Watching deer exhibit natural behaviour in the wild is a wonderful and rewarding experience.
For many, however, the only opportunity to see them is by visiting parks where deer are managed and can become used to the presence of humans. To get the best out of either situation it is best if the deer are unaware that you are there. A few simple rules of fieldcraft can help you:
- The best time of day is either early morning or late evening when deer are moving about in search of food and grazing.
- Move slowly and quietly and look ahead using binoculars to see into the undergrowth.
- Use the lie of the land and undergrowth to hide your approach.
- Try to walk upwind if you can - although park deer are used to human scent wild deer will be gone before you knew they were there.
- Look for the signs of deer such as hoof prints (slots), droppings (crotties or fewmets) and hair caught on barbed wire fences. With experience, you will also be able to spot where the deer lie down at night (crouches) and where they have damaged trees by browsing, bark stripping and fraying.
- Carry a camera - there is always a chance of that once-in-a-lifetime photograph.
In addition, please keep your distance from young deer and nursing females and be sure to keep dogs firmly under control. It is not unusual to encounter protective female deer of all species, obviously highly nervous but still prepared to stand their ground, to protect their young.
You are unlikely to see deer if you are walking a dog, but if you are, and you know deer are present, keep your dog on a lead. This is particularly important between May and July when most species of deer give birth, although the muntjac can breed all year round. Dogs can kill and injure newborn deer discovered in the undergrowth.
Deer Watch by Richard Prior (2007) Quiller Publishing
Field Guide to Deer in Britain compiled by Jeanette Lawton (2001) Deer Study & Resource Centre