A couple of roe deer have been living in a field at the bottom of the hill for the past six months – I always keep an eye out for them when I’m going up to the Chayne, and I’ve started to get an idea of their habits over dozens of “drive-by” observations. In summer, the field was planted with barley and turnips, and the deer found a great sanctuary lurking in the brassicas. Sometimes I would only see the tops of their ears as they lay down, but I could always be sure that they were in there, even if they were buried in the long grass.
The buck had a very poor head when I first saw him. His right antler had a rather gnarled old three-points with all the weight at the bottom, and the left was just a miserly hook with a stubby little brow tine. I assumed that he was an old deer, particularly in his attitude, which was often sullen and morose. He cast both of his antlers at some point between the 14th and the 16th of November, and I have been fascinated to watch his new set growing in over the past few weeks. At first they were short and black, like little shotgun cartridges, but soon they turned silver grey and mossy. Now they are flock-coated with silver, and they have visibly grown every time I see him.
The rate of growth has been extraordinary, and he grew fine new brow tines over the space of a fortnight. I took this photograph (above) of him yesterday in the snow and see that he is now on his way to growing a fine, prosperous set of antlers for the new year.
As much as I’m still learning about roe deer, I feel that I could have a good stab at guessing a deer’s age when he’s on the grass at my feet. But trying to assess the age of a buck in velvet is much more complicated, and there are so many different factors and variables to consider. Antler size is as much to do with nutrition as age, and antlers alone are probably one of the most unreliable means of assessing a deer’s antiquity. The picture shows his upright posture which would suggest a younger deer, but the broken tackle he was sporting on his head last year seemed to imply that he was a mature animal. Either way, he is certainly on the way to growing a much better set of antlers than anything he has had before, and I wonder if the explanation for this is in the quality of the feed he’s been enjoying amongst the turnip shaws.
Any thoughts or advice on guessing an age for this boy would be gratefully received –