October in Scotland is prime time to see (or often hear!) Red deer rutting. Hoping to see and hear stags locking antlers and bellowing through the forest we decided to venture into the Angus Glens and have a look for ourselves.
On our first outing we drove up into Glen Clova and parked at the Angus Glens Ranger Service base where we had a look around and picked up a few maps. We started our walk through the Forestry Commission managed woodland with the intention of following the Dounalt trail.
The walk is fairly pleasant with a clear path to follow although some areas do look particularly scarred by the heavy machinery used in the forestry operations. I was constantly looking into the Spruce hoping to see deer or a pine marten (haha!) We did catch a red squirrel bounding across the soft moss in a clearing but he was too quick for us to get a camera focussed on him.
Before too long we found ourselves walking out of the trees into the magnificent bowl of Corrie Fee!
We thought we might as well carry on and make the most of our mistake. Corrie Fee is pretty incredible to look at. Formed in the last period of the ice age the sheer weight and movement of the glacier wore away the rock to form this incredible natural amphitheatre before melting and leaving deposits of moraine throughout the valley. We continued to follow the path through the valley and up the corrie wall past the waterfall to look back on where we had come from – a pretty stunning vista!
We climbed further and stopped just a short way below the summit of the munro Mayar as the weather had started to turn and we had a long way to go down. All in all we had walked a bit more than planned but had really enjoyed ourselves, although we didn’t see or hear any deer rutting
One week later we were back and this time on the correct trail!
As you walk through the forest on the Dounalt trail you are surrounded by the incredible lush green of the forest floor.
As we followed the trail through the trees we began to hear what can only be described as a strange roaring noise. It was a stag bellowing!
The bellow is unique to each stag and is part of the deer’s courtship ritual. It’s also used by the stag to round-up his harem and as an attempt to intimidate rival stags when they’re nearby.
Believing the stag wasn’t far from us we followed the noise and ducked off the path into a clearing that seemed to run uphill and towards the source of the bellowing.
Each time we turned past a line of trees we thought we were about to walk head first into a stag so loud was the noise. However, we quickly learnt how effective the stag’s bellow is at carrying through the forest as after a good climb we came out of the trees and found ourselves quite far up.
As we looked around we spotted some red deer much higher up than us.
This group of females, their coats shining in the late afternoon sun were gracefully bounding over the rocky slopes away from us. We’re obviously not very good stalkers.
They were closely followed by a very big healthy looking stag. Stags rarely feed during the rut and can lose up to 20% of their bodyweight during this time. He was more than likely the noisy male whose bellowing we followed. Nowhere near as close to us as we thought! He was even kind enough to pose for us.
He was closely followed by two smaller younger stags.
Only mature stags ( 5 to 10 years old) hold harems. Younger stags (2 to 4) who aren’t big or strong enough to compete but are old enough not to be reliant on their mother will stay on the periphery of the harem having been kept at a distance by the dominant stag who see’s them as a threat. Older stags (older than 10) can also be seen around the periphery, not fit enough to compete but led by their natural instincts to stay near to the hinds in the hope of still having the chance to mate.
After the younger stags disappeared out of our sight we took a minute to appreciate the view of the valley and have some lunch.
As we sat atop our rock eating and looking through binoculars at the opposite hillside two small deer emerged quietly from the woodland to our left.
Not bothered by our presence this solitary hind and calf quietly went about grazing. It’s common for red deer that reside in woodland where these two appeared from to be solitary in mother and calf groups.
The calmness of the valley was soon disturbed by more roaring. This time it was a stag on the other side of the valley making himself heard to his harem and throughout the entire area. We did see another stag walk up to this one and he was chased off quickly but that was about as close to any males rutting as we witnessed!
Even at this distance his roar felt really quite close as it reverberated around the valley.
The hinds just below him were undisturbed and peacefully grazed while he continued his vocal display.
We sat for while watching and listening this group undisturbed before deciding it was getting too cold for our likening and started to pack to head back down.
As we were packing we caught a glimpse of a stag disappearing over the hill closely followed by his hinds. We had been so distracted by the other group across the valley we hadn’t looked behind us!
We were quite sure it was the group we saw earlier when we first climbed the hill.
When we reached the bottom we decided to complete the Donult trail since we had walked three-quarters of the way. Arriving at the clearing where Jock’s trail continues up onto the Cairngorm plateau and onto Braemar we could hear some more stags roaring too faintly to capture properly on camera and who were out of sight so we listened for a while as the light began to fade, appreciated the view before turning back to head home but not before we caught our last glimpse of some hinds on the hill in the late evening sun.
Tips for a trip;
1.) If you are travelling to the glens to see the deer make sure you take a really good pair of binoculars or spotting scope as the deer are right at top of the corrie walls a very long way away from the tracks through the valley. The other option is to climb up to get closer as we did but be careful as it’s not easy as you climb through large muddy and rocky areas that are unsteady underfoot. A great option is take a guided walk with a ranger that the Glen Doll ranger service put on annually during the rut where they provide spotting scopes on the valley floor to watch the deer rut unfold at your comfort.
2.) Before undertaking one of the larger walks like the climb up Corrie fee be sure to check how long the walk will take, what the weather is likely to be and the time of sunset so you plan the walk properly and have a safe and enjoyable time. The Glen Doll car park cost £2 so make sure you have change and make use of the toilets at the visitor centre before you leave as there are none on any of the trails.
3.) From our experience the best time to see and hear the deer rut is from the beginning of October onwards into the start of November.
Thanks for reading.
Kirsten and Elliot.