Back in October, I arrived on the Chatsworth estate while it was still dark. I gradually made my up the path trying to see through the murky darkness when a few shapes began to appear, running across the road ahead of me; I had been spotted. Luckily the Red deer on the estate are pretty habituated to humans, as long as you keep your distance. I continued walking along the road and discovered a large herd grazing in the early morning light, because of the heavily clouded sky it was way too dark to consider taking any shots yet. I continued to wonder around the park, trying to get a baring of where the deer were.
Then at around 8:10am I herd the unmistakable sound of clashing antlers. I wasn’t holding out much hope of seeing an actual rut, so when I spotted them I semi-quickly ran over to them, making sure not to go to fast and spook them. There still wasn’t much light, so this was going to be a challenge for me and my little D3200 and 70-300mm @f/5.6. So I whacked up the ISO and began shooting.
(I was slightly gutted with the weird art statue thing in the background of this one!)
The battle only lasted for 10 minutes, but I managed to get pretty close since the stags were so distracted! The does weren’t sure what to make of it all….
All of a sudden one of the stags lost his nerve and backed out of the fight, and was sent packing by the victor still charging for him. The loser than stood and looked back onto the large harem he just missed the chance of monopolising, and the victor roared in triumph.
That was my very first, and is still my only, time seeing two huge stags locked in battle. It was pretty incredible to see at such close quarters! I continued to follow the winning stag and his herd of females for a few hours as the females grazed and the stag kept an eye out for competition, intermittently roaring to let the others know he means business.
These pretenders obviously would have made no match for him, but they hung tight to the large herd, perhaps waiting and hoping for the big stag to get distracted so they could sneak into the herd for a very quick rendezvous with one of his females.
But the big stag was on the ball, and ensured they kept their distance. They wouldn’t want to find themselves on the wrong side of this guy! After putting the pretenders in their place the stag begun to take his testosterone fueled anger out on some trees, clearly up for another fight if the opportunity arose.
Chatsworth is a pretty impressive place to be in the autumn; big beautiful animals displaying some amazing behaviour all in a beautiful autumnal setting. I quite enjoyed the company of the curious sheep as well.
I’d definitely urge anyone to get to your local deer park next autumn to see one of the UK’s most easily accessible wildlife spectacles!