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Brutal Fallow Bucks
– Hunting Experiences

Of all the New Zealand deer species I have watched during their rutting season the fallow buck is the most brutal and tenacious. I use the word brutal because I have seen the injuries inflicted on rivals, and I use the word tenacious because the older fighting bucks only stop battling when energy is totally sapped, or the foe flees. Dominant, evenly matched bucks in particular are putting their lives on the line if it comes to a full-on brawl.

The rut

The peak of the New Zealand fallow rut is traditionally late April but where deer numbers are high it can be earlier. On Poronui, bucks begin croaking in early April and the rut lasts about five to six weeks. Buck numbers are high. I recommend dedicated fallow buck hunters also consider March as another good time to take a trophy. The bucks are still out in the open, their capes and antlers are mostly pristine, and they are intent on feeding heavily so less wary. Once dominant bucks move to their territory, they are much harder to locate and are surrounded by other deer. They also begin fighting and damage lasts all season.  

The Rut
Very territorial

Fallow bucks differ in how they rut compared to other deer species. They establish a territory, mark it with pungent scrapes, scent rubs and thrashed vegetation then begin croaking to attract does.  They come to him rather than him going to them. Once they arrive, he hopes he will impress them and they will stay with him during the rutting phase. If they look like leaving his territory he will try and corral them using sheep dog tactics. If another buck enters his territory he will be confronted and get either the parallel walking, chased off or full on battle treatment.

Territorial Fallow Buck Deer

Battle Scars

The fighting is legitimate, and the physical damage caused significant, ranging from cuts, bruises, torn ears, and skin to broken antlers.  On top of that with all the loving and fighting they aren’t doing much eating and that shows – by the end of the rut the ribs are showing very clearly!

Battle scars of a fallow deer

The Warrior

When fallow deer numbers are extremely high, and have been for some years, fallow may form an annual fallow display pad (lek) where large numbers of fallow gather and the bucks compete for dominance and breeding rights. It is chaos and the most dominant buck will be skin and bone by the end of the rut. I have been lucky enough to witness three lek sites, and at one site a companion shot the dominant buck who was limping badly with a damaged shoulder. This old warrior refused to leave the pad and continued croaking as we approached. He was a shadow of his original size, of the melanistic colour, bruised and beaten with a chunk out of one palm He was a warrior, worthy of my full respect.

Fallow buck, lying on floor after being hunted.

Greg Morton
Previously New Zealand correspondent for three USA based publications: The Hunting Report; The Bird Hunting Report and The Angling Report, Presently writes a monthly article named Fair Chase for New Zealand Fishing News and a hunting blog for Poronui.
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