Broken trees and bushes, scraped earth and tracks that look like someone's been pacing up and down all night can often be found at this time of year in areas with fallow deer. Somewhere around mid-October is the start of the annual rut. Bucks will establish an area which they scent mark and use to challenge other bucks and attract does. I'm fortunate to have one of these areas on my patch. Thought I'd share some observations and deer-related info with you folks.
In the late summer, in readiness for the forthcoming rut, fallow bucks rub the velvet off their new antlers on conveniently placed trees and bushes. Velvet is the name for the soft covering containing the blood vessels for the growing antlers. This can cause quite alot of damage to young trees. Where deer are abundant you'll find many trees with missing or deformed bark.
During the rut bucks may thrash young trees and bushes. This is a display of aggression as well as an opportunity to scent mark with glands on the deer's brow. Trees treated to a damn good thrashing are unmistakable. They will often be surrounded by a bare patch where the buck has scraped the grass or leaf cover away with his legs and antlers. You'll find hoof marks and the sharp score of the buck's brow tine. The bucks may also use this as a stamping ground.
These behaviours, especially the rubbing (also known as fraying) are one of the reasons deer can be so destructive to forestry when they're around in numbers. The fraying and also nipping off the tasty, tender young tops of saplings renders them useless for timber production as they'll often grow into more of a bush than a tree due to the constant "pruning"!
As well as the thrashing and stamping patch you may find wallows. Other deer species use them more often but they're not all that frequently used by fallow deer who only ever use them in the rut. The buck will scrape out an area of earth – again you'll find cleat marks and much vegetation tossed around. Semen and urine are added and the buck uses the wallow for scent marking and enhancing his own scent. The notable things if you find one are, as you'd expect, the scent – very strong, and the amount of hair you'll find compared to a thrashing or stamping place.
As you can imagine, this whole thing is about dominance and aggression. Look at the photo on the right. It looks like a bomb's hit the place! As soon as you enter an area being used in the rut you'll notice an enormous amount of disturbance – The results of running, chasing, digging, thrashing and more besides. I've been really frustrated trying to capture this with a camera. It really doesn't convey anything like you'd see by being there and even worse, whenever anything exciting happens it's too dark to take photos! Back to the drawing board on this one.
If you have the chance to go poking around in woodlands for this sort of thing you won't be disappointed. There's some incredible stuff out there. You just have to look for it.