October is the time of year that stags congregate in large numbers on Exmoor, waiting for the 2hour window that the hinds are in season each year. The stags bolve - a large roar heard rumbling across the hills, wallow in pits to make their manes as dark as possible and thrash to collect bracken and undergrowth on their antlers to make them look bigger. They will form a harem of hinds and try to prevent other stags from mating with their hinds.
After a day of stalking the deer, the final stalk took us to a tree line on the edge of a field where a large stag with a greying muzzle had appeared earlier in the day for the first time this season. He had an impressive harem of hinds and young calves who would have been born in June.
We stayed on the tree line, down wind from the herd and waited. What evolved felt like we were spying on nature at her best. The hinds were content grazing, but one was on the edge of the herd and the stag was very interested in her, sniffing and licking the air, the way they determine if the hind is in oestrus.
He was bolving and then suddenly decided the time was right. With the herd grazing he isolated his hind and amazingly in daylight completed a full mating, sauntering back to the herd afterwards. It was a moment of disbelief that we had just witnessed this event, with a feeling of intrusion on this important moment.
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