For weeks wildlife photographer Richard Austin was trying secret the location of England’s biggest red deer stag, who got the nickname “the Exmoor Emperor.” But over the weekend a legal hunter shot the 300-pound, nine-foot red deer as he was by the side of a busy road, was hanging out. Now local residents question whether hunters should be allowed out in the rut at all. I also question whether shooting an animal by the side of a busy road is really “fair chase.”
During the mating season all animals become a bit careless, more aggressive and more visible. In the U.S. hunting seasons are timed to fit the rut to make it much easier for hunters to find and call the animals. It’s interesting how Brits think that’s just too easy and unfair. Not to mention–in the case of the emperor as well as other animals–it deprives the non-hunting public of a spectacular wildlife show.
In other traditions American hunters would find outrageous, hunters have to have liability insurance and a special license if they want to handle and sell the meat. Also, they only call hunting with dogs hunting; otherwise it’s “deer stalking.”
“It’s a disgrace that this magnificent animal has been shot at this time because it could be that he didn’t get a chance to rut properly this year – therefore his genes have not been passed on this time round,” said Peter Donnelly, a deer expert quoted in every single story on the incident. “The poor things should be left alone during the rut – not harried from pillar to post.”
Even before the shooting, Donnelly had been quoted in the local press begging hunters not to shoot this huge specimen: “under no circumstances should anyone try to hunt or shoot him.” Donnelly reasoned that he was a top breeder and not yet passed his prime.
Austin said the deer offered him the best chance he’d ever had to see and photograph red deer bucks battling over who gets to mate. Austin had told the Plymouth Herald weeks ago: “This week I’ve been lucky in getting close to a herd on the fringes of Exmoor where this huge stag has gathered up about 25 hinds [does]. I counted four other stags in the same field and I thought: ‘this is it, this is going to be the best chance I’ve had in 25 years’.”
Well, so much for that Austin. Locals suspect it was a rich trophy hunter; Donnelly says some pay £1,000 for a trophy, which would be outrageous if you didn’t hear of U.S. hunters ponying up 10 to 15 times that amount. But it’s unlikely he’d put in anywhere near as much time as Austin had in stalking the deer.
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