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Ask BDS – Watching Deer During the Rut

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Article by:
Charles Smith-Jones, Technical Adviser, British Deer Society

Watching deer during the rut

Autumn is rutting time for many deer species, and you may be considering going out to see the action for yourself.  Before you do, though, take a moment to consider the safety of yourself and those around you.  

By far the best place to observe the rut is a deer park.  Deer will normally avoid humans wherever possible and trying to watch them in the wild could disrupt them at this important time of year.  

Park deer are more tolerant of humans but never forget that they remain wild animals so, however tempting, do not try to get too close in search of a photograph or a special encounter.  Rutting stags in particular are often pumped up with testosterone and you could be putting yourself at risk. 

How To Stay Safe While Watching The Rut

If you follow some simple guidelines you will be able to enjoy watching the deer without interfering with the rut or placing yourself in potential danger:

General Tips

  • Keep your distance! Do not approach any park deer to within closer than 50m and stay at least 100m from rutting deer.
  • Try to be inconspicuous – using binoculars can be a great help for close-up viewing.
  • Keep an eye out for any signs put up by the park authorities and always follow their advice.
  • If there are large numbers of people present, make sure not to surround the deer as it may make them nervous. Always leave them an open line of retreat if they need it. 
  • Take special care not to intrude on rutting male deer which may be fighting, roaring, displaying or otherwise defending their hinds. They may see you as another intruder who needs to be repelled.
  • If you own a dog, it is far safer left at home while the park deer are rutting. If you do take your dog with you, make sure to keep it on a lead and under close control.

What To Do If You Feel Unsafe

  • In the unlikely event that you feel threatened or attacked, try to put a barrier such as a vehicle or substantial tree between yourself and the deer. If you can, climb a tree to get out of reach.  
  • If you have a dog with you, let it run free – it will be more capable of escaping if unrestrained, and may actually be the reason why the deer has become agitated in the first place.
  • If a deer starts walking parallel to you and glancing at you out of the corner of its eye (see picture below), it is a sign that it may be considering you as a threat – move away immediately.
parallel walking and glancing deer stag by Peter Green
  • If you find a deer advancing towards you or acting in a threatening manner, do not shout or wave at it. Back off slowly if possible; the deer may be satisfied that you have left its personal zone. 
  • Do not run, though, as this may trigger the animal into chasing you.  Do not roll into a ball where you are; this may increase the risk of attack.

Under normal circumstances, all deer will try to avoid human proximity.  Follow these simple guidelines and you will be able to enjoy watching them safely.


Photos by Remy Van Haarlem and Peter Green


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