The Deer Rut
The rowdiest Stag Party in Cadiz Province
We were six consenting adults who’d come to the woods around Jimena de la Frontera in September to see a sex show! A once-a-year opportunity to watch the local babes shaking their booties in front of the ‘horniest’ males.
More precisely, we’d booked on an excursion to witness the berrea, the awesome autumnal forest ritual that goes on, for the most part unseen by humans, as summer mellows into autumn in Spain.
‘Nocturnal Observation of Deer on Heat,’ read the publicity poster that lured us into the wilds of the Spanish countryside on a nothing-better-to-do Saturday night with a group of people we’d never met before. Yes, it does sound mildly pornographic.
As a former townie from Fuengirola, I had no idea this kind of thing went on in the countryside. Not the deer rut, of course, the organised excursions to see it.
The densly cork-forested Los Alcornocales Nature Park which surrounds the Campo de Gibraltar is home to roe, fallow and red deer – perfect for indulging in a spot of voyeurism.
Several local companies - listed below - run organised trips at dawn, dusk or all-night, along ‘safe’ routes, and it’s best to go with one of them if you don’t want lead shot up your derrière… The cazadores furtivos (poachers) are also out in force during the rutting season. It gives them more of an unsporting chance to bag a nice piece of venison and a wall trophy when the deer are off their guard.
I had great expectations of the trip: glimpses of foreplay, perhaps, accompanied by a chorus of baritone bellowing and, if we were extremely lucky, a thrilling trial of strength (antlers away!) – with transport, guides and a picnic thrown in.
But if snooping on Mr Stag getting his leg over Bambi’s mother sounds more than a tad Peeping Tom I can only say, ‘if only’.
There we were, six strangers in the fading light, our telephoto lenses trained on a small brown speck on the fringes of the tree line, at least a kilometre away. It was a doe (a deer, a female deer). The stags? They were at some other party. And, by the noise they were making, it was a wild gig!
We caught up with the stags later, venturing deeper into the forest to listen to their love calls under the moonlight. Their terrifying roars are more akin to a carnivore (think mountain lion) than a ruminant - well to know if you're camping.
None of them broke cover for their Instagram photo. When you book a ticket to one of Mother Nature’s shows, there are no guarantees - ask Sir David Attenborough.
But it was magical and, who knows, this year we just might get lucky. You too?
Listen to the berrea (dialogue and bellowing in Spanish)
Book up for the berrea!
When to do it:
Mid-September to mid-October UNLESS it rains or temperatures dip before that, which brings forward the rutting season by a week or so.
Guides know exactly when by checking the bark of trees as the stags start rubbing their antlers against them to remove the velvet covering. And, of course, the bellowing (berrea in Spanish) is a pretty big giveaway.
Mission accomplished (quite a few missions, stags fight for the right to mate with all the females in his territory), Dad returns to the forest to spend the winter alone. The fawn will be born eight months after mating and stays with Mum until the following year.
Wear neutral colours and hiking shoes and ssh! You don’t want to scare the deer.
Bring binoculars, water, torch and jacket. It can be chilly at dawn or dusk in September/October.
The following companies offer berrea excursions in Los Alcornocales:-