To experienced hunters, distinguishing between various animal species is a cinch. But to those just starting to venture into the great outdoors, certain animals can be a great challenge. Perhaps the most commonly mistaken ones are red deer and roe deer. So, if you, too, find yourself confused between the species, we’ve prepared something special – a very thorough and informative article by our brand ambassador Krzysztof Turowski from Poland, where he focuses on all the differences and similarities between the roe and red deer.
Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) is one of the smaller and most frequently seen species of deer in central Europe. Despite the fact that both male and female are called roe deer, there is a common view that it is the red deer’s (Cervus elaphus) “wife”. It is quite interesting considering the weight of both males (called roebucks) and females (called does), ranging from 15 to 25 kg. Of course, there are heavier individuals weighing slightly more than 25 kg, but not as much as the red deer.
The hind – a female red deer – weighs from 70 to 120 kg, while the male red deer, stag or hart, weighs from 100 to 250 kg and upwards. The stag’s weight is at least 10 times as much as the roe deer’s, so from a technical point of view, the mating of these different species could be problematic. Interestingly, the antlers of a stag can reach the weight of the whole doe.
For observation and education, you can use thermal imaging devices. We will get the best details from the Pulsar Merger LRF XP50 and Krypton FXG. Using a device with an LRF will also show you the distance between you and the game. Thanks to that, it will be easier to realize the differences in the sizes of red and roe deer. But keep in mind that hunting roe or red deer with thermal vision is forbidden in many countries, and you should always follow the local legislation.
Let’s concentrate on the preferred habitats of the species for a little. The red deer has many subspecies. However, it is assumed that only in Poland do we have two species of red deer – European lowland red deer and European Carpathian red deer. It lives in deciduous and mixed forests, which are interspersed with young forests, meadows, and swamps. It prefers habitats adjacent to grassy areas. In spring, it can be found on crops or rushes, in summer and autumn, in oak and beech forests, and in winter, in pine forests. Red deer, unlike roe deer, love mud baths in wallows, which are their form of the exclusive spa.
Roe deer also likes forest and field areas. It has been said that there are even two separate ecotypes – field roe deer and forest roe deer. It most willingly inhabits an area of great diversity with forests, fields, meadows, and in close proximity to trees or bushes. Roe deer are tied to their territory, which is not very large – about a few hectares – and are reluctant to leave it. The only departure from this rule is male roebucks looking for the does to mate.
Roe deer feed only on plants and can selectively eat up to 200 species of different herbs or plants. Roe deer knows exactly which plant from the entire meadow it wants to eat and is able to choose only that one. It also feeds on shoots, forest fruits, and winter cereals. It feeds practically around the clock every few hours and hardly ever drinks water because the one available in plants or dew is enough for it. Old, experienced roebucks come out irregularly, often very early in the morning or late in the evening, dissolving in the air during the day.
The red deer is a ruminant with a polygastric stomach like a cow. It feeds on slightly fewer plants – up to 50 species, eating grasses, herbs, buds, berries, fruits, bark, and even acorns. It feeds at dusk and in the early morning, resting at night and during the day, chewing the food it has eaten.
Red deer mating is called rutting. It runs from mid-September to mid-October. During this time, the stag gathers a herd of hinds which it guards so that another stag does not impregnate them. He does not allow the hinds to move away and often chases rivals by fighting them. Rutting season sounds can be heard from many kilometers, they often last all night, and experienced hunters, who are called decoy men, are able to imitate both the dominating buck and other stags who want to fight for the herd.
Typically, red deer reside in female and calf herds led by the so-called herd doe or dominant doe. In Poland, hunting for herd doe is prohibited by law and is considered unethical. Apart from the rutting, during which the bulls do not tolerate the presence of rivals, male red deer can be found in male herds.
In the case of roe deer, the mating season is called heat or rut. It goes on from July through August. Unlike red deer, roebuck wander the area looking for a doe. Courtship lasts a few days, followed by copulation, and the roebuck goes on to search for another doe. Often, you can see roebucks chasing each other, but it is not as spectacular as in the case of red deer.
It sometimes happens that the rut repeats itself in the fall. It is caused by the lack of fertilization of the doe during the summer. It does not affect the fetus because the pregnancy of roe deer is prolonged and lasts almost 10 months, during which the embryo is stunted for a considerable period of time. When fertilized in autumn, pregnancy lasts 5 months. In both cases, the young fawns are born in the spring. Roe deer meld into mixed groups in winter, and the only sure way to distinguish a roebuck from a doe is by a visible tuft.
The red deer antlers are much more majestic. The most common form for an adult roe deer is the three-pointer or, sometimes, the four-pointer. Red deer, on the other hand, have much heavier, more massive, and much more complex antlers. The antler types are a brow tine, bay tine, a royal antler, sometimes surroyal antler, and palm, where at least 3 tines create the palm. Two tines are called a fork. Red deer can be one-sided surroyal or both-sided surroyal, its antlers can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, and they can be even bigger than eleven-pointers. There is even a name for the twelve-pointer: it is called a royal stag. If you are using a thermal vision device to observe deer, keep in mind that noticing their antlers might be more challenging – you will need to work on the settings for this. You may also use night vision with the 950 IR illuminator for observation as the game won’t notice it.
The final shape and size of the antlers are determined not only by age but also by condition, hormones, food base, and climate. It is also quite common for a stag or roebuck to have malformed antlers. From time to time, we can also see a roebuck or stag with bony growth covered in velvet (instead of antlers) on its head. It is related to hormonal disorders, and such game often suffers from it.
Both the roebuck and the stag drop their antlers every year. Roebuck does it in the autumn and winter, while the strongest individuals start this process at the earliest.
Despite the fact that each of these species is different, hunting for both red deer and roe deer can be very exciting and demanding. The taste of meat in both cases is something phenomenal and very healthy. Even if you are not hunting yourself, if you have the opportunity to find this meat on the menu, you should definitely try it and see for yourself how delicious the venison is.
May the forest reward you or, as we say it in Poland, “Darzbór!”
Before purchasing any night or thermal vision device, please make sure you adhere to the local legislation and only use it when it is allowed. Our ambassadors come from various countries and travel a lot, which allows them to test different devices. We do not encourage or support the illegal use of our devices in any events. If you wish to learn more about export and sales restriction policy, please visit the following link: Export and Sales Restriction Policy.