Shooting deer during the rut

James Sutcliffe

James Sutcliffe

James Sutcliffe is BASC’s deer officer. He has over 10 years’ experience of recreational and professional deer stalking and gamekeeping. He has spent time guiding in New Zealand and managing wild boar and red stags in Germany. James is a keen rifle and shotgun shooter who enjoys working his Labradors throughout the game shooting season.

As most deer stalkers know, the UK venison market is not in good shape at the moment. Low demand is resulting in low prices. But, can stopping shooting deer during the rut help boost sales?

A struggling venison market

In response to the struggling market, BASC is part of a multi-organisational Venison Working Group (VWG) which is looking at how we can improve this issue.

With the combined expertise of the VWG and the support of the stalking community, we are striving to get venison back on the menu.

Shooting deer during the rut

What I’m about to say will likely cause a bit of a stir, but it has the potential to do some real good for the UK venison market

Shooting deer during the rut has a profound effect on the quality of the meat produced by red stags and fallow bucks. With deer stalkers needing to supply the best quality meat into the food chain to entice new consumers, eliminating anything that could taint the taste should be considered. With this in mind, could you reconsider your deer management plan and reduce the number of deer taken during the rut?

A mixture of high testosterone levels combined with the fact that both red stags and fallow bucks are known to wallow in their own urine during the rut, could lead to a truly unique smell that more often than not taints the meat.

This means that during their breeding seasons, neither of these deer species are at their peak quality. In fact, after spending weeks without eating properly and living on their fat reserves, the carcass produced is probably at the worst quality level of the entire year.

An acquired taste

We need more people to love venison. After all it’s a high quality, fresh and UK-sourced meat. (Download our infographic here to read about the benefits of deer management and venison).

A bad first impression can put people off for life and this is far more likely with venison taken from deer shot during the rut. 

In the current climate where we need as many people to be eating venison, flooding an already oversupplied market with a product that potentially will turn people away, is a move we must avoid.

Image by Nick Lane

Rethinking your deer management plan

I appreciate that suggesting we avoid shooting deer during the rut is a big thing to ask you all to consider. After all, so many of us rely on income from clients to stalk the males and this is when it is probably at its most exciting and effective.

However, as we know, the key to any successful deer management plan is controlling your female population. Shooting rutting males has very little impact on populations as a whole. So, the potential long-term benefits to the domestic venison market by leaving them for a year or two could be significant.

Being more selective with your rutting males and focusing more on the females come the winter months could be a more effective way of managing your deer, and yield a far superior meat product.

In some instances, shooting deer during the rut is a must. But I think it’s just a matter of moderation. Where in previous years you may have taken 20 rutting males, instead consider taking less this year.

Diversify and prosper

I am not suggesting that the carcass of a rutting stag is worthless, far from it! However, using it in a different way could be a real win win situation.

The VWG is encouraging people to register as small food businesses so they can process and sell their own products. (Click here to read BASC’s guide to selling venison locally).

Things like sausages and burgers are a great way of using the meat. These can be well-seasoned or even spiced-up with some chilli or herbs to create a mouth watering delight.

Producing these types of locally sourced, high quality products will increase demand. And because they are well-known products, they are a great way of introducing new people to venison and will ultimately help secure the UK venison market.

Check out BASC’s Taste of Game venison section for some great recipe ideas here.

For more information on BASC’s wild venison campaign, click here.