Despite being a short season, deer ruts can be fascinating for wildlife photographers and nature lovers. The Red, Fallow and Sika Deer engage in the yearly rut peaking every October, fighting for mating partners and trying to hold onto the biggest harem of hinds. After filling up on food during the summer and sparring with similar-sized partners they will now appear butch and ready to impress the females.
The extinction of several of Britain's most impressive large mammals has made the red deer the UK's biggest and most charismatic animal. Whether it's a sighting in the Scottish Highlands, a one-on-one encounter in London's Royal Park or numerous deer parks in between, the grand red deer stag never disappoints and appears on many photographers bucket lists. However, there are changes in deer behaviours, so as photographers we must adapt to these changes to give us the best chance of getting great images.
Many deer species still undergo the stress of a shooting season so if you are out in the wild bear this in mind when photographing stags especially when testosterone is running high. They might not want you to get too close and their behaviour maybe a little less predictable. Try and always keep your distance and if you notice them constantly moving away from you then they want to be left alone, so let them be. It's not a good idea to take your dog with you during this season as many attacks do unfortunately happen more frequently during the rutting weeks.
Try and always be aware of your surroundings. If you are good at being quiet, animals can sneak up on you from behind. When I'm on my own, I like to back myself up against a tree or big log just in case.
The weather can change rapidly when up on the hills in remote areas so keep an eye on the weather. If it looks like a mist is setting in, be sensible and make your way back. And don't forget to take your mobile phone with you and always let someone know where you are going just in case of an emergency.
If you don't have time or don't yet feel comfortable tracking deer in the wild, don't miss out on this annual spectacular. Head to a deer park. Do some research on the internet and find out which one is the nearest to you. Many open up the car park earlier than usual so people can really enjoy the deer rutting season.
If you do decide to track deer in the wild, be patient! Many will return to similar areas each year but that can take a while for you to figure out if it's your first time. Plan in a few days as you will probably not get the best shots on your first attempt. If you have time and it is possible, try driving slowly around the area and see if you can find any, you may only see some antlers poking up out of ditches. Then return to that area the next day with your camera and walk in closer. Remember to approach slowly and quietly, always respect the ALL the wildlife in the area and minimise your impact on the environment by staying on trodden down areas.
If you've got up nice and early and arrived at your location before sunrise, it can be tricky to locate deer in the dark. But during October they are not so hard to find in the early hours just before the sun starts to peek as the stags make an incredible bellowing noise.
This deep-throated horn-like noise can be heard from a good distance so use that as a guide. Activity can die off a bit during the day but will start to ramp up again in the afternoon. It is such an awesome sound it brings a big smile to my face when I hear it :-)
Try getting up early so you can capture the beautiful crisp autumn light in the morning. Or stay out late to capture the deer in the golden hour. Use the light to your advantage by trying some backlit shots and silhouettes.
Try different angles and don't be afraid to zoom out and capture the environment. You may not be lucky enough to see the stags butting antlers but there will be plenty to photograph anyway so keep shooting. And if you do get to see the stags going for it, don't forget to take a moment to listen to the awesome sound and enjoy the experience.
Look out for their showy displays of antler accessories, which always makes me chuckle!
It can get VERY cold and you will be standing around for long periods. To increase your happiness and chances of staying out longer and therefore shooting longer, therefore getting more photos ... Can you see where I am going with this? ...
Dress appropriately and you will take better photos!
Layer up, hat, gloves, waterproof coat, waterproof footwear. If going into the wild consider even wearing wellies as you may be wading through bogs and ditches - all good fun!
And don't forget a nice hot flask of something to warm your bones!
The red deer rut is one of my favourite times of year in England, it's exciting and challenging at the same time. With good preparation and patience, you can enjoy it as much as I do! So get your diary out and plan in a couple of days to get out there this October and photograph the red deer rut!