The Irish Red Deer is Ireland’s largest native land mammal and they have been in the country since the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. Here in Killarney the red deer can be seen within the Killarney National Park on the slopes of Torc and Mangerton and some of the surrounding hillsides. On the lowlands the deer are often found grazing in the pasturelands of the Knockreer area of the park and the surrounding woodlands. Red deer have no natural predator in Ireland as we no longer have any wolves. Grasses, heather, mosses, lichens, berries are the mainstay of their diet but they will also happily browse on trees in the spring and early summer. In the early 1970s numbers were estimated at 70-100 but careful management and a total ban on shooting has resulted in a herd number of approximately 600 in the Killarney Valley to-day. A fully grown red stag can weigh up to 250 kgs and hinds up to 180 kgs. In the uplands red deer can live up to 10 years but in the lowlands they can survive up to 18 years.In Killarney National Park there was a hind up to 20 years of age in the Muckross peninsula area.The males are called stags and the females hinds and their offspring calves. During the summer months the coat is a deep chestnut-red colour but in the winter the coat is a much duller brownish colour.
Red Deer through the year
The red stags cast their antlers each Spring and commence growing a new set straightaway. The new growth is covered in a furry coating which is called “velvet” and when the antlers are fully grown this peels off.
In summer the deer on the uplands live on the open hill while the lowland herd tend to retreat to the woodlands. June through to July is calving time and calves can stand within an hour of being born. The newly born calves have a spotted coat and are hidden in the long grass in the early days after birth. The hind returns from time to time to feed her calf and will eat the faecal matter of the calf for the first few days to prevent predators such as the fox from finding her calf. It is best if you discover a newly born calf to leave it where you find it without touching it as its mother will be back to it at some stage.
Autumn is the time of the rut and the roaring of the stags. This usually begins in early October and goes on into November. The dominant red stags collect up a harem and will run off any other stags that attempts to come near. This can sometimes result in fights and stags have been killed during such encounters. It is best to stay well clear of stags during the rut and one should never come between a stag and his hinds.
Winter in the uplands can be a tough time for the red deer as feed can be scarce and weather conditions unkind. The deer in the lowlands have much better conditions and many of the upland herd head down to lower ground during the winter months where the feeding and the shelter is better.
A good pair of binoculars is essential equipment while a scope offers the opportunity to study the animals in more detail. The open hill is a good place to see deer and best use should be made of the surrounding cover and the wind direction if trying to get close as deer have an excellent sense of smell and hearing and will pick you up from a long distance
Culling of Red Deer
A number of red deer are culled in the Killarney National Park each year to minimise damage to native woodlands and trespass on to adjoining farmlands. The deer are culled by conservation rangers under licence.