Deer rutting season in the New Forest

Updated 15th October 2021

The New Forest is a great place to see deer in their natural environment, but it is important to remember that they are wild animals and should be treated with respect. This is particularly the case during rutting season in the autumn when stags are fighting for territory.

The red deer rut begins in September and lasts until around early November. During this time, competing males, pumped full of testosterone, will engage in a series of behaviours aimed at showing off to the hinds (female red deer) and establishing dominance over the other stags. The master stag will mate with all the hinds in a 'harem' which could be up to 20 or so hinds. The females give birth, after a winter pregnancy, in May or June.

At this time of year, the stags can be seen walking alongside one another threateningly, in a behaviour called parallel walking. They will stamp the ground and roar fiercely. If two stags are of a similar size and these behaviours don't sufficiently establish a winner, they will literally 'lock antlers' and fight for dominance. The fights are ferocious and decisive  and the winner takes all.

The rut is an amazing natural spectacle to witness, although people shouldn’t get too close to the competing stags!

Red deer (Cervus elaphus)

The red deer is the largest land mammal in the UK, standing at up to 137cm tall at shoulder height. The stag's antlers are an outward display of the male deer’s masculinity. The growth of the antlers is driven by testosterone and peaks in the early autumn when the rut starts. The deer's testosterone levels drop in the early winter and the antlers eventually drop off. Regrowth begins again in the spring, usually bigger and better than the year before.

Protecting the deer

Certain areas of the New Forest are important for the protection of red deer, and we have quiet areas for them to rest and feed. We are asking members of the public not to enter these areas, which are marked by red signs, to avoid disturbing resting deer.

Unfortunately, many people are getting unacceptably close to the deer and disturbing them while they rest during the rut. This has dramatically affected their behaviour, with the wild herd not able to rest or move freely, they are being pushed towards nearby roads which is not safe for the animals or motorists.

Key messages for visitors

Please help us stop deer from being distressed:

  • Keep to the main tracks
  • Please keep dogs on lead near to the deer conservation areas
  • Keep your distance - binoculars are essential!
  • Do not approach or follow the deer
  • Do not enter the quiet areas - look out for the red signs!

Key messages for drivers

At this time of year drivers should watch out for wild deer on Forest roads at night, or early in the morning. Extra care should be taken if you’re driving on unfamiliar roads and be wary of not just one deer crossing the road, it’s best to stop and wait a moment as they often travel in groups. Reducing your speed to 30mph will just add three minutes to your usual journey and can dramatically reduce the number of animals injured or killed on the roads.

Key messages for photographers

Always put the welfare of the deer first. Keep 100 meters between yourself and the deer (roughly the length of a football pitch). We ask all photographers to follow the British Deer Society’s best practice code of conduct for photographers.

  • Remember deer are wild animals
  • Do not distress wildlife or their habitat
  • Respect the routine needs of the subject
  • Use appropriate lenses to photograph wild animals to prevent having to approach too close. We recommend a lens with a focal length of 300mm
  • Never surround deer
  • If an animal shows any signs of stress or disturbance, move back and use a longer lens
  • Acquaint yourself with the fragility of the ecosystem of the New Forest
  • Stay on paths that are intended to lessen impact
  • When appropriate, inform managers or other authorities of your presence and purpose
  • Acquaint yourself with any rules/laws/bylaws of the location, learn more 
  • Respect and treat others courteously
  • Ask before joining others already photographing in an area

Commercial photography on New Forest Crown lands

Visitors and residents are welcome to take photographs without charge for their own personal (non-commercial) or educational use. However, commercial photography requires a permit.

The permit, charges and terms and conditions for commercial photography vary and we ask people to get in touch with our team and complete a permission application form in advance. This includes the use of trail cameras. You can visit the website for more details and download the application form. Find out more.