The Red Stag has it’s own distinct musk. His scent is heavy—filled with sweat, a tangy imitation of earth, salt and oil. A day spent with deer leaves you reeking. I strip off my clothes, covered in thin red and tawny hairs, and I can smell them on my skin. Even after washing, my clothes still stink of their bodies—their fear, anger and frustration.
The Roar is what they call deer mating season. Stags get fat and they grow these beautiful beards. As the sun begins to set—they roar. It is one of the most prehistoric noises you will ever hear. I go out onto my small porch at night and I can hear them in their paddocks, nearly 2 kilometers away. It’s not like the roar of a lion (which, to be fair, I have never heard in person) it’s more gurgling and elongated than that—a lower range of sound, yearning and tortured. The sound makes you think of someone who is literally dying of unrequited desire and needs to alert the entire hillside of his suffering. Talk about primal melodrama.
In order to prepare for The Roar, Mark needed to separate the stags—some bred for their prize antlers, others for their meat, and put them in the appropriate paddocks with the appropriate hinds. Up until The Roar the stags are kept on their own away from the hinds. We got up early and went for a hunt and then, around 10am set to work on rounding up the stags. Marks dogs, Drum, Prince and Toby are incredibly well trained—they know exactly what to do. These large, behemoths of dogs will hop out of the back of the truck and chase the deer into the appropriate position. Drum is the type of dog, where if you saw him running at you and you didn’t know him, you’d probably piss yourself. But he’s actually this adorable sweetheart that likes to put his paws on both your shoulders and literally whines for your attention. But out with the deer, he’s another creature all together.
Once we got the stags rounded into the yards we had to get them on their own so we could cart them, one by one, in the trailer to their proper paddocks. They were huge and angry and Mark couldn’t be in the stalls with them for long. So, we climbed up on the rafters and used a bit of plastic piping with a white garbage bag attached to the end scare them into the trailer. Balancing on a thin piece of wood 10 feet off the ground above angry stags is a little frightening I have to admit.
Mark loves Top Gun. So he’s named two of his stags after the movie. Top Gun and Maverick. He also loves Quinten Tarantino so another stag is named Fiction. The other prize stag is named Obe—as for the rest, they’re nameless, left only with numbers.
As a sign of aggression, the deer grind their teeth making a noise that’s very much like something out of the movie Alien. It’s a little clicking—but a menacing clicking. You can’t really blame them though—they’re not so far removed from their wild brethren that started this whole operation. They can probably feel a cageless life in their bones and they crave it. No creature enjoys being manipulated. Or perhaps I’m anthropomorphizing deer? Why do we do this, try to give animals human emotions? Is it wrong?
I’ve helped Mark on several other occasions doing other wild stuff I’d never in a million years thought I’d be doing (like being in a tiny-ass pen with 12 fawns getting kicked and head-butted. We did this 6 times! The bruises have yet to go away) but quite possibly the strangest has been working with the donor hinds. There are 12 of them and they produce really beautiful stags. So, they harvest their eggs and implant them into 54 recipient hinds who become surrogate mothers. In order to do this, they implant what looks like 2 giant IUDs in their vaginas and then inject them twice a day with this serum that’s supposed to get them to ovulate at the same time. When it came time for them to be removed, as I have smaller hands, Mark asked me to help take out the CIDR’s (what the little devices are called).
- The Hinds were not happy to be in the crusher—a tiny pen that keeps them from moving too much. There was a LOT of teeth grinding and wild eyes.
- I cannot even begin to describe how strange it was to put my fingers inside of a deers vagina and pull out these little plastic devices. Searching blindly made me feel like an inexperienced kid trying to figure out how female anatomy works except what I was doing made a huge animal incredibly angry.
- At one point, one of the hinds, despite all odds bucked up over the walls of the pen above my head, escaped and we were face to face. That was terrifying. I don’t yet have the confidence to deal with an angry hind 3 times my size. I actually turned and hid while Mark got her back inside the crusher.
- I really felt somewhat wrong about putting my hands inside the hinds and feeling around. Should I ask permission? In my head I kept thinking, “Sammie Downing, Hind Violator.”
-- Downing Out