Red deer (cervus elaphus) is a very special mammal that first appeared approximately a million years ago in Central Asia. Later red deer populated other parts of Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America. These noble animals are found in prairies, forests, mountains and even deserts. Red deer easily adapt to different conditions in Argentina, Chile, Australia and New Zealand.
There are 20 species of red deer in the world. Red deer found in Lithuania belong to hippelaphus subspecies. There are well above 1 million red deer in Europe; in Spain alone there are approximately 800,000 red deer, as scientists estimate. This is the largest group of red deer. In Lithuania and Latvia there are about 40,000 red deer.
The first time a red deer was spotted in Lithuania was in Žagarė forest in 1934. Red deer capturing and relocation started in 1969.
Red deer is king of the forests; it bears antlers of exceptional beauty. It is every hunter’s dream to take down this animal with trophy antlers. Mature red deer start bellowing and calling rivals to a clash in September, and these exceptional sounds travel very far at nights. Red deer hunting is an expensive and time-consuming activity, but nothing can surpass it. Hunting clubs are allowed to hunt just a few of these amazing animals per year. Even so, they must be mature, trophy-bearing or injured or ill (the latter can only be hunted by selection hunters). Males can be hunted from August 15 to January 31 (by selection hunters only), females and fawns can be hunted from October 1 to January 31. Hunting of red deer in Lithuania began in 1971.
Red deer antler size is an important factor. The bigger and more expressive the antlers are, the more mature and important the animal in its group is. Mature deer drop their antlers at the end of February, and new ones start growing just a week later. Young deer drop antlers in April.
Hunting culture in Lithuania positively evolved over the recent decades. Incoming foreign hunters promoted development of hunting rituals. For example, blowing a horn to announce the beginning of hunting is a tradition of German hunters. Moreover, it now common to hunt not only for meat, but also for trophies or simply to enjoy pleasant conversation in beautiful outdoors.
Hunting methods are the following:
- Still hunting. The animal to be hunted is approached as silently as possible, and then it is started or stopped by using a hunting dog. Still hunting is only allowed during daytime, no earlier than 1.5 hours before sunrise and no later than 1.5 hours after sunset.
- Stand hunting. Hunters stay on a special hunting stand, waiting for an animal to appear. Such hunts take place in the morning or in the evening.
- Driven hunting. This is normally done in daylight. Drovers with or without hunting dogs (or hunting dogs alone) drive animals to be hunted towards hunters. Meanwhile hunters wait on hunting stands or on the ground. For this type of hunting, there is no restriction on the number of hunters, drivers or dogs. However, hunting dogs must be used (and their breeding certificates must be readily available).
A hunting guide is very important in each hunt. This person responsible for the hunting process and safety knows the hunting area very well and has long and extensive experience in hunting. A hunting guide is appointed by the management of the hunt club and must have been a member of the hunt club for at least 3 years.
Deer live for approximately 18 years; they reach full maturity in their 6th–7th year, and in their 9th–12th year are considered bearing trophy antlers. Antler shape is a very important factor in determining the quality of a male. Massive, shiny and darker antlers are the most prized.
Red deer in Lithuania are attributed to the Eastern European eco-type and their trophies are given medals as follows:
170+ points: bronze medal;
190+ points: silver medal;
210+ points: gold medal.