Fallow buck photo by Sanders Meertins/Getty Images
Photo by Sanders Meertins/Getty Images

Hunting hard and scoring big in the fallow deer rut

A hunting story about killing a personal-best fallow trophy and seeing bucks fight hard on a public-land hunt during the fallow deer rut

This year I’d taken a week off work and organised to spend it in a NSW state forest with a group of mates chasing fallow deer with the hope of finding a mature buck. I spent the days leading up to the trip anxiously checking the weather forecast and was pleasantly surprised to see predictions of clear skies, minimal wind and low temperatures.

Our convoy arrived at the state forest just in time for us to throw on our gear and go for an afternoon stalk. Michael and I opted to sit in the head of a gully in the hope of seeing some late-afternoon activity while Alf and Mick hit the river flats, but we all returned to camp in the dark empty handed.

Andy Kidner with trophy fallow buck
A personal best for Andy despite intense hunting pressure on public land from other hunters

That night we discussed our plans for the coming days and areas we wanted to hunt. Having spent the previous few months doing scouting trips to try to pattern the deer prior to the rut, I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to concentrate within the forest: areas of good feed, cover and plenty of sign from bucks marking their territories. 

As I was to find out the next morning, though, having a plan is one thing but getting to follow through with it was another.

We woke to a frosty morning. Alf and Mick once again headed to the flats while Michael and I headed to an area that had shown promise during prior trips. After leaving the car on the side of a fire trail and checking the wind, we quietly made our way up to the top of a ridge and sat listening for that unmistakable sound of croaking fallow bucks. 

Sure enough, a few minutes after sunrise the deep baritone noise echoed up the gully with replies from a rival a little further off. It’s truly a sound that gives you goosebumps and gets the heart thumping.

Hunters with fallow buck trophies. Photo by Andy Kidner
The hunters each scored a very nice trophy on this public-land hunt, and planning beforehand played a large part in the success

We made our way down the gully, trying to pinpoint exactly where they might be, but with the thick underbrush and fog from the cold morning it was proving difficult. 

The two bucks were obviously competing for does and weren’t shy about being vocal, but the sound was being distorted as it bounced around the gully and they were covering distance rapidly in their haste to lock antlers. 

This game of cat and mouse proceeded as we tried to move in on their position until it sounded like we had the dominant buck just over the next small rise.

That’s when the noise of a car drifted through the gumtrees. I felt a sinking feeling in my gut as the noise became louder until a convoy of four utes raced past us on the fire trail below. 

Andy Kidner with trophy fallow buck
Andy’s buck had a beautiful chocolate colouring

The two bucks obviously heard them too and we just managed to spot them as they hightailed it over the ridge and crashed off into another gully system.

With that area having been disturbed by the cars and the wind making it impossible to try to cover more ground without spreading our scent around, we headed back to camp. 

After consulting our topo maps we decided to try another spot that afternoon and see if we could doe-call a buck out of a heavily timbered area that I knew contained scrapes and rubs.

On the drive we passed a campsite with other hunters who had been lucky enough to bag a few deer that were now hanging from a gum tree. It seemed the part of the forest we had been hoping to hunt was popular and I was starting to think that we may need to reconsider our plan.

Andy Kidner with trophy fallow buck
That’s a great palm, even with its battle scars

We arrived at our new spot with an hour till dark and set up with a view of a small-heavily timbered hill I was sure would be holding a buck. 

Michael started to doe-call and within 15 minutes there was a responding croak from the resident buck. He was a ways off but we could tell from the increasing volume that he was heading in our direction, and fast! 

We exchanged looks and prepared to see what would emerge from the tangled undergrowth.

The buck had zoned in on Michael’s seductive doe call and it was sounding like he was about to come into visual range when boom! Another hunter had managed to get a shot in before we could. 

The day had been a disaster. Shaking our heads, we didn’t hang around.

Fallow buck antlers. Photo by Andy Kidner
Four great trophies, all out of the same public state forest during the same hunt

We discussed the highs and lows of the day around the campfire that night and revelled in the experience of seeing these amazing animals at the peak of their breeding period. 

We were in the right area, judging by the animals seen. We decided to concentrate on another part of the forest that, due to the thickness of the bush and distance away from any fire trails, should see less human activity.

Michael and I left well before sun-up to get into a position where we could listen for the sounds of a rutting buck. We pushed our way through chest-high kangaroo grass, clambered over dead timber and up steep, shaley hills under the light of head torches before reaching a spot I had marked on my GPS months prior. We set up and waited in the freezing morning air for the sun to poke over the hills and warm our shivering limbs.

The morning came and went. We saw nothing but a pair of wallabies and a cranky wombat. 

With the sun high in the sky we figured that any chance of catching a buck moving to its bed had long gone so we started the trek back to the car.

As I rounded a burnt-out tree I heard an odd sounding clunk. 

I stopped. Was it a falling branch or something more? The same noise floated up from the next gully over and quickly rose in intensity. 

We looked at each other as we realised we were hearing the unmistakable noise of locked antlers!

We moved into visual range while they were distracted by their fight for dominance. We were rewarded with the sight of two big-bodied, mature fallow absolutely smashing each other on a fighting pad. 

Thrashed saplings surrounded the area and the earth was torn up by their hooves. They were absolutely brutal with no quarter given and we witnessed the bigger buck flip his opponent onto the ground, snapping off one of his brow tines in the process.

As we were using trees and fallen timber to cover our approach, they were oblivious to our presence and in the thick bush we managed to sneak into 30 metres before a shot presented itself. 

While they stood preparing for their next assault on each other, I put the crosshairs just behind the bigger buck’s front leg and sent a 165gn Sierra Game King from my .308 straight through his heart. He went 10 metres before toppling over and expiring.

He had fought hard to maintain his position as the king of this particular area. He had broken points and scars on his face. 

Andy Kidner with trophy fallow buck
The carry-out with those antlers over his shoulder kept a grin on Andy’s face

This was by far my personal best fallow and it made all the scouting trips, early mornings and hours spent in the car worthwhile. 

It’s a truly humbling experience to witness the strength, speed and power of these animals when they’re competing for females. To take a mature buck out of a state forest in some difficult conditions and terrain makes it so much more special.

After the long pack out with all the meat, skin and antlers we drove back to camp that evening and enjoyed a well-earned beer around the fire. 

We spent the next few days in the bush watching the fallow go about their courtship displays. 

Mick, Alf and Michael all managed to take very respectable hard-won trophies and the campfire stories these experienced hunters told made this a trip I won’t be forgetting in a long time.




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