Hunting Exmoor's Red Giants
- Monday, 10 January 2022
Professional deer stalker and hunter Peter S Jones travels to the Exe valley in Exmoor to size up the regions Red Giants.
There is a reason why Exmoor’s Red deer are referred to as ‘Exmoor Giants’ and that is because lowland Red’s from this region, are amongst the largest deer in the UK.
Many people will associate Red deer with the highlands of Scotland and for those that are used to stalking the UK’s other species of deer; Fallow, Sika, Roe, Muntjac & Chinese Water Deer, the Red’s in Scotland appear as significantly lager beasts. However, whilst the highland Red stag is undoubtedly the Monarch of the Glen, he is nothing in terms of size and stature compared with the lowland Red, who hold the title of the UK’s largest wild mammal.
Standing up to 1.35m at the shoulder and exceptionally weighing over 200kg’s, the lowland Red typically stands 10 – 20cm taller at the shoulder and can on rare occasions, can weigh sometimes nearly twice that of a highland Red, making him a true giant of the deer world.
The reason why these deer get so big compared with deer on the open hill? Well in part, it is a milder climate, better shelter and more available browse.
(Left: Red deer hoof prints or ‘slots’ are unmistakably large. A stag’s front hoof may measure around 8-10 cm in length)
Red deer though closely related to the North American Elk, migrated to Britain from Europe around 10,000 years ago and have been prized and hunted by mankind for over 40,000 years, something that is evident from their depiction in early cave paintings.
Initially present throughout the UK, the Red deer eventually retreated to the south-west and Scotland, as pressures rose from deforestation and agriculture. However, as forestation of the UK has improved over the last century, so once again, has the range and spread of Red deer, and it was to one such block of forestry in the Exe valley in Exmoor that I travelled to meet Paul Symons.
Since serving in the military Paul has taken to deer stalking in a big way. An approved witness for those completing their DCS2 and an Approved Verifier for the pds1-proficient-deer-stalker-certificate (PDS1 Certificate), Paul knows his stuff, especially when it comes to Red deer. So, it was a pleasure to travel to this beautiful area of Exmoor to visit one of his grounds.
(Above: Hunters are advised to go with larger calibres. Paul's choice? The 6.5 PRC. For more on calibres follow this link: rifle-calibres)
Now it is a curse of most people showing me a new ground that is; supposedly thick with deer, that the deer don’t show. Well not on this occasion. Between Paul, who was armed with his thermal imager, and my own Swarovski EL binoculars, it was less than half an hour before we spotted our first group of deer, a mixed herd of hind and stag, which to be frank was of no surprise, the evidence of deer was everywhere, with trails and slots crisscrossing the forest floor.
Good news for the deer stalker, but bad news for the owner of the woodland. Whilst Red deer will graze grasses and dwarf shrubs such as heather and bilberry, woody browse, such as tree shoots is the preferred diet, especially during winter when other food is less abundant. Something that puts these deer in direct conflict with foresters who desire a deer management plan that demonstrates a reduction in numbers to ease their economic impact on the woodland.
And this is exactly what Paul has been tasked to do, but it is no easy task, extraction of such large beasts is hard enough with vehicular support, but in dense areas of forestry the carcass extraction is often by hand, usually making this a two-man exercise. However, stalking such epic beasts in woodland is a rare privilege and one that has been generously offered by Paul to members of the Capreolus Club, who I am delighted to reveal have trips to visit Paul in Exmoor both at the end of January and again during the Red rut in late September to early November when the woodlands will echo to the roar of Exmoor’s Red Giants!
(Above: Red deer can be heavy on the hoof, here numerous tracks leading into the cover of the forest)
If you’d like to be a part of the Capreolus Club’s trip to Exmoor then why not consider joining?
As well as offering red deer stalking the Capreolus Club also hosts regular events for other large species of deer including Sika Stag and Fallow buck. Check out our events diary for more information: capreolusclub.co.uk/trips-events
To learn more about Red deer click here: red-deer-stalking