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The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan
– About

By August, surviving trophy red deer stags in Poronui Estate can begin to breathe easier. With antlers not far off shedding, hunters drop down the threat priority scale and they can concentrate just on the perils of winter. At this time of the year male deer are back in their bachelor groups, and many of these groups have tight alliances. Three stags that are particularly tight are still going strong and are known as the three musketeers. That’s as far as the nickname goes, and no they aren’t individually known as Athos, Porthos and Aramis.

They wander together, feed together, and look out for the group as a unit. Watching them from a distance I could see the personalities within the trio. One was laid back and boldly led the way, one was bulky and skittish, and the third was always at the back, spooky and cautious. These big boys had an entourage of wannabes hanging around with them, but the smaller, younger deer knew their place in the dominance pecking order.

On the other side of the valley was a huge loner stag, with massive antlers. Locally he had no name, but since we had the three musketeers in the same general area, I felt he must be D’Artagnan, the shadowy fourth warrior in the Alexandre Dumas historical novel. This stag had quite a reputation for being shy, and reclusive, and was obviously a cunning quarry. Apparently, during the rut, he had rounded up a mob of hinds early in the season, held them for a few weeks, successfully passed on his genes, and then before becoming vulnerable to hunters had disappeared until late winter. He was seldom seen, and even the attached photo was taken at distance, as he raced for cover. He is a quality trophy stag, and many a hunter had tried to track him down.

Stags don’t often live long enough to get nicknames but real legends do. Years ago I hunted a stag that was locally known as Moby. Like the mythical white whale, he was an elusive animal that was occasionally spotted right on the bushline, and only for a few days near the beginning of the rut. I was never aware of any hunter outwitting him. Other stags have been given titles like Big Red, Bully Boy, Grumble Guts and Mr T, due to their size, roar, or battling ability. All are terms of respect for an animal which epitomises strength and majesty.

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