Wir haben einen Erfolg—we have a reading!

by Greg Mayer

Thanks to the many WEIT readers who have tried their hand (or eyes) at reading the German handwriting on the side of a deer’s jaw, we have arrived at what I believe is a correct reading. Special thanks to Aldo Matteucci, who immediately recognized the second word as “hirsch” (meaning deer), Michael Fisher who edited the images for easy comparison, and to Heidrun Wenisch, who made what I believe to be the correct reading of the first word. Michael Sternberg brought Heidrun’s reading to my attention, and suggested the key empirical test– what exactly did the deer’s antlers look like? They look like this:

Schadhirsch it is, sir

Heidrun wrote, “The 2 words of the first line are Schad Hirsch. The word Schadhirsch is hunters’ jargon only and is used when speaking of an older male red deer.” Michael Sternberg then asked me, “How do the associated antlers look that you mentioned in the article? Branched at several points like you’d expect given the age, or just a single spike (“Spieß”) with possibly short buds, thus “defective”, as the hunter’s jargon term translates?” As you can see, it’s definitely “Spieß”. Michael elaborated, “A 2-year old Hirsch with such antlers would be said Spießer, but if the higher age is correct for this specimen (as derived from the degree of tooth grinding as you mentioned), then Schadhirsch applies and explicitly calls out that the age is higher than a first glance at the antlers would indicate.”

Looking carefully at the writing, this reading is not, to my mind, ruled out by any features of the letters, and fits the specimen perfectly. Problem solved! Thanks again to all who took the time to study and comment on the photos.


  1. Posted February 24, 2019 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Perusing sites with hunter’s jargon, a Schadhirsch can be:

    a) according to an Austrian site, deer that causes damage to the forest, e.g. through browsing, and removing bark. That would also be the more literal meaning.

    b) According to several other sources, another name for a male deer with apparently intimidating looking antlers with long “branches” or Spieße. The other names translate to “Murderer” or “Murder-Deer”.

    • Michael Sternberg
      Posted February 24, 2019 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Correct, I misinterpreted. It’s called a Schadhirsch not so much because it’s defective or damaged, but rather because given its unbranched antlers it can inflict damage on rivals through forkeln – a verb in German hunter’s jargon with an obvious meaning in English that is, for once, correct.

      I grew up in rural Germany with hunters around so had early (if limited) exposure to hunter’s jargon and the occasional hunter’s latin (tall tales).

      During grade school we had quite a few excursion days (Wandertage) into the local woods, to learn about forestry and wildlife, including deer life cycle, habitat, and management. On such occasions my elementary teacher, being a member of the local hunters’ association, would wear his dark green long coat and hunter’s hat, and take his double-barrelled shotgun along. That made for memorable outings, and naturally would usually include a few demo shots – good times! 🙂

      We also had a few outings to recently replanted forest clearings where as a class we’d place some brightly-colored artificial wool from local textile plants onto conifer seedlings, winding bits of it around the top shoots, in an effort to curb Verbißschäden, i.e., damage from deer nibblings. I don’t know how well this worked and what would become of the artificial material later.

      • Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:00 am | Permalink

        OK so if an animal appears in the population that has unbranched antlers, why, if it can unintentionally kill opponents, have such deer NOT come to dominate the antler type in the population? they should become the dominant form, & therefore they must have some other disadvantage?

        • Posted February 27, 2019 at 9:30 am | Permalink

          While Spießer are perhaps more dangerous looking, antlers are used for parrying blows as well as delivering them, and so a broader set of antlers is actually probably the better weapon, at least as deer use them– they are both sword and shield. Swords typically have a cross part at the handle, which prevents an opponent’s sword from sliding down and striking the hand, and sword duellists sometimes used a smaller sword in the off-hand as an effective complement, using them in tandem. These human weapon features might be considered analogs of the deer’s.


  2. Mark R.
    Posted February 24, 2019 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    That made for memorable outings, and naturally would usually include a few demo shots – good times!

    Funny story:
    In High School, a friend (who lived across the street) and I had two German foreign exchange students (from Freiburg). Both our parents did a lot of excursions with them, including a visit to Disneyland. My father is a hunter and once we took them out shooting. We shot shotguns, rifles and pistols. After the 6-weeks were over and they were heading home, I asked them- what was the most fun you had in America? Both said without hesitation- “shooting guns”. I always got a kick out of that.

    • Mark R.
      Posted February 24, 2019 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Oops…this was supposed to be a response to Michael.

  3. Werner H Baur
    Posted February 24, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I am fully convinced that Schadhirsch is the correct reading. Unfortunately the anonymous writer made this solution more difficult by writing it in two words and capitalizing the H of Hirsch. Both Heidrun and Michael of course are writing Schadhirsch. Possibly this is a regional spelling variant which might give a clue to the provenance of the skull. But that would be above my pay grade.

    • Heidrun Wenisch
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      Maybe the compound was written with a hyphen between the two constituents, Schad-Hirsch? I didn’t notice any trace of a hyphen though, but it could have been wiped out accidentally.

      Particularly with rare compound words, some writers may choose the spelling with hyphen over writing one word. It is a spelling variant which has nothing to do with regional or dialectal differences, but rather with the wish to facilitate apprehension, whereas the spelling Schad Hirsch isn’t correct and would imply that the writer is not used to writing. But this is clearly the handwriting of an experienced writer.

  4. Posted February 25, 2019 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    It is still strange that the writer scribbled Schad Hirsch instead correctly Schadhirsch.

    • Dominic
      Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      probably the writer was not German but the information was…?

      • Dominic
        Posted February 25, 2019 at 7:14 am | Permalink

        One more point – the deer was shot probably before the animal had shed its velvet as they are not dark-coloured above the pedicle.

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