Fallow deer

Species guide: fallow deer

The fallow is the most prolific deer species in Australia, with a history stretching back to the 1830s, and they have formed an important part of Australia’s deer-hunting culture and identity. 

A mature fallow buck will stand 90-95cm high at the shoulder and can tip the scales at 90kg, especially when in good condition in late summer or in the early stages of the rut. 

Fallow deer
A small mob with a mix of melanistic (dark) and menil (lighter spotted) fallow

Does are built much lighter, typically 75-80cm at the shoulder and around 40kg for a mature female.

Fallow (Dama dama in scientific circles) come in a wide range of colours. You have the common colour scheme of a reddish-brown coat marked with a darker dorsal stripe, set of by white spots and white underbelly. 

The menil colour phase is similar but paler, the reddish-brown giving way to a lighter, creamy colour. 

There’s the melanistic (black) fallow, whose coats are a rich chocolate colour, and then there is almost pure white. 

Colours are genetic traits, so fallow populations that are geographically isolated will often have a dominant colour strain that reflects the origins of the herd. 

For example, the Lake George fallow herd around the ACT is predominantly black, while a hunter in the south-east of South Australia is far more likely to encounter common or menil fallow.

Typically, a mature buck’s antlers will have brow tines and trez tines and then the antlers flatten into a broad palm-like area with points off the back (called spellers). 

An exceptional buck can have antlers 30 inches (76cm) long, but the majority in Australia are in the mid 20s. No two sets of fallow antlers are the same, which makes for some interesting trophies. 

You can get short, heavy ones with cleft palms and lots of crazy points, or a long head with almost blade-like palms. They all have character.

Fallow deer map of Australia
This map indicates the approximate distribution of fallow in Australia, based on FeralScan information


Fallow were originally released in Tasmania in the 1830s and mainland Australia in the 1880s. 

For many years the main fallow populations existed in Tasmania, Lake George in NSW/ACT, the Glen Innes region in northern NSW and the Stanthorpe herd in southern Queensland. 

That all started to change in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s when deer farming boomed. Inevitably, some captive deer went wild, either by escaping or, when venison prices crashed, by being released. 

Throw in a few liberations by keen deer hunters and fallow were well on their way to being the most widespread deer in Australia. 

The traditional ranges are still producing deer and the newer populations are expanding. 

There is exceptional quality fallow hunting in the upper Hunter Valley, the Snowy-Monaro region and south-east of South Australia.

Bigger and bigger bucks are being taken every year, raising the bar on what is considered a good representative head of the species. 

My father’s generation talked about the time and effort (sometimes years) it took to successfully take a buck scoring over 200 points on the Douglas system while hunting the Glen Innes and Stanthorpe fallow herds in the ’70s and ’80s. 

Now 200-point heads and better are commonplace in many regions.

Fallow are ideally suited to the semi-open farming country that dominates the fringes of the Great Diving Range from Victoria into southern Queensland. They are predominantly grazers, not browsers, and will feed out into clearings and open paddocks in the early mornings and evenings before retiring to thick timber or bush to bed up for the day.

Fallow deer
A fresh fallow scrape indicating a rutting buck’s area of operations


Fallow sign outside the rut consists of the usual hoof prints and droppings. Fallow hoof prints are like those of a sheep or goat but slightly longer and slender with pointed tips. Goats and sheep are more rounded. 

Droppings come in the forms of pellets, around jelly-bean size, with a distinct point at one end if you look closely.

Bucks will start rubbing and thrashing trees leading up to the breeding season in March and they will make scrapes when they establish rutting territories. 

Scrapes can be as small as a dinner plate or bigger than your kitchen table. Bucks will work them with hoof and antler until the ground is nothing but bare, powdered earth, and they’ll thrash the surrounding trees and urinate in the scrape. 

Hunting areas with a concentration of scrapes will put you right in the zone to bump into a buck.

Fallow rub tree
A rub tree, which a rutting buck uses to scrape velvet from his antlers prior to in the rut


Here in Australia we have very few seasonal restrictions when it comes to deer hunting (check your state regulations), so the question of when to hunt is largely an ethical one and up to hunters themselves to manage when they target deer. 

Fallow does usually give birth around November/December each year, and fawns are dependent on their mothers for at least four months. As such, it’s good practice to only shoot does between April and October. 

Even though a doe might look like she hasn’t got a fawn at foot over summer, chances are she has planted it in the long grass or bush somewhere nearby. 

If you are hard up for venison over the summer months, it’s best to take a fat spiker or a 12-month-old doe.

Bucks will drop their antlers around September/October each year and spend the next four months re-growing them, with antlers becoming hard in February. 

Velvet bucks are fat and tasty, but if you are after a head for the wall leave it until March when they are stripped out. 

From late March through to late April it’s the breeding season, or the rut, the most exiting time of the year for a keen fallow hunter to be in the bush.

Fallow deer
A younger melanistic buck, his protruding Adam’s apple more obvious when the rut is at its height


The best approach to fallow hunting is to work out where they are feeding and where they are bedding up during the day. 

Spend the early mornings and late afternoons with the wind in your face, hunting areas where you are likely to catch deer moving between their bedding and feeding areas. 

They love fringe country, so working a timbered bush edge that backs onto open grazing land is a reliable technique.

When it comes to chasing big bucks in the rut, follow your ears. Bucks get vocal and give away their position with deep, guttural grunts. 

The rut is also a great time to try calling. The best way to do this is to find cruising bucks or set up right in a buck’s rutting territory near his scrapes. Rattling antlers and doe calling work equally well and can be a great way to get bucks in close.


The NSW and Victorian authorities recommend a minimum caliber of .243 with a bullet weight of 100 grains for hunting fallow deer. This is a sensible choice and will do the job with no dramas.

For bowhunters, a draw weight of 45 pounds and above is plenty. It’s all about shot placement and making sure your broadheads are razor sharp. Ensure your setup is as quiet as possible on release, as fallow are notorious string jumpers.


There are different views on deer management but when it comes to fallow, being the prolific breeders that they are, taking females is the best thing you can do for the environment, the farmer and the general health of the herd. 

Bucks have a high mortality rate, not helped by hunters who take multiple bucks every year and leave all the does. 

The best way to get a healthy herd with stable numbers and big mature bucks is to get that male-to-female ratio as close to 1:1 as possible, and as hunters we all play our part. 

In my opinion, the meat of females consistently offers better eating quality.

Fallow are excellent eating, but like all venison sometimes it’s not as forgiving as beef or lamb and can require careful preparation and knowing which cuts are suited to different dishes. They also excel in sausages and smallgoods. 

The results can be outstanding if you do your research and make an effort with carcass care and butchery, and try a range of recipes.




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