramatically in numbers. Small groups of red deer have been reported in the Otway Ranges over many years and these may have the potential to consolidate and expand. The Victorian red deer are from the same base stock as the Queensland deer but, probably because of mineral deficiencies and restricted habitat, the stags rarely match the quality of their northern cousins.
Other groups of red deer occur on private land in New South Wales and the south-east of South Australia. Some of these herds are part of traditional releases and other the result of escapes from deer farms – it remains to be seen if these will develop into significant populations.
The first day was spent with the property owner as she showed us the boundaries. With over 350 rugged hectares to play in, we had lots of country to check out. While in the car we spotted a group of hinds in a gully on the track and they moved off, heading for the hills.
The next day we were on our own as the owner had to go to her other property. Jadam and I stalked back to where we saw the hinds but in their absence we crossed the creek and made our way onto small hill from which my eagle- eyed son soon spotted a hind on the opposite hill. She moved out of sight so we crossed to where she had been and even though we could smell her at times we found no trace.
After climbing to the ridgetop we found another group of hinds feeding there. They fed their way from sight and we made our way to where they disappeared and poked our heads over the ridge. They were feeding below in a lush gully so I sidled to a rock outcrop and took the steep down- hill shot.
There was no way we could carry the whole animal out of the rocky, lantana-choked gully so I went for the truck, but even so two kilometres of me bush bashing still left me 300 metres shy of Jadam and the hind.
A cool breeze was blowing so we hung the meat under a big fig tree to cool. That night Jadam bagged five hares so we have plenty of meat.
And so ended my first red deer hunt with my son and we have been invited back for another shot.