The autumn rut at Knole

October sees the start of the rut, the deers’ mating season. It happens every autumn, when antlers and egos are fully grown and testosterone runs high. Whilst there's never a good time to get close to the deer, now is certainly time to keep your distance.

The deer herd at Knole

Knole is very fortunate to be home to a 350-strong deer herd, which visitors enjoy seeing in their natural habitat year-round. The deer are owned and managed by the Sackville family's Knole Estate. While these beautiful creatures can appear to be friendly, they are wild animals - seen at their best from a respectful distance. Please do not approach, pet or feed the deer, as it can be dangerous for both visitors and deer.

A stag deer at Knole Park during the rutting season
A stag deer at dusk in the deer park
A stag deer at Knole Park during the rutting season

What is the rut?

The rut occurs in October when the male deer, known as stags or bucks, fight over females and assert their dominance within the herd. The stronger the buck, the more likely he is to father children. The rut takes place when the bucks lock horns and push against each other. It only lasts a couple of weeks, so competition is fierce and testorone is high.

Bucks fight for prime position and the highest stand in Knole Park
Bucks fight for prime position and the highest stand in Knole Park during the autumn deer rut.
Bucks fight for prime position and the highest stand in Knole Park

Different species of deer rut at different times. Fallow deer normally rut at the beginning of October, followed by the Sika deer later in the month. The soundtrack to the fallow rut is the low, percussive grunting of the bucks, which is often quite loud. Sikas tend to whistle instead. Despite these differences, there is a common theme to both ruts - the scramble for territory, known as ‘stands’. Often linked to how visible bucks are (and how likely they are to attract admirers) prime real estate is central and the stakes are higher than in other areas in the park. Echo Mount is a particular favourite spot in Knole Park.

During the rut, fallow bucks often return to the same stand year after year. Sikas are less attached to one site but are very territorial during the rut. After the rut, their behaviour calm down for the winter.

Casting of antlers

Once spring arrives, the deers' antlers fall off. This is a process known as ‘casting’. Bucks are the first to cast their antlers in March, the younger deer and those with smaller antlers cast theirs later in April and May. A new set of antlers are then grown later in the year.

Young deer test out their antlers
Young deer test out their antlers
Young deer test out their antlers

The arrival of the fawns

The first fawns, as a result of the previous year’s rut, arrive in early June. Pregnancy typically lasts around 230 days. Fawns go through three coats of fur when growing up. After that, their coats only change from summer to winter. If you find a young deer hidden in the rushes, it's very important not to touch it. It’s probably been hidden there by its mother, who leaves it for the day and comes back in the evening to feed it. If deer don’t recognise the scent of their young, they may abandon them.

Keeping a safe distance from the deer

Wild deer can be dangerous – not only do they have sharp antlers and hooves, they can also pass ticks and diseases on to humans. In some cases, baby deer that have been touched can be abandoned by their mothers. We ask that visitors please follow these guidelines, so that everyone can enjoy their experience in the park and appreciate the deer for generations to come.

A deer enjoying a rest in Knole Park
Deer in Knole Park, Kent
A deer enjoying a rest in Knole Park

Find out more

The deer get all the food they need from the park grassland, supplemented by the Knole Estate's Park and Deer Keeper, Dom Andrews. Dom has a seasonal blog where you can find out how he cares for the deer and what to look out for around the ancient estate.