In brief. . .
Where do they come from? The Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) is found throughout England and Scotland, and is spreading into Wales. It is one of our native deer species.
Antler size: Roe Deer buck antlers generally have six points (three each side), although some exceptional ones have seven or eight. The average length of each antler is between 8″ and 10″.
What else should I know? The Roe Deer became extinct in England by 1800 because of over-hunting, and was confined to Scotland, but it has become widespread once more as a result of woodland re-planting schemes and natural re-population. Unusually, Roe Deer shed their antlers during the winter months, when food is scarce.
Background information . . .
The Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), also known as the European Roe Deer or Western Roe Deer, is one of Britain’s two native deer species (the other is the Red Deer).
Believed to have been present in Britain since the end of the last Ice Age, the Roe Deer provided an important source of food, clothing and tools for early inhabitants of these islands.
From the 11th century the Roe Deer was prized as a game species, but later it were considered to be unworthy of the sport, a ruling which allowed common people to hunt it. By the late 16th century, the Roe Deer was scarce in England and extinct in Wales. A small population remained in Scotland, threatened by forest clearance and sheep farming.
Today the Roe Deer has spread back successfully throughout Scotland and England, helped by forest regeneration and planting. Numbers are increasing in Wales, but it is absent from Ireland, despite a failed attempt to introduce them into County Sligo in the late 1800s.
Roe Deer are secretive animals, generally preferring forest and woodland habitat, and venturing out into more open spaces at dawn and dusk. Their diet consists of a wide variety of vegetation including brambles, ivy, heather, bilberry and tree shots; if the opportunity arises, they will also feed on agricultural crops and garden plants. Roe Deer don’t form large herds, preferring to remain in small family groups.
Smaller and more slender than a Red Deer, an adult Roe Deer buck can weigh between 10 and 25 kg, and measure between 60 cm and 75 to the shoulder. In summer the coat is a sandy red colour, darkening to shades of rusty brown or charcoal grey in winter.
Roe Deer bucks rarely live beyond five years (the hinds may live for up to seven), and there is a high mortality rate among youngsters after birth and during their first winter. Predators include foxes (with the addition of eagles in Scotland), and new-born calves are especially vulnerable.
How Roe Deer antlers grow . . .
In their first year, young Roe Deer bucks develop a knob or button on top of their pedicle, which is shed in early spring to make way for the first antler.
Unusually among deer species, the older Roe Deer bucks shed and re-grow their antlers between October and December, when food is relatively scarce, and new growth begins immediately.
The growing antlers are covered with ‘velvet’, a soft, blood-filled, bone-forming tissue which is very sensitive. The antlers are usually fully developed by April, when testosterone levels cause the blood supply to the new antlers to be cut off. The velvet then dries out and the bucks rub their antlers against trees and saplings to remove the shredded covering, thereby causing the bone underneath to become stained dark by tree resin.
Technical terms . . .
Typically, an adult Roe Deer buck has three points or tines on each antler: a brow point, a top point and a back point. The base is called the coronet or burr, which is formed on top of the pedicle on the deer’s skull. As the buck matures, the coronet may coalesce or fuse together; sometimes the coronet and the lower parts of the antler are covered with ‘pearls’ or small bony nodules.
In its first year, a Roe Deer buck is called a kid; it has been known for bucks to gain six-point antlers in their first year, but usually they take two or three years to attain a mature head of six points.
In later life, the antlers of older bucks may start to lean forwards and lose their well-defined shape; they are then described as ‘going back’, and the animal would usually be taken out by a stalker or game keeper.
Choosing Roe Deer antlers . . .
Size: The average antler length of a mature Roe Deer buck is between 8” and 10”. Compact and interesting rather than impressive, Roe Deer antlers take up much less wall space than Red Deer orFallow Deer antlers.
Colour: The colour is generally dark reddish-brown or greyish-brown, fading slightly towards the points.
Source: You may wish to know how the antlers were obtained. Shed antlers (or cast antlers) have been shed naturally by the deer during the winter. If you are looking for antlers with a skull but you would prefer the deer to have died naturally, make sure that you look for the word ‘fatality’ or ‘winter fatality’ in the description. You can find out more about the different sources of antlers and skull cuts here.