What a difference a day makes…
As the first sign of light behind the distant hills started to outline the surrounding landscape, the croaking began again.
It was the first week of April and the fallow had just started to become vocal down south. Although a few mates had indicated the fallow were in full rut a week ago, for some reason they weren’t croaking at all in my area, as I’d been watching and listening every couple of days. Sure, there were a few young bucks about with the odd debatable grunt heard from time to time, but the big boys were still nowhere to be seen. Come the 6th of April I decided to head off for a few days serious hunting as the previous two years had yielded a good buck on the 8th of April each time. Is that coincidental or just luck, I thought to myself. My theory is, the early, occasional grunt you hear are the younger bucks you see with the few girls they are holding, but the real rut is when the big boys come in and the croaking becomes a lot more frequent. But that’s just my opinion, as there’s sure to be many other theories out there.
On day one, the 6th of April, I visited several different valleys I knew held good numbers of does, presuming the bucks would surely be nearby. Several different mobs revealed young bucks only, strutting amongst the girls with swollen necks and attempting to show some sort of dominance over the heard. But I knew damn well come the real rut the big boys would move in and take over. After many years of hunting them, I firmly believe the older more mature bucks actually allow the younger bucks to go in and do the gathering for them and while this is taking place the older boys are still preparing scrape lines and marking their scent trails for does in season.
Day two, the 7th April was of similar occurrence, as I continued to methodically cover the same areas as previously visited the day before. Not much had changed and I distinctly remember recognising a few of the younger bucks I ‘d seen the day before. Heading back towards camp I spotted three does feeding in a nearby gully and decided to sneak in for a few photos. As I neared, the breeze changed direction and they caught my scent. Prancing back into cover and out of sight, a series of deep croaks came from nearby that instantly caught my attention.
There was a buck with them and obviously trying to round them back up. Moving up hill slightly and dropping my pack, I pulled the rattling antlers out and set up the camera. Within moments I had the camera rolling and started rattling. To my amazement, a menil buck came strutting out to within 30 meters of where I stood but couldn’t see me as I was well camouflaged. On this trip I was also testing the new Ridgeline Performance range of camo clothing and at close quarters, he didn’t even know I was there. This new Excape camo is definitely the best they have released to date in my opinion and now a favourite for me.
The buck was definitely a mature old warrior with long, heavy antlers but very little palm so I snapped off a few photos and continued to video him. He wasn’t what I was looking for so I gave a very soft doe call, allowing him to pinpointed my presence. Soon after, he about faced and quickly disappeared. That evening the croaking started in earnest for the first time. Sitting in camp I could hear them grunting in several different directions which was a definite change to previous nights.
What makes these changes happen overnight I asked myself. Some say it’s a cold snap, others say it’s all to do with a full moon, but they were definitely croaking in all directions overnight so I was going to give it my best shot, pardon the pun. As there’d been a definite change in tempo, the following morning I was up at 4.30am. My plan was to get to a specific area before sunrise and wait until first light in an effort to catch the mob out feeding without disturbance. This particular healthy heard of does were feeding on an oats crop in an open field, then sneaking back into the bush at first light. There were also a couple of immature bucks in with them, but who knows what might wander in with all the commotion overnight. Leaving camp, I could hear the occasional croak from the surrounding hills, definitely a difference to previous mornings. Eventually I neared the area I knew held a healthy heard of does and on approach could hear a buck grunting. Although I couldn’t see them, I knew the mob were there and less than 500 meters ahead.
Knowing exactly where they were, I cautiously moved into position some 400 meters distant in almost pitch-black conditions. I’d done this walk on several occasions and knew exactly where to sit. The wind was perfect, it was still quite dark and the sweet sound of a croaking buck had me shaking with excitement. As the first sign of light behind the distant hills started to outline the surrounding landscape, the croaking began again. In previous days the bucks in this mob of deer weren’t croaking, but today they were going off. The slight breeze continued in my favour as my surrounds very slowly became more visible. I watched the mob of some 20 or so does materialise and soon after switched on the camera for a few photos and some video. Now this is the real rut I thought to myself, the two immature bucks were in with the main mob of does but a mature buck had two does off to the side and continued to hold them away from the rest. Frantically setting up the camera on the tripod and pressing record, I moved forward for the shot as this buck had definitely moved in overnight and was a handsome, mature trophy.
Moving forward and in camera view, I set up for the shot but the grass was over a foot long where I lay and also, I was in a bit of a ditch and needed to gain some height. Ensuring there were no eyes in my direction, I cautiously moved across to slightly higher ground and with a little less vegetation under foot. I’d all but forgotten about the camera rolling and catching the action on film was now the last thing on my mind. Ranging the buck at 339 meters, I was confident at taking the shot with my faithful Blaser straight-pull, chambered in 7mm Rem. Mag. and shooting handloads with 162gr Hornady Interlocks. This was a home-load I’d used for as long as I can remember on a variety of big game from moose to mulie and lots more.
Holding the cross hairs just below his back line I knew where the bullet would land and slowly squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped where he stood, so fast in fact that I thought I had missed him for some reason. The others made hast their escape including another mature buck that I hadn’t previously seen, but thankfully not as good as the one I had presumably taken.
As I watched the mob quickly scamper up the hill for the bush line, I counted three bucks in all and wondered if in deed I had missed. As all went quiet, I got up and began walking towards where the mob were feeding, hoping to find a blood trail or some sort of sign indicating a hit. With nothing immediately visible, my heart began to sink, as I pondered on what had just happened. None of the fleeing bucks looked remotely injured so what had happened.? Now within 150 metres of where the buck was standing, I could see the tips of an antler in the long grass. My post mortem revealed the buck had been hit just below the spine and hence, dropped instantly.
Relieved at the result, I admired his rack and decided to head back for my pack and the camera which was still running I might add. After lots of photos and caping the buck out for a shoulder mount, I headed back towards the vehicle, a very content hunter. What a difference a day makes I thought to myself and indeed it was again the 8th of April, coincidence or just luck.? Returning home, I reviewed the video footage on my camera and couldn’t believe I’d also managed to capture the entire experience and the shot on film. For those interested, a short video on that solo hunt for fallow is on the Sporting Shooter website under HUNTING FALLOW DEER WITH RIDGELINE.