Archibald Hamilton.

The red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 online

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During the end of April or the beginning of May
stags shed their antlers. They simply loosen and
fall off as the deer brushes through covert, or jumps
a bank into a feeding-ground. Mr. Capel, of
Bulland Lodge, picked up seven fine antlers in four
days within a few yards of a rack in the fence which
divides Middle Hill from a field of young grass,
showing obviously that they had been jerked off on
landing. A raw socket is left in the skull which
bleeds slightly, and as it heals over forms a soft
tumour. This socket is formed by a hollow projection
from the frontal bone, and one of the most curious
points in this most remarkable phenomenon is that
this projection alters from year to year not only in
height but in shape, one of the best-known marks of
a very old stag being the shortness of the pillar or
projection. The soft tumour continues to swell and
enlarge, and gradually forms the antler. The process
is thus described by Dr. Bell, as quoted in Dr. Collyns's
work : " The growth of the horn is an astonishing
instance of the rapidity of production of bone under
particular circumstances, and unparalleled in its
extent in so short a period. During its growth the
branches of the external carotid arteries which lend
their assistance in the formation are considerably
enlarged for the purpose of carrying the great flow
of blood required for the formation of bone. It



28 THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.

extends by means of the velvet (a plexus of blood
vessels) all over the external parts of the horn. It
is quite soft and highly vascular, so that the slightest
injury causes blood to flow freely, and the horn, when
this occurs, to be imperfectly developed." When the
antler has attained its full size all its points are still
soft, and one may sometimes see them bent where
they have met with any injury.. The last part of the
antler to develop is the burr or row of "pearls"
round its base. The development of these pearls
presses upon and constricts the arteries, thus cutting
off the supply of blood, and the velvet gradually
dries up and comes away, a process which the stag
hastens by rubbing against a tree — a specimen
young pine for choice, if there be such a thing handy
— to the no small detriment of the tree. The antler
is then pure white bone, a defect which the stag
quickly remedies by rolling in the first peat hole he
can find. In former days, when charcoal burning
was extensively carried on round Exmoor, the old
charcoal pits were favourite places for this purpose.
A stag's head can at any time be washed nearly
white with a sufficiency of soap, hot water, and a
scrubbing brush. The antler is generally full grown
about the end of July ; the points are usually hard
by about August 1 2th, when stag-hunting begins, and
the velvet comes away by about the end of the first
week in September ; but no hard or fast rule can be
laid down. In some seasons stags are forward in
condition, in others the reverse is the case.




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OF THE STAG'S HEAD. 29

In 1905 stags were very forward, and on the open-
ing day a heavy stag came out of covert with a
strip of velvet torn off almost the entire length of
one antler, leaving the white bone showing plainly,
a thing which could not have happened unless the
velvet was beginning to dry up. The stag broke not
more than 200 yards from where he had been
couched, and though possible, it is extremely
improbable that he did the injury in that short
distance.

During the time the antler is forming, the stags
are a prey to flies ; they dare not lie in the cool
coppices, because every twig would lacerate the
velvet, causing apparently intense pain. High open
wood is little better, and for the most part they lie
still and suffer in the glare of the sun on the open
heather, with a dense cloud of fiies hovering over
them and crowding on the velvet till it looks black.
A careful stalk and a good glass will show the
animal, which a few weeks ago was a lordly stag,
and in a few weeks more will be so again, a truly
deplorable object with twitching head, and con-
stantly moving ears, being literally eaten up by the
flies.

'Antler seems the most nearly correct term one
can use when one does not speak of the " head,"
though in the Boke of St. Albans the term is con-
fined to the brow antler, the lowest of the three
" rights."

" Thou shall call the head of a hart auntelere.



so THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.

riall, surriall ; and when you may know him by the
toppe, you shall call him forked a hart of tenne.
and when he beareth three on the top you shall call
him a harte of twelve : and when he beareth fourre
you shall call him summed a hart of sixteen, and from
fourre forward you shall call him summed of so many
as he carrieth how many soever they be."

Manwood calls the lowest point the brow antler,
just as we do now, and the others royal and surroyal.
From this it would appear that the term antler should
in strictness apply only to the brow, and in practice
the West Country-man, though he has no book learn-
ing on the subject, rarely if ever speaks of the bay
antler or the tray antler, but of the bay and tray
" points."

It is curious that among all the voluminous
treatises ancient and modern it is impossible to find
a correct technical term for the whole of the growth
on one side. The term in most common use is
antler, distinguished as " near" or " off."

In Scotland the sportsman follows closely after
the rule of the Boke of St. Albans, and calls his
stag a stag of ten or twelve as the case may be ;
this usage has never prevailed in the West, and we
say a stag has " brow, bay, tray, and three," or
"two," as the case may be "on top." If a stag
has brow, bay, and tray, he is said to have all his
"rights," and would then be described as having
" all his rights and three," or whatever the number
might be, on top.



OF THE STAG'S HEAD. 31

A male deer under one year old is called a calf
and has no antlers, but is none the less easily dis-
tinguishable by the shape and pose of the head,
which he carries thrown back, as if conscious of
what will one day be there.

As a yearling he carries two small knobs of bone,
and is called locally a knobber, or more correctly a
brocket.

As a two-year-old, he bears a short spire or
upright, and a short brow antler. He still lives
mostly in company with the hinds, and uses the
same feeding grounds.

Beyond this it is hard to judge the age of a deer
by the head alone, so much depends on feeding and
the nature of the ground where the deer live.
Where deer can feed nightly on arable crops, corn
in the autumn, turnips in the winter, and particularly
where they have access also to oak woods where
they can get .plenty of acorns, or where Spanish
chestnuts abound, they do not "go back," to use
the local term, or lose condition, during the winter,
and they undoubtedly develop better, stronger heads.
The difference, for example, between the heads of
Quantock deer, and those which have wintered on
the barren wilds of '' the forest," is most marked.
For the same reason no true deduction can be drawn
from the heads of park deer, which are fed on hard
food during the winter.

In the Exeter museum is a case showing the
successive pairs of antlers of the deer mentioned in



32 THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.

a previous chapter as being kept in a paddock at
Lynton. These show more development and a
greater number of points than is usual ; indeed, the
four-year-old head might well have been a seven-
year-old. From this some people have deduced
that the Exmoor deer, having free access to good
food, are all about three years younger than they are
said to be ; this theory is effectually disposed of by
the fact that there is a plentiful supply of young
deer carrying the normal two or three year-old
heads.

All that can be done is to point out the normal
development.

A normal three-year-old would have thrown out a
tray point on each side and might have in addition
two on top on one side. The beam being light and
smooth and with little spread between the antlers.

A four-year-old should have brow, tray, and two on
top on each side, but he might have two and one,
the whole antler, however, should be stronger and
heavier, and the spread wider. At this age the deer
has a full mouth, so that the age can be ascertained
in that way.

At five a deer may have all his rights — brow, bay,
and tray, and two on top on each side, but more
often misses one point, and should have a small tush
showing on each side. Some deer never develop the
bay point, some carry it only on one side.

The writer has hanging on the wall beside him as
he writes the head of a very heavy old deer known for



OF THE STAG'S HEAD. 33

many years as the "old Danesborough stag." Hounds
were running another stag on the Quantocks, and as
they went along the path under Danesborough this
old stag, just roused from the sleepy hollow of his
thoughts, blundered out of the oak scrub on to the
path not ten yards before the pack. They caught
a view and coursed him all the way to the Alfoxton
fence, which he tried to jump, but fell back. The
end was inevitable. No heavy stag, and he was " so
fat as a bullock," could stand being suddenly raced
like that, for hounds were never a hundred yards
behind him till he stood to bay in a cattle shed
in Adscomhe Barton, and wrought destruction
among the pack ere he was taken. It had been a
hard winter, and to this yard he had come regularly
every night and had shared shelter and provender
with the bullocks of that best of sportsmen, Mr.
Hunt. This deer was known to be at least twelve
years old, but missed his bay points, carrying brow,,
tray, and four on top on each side, all very strong,
well-developed points. The beam is remarkable for
its strength. It measures five and a half inches in
circumference above the brow, while six inches is the
smallest girth above the tray.

At six years old a deer may develop three on top
on one side, but in many instances he carries the
same head as a five-year-old, namely, two on top, but
better developed and with the points on top longer.
Beyond this age it is a matter of pure guess work ;
a deer carrying three good, well-developed points on

D



34 THE RED DEER OE EXMOOR.

each side may probably be eight years old, or ten
or more.

Many rules have been laid down for recognising
an old stag, but they cannot always be depended on.
The most sure are : —

That the burr is set close to the head ;

That the pearls on the burr are large, knobbly, and
well polished ;

That the gutters or channels left on the surface of
the horn by the arteries are deep and well
marked ;

That the beam is heavy and the spread wide.

As a deer gets very old he loses his strength and
vitality, and his antlers begin to " bate " or " go back."
The points are less strong and less sharp, those on
top being frequently rounded or otherwise imper-
fectly developed. The head, in fact, becomes less
efficient as a fighting weapon. Age is often difficult
to judge, and many a heated controversy takes place
among the experts over the body of the deer ; but
the condition of the teeth can generally be relied on
to settle the discussion. In a very old deer the
teeth are worn and often loose or missing.

There have been endless controversies as to the
longevity of stags, and instances have been adduced
to prove ages that sound fabulous. Thirty years,
forty, even a hundred and over, have been alleged.
No ages approaching these have, so far as the writer
is aware, ever been duly authenticated in the West.

The best authenticated case of age which has come



OF THE STAG'S HEAD. 35

under the writer's notice was that of a stag found
in Court Wood when Col. Hornby was Master.
He only ran to the lower end of Bye Hill, about
a mile and a half, and hounds rolled him over
in the water without an effort. He was no bigger
than a two-year-old, but carried a small, well-spread
head with brow, tray, and three on top on each side,
the beam being very light and the points between
two and three inches long. He had hardly any teeth,
and his slot was like that of a two-year-old, which,
no doubt, accounted for the harbourer never having
harboured him. He was ear- marked with a peculiar
mark which Mr. Bawden, of Hawkridge, recognised
as an old sheep-mark of his. It transpired that he
had rescued a two-year-old male deer badly
mauled by some hounds, had nursed it in his farm
buildings, ear-marked it, and turned it out in the
year before Hawkridge Church was restored ; this
enabled the date to be fixed, and the consequent
age of the stag was nineteen. This is the only
instance known to the writer of any considerable age
being adequately proved.

It has been said that deer are at their prime at
fourteen ; this would certainly not be true on
Exmoor, where ten or eleven would be a more
likely age.

Two points which have been much debated are
whether the heads in Devon and Somerset areas big
as North-country heads, and whether they are as
big as they were in days gone by.

D 2



36 THE RED DEER OF EX MOOR.

The writer has not sufficient experience of Scottish
"heads" to answer the first query authoritatively.
Some immense heads from the Highlands were
shown at the Burlington Gallery some years ago,
among which were heads certainly bigger than any
Exmoor has produced of late years. But it must be
remembered that there are many more stags in
Scotland, and that for one old West-country house
which has preserved its "heads" over a long series
of years there are a hundred or more in Scotland.

It is to be regretted that at that exhibition there
were none of the old heads which grace the walls at
Holnicote, Killerton, Castle Hill, Youlston, Water-
mouth, and other places where they are preserved.

Pages and pages of statistics have been published
on the subject, but they prove little except that a
number of fine heads are in existence. No notice is
taken of the medium heads, yet it is by the medium
heads, and not by the number of abnormally big
heads, that the question of general superiority should
be decided.

The various packs hunting in the West now kill
perhaps fifty to sixty stags a year, and a few years
ago a score would have represented the average. It
would be absurd to expect to find so many big heads
as in the North, but the West-country heads taken on
an average are, it has been said by many competent
judges, better than the average heads in Scotland,
though with scarcely so good a spread.

The record Scotch head of recent years was



OF THE STAG'S HEAD. 37

killed by Lord Burton in 1893 — ^ stag with twenty
points, that is all his rights and seven on top on each
side. The points on top are all well developed, the
beam strong and heavy, but the spead not remark-
able for a big head.

Exmoor has not of late years produced anything
quite as good as this, though on September 8th,
1786, the " Old Badgworthy Deer" was killed with
all his rights and seven on one side and six on the
other. This head is in the possession of Sir Thomas
Dyke Acland, and there is a drawing of it in '' The
Chase of the Wild Red Deer." In the same work
an opinion is expressed that such fine heads were not
taken at that time, 1861, as were found in old days.
That may have been true then, but cannot, I think,
be said to be correct now. There have been very
many fine heads taken of late years, some of which
are worthy of notice.

The place of honour must be given to the
St. Andries stag, taken after a fast gallop on the
Quantock Hills on Friday, October 13th, 1893, the
chief feature of this head being the great develop-
ment of the beam. The points were brow, bay, and
tray on each side, with five points on top on one
side and three on the other.

The measurements were :

Outside curve of horn, burr to tip ... ... 36 inches.

Spread, beam to beam, below the forks, measured

inside to outside ... ... ... ... ... 30^ ,,

Girth of beam below forks ... ... ... ... 7^ ,,

Girth of beam between bay and tray ... ... 7^ ,,



38 THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.

The head now hangs in the hall at St. Andries
with many other fine trophies.

A stag with a curious malformed head was killed
on October 24th, 1903, which might have been just
accounted to have seven on top on each side. He
was described in the Field as follows : "He had an
extraordinary head, with a big, heavy beam, and
brow, bay, tray, all well-developed sharp points.
On the top of each antler was a flat palmated
formation about the size of a man's hand, with seven
distinct points set round the edge. The points were
distinct but were very small. They would just
answ^er the test of hanging your hunting-crop on
them." This stag suddenly appeared from no one
knows where about a fortnisfht before he was killed.
He had been moved on bv tufters. Afterwards he
had been seen almost daily in and around Hawk-
ridge, and when killed was found to have a broken
leg.

Curiously enough none of the stalkers in the
district had ever seen the big stag Lord Burton
killed, and he only came across it by accident in the
middle of a stalk, and killed it with a long snap shot.
Where old deer hide themselves has always been a
problem, but how deer with such noticeable heads
could escape observation from trained eyes for so
many years is perfectly inexplicable.

The spread of Exmoor heads is generally less than
that of Scottish deer, but the head killed by Mr.
Sanders in 1896, measuring '^^\ inches from outside



OF THE STAG'S HEAD. 39

to inside of beam below the fork would be bad to
beat anywhere, as also would Mr. Amory's fine head,
taken at Chain Bridge in 1897, f^'' ^^^ remarkable
length of 39^ inches.

Mr. Sanders secured a noticeably fine head on
September 6th, 1902, after a good run from the
Dunster Coverts to Horner Mill. The beam is long
and of great girth. The points, which are all long
and well developed, are brow, bay, and tray on each
side, with four on top on one side, one of these
points being exceptionally long and heavy, and six
good points on top of the other side. A very level,
well-balanced, handsome head.

On October iith of the same year a stag which
carried a peculiar head was killed under Brewer's
Castle after a very long and hard run. The beam
was of rather more than average size, with brow and
tray on each side, and on the off antler three long
points and an offer. On the near antler were three
points matching the other side exactly, while a
broad flat " tine " ran back almost at right angles
to the beam, ending in two distinct points, and
having two points springing from its upper side.
Seventeen points in all.

This peculiarity of head had been observed for
several years, so that the deer was probably of
considerable age, though his slots, his teeth, and
his general appearance were not those of a stag in
extreme old age.

The herd was probably at its strongest numerically



40



THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.



in or about 1902, and four packs of hounds, hard at
work trying to diminish their numbers, succeeded
in kiUing fifty-five stags. Appended is the record
of their heads, which is very well worth study, as it
is doubtful if any forest in the north, killing a similar
number, could show such a return. Subsequent
years have shown excellent heads, but 1902 stands
easily first.

" Of the thirty-five deer killed by the Devon and
Somerset, one was a three-year old that was lame,
two were four-year-olds, and one, the last deer taken,
was of doubtful age, carrying brow, tray, and up-
rights, but with a wide spread, while his mouth
showed him to be at least five years old and
probably more." In the following table, B. stands
for brow, B.B. for brow and bay, T. for tray, and the
figures for the points on the top of each antler.

Devon and Somerset Staghounds.



July


28.


B.T. I — I. (A lame
three-year-old.)


Sept.


I.


B.T. 2 — I. (A four-
year-old. j


Aug.


I.


B.B.T. 3-2.


)>


6.


B.B.T. 6—4. (A


))


4-


B.B.T. 2 2.






very massive, level


J)


6.


B.T. 3-2.






head, thefinest killed





8.


B.T. 2. B.B.T.






tor many years.)






3. (The opening


11


12.


B.B.T. 3—4.






meet of the regular


•)i


12.


B.B.T. 3 2.






season.)






B.T. 2—2.


?>


II.


B.B.T. 2 2.


))


20.


B.T. 2 2.


5>


13-


B.B.T. 3 2.


))


22.


B.T. 4. B.B.T. 3.


))


22.


B.B.T. 2 I. (An
old deer probably
going back.)


))


24.


B.T. 3. B.B.T. 4.



OF THE STAG'S HEAD.



41



Sept.



Oct.



25.

27.

29.

I.

4-
6.

10.
II.



B.B.T. 4-3-
B.T. 2—2.
B.B.T. 2—2.
B.B.T. 3-3.
B.T. 3—2.
B.T. 3— 2.
B.T. 7—3. (A very
curious head.)
B.B.T. 2. B.T. 2.
B.T. 3. B.B.T. 2.



Oct.



IS-


B.B.T. 3-3.




B.T. 3-3.


IS-


B.T. 4-5.


18.


B.B.T. 3-3


22.


B.B.T. 3. B.T. 3.


24.


B.T. 2. B.B.T. 2.




B.T. I— I (Pro-




bably five years or




upwards.)



Sept.



Oct.



18.
26.

4.

8.



Sir J. H. H. Amory's Staghounds.



B.B.T.
B.B.T.
B.B.T.



3- B.T. 3.

2 — 2.

2. B.T. 2.



B.T. 4. B.B. 2, and
2 offers.



II. B.B.T. 2. B.T. 2.



Oct. 14. B.B.T. 4—3.
,, 21. B.T. 2 (on offside,
a short deformed
antler on near
side).



Sept.

))
Oct.



13. B.B.T. 2—2.

24. B.B.T. 3-3.

4. B.B.T. 3—3.

7. B.B.T. 2—2.

B.B. I — I. (The
Larkbarrow day.)



Barnstaple Staghounds.
Oct,



II.



25.



An old stag with a
head deformed from



an mjury,
B.B.T. 2-



-2.



Aug. 18.



Sept.



21.

23.
2.



Mr. Stanley's Staghounds.
Sept



B.B.T. 4—4. (A

particularly fine

head.)

B.B.T. 3. B.T. 2.

B.B.T. 6. B.T. 5.

B.T. B.B.T. I.



5.
„ 8.

„ 18.

Oct. 2.

,, II.



B.B.T. 3-3.

B.T. —2.

B.T. 2. B.T. I.

B.B.T. 5-4.

B.B. 3 — 3. (From

Slowley.)



It has been the fashion for some time in Scotland
to call a stag with all his rights and three on top on



42 THE RED DEER OF EXMOOR.

each side a " Royal." How this arose is not clear ;
the name in that connection is utterly unknown in
any of the old books on stag-hunting. Manwood
lays down as follows : " If a stag come to be six
years of age, then he is a hart. But if a King or
Queen do hunt, or chase him, and he escape away
alive, then after such hunting or chasing, he is called
a hart royal." This learned author goes on to
describe how if a King hunted a stag out of the
forest and was unable to take him there after a good
run he made proclamation for him to be left in peace
to return to the forest, when he was known as a
" Hart Royal Proclaimed."

In quite recent years a few South-country tenants
of forests have taken to talking of a stag carrying
four on top on each side as an " Imperial," but this
is nothing but an ignorant absurdity.

The term " Royal " has always been entirely
unknown on Exmoor.

While one may justifiably maintain that the heads
of the present Exmoor herd are as good, on an
average, as those of any part of the kingdom in
modern times, it cannot be denied that the herds
which roamed over this country in prehistoric days
were more amply furnished. Antlers, and portions
of antlers, of a size larger than any we see now are
recovered from among the roots of the trees in the
submerged forest in Porlock Bay, and also from the
sands in Morecambe Bay, whither they were prob-
ably driven by wolves from their home in the Fells,



OF THE STAG'S HEAD. 43

The original Irish deer, judging from the mag-
nificent specimens which have been recovered
from the peat bogs, and now grace the halls at
Longleat, Adare, Powerscourt, and other places,
were not only of larger size, but they carried in many
cases four rights or points below the fork on
top. This is commonly found at the present
day in German forests, but is extremely rare in
England.

Deer with one horn are not infrequent, and at one
time there were several on the Quantock Hills.
Whether the peculiarity is, or is not, hereditary has
been much debated, but at the time when there
were so many on the Quantocks there was one
very old stag there who might well have sired
the rest.

In some cases there is no doubt that the
loss of the antler is due to injury, and more
than one stag has been found to lack the eye
on that side as well. A one-horned stag: is
usually much more savage than one whose antlers
are perfect.*

On October 4th, 1901, a stag with three horns
was killed in the Exe. The question which exercised
the/^minds of those who saw the head was whether
the long spire, 21 J inches long, which ran upwards


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Online LibraryArchibald HamiltonThe red deer of Exmoor, with notes on those who hunted them, from Robert D'Auberville, 1070, to Robert Arthur Sanders, 1906 → online text (page 3 of 22)