All early indications in March of the season changing into autumn. The much anticipated ‘roar’ is just around the corner. Some hunters will have planned their roar trip early after the previous year’s roar, either heading to favourite spots or to new adventures in un-chartered territory to chase.
Timing of the roar depends on the breed of deer you’re targeting. Red deer generally roar first, starting towards the end of March into the first two weeks of April. Although a friend shot a young 9-point red roaring in early May!Older stags will roar first, with younger animals roaring later in the season.Moons phases, day length and changing seasons can trigger hinds into cycling. Cold nights and morning frosts are said to encourage stags into roaring as is ovulation of the hinds. Weather can affect the timing of the roar and the cycling of the hinds. Years back there was an unusual dry spell prior to the roar – most hunters spoke of little roaring in the hills; perhaps the hinds’ cycles were affected. I feel all these factors have an effect on the amount of roaring heard.
Over spring/summer stags have dropped their old antlers, growing new ones covered in velvet that protects the tender soft antler underneath. As the antlers harden the velvet becomes itchy. Stags then rub their antlers on trees and bushes (generally in their territory) to remove the velvet, this gives the antlers colouration. As the roar draws nearer stags’ necks swell and the larynx develops. Preorbital glands start secreting odorous fluid used to scent a stag’s territory. Wallows are frequented to roll in the combination of urine and semen in a naturally damp area. This covers his belly, all in the interests of attracting hinds. His own natural Brut 33!
A red stag only has mating on his mind during the roar, yarding up his harem ready to mate with as hinds come into ‘season’. He moves around his hinds sniffing their reproductive areas waiting for them to come on heat, telling the world by roaring about it.
Red stags rarely fight other stags – if it does come to a challenge stags walk side by side sizing each other up, the smaller less dominant stag may walk away leaving the victor with the hinds. If the stags are evenly matched they may battle by locking antlers in a civil pushing match to find out who is king and will mate with the hinds. At this point the loser must retreat and quickly, as the victor may gore him.
During the roar stags won’t eat much, using their energy for roaring, keeping hinds yarded up and prospective challengers at bay. By the end of the roar stags are exhausted, having lost much of their condition put on over the spring and summer months.
Knowing your hunting area from previous trips is a huge advantage if you’ve seen or heard stags or found rutting areas, wallows and tree rubbings. It is helpful to know the best ways to approach/access stag territories and the prevailing wind directions. Heading to new areas can be challenging; cover as many kilometres as possible listening for roars, looking for wallows, tree rubbing, scrapes and pellet sign are all good indications of animals or stag’s territories.
Climb high, listening for roaring as you hunt. Animals won’t respond if you’re down low – once an animal is worked up, roar when he roars at similar intervals and strength, keeping the wind in your favour, moving in slowly when he roars to cover your noise. If a number of stags are roaring to each other, a hunter can stay quiet and stalk in on an animal. But beware – hinds may betray your presence, and take your time moving in, make sure to look 180 degrees.
If a stag is roaring well but staying put in his territory – a good tactic is for one hunter to stay back and keep responding to the animal’s roars while the second hunter stalks towards the roaring stag to get in close for a shot. In this situation the hunter that is roaring mustn’t shoot at anything until he reunites with his hunting partner, the stalker also mustn’t shoot while heading back towards the decoy hunter.
Dominant stags often have a subordinate stag in tow and they may send him to investigate the intruder. These ‘satellite’ stags are generally smaller animals and are expendable to the dominant stag, so don’t shoot the first stag that comes out of the trees – he just may be a nark!
Some hunters advise not roaring too loud, as this may indicate that you’re a bigger stag than the one you are targeting. I haven’t found this to be the case. Roar loud and deep; most of time you won’t seem bigger than the stag. In this situation if you don’t roar with gusto the expendable stag may come in close, he may emit a loud grunt then take off crashing through the bush saying ‘you’re – ‘no contest to me!’ If he thinks you’re a small animal, then you’re not worth his time challenging.
If your roaring stag is on the way in, be ready, he might try to circle you and cut your scent. Take your time, you may not want to shoot this animal looking for a bigger head. Place your shot and remember to clearly identify your target before shooting. Roaring in an animal takes patience, but there’s no bigger buzz than having a large red stag walking up close when you’re staying still…waiting in anticipation with your heart pounding in your chest!
Testosterone fuelled stags can take some stopping, I once had a big bodied red stag keep walking as if un-hit after being shot at 15 odd meters with a 150gr .270win. I put a second round into him which dropped him on the spot. Upon inspection both bullets were true, 50mm apart through the front shoulders, right on the money! Use a suitable calibre/projectile combination for your targeted game, generally anything 6.5mm up will sort out a red stag if hit hard through the engine room.
In days gone by hunters have used cupped hands as well as traditional polished cow horn as roaring horns to mimic roaring red stags. I’ve had success with a 350mm length of alcathene pipe and, believe it, or not a plastic PowerAde bottle with the bottom cut out of it! There are a few commercially made plastic roaring horns on the market and electronic callers are also getting good reviews – many come with various roars for different species.
Be wary on public or private land, other hunters may be in the area pretending to be a roaring red stag. These imitations can sound realistic; hunters have been confused and stalked other hunters! Until that big stag comes in close, treat the roar as human until you can clearly identify the animal.
Venison from red stags in the roar has a strong gamey taste. This is what I’ve found when feeding it to my family, so I have most of the meat made into sausages and salamis. The spices and other ingredients help conceal the strong flavour making it very palatable and one stag makes plenty of food.
Once the roar is over stags and hinds go their separate ways to feed up before winter and a hunter who’s missed out has a slim chance to track down that stag that gave him the slip.
If you don’t – there’s always next year.