Home Newsletter Locations Diary




Photographing Deer

Deer are without doubt one of the finest of our wildlife animals to photograph and few photographers don't have at least some photographs of them. You can photograph them all through the year, and in just about every part of the UK.

In Britain, running wild, we have 6 types of deer, with very many more types in collections and wildlife parks. The exact number no one really knows, but Scotland alone is said to have over 300,000 Red deer, and England between 500,000 and a million Roe deer, although perhaps we see more Red and Fallow. Few areas of the UK don't have regular sightings, with the exception possibly of some parts of central Wales. Being largely nocturnal and not about while we are, most people don't notice their proximity just about everywhere, including the edges of towns and cities. There are still many deer parks.

Two types Red and Roe have been here for thousands of years, the Fallow deer was introduced by the the Romans and more by the Normans and most other species have come about from escaping animals from deer parks. At the time of the Domesday book there were 31 deer parks, by the middle of the 17th century, with stately homes having deer parks the number had grown to 700 in England. In the Cromwell period (1653-58), roundheads destroyed a great deal, from churches to deer parks, knocking down many of the walls and fences allowing the deer to escape, or killing them. These parks originally farmed the deer for meat, later they became decoration. Some landowners when they moved from their winter to summer houses took their deer with them, using long hedged-in runs or constructing Hessian or timber walls stretching for many miles. Joseph Whitaker writing in 1892 mentioned specifically over 400 deer parks and details of a number of these runs.

See Larger Image Click on image to see larger version

The New Forest, Forest of Dean and Exmoor were Royal forests where ancient kings hunted. Today they all have deer, plus most of the Royal parks around London. Places with the name chase were also deer catching areas. Beaters frightened the animals out and down a funnel where people with swords and axes slaughtered them, this was for food not fun. In some areas a similar approach with dogs driving towards waiting archers was used.

In the wild they quite sensibly avoid people, and both historically and now they are hunted, shot or culled at a fairly heavy rate each year, but they breed well and numbers are maintained in most area. In addition some are killed on the roads and in some areas, if the winter is hard, not all may survive.

The RAC Foundation, in a report back in 2004, estimated that ten motorists and passengers were killed each year and more than 250 injured through cars colliding with Deer, while some other publications say up to 20 are killed and over 400 injured a year. Both estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 deer are killed or wounded on the roads each year, and RAC say this caused around 11 million of damage to vehicles. Accidents are most numerous between October and December. Many additional accidents are caused by motorists swerving to avoid collisions. The report also contains a map showing density of collisions by area, which is a combination of people and deer populations.

There are a variety of shooting and hunting sites and organisations and over 10,000 people in the UK have undertaken voluntary Deer Stalking Certificate (Level One). This covers theoretical knowledge of deer, the law, rifle ballistics and safety. There are further practical sessions on rifle shooting, safety in the field and meat hygiene. Deer shooting (stalking) is now a major industry.

The wild deer do not belong to anyone and numbers have to be controlled or they do too much damage, so the Government decided its up to individual landowners to decide what to do on their land. There are closed seasons for most species, but licenses available to get around this since 2007. So if you shoot a deer with the land owners consent that is allowed, but if they are on someone else's land at the time, that is poaching. Although the number of animals lost to poachers is small, shooting is big business, and an inappropriate amount of effort goes in to try to eliminate it. It may be that more deer are killed by collisions with vehicles of anti poaching patrols, than lost to poachers. Having been brought up here on the stories of Robin Hood, we know this is not new, and taking a deer has always been something for some and not others. Deer are fairly large animals, and not difficult to get in the range of a camera let alone a rifle, so there isn't any great skill or sport in shooting them. The numbers however do have to be controlled, although shooting females (under licence) in the closed season when they may have young I feel is unacceptable, under any circumstances. If they are injured then that should be down to a vet to decide. The relevance most of this has to us as photographers is in recognising that deer have legitimate reasons not to like humans and want to leave when you are around, plus its not a good idea to try to feed and tame some, as if they don't disappear fast enough in future they are not likely to be around long.

See Larger Image Click on images to see larger version

This is also the reason why so many wildlife photographers and other naturalists keep the majority of the sites where they see deer to themselves, and why when you arrive in a country area and start asking where you might find deer, you may not feel they are telling you all they know. Today shooting is partly done by some of the farming community, but the largest growth over many years is amongst the new rich, city people, who have moved on from their playstations, and amongst some its a fashionable day out.  Hunting or stalking deer has no history in England, and has developed since the mid 1960's, and more rapidly in recent years, having developed from the 19th century in Scotland. If you are clearly carrying a camera and asking about a variety of wildlife and other photographic opportunities the local people are usually a mine of information, and very friendly.

The types in the wild in Britain are:-

We have details on each of these and also a list of principle places that you can see and photograph deer in the UK.

In the listing we have concentrated on deer parks and similar where there are large numbers that you have a fairly good chance of being able to get close to, and woodland sites that have a particularly large number or where feeding and other activities bring them near to places you can watch them from.

Young Red deer stag in Bushy Park
See Larger Image Graham Newell

In much of the countryside, particularly areas with woodland, there is a deer presence, but often the deer will move around within an area occupying a number of woods, so predicting where they will be at a set time can be difficult.

Woburn is the most exceptional place both for numbers of animals and variety of types but also the size and condition of individual animals. They have a 3000 acre deer park which contains 10 different species roaming freely. These are Axis or Chital, Barasingha or Swamp Deer (large bat shaped ears), Chinese Water Deer, Muntjac, Manchurian Sika, The Rusa (inquisitive), Pere David (now 360 of them), Fallow, and Red. Some of their Red deer stags having 40 points, and being at least twice the size of the largest Scottish Red deer, which rarely reach 16 points. This is points on their antlers. Some Scottish Red deer have interbred with other species, while particularly at Woburn they have been breeding up for many years to get the finest specimens.

Deer are also fenced and farmed in England and Scotland since the 1970's for venison. Venison is highly prized in many countries but never caught on in Britain, it is very low in fat, it is also rich in fatty acids that combat heart disease.


See Larger Image Richmond Park at Roehampton Gate

Shaun Ferguson

Meat fat per 100g
Venison 1.6g
Lamb 12.3g
Beef 12.9g
Whole chicken 13.8g
Pork 15.2g

When farming in Britain was hit by foot and mouth, venison exports were for the period banned. No cases of foot and mouth was discovered in deer.

Venison could be available cheaply here, and is a natural resource that has been largely overlooked.

Within the two counties I know best Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, there are a large number in the wild, and I often do see them, however except for a few places in each county, it has rarely been in the same place as before. People who live in country areas with a  lot of deer may get them in their gardens or see them regularly for a time, then have a gap, then see them again.

The males, females and off spring are known by different names for each type, and they have different closed seasons when they cannot be hunted without a licence.

Type Male Female Offspring Young born Rut
Red Stag Hind calf mid May-mid July Sept-Oct
Roe Buck Doe kid May-June mid July-Mid Aug
Fallow Buck Doe Fawn June Oct-Nov
Sika stag Hind calf May-June Aug-Nov
Muntjac Buck Doe Fawn throughout year n/a
Chinese water Buck Doe Fawn May-July Nov-Dec

Deer have at least as good eyesight and hearing as we do, but a greater sense of smell, they also have a greater ability to stay alert than we do. If they suspect something is abnormal they will stare at it for minutes even when they can't see anything, before continuing to graze, and a few minutes later with their head up at speed to check the location out again, often catching out people who then think its safe to move.

Before we can photograph them we need to be able to find and see them. In deer parks this is not difficult, you know they are within a restricted area and in many cases they are more used to and less scared of people. Entry to many of the deer parks is free. In some places you can walk quite close to them and in a few places people hand feed them so you can get close enough to even touch them. You will find in some deer parks there are large herds, and you can get quite close, however if you get too close the whole herd will quickly move to another part of the park.

As with many types of wildlife the trick is not to walk directly towards them or directly look at them, but to approach at an angle across them as if you were going to walk by, you can change direction several times, so taking a zig-zag path slowly getting closer to them. You can normally see if they are becoming nervous, and a group at one end is looking as if they may take off. If they do the rest will follow, so before this happens, stop and look away, giving the impression that the danger has passed, and allowing them to settle down again. Once they have seen you there is no point in hiding, you are less of a danger to them while openly visible.

See Larger Image Click on image to see larger version

In the wild, every individual animal and bird is different, one may be tamer, another gone at the first possibility of people being around. However deer are more likely to leave than stay around as soon as they see you. The times when you are most likely to see them in fields near to woodland is early morning (dawn) and late evening (dusk). As there are few people around early in the morning, an early summer morning gives the best opportunities. The exception to this is in the rutting season, this is the autumn for the largest of the deer, the Red Deer. At this time of year the stag, male deer, has chosen a patch to protect and herded a collection of hind/doe into it while they come into season. He will fight all challengers, for the right to have this patch and the hind/doe, there is also a lot of noise as he proclaims his mastery of the area, so he may be more easily found even in woodland areas at this time.

Even at this time when the adrenaline is pumping they are unlikely to attack people. In searching the internet I couldn't find a single case in the UK of a Red deer attacking a person. However it would be foolhardy to get either between two stags in a contest or purposely get too close. I have seen it written that one or two of the smaller breeds, may attack under some circumstances, but not heard of anyone being injured by any of them.

In woodland their shape and camouflaged coats make them very difficult to see and if you have driven out into the countryside and walked about a bit, you will have come quite near to deer on many occasions and not realized they were there. In many cases its their best defence to stay still rather than bolt, giving away their presence.

 See Larger Image Click on image to see larger version

Camouflage and hides

We have separate articles on Bird and animal behaviour and Hides and camouflage as well as several articles on the equipment and lenses suitable for wildlife photography.

Camouflage with wildlife can cause them to think you are a hunter if they see you, and cause alarm calls from birds and some other animals, giving away your location. Dark clothing and not standing so your body shape shows may be a better idea in many cases. Game birds like partridges and pheasants, that had become used to me photographing them would come very near while I was photographing them, but one day I had a camouflage suit on and it was entirely different, they all took flight.

In concept a hide is a good idea, I have one that is a decent size, and also has scent control units, the problem comes that you need to be able to predict where the deer are going to come and be prepared to wait, and wait, and wait, and try again another day. I also have a camouflage leaf material bag, that I can wear and see through, allowing me some movement and I prefer this. The best location is stood next to a hedge or tree so you merge in. Standing up you get a better view and more chance to spot if any deer are approaching or near before you move.

I don't have, but have read about High seats, about 10 feet to the base of the seat, they allow people to hide in or near trees with good visibility, although made for those involved in shooting deer, it would be useful for photographers as well. Other versions are 4 metres high and have seats large enough for two. I would like to try one of these at some time. Although it would be like a hide, in that you could not move, the visibility would be better.

Red Deer at Studley Royal Park Gordon Hatton


There are no specific photographic challenges unique to deer photography, it's very similar to many other areas of wildlife photography. Where they are in woodland I prefer to switch to spot metering, but that is the only major change I make from other wildlife. We have quite a few articles on different areas of wildlife photography, and articles on using longer lenses that allow you to photograph them from further away.

Some other articles you may find relevant are:-

See Also

Deer Topic Index

Photographing Deer

Where to Photograph Deer in the UK 

Red Deer

Roe Deer

Fallow Deer

Sika Deer

Muntjac Deer

Chinese Water Deer


By: Tracey Park Section: Wildlife Key:
Page Ref: photographing_deer Topic: Deer Last Updated: 03/2010

This page:

Link directly to this page, with text or the button on right.

Text linking:  Photographing deer on Photographers Resource

Linking Instructions                            http://www.photographers-resource.co.uk/

Photographers Resource, all the information for the photographer