Deer are originally from Kyrgyzstan and North India, but are now found in all temperate regions of Europe, North Africa, North America and Asia. Humans introduced deer to South America, New Zealand and Australia. Although their original habitat consisted of wide open spaces, nowadays deer are often obliged to seek shelter in forests.
In Europe, deer are the second biggest wild animals after bears. They shed their antlers every February or March; regrowth begins immediately and is completed around one hundred and thirty days later, prior to the rutting season. Hunters prized antlers preserved on the frontal bone or the whole skull, called ‘massacres’, as trophies or ornaments.
Venison is very nourishing hence deer have been hunted since prehistory, as testified by cave paintings from the Upper Palaeolithic period, such as those in Lascaux (15 000 BCE). Since the 2nd century, Christianity has associated deer with Christ and made the stag, the male deer, a symbol of resurrection due to its antlers.
From the 12th century, deer were seen as noble beasts in Europe and deemed the meat of kings. As hunting deer with hounds required large spaces, only kings and princes had enough land to hunt them. Reserved for nobility, deer hunting was practised only on horseback, whereas with boar hunting, huntsmen would start on horseback and dismount at the end to kill the wild boar.