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April 21 is often touted as the peak of the fallow deer rut in New Zealand and if you are hunting bucks when that peak occurs the action can be electric. Deer everywhere are on the move, bucks are croaking, rut pads are trashed real estate, and fights are vicious and prolonged. In my opinion fallow deer are becoming the people’s deer of the 21st century because they are just so available, so attractive, and so good to eat.
Hunting books list a limited number of established herds through both the North and South island, but the reality is there are many ‘new’ herds sprinkled throughout Aotearoa. Cunning and quick to acclimatise new habitat I have hunted them in bush, matagouri, tussock, briar, and amongst Central Otago rocks. The bucks grow stunning palmated antler racks and for this reason are deserving big game targets for South Pacific and international hunters. Here in New Zealand a top fallow buck scores over 200 Douglas score.
Poronui has both estate and free-range fallow deer herds and in 2011 I was lucky enough to hunt the free-range herd on Glazebrook Station located in Marlborough: South Island: New Zealand. I had ensured my visit was over the date of April 21. Fallow deer are a great deer species to observe. They come in several colours including white, are gregarious and social in habit, and during the rut concentrate in the main doe range. The dominant bucks establish rut pads, mark their scrapes with urine, thrash vegetation, mark trees and branches with scent, and begin to croak regularly while patrolling their range. Does are drawn to the buck’s territory, and while animals not in season are driven off, those in season are served. Interloper bucks hover around the fringes and are regularly dealt to. Several receive fatal wounds, and antlers by mid-May have broken palms and tines. The best trophies are shot early in the rut before the serious fighting begins.
The Glazebrook free-range herd consists primarily of common fallow deer, with some black deer amongst the herd. Numbers are good, and trophy quality sound. On my visit a superb black trophy buck that was croaking to over twenty does was taken but it was the antics of a second buck that really showed why the fallow deer rut is so special. Three of us had heard a buck croaking and after some hard glassing spotted him with five does. One of the does was obviously in season and he refused to let her escape his attentions.
The does were on to our presence and wanted to flee but he was so engrossed with lust that he cut them off every time they tried to leave his territory. When first seen he was like a heading dog, and zigzagged right and left anticipating their every escape tactic. Jarrod, my hunting companion intended shooting him but during the stalk the deer moved into some light cover. He stood so motionless in the bush eyeballing the does that an opportunity did not present itself for an hour. It was only when the lead doe sprinted for freedom that the impasse was broken. He cut her off, and drove her back to his territory but in doing so gave Jarrod his chance that he took cleanly with one shot.
The fallow deer rut is one experience you have to have on your bucket list, and even better it doesn’t clash with the peak of the red deer rut that is three weeks earlier.