Tuesday 19 October 2021

Photographing the Red Deer rut on Exmoor. 14th October 2021.


I was aware that a group of friends were heading to Exmoor in the hope of photographing red deer, they'd pre-booked with a local guide and had travelled up the day before.

I had a call that afternoon to say someone had dropped out & did I fancy a run up to the moors.

Thought about it for a while, sussed out the distances involved & the fact I needed to be at the meeting place by 7:15 am.  Finally decided it was do-able if I left home at 4:15 am.... an unearthly hour!

Well it was a foggy morning, especially going across Bodmin moor on the A30 but with very little traffic around at that time of the morning I was on the M5 in no time. I eventually arrived 3/4 an hour early at 6:30 to be greeted by much more thick fog.

It was good to meet up with Andy, Jasmina, Lynda & Lisa and to be introduced to our guide for the morning Andrew Turner of Red Stag Safari.

We drove out to the moors in his Land Rover Discovery to be greeted by an amazing view of....nothing"!

Lynda, Jasmina & Andy

After pacing up and down for half an hour it was decided to venture a little farther in the hope the fog may lift as we kept raising our hopes each time a bright spot appeared through the fog.

Sure enough a mile or so farther on and we just popped out of the fog into the sunshine.... spirits were lifted all around!

So that was the weather sorted, all we needed to do was spot some deer!

It didn't take long as we could hear a couple of stags "belving"across the moor and our guide was on to them very quickly.

We could see a stag and a handful of hinds out in the long moor grass & bracken. Downside was that they could see us. However we were patient and took a few long distance photos just to "set the scene".

As the morning warmed up and the sun played across the moor the stag decided to go and sit down with his harem of hinds in close proximity. This was the moment for us to slowly and quietly move into position, keeping downwind and a low profile we tripped and stumbled our way across the moorland tussocks trying hard not to yelp as we crashed to the wet ground.

Eventually it was decided we'd stop and wait to see if the stag would stand up as he has to check out his females regularly to see if they are ready for mating.

All we could see was the top of his antlers but we were aware that there would be several hinds dotted around and one of them would possibly give the game away that we were there.

Just the antlers poking out of the vegetation

As predicted one of the hinds suddenly became alert to our presence and started looking around toward the still seated stag.

A hind on the alert

It took quite a while for the stag to get motivated enough to get up and look around so we had plenty of time for photos. We were still at a respectable distance and stayed close together so as not to make the deer feel hemmed in.

Finally the stag decides to take a look around

When the stag decides to get to his feet it's almost like he can't really believe that he's been stalked into big lens territory. He looked around, toward us, right, then left and each time displaying that wonderful profile that wildlife photographers crave.

What an animal, the largest British land mammal in all its glory.

We have plenty of time as, despite being a very"wild" animal he will still follow his hinds to make sure he doesn't miss out on mating with them or worse to ensure another stag doesn't woo them away.

Soon he turns and trots off with his group of females, not a mad rush but enough to say "I'm wild and your not what I expect to find emerging from the bracken"!

We were all shell shocked by the experience, I for one never expected to get this quality of photographs and I know all of our group were thrilled with the experience. Judging by many of the images I've seen from the others it seems we all got some stunning photographs.

After we'd trudged back to the vehicle weighed down with cameras, super-telephoto lenses & tripods it was almost boring to lean over the hedge and get some shots of another distant stag and a group of mixed prickets and hinds,,,,but it had to be done!

What a morning!

I ventured back into the moor after a bite of lunch & saw a few more groups of deer but they'd all "gone lie" and I couldn't imagine I could better my earlier success so I turned tail and headed home.

Job done!

Thanks for the invite, albeit a wee bit late and to Lisa for organising the event. 

It was an experience I'll cherish.


Jasmina said...

Brilliant write up of a brilliant experience…..

Dave Clayton said...

Fabulous photos from an amazing experience - thanks for sharing them!