First Stag on Skye.


Well July has soon crept upon us, for me it’s the time of year when I need to start looking at culling a few Red Stags and start to make headway into my deer management plan.

I generally start to look at Stag groups that have not moved to higher ground and are hanging around crofting land, usually hay and silage fields. At the start of spring this can lead to friction with crofters with deer feeding on valuable grazing, as crofters are small scale subsistence farmers they cannot afford to lose much of the winter feed. As I write this, the phone rings and it is a crofter who has spotted signs of deer in his silage field and wants instant action taken to reduce his loss.

So once again I will be out and about spying Stag groups that need to be thinned out. Whilst looking for these groups it also gives you the opportunity to see how well they have fared over the winter and look at their body condition. There may well be a reason why these groups have not moved to higher ground and stayed on their winter feeding, a harsh winter, loss of winter feeding grounds, disease or a combination of all three. For the deer on this estate it has been a loss of traditional winter feeding grounds, more and more neighbouring areas are deer fencing great swathes of low ground, whether to plant trees, cultivate or just to have an extension to a garden, this puts the deer at a great disadvantage when they try to gain access to wintering ground. No thought is given to understand where the deer will move to in this situation, people start to see the deer more regular and assume their numbers are on the rise, then we are back to where we began, deer moving into crofting land to feed !!!

Last year was a great year here for deer on Skye. We had a fantastic spring and summer when most of Britain was under water. The grass had started to grow early on and the deer did not hesitate to take advantage of the lush growth. The biting flies arrived and drove the deer onto the higher ground where there was a little relief from the Clegs and Midges. But as is often the case a few younger stags stuck it out and hung around the lower ground. As the usual phone calls came in I made a point of assessing what the deer were where, and when and what to cull.

I came across one young stag feeding away night after night in a silage field, he needed to go. So one evening I set out to remove him, as I stalked into the area where he was grazing I noticed he was not alone and was the only stag among a few hinds. It seemed as night drew in the young stag would leave the hinds to feed on the silage field, the hinds had obviously been scared off a few times and got the message to stay away.

I waited for him to clear the hinds then drew the crosshair just behind the shoulder. The .270 kicked out the 130g Hornandy bullet and the stag’s legs gave from underneath him. The hinds looked on then after a few minutes they moved on. As I approached the fallen stag I could see something protruding from his rear leg. I turned him over to see huge great growths of varying sizes, from his groin down to his hocks. There were a few smaller ones on the front legs too. This was something I had heard about with cattle but had never seen it in deer before. “Deer Fibroma” or as some stockmen call them “Angle berries”.

These are Wart-like growths found on the skin of deer. They are popularly referred to as skin tumours, or simply warts. Fibromas are conspicuous as firm, nodular masses fastened only to the skin and varying in diameter from 10 to more than 100mm. All are fleshy. Some are covered with grey or dark skin which often is scratched and bleeding. Others have a black, dry, hard surface that may be fissured much like the head of a cauliflower. The larger ones tend to be pendulous because of their weight and stem-like attachment to the skin.


So as required by law I checked the beast out to assess its condition for the carcass to go into the food chain. The stag was for all intents and purposes in good condition. An internal inspection showed he had been feeding well and had good fat reserves. So what had coursed this condition? Very little is known about it in wild animals. It is said that as it’s a skin condition it does not affect the meat and cannot be spread to humans through its consumption. But I like to play it safe. The carcass was destroyed in the correct manner.

Let’s not hope I come across this condition again this year…