Game season for deer

Today the shooting season begins for female red, roe, fallow and sika deer in Scotland. The season begins ten days later in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For male deer, the season is months away.

Deer are gorgeous. I like to see them and I like to eat them. I’ve never held a gun in my life; never wanted to. But some people in Britain stalk deer for pest control or for fun. Others farm deer for profit or for amenity.

The red deer (Cervus elephus) is native to the British Isles. It’s our largest land mammal. Its natural enemies have been hunted to extinction by humans, leaving red deer to breed without predation. That can cause problems for agriculture and for forestry

What should be done? Red deer are being culled. Here’s a film asking whether there are too many red deer in the Scottish Highlands now, and therefore whether it’s right to cull them.

The roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) is our other native deer species. Here’s a film about watching roe and other deer. Like the red deer, the roe deer breeds freely now that its natural predators have been hunted to extinction. Therefore like red deer populations, roe deer populations are managed.

The fallow deer (Dama dama) is the one with white spots and, on bucks (males), palmate (flattened) antlers. It’s not truly a native species because it went extinct here during the last Ice Age but then got reintroduced. Here’s a film about how William the Conqueror had forests planted so that he could hunt fallow deer. The conditions suit it well. It’s now widespread and common. But guess what? Natural predators are gone so humans cull fallow deer.

The sika deer (Cervus nippon) is an Asian species. It was introduced in the 19th century, escaped and became naturalised. Here’s a film about noisy, smelly sika deer. It’s a strong swimmer, too. It doesn’t have natural predators in Britain so it’s the fourth of our deer species which get shot in season, starting today.

All this deer culling sheds a different light on the culling of badgers (Meles meles), doesn’t it? I don’t approve of the badger cull, as I’ve written under my ‘badger’ tag. But my disapproval isn’t because the badger is an appealing animal. Deer are appealing too. The evidence suggests that badgers are not responsible for tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, so I think culling them is pointless. Whereas deer damage crops and trees by eating them. Also, venison is good eating.

It’s worth considering that a skilled shooter knows how to kill cleanly. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) offers a code of practice for deer stalking. The British Deer Society (BDS) offers deer stalking certificates. People who want to stalk deer in Britain can hire qualified guides. If you’d like to know more, you can look at the Deer Stalking Directory.

With all this shooting of wild and naturalised deer, you might think we’d have plenty of meat. But in fact there’s demand for more venison. Farmers are developing commercial deer farms. The British Deer Farms and Parks Association and the Scottish Venison Partnership promote the industry.

Whether you shoot deer, or buy venison from wild or farmed deer, you’re getting a tasty and nutritious meat. Here are some venison recipes.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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18 Responses to Game season for deer

  1. EqFe says:

    Venezin is tasty and lean. I only wish that we could hunt them where I live, but it just wouldn’t be safe, the human population is just to dense. To be honest, I know that many people are against hunting, and of course, we are all entitled to our own opinion. But personally, unless the person against hunting is also a vegetarian, I just write them off as a hypocrite and move on. The commercial meat producing industry and butchering process is a far cry from humane.
    I saw a documentary recently about some fellow in Scotlan who wanted to reintroduce both Elk and wolf into Scotland, but his 25000 acres of land were no where near enough even if he could fence it in.

  2. EqFe says:

    In the US, their is a phase NIMBY. That is Not in my backyard, which usually is connect with things like nuclear power plants and oil refineries that no one wants to live near. The way I feel about reintroducing new speacies is that I have no right to put them in your backyard. All over the world there is a push to reintroduce predator species, and or large herbivores in someone elses backyard. It’s important to reintroduce leopards into area of India, especially if you sit in the US or Europe, and they are not going to eat your childeren. Protected mountain lion populations in California have killed hikers, and wolves reintroduce elsewhere in the US will eventually kill humans.
    I think many of the people who favor reintroducing predators into some elses backyard are anti-hunting and think that it’s better for wolves to eat someone else’s kids than to accept that humans are the high end predator in much of the wild. Where I live, there are too many humans for either hunting or predators, so one solutions proposed has been to have snipers equiped with night vision scopes, cull the deer herds in parks that would be closed at night. As a gardener who has had crops devestated I’m in favor of ANYTHING apelled A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. that would reduce the population with little or no danger to humans.
    Many say that they were here first, but the truth is, in 1492 there were less of them, and native farmers killed whatever animals were eating their food supply.

    • argylesock says:

      People here say ‘Nimby’ too. eg about windfarms and nuclear power.

      As well as potential risk to humans, reintroduced predators could kill livestock.

      • EqFe says:

        I’d say “eventually will kill livestock. Wolves were reintroduce to Yellowstone and one of two other large national parks, and the populations are growing and spreading rapidly, Just like they would if reintroduced to Scotland.

  3. Carol Hague says:

    I have a rather different view on what would happen if we tried to reintroduce wolves to Scotland – I strongly suspect that many of them would be “accidentally” shot by landowners and farmers afeard (justifiably or otherwise) for their livestock and that many more would fall victim to that voracious predator, the motor car. Even in Scotland, which is probably the most wilderness-y part of Britain, I’m not sure we’d give the wolves enough space to survive.

    • argylesock says:

      Why do you think this?

      • Carol Hague says:

        Because the population density is so much higher now – even in scotland – that I don’t think there’d be enough real wilderness for a viable wolf population to survive. and given how farmers seem to feel about foxes, I can’t imagine most would be too keen on an even larger predator being introduced.

        • argylesock says:

          It’s the people-persuading that makes me hesitate about reintroducing wolves. Still not sure what my opinion is. But if it does happen, it will need expert public-relations people. The wolf has so much mythology and most of it is nasty, I find. Even the charming rounded face of a real wolf looks wrong to me, after growing up with fairy-tale images of lean, slavering wolves.

          Otoh the red kite was hunted to rarity, as you know, because it was perceived as vermin. But the reintroduction programme has been a great success. As a child I gazed at the drawing of a red kite on my bedroom poster. As a middle-aged woman, I see the real birds from my kitchen window because I’m not far from the Harewood Estate. If these birds are persecuted I haven’t heard of it. They’re an asset for the tourist industry.

          Your point about landowners ‘accidentally’ shooting wolves is valid, but I think that could be dealt with. We already have protected species and there’s a lot of public support for those who enforce the laws on such matters. People who steal eggs from peregrines’ nests, for instance, are judged harshly.

    • Wade says:

      In the US, the legislation that introduced wolves into a few national parks allowed ranches to shoot wolves that were preying on the livestock. There actually was some of that, but there was so much wild prey that contact with man was minimal, in the beginning and so far.
      Road kill was not a problem because. wolves just are not as stupid as deer. I passed two dead deer on the road this morning.
      What was surprising in the US reintroductn. Was just how quickly the wolf population grew and spread, which will inevitably lead to reminding us why our ancestors killed them off in the first place

      • Carol Hague says:

        The thing is though, you have so much more unoccupied land over there – even the remoter areas here have roads to some extent.

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