RED-DEER (Cervus Elaphus), Hart or Stag ; the female, Hind. The stag is very inconstant, having often several females at a time; and when he has but one hind his attachment to her does not continue above a few days. This ardour lasts only three weeks, during which the stags take very little food, and neither sleep nor rest. Hence, at the end of the rutting season they are so meagre and exhausted that they recover not their strength for a considerable time. They generally retire to the borders of the forest, feed upon the cultivated fields, and remain there till their strength is reestablished. In seasons when acorns and nuts are plentiful, they soon recover, and a second rutting frequently happens at the end of October; but it is of much shorter duration than the first. The hinds go with young eight months and some days, and seldom produce more than one. They bring forth in May or the beginning of June, and anxiously conceal their produce, which are called calves. After the sixth month the knobs of their horns begin to appear, and they are called knobbers till their horns lengthen into spears, and then they are termed brocks or staggards. During the first season they never leave their mothers. In winter, the stags and hinds of all ages keep together in flocks, which are always more numerous in proportion to the rigour of the season. They separate in spring: the hinds retire to bring forth; tad, during this period, the flock consists only of knobbers and young stags. In general the stags are inclined to associate, and nothing but fear or necessity urges them to disperse. The life of the stag is spent in alternate plenty and want, vigour and debility, without having any change introduced into his constitution by these opposite extremes. He grows five or six years, and lives to thirty-five or forty years.
The stag has a fine eye, an acute smell, and an excellent ear. When listening he raises his head, erects his ears, and hears from a great distance ; he is a simple, and yet a crafty animal. When hissed or called to he stops short and looks steadfastly, with a kind of admiration, at cattle, carriages, or men; and if they have neither arms nor dogs he moves on unconcernedly. He appears to listen with delight to the shepherd's pipe. In general he is less afraid of men than of dogs, and is never suspicious, or uses any arts of concealment, but in proportion to the disturbance he has received. He eats slowly, and is very choice in his aliment: after his stomach is full he lies down and ruminates at leisure, which he seems to do with less facility than the ox. The stag's voice becomes louder in proportion as he advances in age: the hind never bellows from love, but from fear; her voice is more feeble than that of the male. The stag seldom drinks in the winter; in the spring the tender herbage covered with dew serves to slake his thirst. In the heat of summer and during the season of love, he frequents the margins of rivers and brooks not only to satisfy his parching thirst, but to cool his ardour and refresh his body: he then swims more easily than at any other time, and has been observed crossing very large rivers. Their food varies in different seasons. In autumn, after rutting, they search for the buds of green shrubs, the flowers of broom or heath, the leaves of brambles, &c. During the snows of winter they feed upon the bark, moss, &c. of trees, and in mild weather they browse in wheat-fields. In the beginning of spring they go in quest of catkins of the poplar, willow, and hazel trees, the buds and flowers of the cornel tree, &c. They prefer rye to all other grain, and the black berry-bearing alder to all other wood. The flesh of the fawn is very good, that of the hind and knobber not bad; but that of the stag has always a strong and disagreeable taste. The skin and the horns are the most useful parts of this animal: the former makes a pliable and very durable leather; the latter are used by cutlers, swordslippers, &c. and a volatile spirit, much employed in medicine, is extracted from them. In America, stags feed eagerly on the broadleaved kalmia; although that plant is poison to all other horned animals. The American stags grow very fat: their tallow is much esteemed for candles. In Britain the stag is become less common than formerly; its excessive viciousness during the rutting season, and the badness of its flesh, induce most people to part with the species. Stags are still found wild in the highlands of Scotland ; they are also met with on the moors that border Cornwall and Devonshire; and in Ireland on the mountains of Kerry, where they add greatly to the magnificence of the romantic scenery.
The age of a stag is judged by the furniture of his head. At a year old there is nothing to be seen but bunches. At two years old the horns appear more perfectly, but straighter and smaller; at three they grow into two spars; at four into three; and so increase yearly in branches till they are six years old; after which their age is not with any certainty to be known by their head. The huntsmen have several other marks whereby to know an old stag without seeing him; particularly the slot, entries, abatures, foils, fewnets, gate, and fraying post.
Stag-hunting. The chase of the stag requires a species of knowledge which can only be learned by experience : it implies a royal assemblage of men, horses and dogs, all so trained, practised, and disciplined, that their movements, their researches, and their skill, must concur in producing one common end. The huntsman should know the age and the sex of the animal; he should be able to distinguish with precision, whether the stag he has harboured with his hound be a knobber, a young stag, in his sixth or seventh year, or an old stag. The chief marks which convey this intelligence, are derived from the foot, and the excrement. The foot of the stag is better formed than that of the hind, or female. Her leg is more gross and nearer the heel. The impression of his feet are rounder, and farther removed from each other. He movesmore regularly, and brings the hind foot into the impression made by the fore foot. But the distance between the steps of the hind are shorter, and her hind feet strike not so regularly the track of the fore feet. As soon as the stag acquires his fourth horns, he is easily distinguished; but to know the foot of a young stag from that of a hind, requires repeated experience. Stags of six, seven, &c. years, are still more easily known; for their fore foot is much larger than the hind foot; the older they are, the sides of their feet are the more worn; they always place their hind foot exactly in the track of the fore foot, excepting when they shed their horns; the old stags misplace, at this season, nearly as often as the young ones; but in this they are more regular than the hind or young stag, placing the hind foot always at the side of the fore foot, and never beyond or within it.
When the huntsman, from the dryness of the season, or other circumstances, cannot judge by the foot, he is obliged to trace the animal backwards, and endeavour to find his dung. This mark requires, perhaps, greater experience than the knowledge of the foot: but without it the huntsman would be unable to give a proper report to the company. After the report of the huntsman, and the dogs are led to the refuge of a stag, he ought to encourage his hound, and make him rest upon the track of the stag, till the animal be harboured. Instantly the alarm is given to uncouple the dogs, which ought to be enlivened by the voice and the horn of the huntsman. He should also diligently observe the foot of the stag, in order to discover whether the animal has started, and substituted another in his place. But it is then the business of the hunters to separate also, and to recall the dogs which have gone astray after false game. The huntsman should always accompany his dogs, and encourage, but not press them too hard. He should assist them in detecting all the arts of escape used by the stag, for this animal has remarkable address in deceiving the dogs. With this view he often returns twice or thrice upon his former steps; he endeavours to raise hinds or younger stags to accompany him, and to draw off the dogs from the object of their pursuit: he then flies with redoubled speed, or springs off at side, lies down on his belly, and conceals himself. In this case, when the dogs have lost his foot, the huntsmen, by going backwards and forwards, assist them in recovering it. But, if they cannot find it, they suppose that he is resting within the circuit they have made, and go in quest of him. But, if they are still unable to discover him, there is no other method left, but, from viewing the country, to conjecture where he may have taken refuge, and repair to the place. As soon as they have recovered his foot, and put the dogs upon the track, they pursue with more advantage, because they perceive that the stag is fatigued. Their ardour augments in proportion to his feebleness; and their scent grows more distinct as the animal grows warm. Hence they redouble their cries and their speed ; and though the stag practises still more arts of escape than formerly, as his swiftness is diminished, his arts and doubling become gradually less effectual. He has now no other resource but to fly from the earth which he treads, and get into the water, in order to cut off the scent from the dogs. The huntsmen go round these waters, and again put the dogson the track ofhisfoot. The stag, after taking to the water, is incapable of running far, and is soon at bay. But he still attempts to defend his life, and often wounds the dogs, and even the huntsmen when too forward, by blows with his horns, till one of t hem cuts his hams to make him fall, and then puts an end to his life by a blow of a hanger. They now celebrate the death of the stag by a flourish of their horns ; the dogs are allowed to trample upon him, and at last partake richly the reward of their victory.
This noble diversion is, however, now seldom followed. Our forests are no longer drawn for the red deer; and unharbouring a stag is what few modern sportsmen have witnessed. A stall-fed stag or hind, is now turned out from a cart, the hounds are laid on the scent, and merrily they go on together over some open country, till the stag being too hardly pressed, or some of the principal sportsmen thrown out, the huntsmen ride forward, and cracking their whips, stop the hounds till the quarry recovers its wind, or the laggers come up ; and when the animal is nearly run down, the same process is repeated ; the deer taken alive, secured, and put into the cart again for another day's sport. Of such a kind of diversion we can only say, that, in point of interest, it very much resembles hunting a red herring.
Harewood, Harry. A Dictionary of Sports. London: T. Tegg and son, 1835
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