The deer family





 red deer and frost

There is something about deer which makes them an ideal complement to landscapes, and also fine subjects in themselves. They are such elegant creatures. They also like to stand still and stare at you for a while when being photographed, which is convenient. I have been seeking out deer in my local Epping Forest for a while, and I also look for them in other locations now. Along the way I am learning something about the different types.

Mule deer get their name from their huge ears, which are moved about independently as they listen around. They are stocky with a greyish coat and a white patch under the head. Mule deer live in the western half of North America. I came across them in the Canadian Rockies, the northernmost part of their range. Some had wandered into the town of Banff where I was staying, but I photographed them out in the forest to the north above the Bow Valley. Like most deer they are wary of people, but I was able to get quite close to these, they seemed more curious about my presence than frightened.

mule deer in the Canadian Rockies

Deer are classified scientifically as the family Cervidae - animals that grow antlers. They are part of the larger order of Ungulates - animals with hooves. It is the antlers that are the unique characteristic of deer. However in all deer species apart from reindeer, only the males have the antlers, and each year the antlers are lost and re-grow.

The red deer is native to the UK. The main population is in Scotland and there are smaller populations around the country. In the Scottish highlands the antlers of stags grow to12 points ( known as tines ) - this impressive headgear of the mature animal being known as a 'Royal'. In the lowlands the number of tines and the mass of antler can be much greater. This is because growing new antlers requires good food and the living is harder up on the hills. In Edwin Landseer's famous painting of highland deer Monarch of the Glen the stag shows 12 tines. I have photographed similar deer in Scotland but haven't yet found the classic shot that sets the deer in the landscape. It's hard to do this because the deer keep their distance and a very long lens obliterates the background. The deer are easier to approach in London's Richmond Park, where this dominant stag is showing off fearsome-looking antlers with 20 tines. He has the proud expression that caught Landseer's eye.


Reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, live in the northern polar regions. There is a small herd of very friendly reindeer in the Cairngorms managed from the local reindeer centre. They are easy enough to photograph and one of them approached me hoping perhaps to be fed. The Cairngorms is the highest mountain massif in the UK, and although the temperatures don't drop to polar extremes it's really tough up there. The photo below is taken quite high in the hills and although it looks like nice day the temperature was about 0'C with a howling wind. It's impressive to see animals quite at home in these conditions.

reindeer lock antlers in the Cairngorms, Scotland


I started photographing deer in Epping Forest. There are two resident species : the Reeve's muntjac and the fallow deer. The muntjac is a strange creature resembling in some ways a dog with horns. Landseer would not have made money painting them. They were introduced to Britain in the1830's but are actually native to China. They like to remain in woodland at all times. I normally see them on their own and they scurry into the undergrowth quickly when spotted.

Fallow deer are quite the opposite, being elegant in form and found in groups. They like areas of mixed forest and open grassland - the northern end of Epping Forest is such a habitat. Although there is evidence of fallow deer in the UK before the last ice age, they died out during the freeze ( unlike the red deer which survived ) and were then reintroduced from France after the Norman conquest. Fallow deer can have several colorations. In Epping forest there are common fallow, which are reddish-brown with white spots in the summer and a dull brown in the winter; and black fallow which are black or dark grey all year. Male fallow are called bucks and the females are does ( red deer are called stags and hinds ).

The photo below was taken in Epping Forest in late summer. It shows bucks and does, and black and common fallow, in one small group. This is a difficult shot to get - these animals are rarely spotted in the forest. During the day the deer rest in thick undergrowth and can't be photographed, but I see them for a few hours around sunrise and sunset. When first encountered they will often stop and stare for a few seconds before moving away. If I follow then they quickly sense danger and they go bounding through the forest with a speed and a stretched gait that is really awesome. So I don't stalk the deer in Epping Forest, I just walk round the areas they like and hope for a chance encounter.

fallow deer in Epping Forest, Canon 500L and 5D
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