THIS month (october) forested areas in France are resounding to the bellowing of male deer – le brame du cerf - and the clashing of antlers as the rutting season is under way.
Red deer stags are some of the largest animals in the country and until late this month or next they will roar and grunt out challenges to rival stags with the aim of attracting a harem of hinds.
Best heard just after dawn or just before dusk, the noise is spine-chilling, especially if you do not expect it – and scarcely less so if you got up deliberately early to hear it.
As the hinds are only in season for a short time, the stags must keep them together and stop rivals from sneaking in.
Young bucks circle the edges of the herd trying to mount females who comes close and the older stag is on perpetual look-out.
There is little time to feed and the dominant stag can lose 20% of its weight as it runs to face up to rivals, bellows constantly, gets involved in fights and has sex with as many as 30 hinds.
The roaring challenges will warn off any weaker or smaller stags but two equally matched males will take up the challenge. They walk in parallel and stamp the ground as they size each other up and calculate who is the stronger. They will even thrash the ground with their antlers so loose vegetation gathers in them and helps them to appear larger.
Fights start suddenly and with two sets of sharp antlers attacking each other are very dangerous – although it is not usually a fight to the death.
The sound of the antlers clashing resounds through the woods and then with their heads locked, the wily stag tries to get uphill to get advantage in a shoving match that can end as quickly as it began.
The bellowing can be heard for a long distance and stags can be spotted in clearings or on hillsides.
They can also easily be smelt as they have a habit of wallowing in their own urine to darken their hides and look more dominant; but the odour also helps the female come into season.
Do not try to get close to a rut or a stag as they are extremely aroused and aggressive and may attack. Research has shown stags’ testosterone levels can rise by 1,000 times during the rut and an attack could kill or maim.
Many organised events are held in forest parks across France by the Office National des Forêts and some such as Chambord or Rambouillet have listening points and ranger-led activities to find the best viewpoint. Look out for adverts or posters offering “sorties brame du cerf” and organised by the local LPO or other wildlife groups.
In Moselle, the Parc Sainte-Croix at Rhodes has been voted one of the best places to see and hear the rut as it has its own herd of around 60 deer and the many open spaces give easy sightlines. The park also has a contest for people to imitate the brame.
The hunting season is also under way so wear bright or fluorescent clothing and keep to marked paths if you are in the forest. Do not take dogs.
Photo: Parc Sainte-Croix/ Jean Lavergne