Listen: ‘Stag bellowing’ season underway in French forests

Did you know that now is “stag bellowing” season in France, and that every year, nature-lovers gather to listen out for the sound and even compete to imitate it best? We explain.

27 September 2020
A stag in a forest. Listen: ‘Stag bellowing’ season continues in French forests Stag bellowing season is an annual event in France and honoured via forest walks and an imitation competition
By Hannah Thompson

The mating season starts in mid-September and lasts until the beginning of October.

Several regions in France honour the tradition, known as le brame du serf, including the department of Oise. Nighttime forest walks led by forestry guides are one event often held to mark the season.

Yves Normand, of the national forestry office l’Office national des forêts (ONF) told news service FranceInfo: “[Stag] have a very developed sense of smell, so if there is one in a corner, then it probably already knows that we are here.”

Mr Normand said that hearing the sound for the first time was very memorable, but that it was important for people to keep their distance.

He said: “Someone who isn’t used to it, when they hear that for the first time, it’s very memorable! But we shouldn’t get too close for safety reasons. There have been accidents in the past. It’s rare, but it has happened. At the point of the call, the stag is full of testosterone. This rise in hormones makes the males aggressive. They fight and can even kill each other.”

In addition, every year there is a stag bellowing imitation contest, with people competing to perform the best sound. The winner of the national competition then goes on to compete at European level.

Participants are judged on the depth, length and tone of the imitation. The competition is usually organised by the Parc Animalier de Sainte-Croix in Rhodes, Lorraine.

While imitation can be a fun activity, it can also come in useful for other reasons, such as attracting stags to track or photograph them.

In 2015, The Connexion spoke to champion stag bellower Alfred Bour, from Réding in Moselle, who won the competition that year.

He explained: “I tried everything – shells, horns... but it’s a bakelite tube that works best for me. It’s all done in the way you vibrate your vocal chords and manage your breath, a bit like an operatic tenor.

“There are different sounds for a young stag, an old stag, a stag with does etc. I can do them all, though some people find the young one harder because it’s higher and more melodious and goes from high to low up and down the scales. I learned [how to do it] from a friend of my father who was a hunting guide – we went into the forest and he taught us what to do.”

He even recorded a stag call for The Connexion via telephone interview. Listen here.

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