Fallow deer are a most beautiful animal to my way of thinking and many of my friends think the same.
The unusual growth of their antlers that palm is one thing that sets them apart from all other deer species in Australia.
I just love the way they prance away at times, just bouncing off on all four feet together like they have springs in their feet and look as if their on a Pogo stick. The way their tail flares up and that beautiful black on white heart that stands out as they move away from you just look fantastic.
Then the deer themselves are a very pretty deer and their colours can be quite varied as you can get white, black, red and menil in their coloring. Then of course their antlers can be so different in shape from animal to animal; they are all distinctive. The grunting, snorting noise they make when rutting is a sound that I never grow tired of – I just love them.
Fallow deer (Dama Dama) are nearly petite when compared with our other deer species. The male is called a Buck and the female is called a Doe, their young are called Fawns. The male or buck will weigh up to and around the 95kg mark and stand around 85 to 95cms high at the shoulder, the female or doe is a lot lighter weighing in at around 45kgs and stands around 75cms at the shoulder.
I have noticed that in the cooler, more southern climates they seem to fill out more and be a bit heavier than the ones that we mainly hunt in SE Queensland and Northern NSW.
Fallow, like the red deer have a breeding cycle that lets their fawns be birthed at one of the more favorable times of the year, early summer. Their gestation period is around eight months so you could make a safe bet that early April will be the peak of the rut. So fawns will start to be born any time from early December to January.
The actual rut is really governed by when the does come into oestrous and usually lasts for around four to five weeks and sometimes shorter or even longer depending on the weather, which seems to have a very big bearing on just when the rut will start.
The 2010 rut was all over the place and a fallow buck shot on a weekend (30th May 2010) still appeared to be in the rut stage with a swollen neck and large bulb in his throat and he was attending five does, so the rut period can never be set in stone.
Fallow bucks have unusual antlers in that they have the normal brow tines as well as the trey tines and then the antlers palmate into a large flat blade that can have numerous points along the blade and at the bottom rear of the blade they have what is called a guard tine.
Some of the palms are long and wide with points all the way up their outside edge, others have a deep cleft in the palm, which to some people and some scoring systems is undesirable, but to me it just makes them that little bit more unusual and different.
Fallow bucks are very aggressive fighters and I have seen bucks dead and near dead from the injuries sustained from their rutting battles. Often they will break tips off the points of their antlers and sometimes even the whole antler or a whole palm is broken off. Imagine the force that they must hit and twist onto each other to inflict these serious injuries and break those antlers.
It’s amazing to think that each year at around the end of September or early October the buck’s antlers fall off and then almost immediately start to grow again. By February the antlers are fully grown but are still in soft velvet. This is a soft, velvety substance that covers the antler and gradually hardens.
When in velvet the antlers are easily bent or broken and a damaged antler will grow in unusual shapes, if the antler is damaged at the pedical, which is the base below the coronet, that antler will mostly never grow properly again but that buck could still sire good fawns that will grow to be good bucks in the future.
As the velvet hardens it gets itchy and the bucks rub their antlers on small trees and bushes scraping the velvet from them and in turn dying them with the saps and dyes from the trees they rub on. If you were to feel the antlers of a buck when in full velvet they would be very warm to touch with the blood coursing through them.
It’s a really amazing thing that nature does and if you notice, the antlers falling off coincides with the birthing of the fawns so it must be just Mother Nature’s way of stopping the expectant mothers getting hurt with an accidental hit from an antler. That isn’t a proven thing at all; it’s just the way I understand it.
During the rut, the bucks find a suitable spot that is usually under a low tree branch and with some thick cover nearby. He will then scrape the dirt with his fore hooves and make a number of shallow depressions, which we call scrapes. Sometimes these are called Leks. He will then urinate in the scrapes and roll in them, digging his antlers and face into the urinated soil.
He lifts his head and tickles his antlers on the low overhanging branch and ejaculates on himself and rolls some more. Then he will rub his face against a number of trees in the area leaving scent from his pre-orbital glands that are just below his eyes, he will also thrash the trees with his antlers twisting and turning the small branches and rubbing his antlers up and down the tree trunks tearing the bark off them (I have actually watched them do this on several occasions).
By doing these things he is marking his turf. These territorial markings can be recognized by other bucks in the area. He will then try his best to entice the does to his stands and defend them against all comers to the death if necessary. The bucks will start to croak or grunt and be very vocal which can often be their undoing if there is a hunter nearby.
There are strict seasons in some states and in others there are none, but in saying this even though it might be legal to shoot them, we try to leave the deer alone during the later stages of the doe’s gestation period.
Fallow deer feed mainly in the early morning and late afternoon, plus they feed at night especially on the farmers pastures which makes them somewhat of a pest at times and often they are shot on sight. At night their eyes stand out like saucers and they are easily shot even though this is not sporting.
It is also illegal to spotlight deer in some states. Fallow will feed in open country but usually like to have some thick cover nearby in which to escape if threatened. Their eyesight is very good as is their sense of smell and hearing, often that slight little breeze upon your back or that ever so slight movement, or those bullets rattling in your pocket will see your stalk come undone.
Fallow deer seem to be able to blend into any sort of terrain no matter whether they are white, red, black or menil and can just about appear or disappear right before your eyes.
The meat from the fallow is very good to eat and is very lean and full of iron and other nutrients that are great for a healthy lifestyle. We often eat the venison either as steak, mince, and roasts or corned as is silverside. The meat is very rich and too much if you’re not used to it will usually go through you pretty quickly.
The venison from a fallow deer is in my thinking and taste, the worst of the deer meats even though it is still very good. I much prefer red deer meat and rusa deer even more than the reds. I haven’t had enough sambar to really say how good or bad it is, but would probably put it up there with the rusa by what I have eaten. Chital deer meat is just that little bit better in my estimation and a lot lighter coloured meat. When it is roasting it has a distinct smell like baking a cake at times.
To sum up the fallow deer is a very worthy game animal and will make a great trophy to hang on your den wall or fill your freezer.
A short red deer hunt
Sitting back in my deer camp deep in the mountains of the Brisbane Valley, the deer were roaring spasmodically but not really full into it.
That first morning, a steep spur was traversed where I was able to sit and glass the surrounding hills without leaving scent all over the mountains.
It never fails to surprise me how many people say that they walked for miles and saw nothing. Maybe if they sat for hours in a likely spot like we do, they would be rewarded by the sightings of deer going about their normal daily routines.
A low moan came from across the valley. Staring intently he couldn’t be seen, so sneaking slowly down the mountain, sliding all the way on my bum, got me into a slightly better position to possibly see him. Suddenly the stag gave a decent roar and moved slightly. It was hard to make out just how good he was, but he did look long in the timber with heavy tops so they could have forked.
Being after at least a double five, my eyes were glued to the binoculars as he moved slightly between the trees at approximately 240yards away. Having my .358Mitchell express with me loaded with 200grain Hornady interlocks traveling at around 2850fps made me feel confident of hitting him if I were to take the shot.
Suddenly the sun hit on his antlers and you could make out that he definitely forked at the tops, my decision was made and sitting flat on my bum steadying the rifle over my knees, the cross hairs on the Swarovski 3 to 9 x 36 scope settled slightly higher than central on his shoulder allowing for a bit of drop at this range.
At the crashing blast from my rifle, the mighty monarch dropped flat rolled once and was still. On later inspection my projectile had hit slightly higher than I had allowed for and hit him in that place that is a sort of no mans land, where you can hit a stag with a reasonable caliber and he will go straight down, then get up and run off on you.
Many deer have been lost to this shot placement and I was lucky that the size of the pill had stuffed him pretty badly, even so he tried to get up when nearing him and another shot had to be put into him to expedite his end.
On closer inspection it turned out that he was a nice wide five by six or 11pointer, so I was very happy. After the photos were taken the hard work of cutting him up on the steep side of a mountain was carried out and the slow walk back to camp with loaded shoulders was started.
Good hunting to you all and I hope the stars line up for you on your next hunt.
Ted Mitchell Snr
Footnote. Check with the local laws of the state in which you wish to hunt fallow deer to find out if and what the seasons are and all relevant legalities. Suitable calibers with which to hunt fallow deer in the authors view should be no smaller than a .243 and range upwards from there to however large a calibre you feel comfortable and confident with. Good hunting – TMS
This article was first published in the Sporting Shooter April 2014 issue.