Hooked on fallow


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It all started when my dad took me out fallow hunting for the first time at the age of 10.

Some joked the rifle was taller than me, but I was keen as mustard and very willing to be a part of it all.

Having had many enjoyable trips since then with my dad, the fallow rut for some reason had me hooked and under the hammer for that elusive wall hanger.

I’d heard the croak of a stag just on daybreak, filtering through the crisp misty morning air on many occasions.

That was enough to stand any hunter’s hair up on the back of his neck, but despite having taken a few representative heads, I’d never encountered a wall hanger and now almost 20 years later the quest continued.

Having hunted for several seasons with dad and my good friend Alex  in central western NSW for foxes, goats and the odd pig, nothing came close to the amount of time we’d spent chasing fallow deer together.

This time, it was early February and Alex hand rung me to head down for a little pre-season scouting in a new area he had access to.  We spent the weekend looking it over and saw a few promising heads but no real trophies. 

But time would tell as there were quite a few does about, which meant that come the rut a good buck might just wander in. 

With several trips made prior to the rut and a lot of time and effort put into pre-season scouting the rut drew closer and closer and soon we were we cruising the highway again, making tracks for deer season.

Arriving at Alex’s, our host for the weekend, we discussed plans and had an early night in preparation for an early start.

The alarm rang at 5am and after a quick breakfast we packed a few snacks and headed for the hills.  On arrival at the property we’d scouted earlier in the season holding a numbers of does, we were all eager to take a walk. 

By now, daylight had just started to break, so we left the truck and began the trek through an open paddock and into the first gully as most of the deer we’d seen were further up into the hills.

According to Alex, who’d been keeping an eye on things, the rut had started, as he’d heard them grunting. Moving ever so slowly through the first gully and listening intently for the first grunt of the season, my ears awaited that unmistakable sound and my eyes searched for movement through my Swarovski 10x42s.

Glassing and slowly gaining elevation up through the cool morning air, we heard the throaty croak of a stag up ahead and with excitement, all froze in our tracks, awaiting a return challenge from other stags perhaps nearby.

Using the slight breeze in our favour and as much of the fog to our advantage as possible, we slowly made our way up and over a slight rise to where we thought our first buck might be located with his does.

Shortly after and now with plenty of light and the lifting fog, we sat up high and glassed the area below and we were almost immediately greeted by a mob of eight does, with an immature buck right in with them.

As we sat watching, dad mentioned it may be a little early in the rut for the mature heads as there had been no return vocal prior to this buck’s croak and a good mob of does like this would usually hold a mature buck or challenge between two bucks.

Keeping a close eye on the deer below, Alex soon spotted a pale-coloured animal in the tree line of the tops across the valley and it looked like a better buck.  

But why wasn’t he challenging this younger buck? Shortly after, we planned to get closer for a look and into the wind we sidled our way across and headed off.

Taking it slow and steady along the steep face we worked our way closer to our target  and almost managed to bump a small mob of roos that could have ruined our stalk and finished all hopes of success. With too many ‘roos in front of us, we decided to wait, as ‘roos only spell disaster if they spook.

Eventually we lost sight of the stag and as the morning unfolded, deer emerged from out of nowhere, heading straight for us and probably heading up high to bed for the day.

Sitting motionless  and continuing to glass, Alex caught a glimpse of a shadow through the tree line to his left about 90 yards below us and then another and another. There must have been at least 10 does in this mob and undisturbed, they continued grazing as they moved forward.

Once all the deer were out of view, dad slowly stood up and noticed another deer moving down  towards the does from a different direction and quickly pointed him out.

Slowly moving forward, with the deer now in sight, Alex told me to position myself for a shot as it could be a good buck but dad soon motions us to relax as he’s only another young stag.   

As the day unfolded we saw lots of promising deer, but no trophies, in what had  turned out to be an exciting and eventful morning.

That afternoon Alex thought we’d try a spot where he had seen some good sign earlier on in the season. If there were rub marks and scrapes then there must be stags nearby, but then again with the rut just starting, these stags could have moved on to where the does were located.

By late afternoon a number of fallow were spotted, including a stag or two, but still nothing  bigger than I had previously taken, so we decided to call it a day and head for home.

That night we discussed plans for the following day and Alex thought we should try another part of the property  where he’d photographed a stag a few weeks prior; he looked quite promising or alternatively stick to the same area as today and concentrate on the area we’d been hunting. With the final decision made, we called it a day.

The following morning, we needed no alarm up early and ready to go. Arriving at the property, the wind had changed from the previous morning forcing us to approach from a different direction. 

Up and into the hills from a different approach, Alex took us straight up a heavily timbered, steep hill face in an effort to climb high and avoid leaving any scent that could potentially drift along the bottoms and alert any deer above. As we trekked up the steep face we began to hear the distant croak of a fallow buck ahead.  

As daylight appeared and deer became visible through our binoculars, Alex spotted two menil bucks way up on the  tops of  the adjoining gully and they had locked antlers; we heard the very faint clash of the two bucks fighting softly echoing back.

Unable to determine the quality of the buck’s  headgear, Alex and Dad suggested we take a closer look, so we slowly moved in.

With a positive approach to the morning we made our way up and across the scrubby open face.  As we rounded the hill they were on, we approached with caution to find the bucks had moved on.

Frantically glassing  to see where they had gone, I’d almost lost hope until … there they were in the gully below. As the cover was thick, we just couldn’t get a proper look, let alone a shot if needed. Within moments they became visible again and one looked enormous.  

Dad and Alex suggested we sit and await their movements and after doing so for what seemed an eternity, the stags moved up into the adjacent face and started to graze. Grabbing our gear we headed down into the gully below.

Dad and Alex suggested it best for me to stalk in alone, as the stags would surely detect us if we all tried to approach.

Dropping my pack and taking just the binos and my rifle, I headed off cautiously. The stags were just out of sight, but I edged forward very slowly. Using the cover of thick scrub, I eventually caught up and could just see movement up ahead.

Stopping with in cover, I lifted by binos for a closer look. The biggest buck looked well and truly bigger than anything I’d ever taken and probably well over the 200 D.P. mark. Both stags were moving away slowly and nearing the next gully.

While I frantically looked for a spot to take a shot from, they kept moving. The larger of the two stopped and turned broadside as if sensing danger from behind him.

Dropping down and carefully placing the crosshairs just behind the buck’s front shoulder and taking one last breath, I squeezed the trigger and the buck lunged forward and out of sight over the rise. The shot felt good, but where was he?  

Jumping up, I ran forward, hoping he’d gone down, just over the hill.  Arriving at the spot I’d last seen him, a sigh of relief ran through me as his shape materialized only 30 yards in front of me.

The other buck had gone, but my trophy lay still and I was on cloud nine. I urged the boys to make their way over to were the buck was and with nerves now settled I made my way down to him.  

The smile on my face was enough to say it all as the boys arrived. With the usual congrats, came the story of how it happened, followed by lots of photos and the job of caping him out for a shoulder mount.

Over my lifetime of hunting fallow, I’d finally lived the dream. Next year we will do it again I hope, not necessarily for a better buck, but to relive fallow hunting in the rut. 

FAST FACTS: Rifles and chamberings for fallow bucks

Fallow bucks seldom exceed 90kg, being one of the smaller deer species in Australia.They inhabit mostly open rolling country with thicker bush retreats and are typically hunted on the fringes near crops.

The fallow hunter may be  looking at ranges around 200 yards, sometimes more. While the buck is not so flighty or aware of danger when rutting, it’s his does on sentry that will alert him.

A typical scenario is waiting out a mob of does on a forest fringe at dusk and at very last light, the buck may or may not show.

A rutting buck can be a tough proposition to get on the ground when his adrenaline and testosterone is up, so a bullet has to dump a lot of energy in his chest cavity in order to anchor him.

A careful shot can thread his bullet through both shoulders when broadside or if very good, take a spine or low neck shot to instantly disable them also.

A desirable rifle for fallow hunting therefore is a light to midweight, accurate bolt-action sporter wearing a mid-weight 22-24-inch barrel and a classic 3-9×40 high quality riflescope.

The mandated minimum calibre in Victoria is a .243 Winchester pushing an 80 grain bullet at over 3,000fps but some may consider this a little on the light side.

I have not felt overgunned with a .30-06 shooting either a 165gn Sierra GameKing, which is ballistically very efficient way out and soft enough to expand well through the shoulders and dump plenty of kinetic energy, or a much lighter 125gn Speer Varminter, but shoulder shots would be ruled out due to their fragile construction.

The 130gn GameKing or Hornady Interlock of the same weight out of a .270 at 3,000-3100fps would be close to the ideal combination of long range accuracy, retained energy and good expansion as fallow are after all, light-skinned game. Michael Pizzata used exactly such an outfit in this story and it came up trumps for him.

As with all hunting, you need to stalk in as close as you can and settle yourself and rifle to effect a good clean kill.  

– By Marcus O’Dean

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Sporting Shooter magazine.

 


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