A majestic sighting and a wonderful trophy, the red deer is a widely admired animal. Usually active at night and hiding deep in the forest, it’s certainly not easy to spot, but once you do, all your efforts are instantly rewarded. And while most countries forbid the use of thermal vision for hunting red deer – and we certainly don’t encourage it breaking the law – the technology can be very useful for those going on observation trips, as well as counting the population. Many of our ambassadors do precisely that, so we sat down with them to discuss the process in more depth. Keep on reading to hear tips and insights from Julia Nowak, a Polish huntress, Night Vision Viking, an experienced hunter and equipment tester from Sweden, and Riccardo Tamburini, a hunter and content creator from Italy.
Red deer is a special, almost regal animal. And there are good reasons for it. From a more technical point of view, as Night Vision Viking, a hunter from Sweden, notes, its size is outstanding: “They are much bigger than most people imagine until they get a close encounter with one. The red deer stag is easily 200 to 250 cm long from nose to tail, with a weight of up to about 250 kg. On top of that, you have the antlers, which can weigh 5 kg alone and grow up to over a meter. The hinds are smaller but still one of the biggest game species around. Due to their size, they have a difficult time hiding as their heads and bodies still show even in the highest grass. ”
Night Vision Viking’s counterpart from Poland, Julia Nowak, who is currently studying in Sweden, is, too, a big admirer of the species: “I think that once you start observing red deer and spend some time “with” them, then you understand why the term “regal” fits so well. They are very vigilant and prudent animals and very beautiful. The way they move is so special; when they walk slowly and look around – it is a truly majestic view, especially if you watch an older stag – a king of his area, proudly walking around. Also, the impressive antlers that the males grow make them look so royal. And one more thing – the way the stags roar during their mating season is very special and powerful. Well, red deer is my favorite species, and I actually think it deserves the royal title 100%.
But if you wish to spot one, you’ll need to put quite some effort into it. While Night Vision Viking did mention the troubles red deer encounter with hiding, you will still need to find their favorite location. “Red deer are discreet, and it’s not easy to see them during the day, so the challenge is to stalk them in the woods trying to see one before he or she sees you,” explains Riccardo Tamburini, an experienced hunter from Italy. How does he overcome the challenge? “I know my hunting area very well, and I know deer habits. I start by finding fresh tracks or asking the locals about sightings. Then, I start the search. It’s not easy to move in the woods, always staying downwind, so you have to move slowly and carefully and spend a lot of time covering, glassing the woods carefully. Any mistake can compromise your hunt: a broken branch or the dry leaves can alarm all the animals within a radius of 1 km.”
If you follow Riccardo’s steps, make sure you really know how red deer tracks look: “Many hunters think that signs on the ground or on an open grass are made by wild boars but, often, they are made by deer. The depth of the tracks is the key to better understanding. Here, in Italy, deer live a more discrete and unseen life than wild boars, and many people think they are not present.”
Another quick tip from Night Vision Viking: look for the red clover. “Where I hunt, wherever there is red clover, there seem to be big gatherings of red deer.”
However, Julia assures us it gets easier with time: “I think every active hunter knows the “special spots” in his or her hunting grounds. I, for sure, have a few places where you can often find red deer all over the year, some places where they love to come during very warm days to take a bath and cool down and some very special places where I watch and listen to them during the mating season.”
And watching them is truly an out-of-this-world experience. Many hunters admit it’s their favorite activity, and Julia is no exception: “They are so beautiful and majestic that it is just amazing to observe them. I can do it for hours. For sure, my favorite time is their mating season; listening to the stags’ roaring concerts is an unforgettable experience.”
She also adds it can get quite funny: “I think it’s very funny when the young stags that are not actively taking part in the rut yet are practicing their roaring, their voice. They sound hilarious, the voice is usually very high, and they sound more like a cow… But they seem so proud and serious while doing it.”
Thermal vision might come in very handy when it comes to looking for red deer. Since they typically come out at night, especially in more urbanized areas, seeing one with the naked eye might as well be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But if you wish to experience it slightly more often, a thermal spotter might be just the way to go: “If I was out looking for deer, during the day or night, my favorite would be the Pulsar Axion 2 XQ35 because it’s a compact device which stays in your trouser pocket. If I am out for filming, the choice is the Merger LRF XP50 because of its image quality.”
Night Vision Viking also notes that these devices really prove themselves when it comes to red deer population management: “Any of Pulsar’s thermal monoculars or binoculars are invaluable tools when doing fallow and red deer inventory. As usual, the better-quality thermal you can afford, the better image quality and details you will see.”
Once you decide to try and go for a red deer hunt, get ready for a challenge. “They are not easy to hunt. They need a lot of skills, knowledge, and many hours spent observing them. You can read a lot of things about deer, but the time you spend in the field rules. As always,” says Riccardo – someone with red deer hunting experience in multiple countries. Julia can only agree: “They are very vigilant and prudent animals, so while hunting red deer, you need to take everything into consideration because they can hear, see and smell very, very well, and once they get the impression that something is wrong, there is no second chance, puff and they are gone.”
Of course, with great animal hunting comes great responsibility. In the red deer case, animal knowledge isn’t enough – you will need to adhere to many strict rules the local governments have installed. “Deer hunting follows severe rules in Italy; you can hunt males and females in different periods, and we can’t hunt big stags during the rut season as many hunters can abroad.”
Then, of course, you need to have immense knowledge of choosing the right animal. While the requirements, again, differ depending on location, both Julia and Riccardo have shared a glimpse with us. “In Poland, you need to be able to recognise the age of the animal (while it is still alive, of course) and the form of the trophy (antlers), and then you need to make a decision if the individual is the proper one to harvest or not – according to the rules (that every hunter who has a trophy hunting license needs to know). Another rule is, for example, that you are never allowed to shoot the red deer hind leading the group – the guide of the herd,” explains the Polish huntress.
“Talking about stags, we have different age classes: young or spiker, which is very easy to identify, subadult and adult. They differ from each other by the body size, the position of the neck, and the height of the bone which supports the antlers. This feature is not so easy to see, but you must have the knowledge. Antler development is not a deciding factor because a 3-4-year-old year old deer could have the same antlers as one aged 14 and more. It’s easier to identify a dominant male during rut season, but we can’t hunt during that period. I can use all the pictures and videos I took during the rut season to hunt the right animal later. Talking about females, it’s quite easy to identify the 1-year class from the old one because often they form a group made from the old female, the one-year female (or spiker) and the calf (1 or 2); differences are the size of the belly, the length of the snout, the body size and also the more careful movements of the older female,” Riccardo briefly reports on Italian red deer hunting peculiarities.
Then, of course, there are different ways of hunting the game. Riccardo has a bit of a choice here: “I can hunt deer from the hunting stand or stalk him in the woods. The first type of hunting is difficult because in my hunting area, we don’t have much open grass, and you risk finding another hunter there. I prefer to stalk him using tips and tricks learned in wildlife photography. But stalking requires good camouflage. Sometimes, I bring a tackle with me to build a quick blind to wait for deer when I find a good place in the woods where it’s possible to meet them. It’s very exciting to get very close to such a majestic animal without being discovered.”
For Julia, it’s similar: “I think my favorite way to hunt red deer is stalking, looking for them in the area and once spotting them, trying to get close enough to take a proper shot. I also really like to call the red stags during the mating season; stalking combined with “talking” to the stags makes hunting during that time of the season very special.”
“If I was out looking for deer, during the day or night, my favorite would be the Pulsar Axion 2 XQ35 because it’s a compact device which stays in your trouser pocket. If I am out for filming, the choice is the Merger LRF XP50 because of its image quality.” Riccardo Tamburini
We couldn’t quite let go of our hunters without hearing their favorite stories. And surely they did not disappoint: “I once observed a red deer hind as I was getting prepared for a wild boar hunt. It was getting dark, so she could probably just barely see. Instead of running away, she was very curious and wanted to get closer to find out who I was. At the same time, she was scared and upset and didn’t really know how to handle the situation. It was one of those interesting moments that happens in nature, and without a thermal, I would most certainly have missed the opportunity. I have also observed large herds of red deer stags, as mature red deer usually stay in single-sex groups for a large part of the year. Those observations are quite majestic and something you’ll hopefully witness once in your life.”
For Julia, there are so many good stories she had to take a moment to pick something to tell: “It is difficult to choose one! A few years ago, during the red deer mating season, I was out hunting with my dad in the morning. I need to highlight here that my dad is super good at calling red stags, and what happened later is all thanks to that. We were walking between fields and noticed a stag with his herd, so we decided to try to get closer. My dad was “making a conversation” with the stag, and we were getting closer and closer. We managed to get not more than 50 m from the herd, and then suddenly, we heard another stag behind us. We turned around, and another strong stag with a herd went out to the field. So, we were between 2 stags with their herds… and then those two stags ran to each other and started a fight 50-60 m in front of us. It is even hard to describe all the emotions that you feel while watching something like that!”
As it often happens, the best stories take us to the long past, so Riccardo tells us about his first-ever red deer female: “It was one-year class hind. I spent all summer trying to harvest her, but I was younger and less skilled than now. I got her the last hunting day of the season: in the woods, from the stand, when I already lost all hope. I remember it was in October; I forgot my gloves, and the temperature was around 2 °C. I was thinking about coming back to the car. I was saying to myself, “just five more minutes, just five minutes”, but it never happened… Then, a few minutes before going away, I heard some breaking branches and started glassing in front of me – there, 30 meters far in the twilight, I saw a group made from the older female, two one year class (strange!) and a calf. I shot one of the two one-class. But I was so cold that I wasn’t even able to gut her immediately.”
Certainly, if there is one animal in the woods that always rewards your patience, it’s the red deer. And that’s our wish for you today – always be patient, and the best things will surely come towards you!
“They are very vigilant and prudent animals, so while hunting red deer, you need to take everything into consideration because they can hear, see and smell very, very well.” Julia Nowak
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