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Thread: Deer and trees and clear felling

  1. #1

    Deer and trees and clear felling

    I have access to some stalking, for sika, in a commercial forestry dominated by sitka spruce which is mostly mature and heading for clear felling, or being clear felled, at the minute.

    I was doing some thinking about this and am a little unsure of how things work and so am sort of thinking aloud here and asking some questions:

    Mature sitka seems to hold some sika deer which come out of the forestry at night to feed along the edges. By and large there is very limited feeding within the forestry and even the rides are dominated by heather and sphagnum moss. It seems to me that the holding capacity of mature sitka is low. I'm guessing that the holding capacity of such a block is limited by the feeding along its edges, would this be correct?

    There is a small proportion of the forest, say 100 acres, which was felled and replanted with sitka about 10 - 11 years ago. This area seems to be somewhat more attractive to deer as there are some green areas within the trees, though in another few years they will have closed over to shade almost all of the ground from light. The trees are now "large Christmas tree" sized at probably 10 - 12 feet. By the nature of this ground with heavy cover and closely planted trees with branches close to the ground it is impossible to stalk in the trees and it is impossible to risk having a chest shot sika run into this ground as it would never be found. Watching the edge of this area gives me to believe that more deer move into/out of this area than any other area of the forest. I can't figure why, if this area had good feeding, the deer would be moving to and from it at last light. Can anyone shed any light on this one?

    Also over the last few years, say about 4, there has been a lot of new clear felling and replanting with new sitka. I would guess this amounts to around 100, maybe nearer 200, acres per year with the trees being felled in blocks of about 10 acres each. As they are felled the blocks are replanted with sitka. That I can see these new areas of clear fell which range from new to about 4 years old hold no deer at all and the deer do not appear to move onto them at night. Some of them are starting to "green up" a little now though the growth is mostly rough rushes and the like as the ground is certainly not suitable for good grass. Should the deer be starting to move onto these newly planted areas? How many years does it usually take before the "holding capacity" of such an area increases after clear felling takes place? Do such areas have the potential to greatly increase the holding capacity of the forest in general while they are regrowing?

    All thoughts and answers gratefully received.
    For self catering accommodation on the Isle of Lewis please visit:

  2. #2
    Kind of highlights the need for better woodland management in this country. Once established sitka eliminates virtually all competition at forestry stocking densities, it does provide excellent shelter though. In more low lying areas clearfells will soon spring up with willow herb and brambles and the like and will probably attract deer quite quickly, in upland areas the best you can hope for is a wee bit of grass. The deer will go for the trees themselves of course.....

  3. #3
    Sounds like a great bit of ground, if it is being replanted in 10 acre sections.

    A study by dung counts on transects of a sika population in the South of Scotland in 1997 (Fernanda et al) showed the following deer densities.
    Open ground 9-20/sq km.
    Prethicket 9-48
    Thicket 15-19
    Pole stage 2.5-4.5
    Pole stage thinned 2-2.5

    This is really what you would expect as dung counts are an estimate of the time that deer will spend in an area. Sika will be on open ground just to feed in darkness (8 hours out of 24), they use the prethicket stage to feed and bed (24/24) Thicket to bed (18/24) and pole stage just a small bit of bedding/feeding and passing through.

    I used to worry about chest shooting sika in thick forestry, but not since I got a good dog!

  4. #4
    Where I hunt about 8/10 years ago we had some small feeding fields that regularly held 15/20 sika at night these nos have been steadly declining since at most we now see only 5/6 sika in these fields not because of pressure from poaching/hunting or quality of the fields themselves as I first had thought, but as I now understand and as mentioned above the ever changing state of the trees themselves the pre thicket stage tree height from 1/3M a period of high food quality and increasing cover the trees are now in the thicket stage tree height 3/10M and deer numbers have fallen as a result, the pole stage will result in the lowest density which all makes sense when you think about it, if you can find a copy the management of red deer in upland forests bulletin no 71 gives a detailed account of the various stages not unlike the south scotland 1997 report mentioned by Dama above all very intresting.
    Last edited by dlz90; 11-01-2013 at 00:34.

  5. #5
    So guys what sort of population would you expect to be held in mixed deciduous and conifer woodland surrounded by arable and heath in the boarders area, per acre?
    Not knowing too much about Sika and their social habits it would be of interest.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by woodmaster View Post
    So guys what sort of population would you expect to be held in mixed deciduous and conifer woodland surrounded by arable and heath in the boarders area, per acre?
    Not knowing too much about Sika and their social habits it would be of interest.

    Though I am not close to you my own ground has a similar topography I will try and give MHO in km2 and I guess on mine its as low as 1/4 to as high as 8/10 that would give an overall average of 5 per km2 but as you are inclined to underestimate by anything up to 30% it really is hard to say with any degree of accuracy any other takers on this ? it topics like this that truly make this site what it is ....
    Last edited by dlz90; 11-01-2013 at 00:36.

  7. #7
    So if my maths is correct 1 km2 = 247 acres. so you would expect between 4 and 10 on this? They fairly solitary animals? Are they very transient like Fallow or do they just take up a large range?

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by woodmaster View Post
    So if my maths is correct 1 km2 = 247 acres. so you would expect between 4 and 10 on this? They fairly solitary animals? Are they very transient like Fallow or do they just take up a large range?

    Yes and possibly more if that area has the attributes required shelter/food ect IMHO getting an accurate census on numbers of deer is very very difficult to achieve,yes from what I have studied sika are a very solitary deer seemingly only to socialize during the rut or when they have a shared interest ie a good feeding field or area,I know of some studies carried out on sika in their native japan of nos exceeding 40 per km2 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. #9
    These figure regarding density of population only hold water for the ground the study was done on. You cannot generalise by suggesting that they will be accurate elsewhere. I have one 400acre block on the estate that is a mixture of about half open hill, and the remainder in trees is Sitka and larch. I have seen on occasion around 100 Sika out feeding across that open face at times, so who knows what is still in the trees. In areas of high density Sika are far from solitary, even outwith the rut. In fact it does not really have to be that high a density population. They display behaviour more akin to red for most of the year. Stags heft together in the spring and summer and by middle of August when most are clean of their velvet they begin to split up. Even right through the rut you will see perhaps 3 or 4 young stags sticking together without a hind between them. The hinds when with newborn calves are often seen alone but only to start with. And by September they are in groups of varying size held by stags, although I have often shot very big stags without hinds but they appear to be mimicking fallow bucks! By about end of November the hinds tend to group in large numbers right the way through to calves being born and then again in September time and so on. But only 2 weeks ago we saw a stag still with a group of hinds. This is not out a book, this is my experience with them over a good few years.

    As for shut in Sitka spruce, the thicker the better for Sika. Does not matter one bit to them if the light or sun hardly penetrates the canopy. They are the most wary and clever of all deer I have stalked, and if you find it hard getting into the woods for a shot, that is where they will be. There are areas of Sitka where I have to crawl in to recover a beast and they are laden with deer runs. They strip larch and other trees all year round so at times never have to appear. They are not creatures of habit and one night can be seen in large numbers in an area, and then for the next 3 or 4 don't appear there. you think they will be in an area because of poor weather, and then find them all out feeding on a face being lashed with wind and rain.

    Dung counts are a waste of time IMO. How many times does a Sika take a sh*t in a day? One beast crapping 5 times or five beasts crapping once??? I would suggest the quality of feeding will dictate bowl movement, as well as physical activity and in the winter their movement between forestry and open ground really slows down and becomes sporadic. Hence the reason that after November hinds are very difficult to get into and second guess.

    Trees of any strain when planted up and not shut in, do offer some shelter and they will often lie up in them during the day in the sun. But they also lie up in open long grass away from the woods during the night as can be seen by the flattened beds the next morning.

    What I do agree on is that a good tracking dog is essential for recovering them from shut in Sitka, because that is where about 90% of them head straight for when chest shot!

    Meant to also say that several areas of the estate were badly damaged in the high winds over the last couple of years and have been clear felled. There is no feeding in them yet or cover, but the deer are still using them for travel between other areas as the alternative is exposure in open grass fields. Clever beasties...
    Last edited by jamross65; 11-01-2013 at 08:18.

  10. #10
    Although my experience of sika is nowhere as extensive as Jamross' I'd echo his sentiments - with sika no rules seems to apply!

    I would say on one piece of ground I stalk, after clearfell (the site was not a thoroughfare) we then saw no sika on that previously busy area for about 2 years, after that only at night until the restock/weed was at about 3 foot. This counters with them on the neighbouring fields where they are at night and very first/last light. The ground is also very poor quality so it feels they would risk being in the open for good quality feed (pasture) but not for the poor pickings on the recent clearfell.

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