This roebuck has a new set of antlers just starting to grow.
His old set lie forgotten in some hidden glade among the brambles.
They were cast in early December. I wonder what battles he will fight when these new antlers have been cleaned of velvet by early May. Will he commit murder?
I have known it. That was a switch, a buck with antlers like two daggers on his head, sharp and long, with none of the usual branches on the beam tine that is the safety guard in fights. He was a devil.
One year, round about 1991 as I recall, he ran amok on the top of Kingley Vale.
The first I knew was the morning I found a dead buck alongside a wire fence.
At first I thought he had been caught in the netting and twisted the mesh into a snare. But he was lying clear of that.
Very soon I could see this was a murder scene. Strong words you may think, but the old term for a buck that is born with switch antlers and uses them against his own tribe, is just that: murder buck.
This individual had discovered perhaps to his delight that he could rout a rival quite easily. The power of these weapons which few are born with had quite literally gone to his head.
First, there were wounds on the head of the dead buck before me. It had been a fine animal too, with properly-branched beam fore and aft that had made a nice fork, all encrusted with a couple of hundred pearls as they are called: the multiple lumps of horn encrusting the tines becoming with age yet more profuse.
Normally roebucks expect to push at each other when the power of leg muscles and fitness determines the encounter.
The antlers are supposed to lock with the forks engaging, the points within an inch of the opponent’s eyes and skull. This is most obviously seen with red deer which have a whole cage of antlers which engage safely together.
The victim I found had multiple stab wounds all over its flank and rump.
We found two more in the following days, one of them a doe.
The switch had gone berserk. Local deer stalkers kept a look out for him of course, but he was never found.
By the winter he had dropped the weapons and then looked as innocent as a doe with a nice smooth head.
Just like the buck in this picture, taken by a reader in his own garden.
Perhaps this one will lead a normal feisty life, taking out his hormones on wayside twigs and plants.
You will see those territory markings soon if you know what to look for.
Just occasionally, two evenly-matched bucks lock their antlers and cannot disengage. There are two or three cases known of in Sussex over the years. The skulls of these have been found, locked inseparably.
I have never found such and in fact have only found ten complete skulls of bucks with antler still attached.
I wonder what their stories were.