Frequently Asked Questions.
Candidates for the HCAP MCQ are expected to be fully informed on all aspects of deer, their biology, habits and management, as well as apects of the safe and proficient use of firearms. This FAQ helps to illustrate some of the many questions which arise on a regular basis. For more detailed information see the HCAP Stalker Training Manual or the selected chapters featured elsewhere on this site.
Q. How many deer species are there in Ireland?
There are just three deer species in Ireland – red deer, sika deer and fallow deer. Fallow deer are the most numerous and most widespread nationally.
Q. How can you tell the difference?
The species are each totally different. Red deer, as their name suggests, have a glossy red coat in summer, turning a dull dun or grey colour in winter. Red deer are the largest species. Sika deer have a dappled reddish coat in summer, turning a dark grey in winter. Although red and sika deer are of the same genus and can (and do) interbreed, they are quite distinct in appearance, reds being much larger animals. Fallow deer have a dappled coat in summer, also turning to grey in winter. Fallow are larger than sika but smaller than red deer. Compared with sika deer, fallow deer have a longer tail and fallow males have a distinct "Adam's Apple" and an obvious penile sheath, unlike red or sika male deer. They also have a different antler structure, being palmate in shape, unlike reds, which generally have up to twelve antler points or tines (except when able to avail of exceptional feeding and most favourable environment), while sika stags have up to eight antler points. Red and sika males are called "stags", fallow males are called "buck". Red and sika females are called "hinds", fallow females are called "does". A twelve-point red stag is known as a "Royal".
Q. What is the name for young male deer?
Young red and sika males are called "prickets", young fallow males are also called prickets but may be called "sorrels" in their second or third head before full antler formation occurs.
Q. Do deer keep their antlers all year round?
No. Male deer cast their antlers every year and spend the summer re-growing them. Red stags and sika stags usually cast their antlers between March and April, fallow bucks a little later. When the new antlers are growing, they are covered with a skin known as "velvet", which carries a blood supply to the growing antler before being rubbed off at the end of the summer when the stag or buck is in hard horn. The velvet on a sika stag is usually jet-black in colour (although some strains can feature a dark-red colour, rare in Ireland), while that of red is a dull grey colour. Fallow velvet will range from white to very dark grey, depending on the animal's colour form. The antler grows from the pedicle, into the coronet and the beam, which carries the forks or tines of the antler.
Q. What exactly is a hummel?
Hummel is the name given to a stag (usually a red stag) which does not develop antlers. As a result, he usually acquires a much heavier body weight than other stags, as the nutrients which would otherwise go into the developing antler are absorbed by the body more generally. Hummels are fertile and can mate and will often oust a lighter, antlered stag during the rut.
Q. What is a yeld hind?
A yeld hind is one that has not produced a calf in the current year. She is not necessarily barren but nature has determined that her body condition is not good enough to carry a calf so she will not come into oestrus during the rut. She will often conceive and successfully carry a calf to full term in the following year, unless she is permanently beyond calf-carrying capability.
Q. What is the preferred habitat of the Irish deer species?
All three species are most often found at the margin of woodlands.
Q. When do wild deer usually feed?
In undisturbed conditions, deer will usually feed in cycles of a few hours with peaks at dawn and dusk. Deer are rarely seen to drink because they get most of the water they need through grazing.
Q. What is the primary objective of deer management?
The primary objective of good deer management is to shoot enough deer to keep the herd in balance with the habitat available. Food is a finite resource and deer populations need to be kept in balance with available supplies, otherwise they can threaten human economic interests (agriculture, forestry) quite severally. In the absence of any other natural predator, man plays an important role in maintaining the necessary balance.
Q. What is the current shooting season for wild deer?
Male (antlered deer) may be shot under licence and with the appropriate firearm, from September 1 to December 31 each year. Female (antlerless) deer may be shot from November 1 to February 28 each year.This applies to all species except red stags in Co. Kerry which may not be shot.
Q. What calibre firearm is permitted?
The minimum legal calibre is .22/250. However the minimum recommended legal calibre, in the context of the HCAP Stalker Training and HCAP Certification processes, is .240, with 100 grain bullet and not less than 1900, and preferably not less than 2100, foot-pounds of energy at muzzle (where different manufacturers' brands deliver variable ME).
Q. During what hours of the day can deer be hunted?
Deer may be hunted (subject to the necessary licence) from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset each day during the Open Season. However hunters on Coillte forest property are normally confined to the hours between dawn and 11 a.m.
Q. How do I know if there are deer around?
Inevitably, you will evidence of deer presence through browsing (feeding on leaves or buds of trees and shrubs) or fraying (the rubbing of the bark of trees or shrubs with antlers). If you see clean-angled cut ends to twigs, this damage is more likely to have been caused by sheep or hares than by deer. Bole-scoring, although rare, does occur, resulting in long deer vertical and horizontal grooves in the trunk of the tree. Bole-scoring is most often associated with sika deer than with red or fallow deer. You may also see slots (deer tracks) or fewmets (deer droppings).
Q. What is the best time to see deer?
Deer are largely nocturnal in their habits, except when found on open hill ground. The majority of deer however will be found on the margins of woodland, especially at dusk or sunrise as they emerge to feed or return from feeding. Otherwise, they tend to lie up in woodland or other dense cover during the day, feeding opportunistically when undisturbed. The best time of the year to assess local woodland deer populations is during the months of March or April, when cover is thinnest, they are still in family groupings and males are still easily distinguishable, not having cast their antlers.
Q. Can I go out looking for deer at night with a lamp?
No. A lamp may be used only with a special Ministerial licence, for purposes of scientific research.
Q. When do deer have their calves?
Red deer and sika deer calve in late May/ early June, fallow deer a little later, in late June/early July. The gestation period for all Irish deer species is approximately 240 days. Although twinning does occasionally occur, it is very rare.
Q. What happens after calving?
Calves or fawns emit very little scent in their first days or weeks. This is a natural biological defence against predation. The dam (mother) will suckle the calve several times a day, leaving it in cover between feeds while she herself feeds and rebuilds her own energy after the calving process. The newborn calf can stand almost immediately and can run with its mother if necessary but usually it will be a couple of weeks before it joins its dam during the day. Every year people come across what they think are abandoned calves and which are often easy to approach, even to pick up. These calves should be left alone and not touched as human scent may deter the dam, which will always return to the calf.
Q. What is the rut and when does it occur?
The rut is that time of the year when deer mate and conceive their young. It occurs in red and sika deer from late September to late October, with fallow bucks rutting a little later than the other species. During this time, red stags and sika stags can be heard in woodland or open land roaring in the case of red stags and whistling in the case of sika stags. Fallow bucks emit a heavy groaning noise as they too challenge other males. Reds and sika tend to search out hinds with which to mate, while fallow bucks generally tend to stay close to a rutting stand, to which does eventually come. Look out for wallow holes – muddy pools in which the stags or bucks wallow during the rut. Both reds and sika grow a heavier mane of hair during the rut, their necks thicken and they offer a pungent and distinctive aroma. Fallow bucks don't grow a neck mane in the same way as reds or sika but their necks thicken also. The roar of the red stag is as distinctive as the triple whistle of the mature sika stag, while the deep grunt of the fallow buck, heard in the depths of woodland, will often betray his presence. During this time, rutting male deer are heavily preoccupied with finding and holding females. They rely heavily on stores of fat and general body condition built up over the summer months, eating just enough to maintain necessary levels of energy. Once the rut is over, stags and bucks need to rebuild condition, in readiness for the coming winter months.
Q. Who owns wild deer?
As a matter of law, no one can own wild deer while they are alive. They are ferae naturae – wild things, things without an owner, res nullius in the Latin phrase, until such time as they are captured or killed, or in legal parlance, until they are "reduced into possession". When that happens, they become the property of the person who legally captured or killed them – in most cases, the properly licensed and authorised hunter, with legitimate permission over the land on which the deer was hunted and killed. Deer which are not the subject of legal hunting but which are killed illegally e.g. by poachers, become the property of the landowner or the owner of the sporting rights over the land concerned. If removed by the poacher, the offence of theft is then added to the offence of illegal killing.
Q. Do I need a licence to hunt deer?
Yes. A licence to hunt wild deer during the Open Season (see elsewhere on this site) can be obtained from National Parks & Wildlife Service, 7 Ely Place, Dublin 2. It is issued free of charge and runs from August 1 to July 31 each year (in tandem with the annual firearms certificate). The minimum age at which application can be made is 16 years (the same as for a firearms certificate). It is not necessary to hold a firearms certificate in order to obtain a licence to hunt deer. However an application for a licence should be accompanied by written permission from a landowner or landowners, covering land on which deer are normally found in numbers sufficient to justify culling by shooting. The application and supporting permissions will normally be verified by a local Conservation Ranger attached to the National Parks & Wildlife Service and may be refused if in the opinion of the Conservation Ranger, it is not warranted or if other specific circumstances apply. The Coillte Teoranta recreational deer hunting licence may be used to support a deer hunting licence application, as may the Coillte Permit issued to licensees and nominated stalkers.
Q. Can deer be hunted during the Closed Season?
Yes, but only with what is called a "Section 42" licence (issued under Section 42 of the Wildlife Act, 1976. A Section 42 licence may be issued where agricultural damage occurs but is subject to verification of claim of damage by a local Conservation Ranger.
Q. What about injured deer found on the road or elsewhere?
Injured deer may be killed by any person, at any time, in or out of season, with or without a licence, using any legal means. It is not necessary to advise the National Parks & Wildlife Service, the Garda Siochana or anybody else, in advance. No further specific permission is required. This is a matter of policy as it relates to the humane treatment of injured animals and the prevention of further suffering.