Red Stags in Patagonia: The Time of the Roar

It’s March now, and the red stags in Patagonia have begun their ritual time of war. I’ve spent the last 4 hours slithering through pampas grass, rocky creek bottoms, and muddy game trails, inching my way closer just to see the battle.

A clash of titans that is often heard but rarely seen. It’s the time of “The Roar” in Patagonia Argentina, when mature Red Stags bristling with ivory tipped weapons sprouting from their skulls vie for the right to pass on their genes.
The battlefield is a spring-fed meadow 50 meters wide, with the combatants pacing furiously on each side, roaring threats like angry lions; and I’m huddled in the middle with nothing more lethal in my hands than a Nikon camera.

Listen to the “Roar” in this audio clip link!      The Roar of the Red Stag

Every year from about the middle of March until the first or second week of April, the stags leave their quiet bachelor lifestyle in the high country and migrate to where the hinds (females) are living. The hinds don’t migrate to high ground, but prefer to stay year-round in one area as long as it has good food, water, and sheltered valleys to raise their young.

Each new ridge and meadow I come to, holds another group of hinds and at least one dominate stag with a few “satellite” stags circling in the wings.

red stags in PatagoniaIt’s a physically stressful time. They spend three to four weeks almost completely consumed with fighting and defending their harem; and will lose significant body mass just before the winter cold sets in.

By the third week of the Roar, the evidence of warfare is everywhere. Stags young and old are starting to show signs of scarred bodies, broken antler tips, beams, and even entire sides of antlers smashed completely off.

The more dominate mature animals show the least sign of wear, maybe because their shear physical presence tends to lessen the number of actual confrontations. Mature stags have been known to kill younger satellite stags that are foolish enough to push them into a fight.

But the fight unfolding in front of me now is between two dominant warriors.

Each stag was trying to control a small group of hinds on either side of this small grassy meadow. The hinds, being sociable and liking company, wanted to blend together in the middle of the meadow. It was a recipe for mayhem.

Time and again, the stags would rush towards each other, cut between the hinds and herd them back to the sides; roaring insults at each other continuously. Their distraction allowed me to crawl closer into camera range; and when the threats turned to violence, I was only 60 meters from the action.

red stags fightingIt unfolded in a flash; appearing at first to be another false charge, but ending in a full frontal collision. It sounded like a car wreck.

They locked antlers, dropped their heads to try and get below the center of gravity of their opponent, and shoved each other back and forth in a flurry of dust and grass. Each stag dipped and slashed with sharp tines, trying to gouge and tear the flank of his enemy. And just as suddenly as it began, it ended.

 

red stags in Patagonia in roarThe loser broke away and fled, and the victor roared at him as he left.

Each stag slightly scarred, but uninjured, it was a perfect ending to nature’s method of selection.

In a few weeks, these same two enemies will likely be buddies again, and making their way up to the high country; all threats and wounds forgiven.

The hinds will stay sheltered and start pushing their yearlings off on their own, and prepare to bring the next generation into the world.

This is the way of it; the roar of the red stags in Patagonia.

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