A typical Eastern Cape fallow buck hunted in the mountains of the Molteno area
By Abrie Arlow – Pronk Safaris
By Abrie Arlow – Pronk Safaris
The European fallow deer is one of the most awesome trophies to hunt and one of my favourite animals in South Africa. I grew up in a big-game hunter’s home and accompanied my dad as he hunted all over Africa, never seeing any other animals except indigenous animals and trophies in our home. As I grew up, I realised there were a number of deer species also available in South Africa and the quest was on!
Although the fallow deer is not a species indigenous to our continent – it was introduced here some one hundred and fifty years ago – I have an absolute passion for hunting these magnificent and interesting creatures. After hunting them for close on five years, I managed to bag a very big specimen and soon after that another monster – and then a third! That started a complete obsession, not only for me but in my circle of friends as well, and eventually it became my full-time profession. I have spent the greater part of my hunting career finding the right animal for clients and getting them into position to take a trophy of a lifetime.
Common coloured velvet fallow buck hunted in February, right at start of season. If the taxidermy is done properly, a trophy like this will keep its colour for ever.
Black fallow buck hunted in the eastern Free State mountains in mid-February.
The history of the first fallow deer brought to South Africa is not really clear. There is much speculation but most resources indicate that this occurred in the 1860s. I have my own opinion and have done some research. Let me explain how I think the fallow deer made it to South Africa. On setting foot here at the southern tip of the Dark Continent, the settlers found plains game like springbok, eland, bontebok, white-tailed gnu and blesbok, plus many others.
A good marksman (as those adventure seekers most definitely were) could take down any of these animals with ease, even over great distances. No other animals were discovered further inland and the true hunters and sportsmen were looking for an animal that could challenge their hunting skills as some of the European species did. They then decided to introduce the fallow deer (together with some other specimens) into South Africa. Another incentive was the good, fatty meat quality of the fallow deer in comparison to the lean game meat found here. The imported deer adapted very well and in certain parts of our beautiful country they absolutely thrive.
The fallow deer is a tough animal and can adapt to some really harsh conditions. They are found in seven of our nine provinces, especially in open areas with large mountains and hills. They have even adapted to semi-desert terrain, for instance in the Northern Cape Province.
A 4-year-old buck (foreground) with a 6-year-old buck in the Mpumalanga forest area.
A really nice Bambi-like colouration – fallow deer in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa.
If you take into consideration the temperature differences between here and Europe, especially in summertime, this proves my point. The only reason that they don’t do well in Northwest and Limpopo is because of the ticks transmitting heartwater disease.
Over the last few decades their numbers have gone through the roof and many local hunters pursue them not only as trophies but for their excellent meat quality as well. Many people who have tasted this meat say it compares favourably to mutton or lamb.
If you intend to hunt a fallow deer for its meat, I would recommend that you target females and younger animals as their meat is much more tender than that of the old bucks. The meat is fit for any type of cooking, grilling (or, as we like to call it, ‘braai’-ing), preserving or drying. In this article we will, however, focus on the trophy-hunting aspect of the European fallow deer.
As mentioned, I have an absolute passion for these animals and I must be honest, this is mainly due to their antlers, which can grow to a massive size. Also, no two racks of antlers look alike. They make for some of the best trophies in a trophy room, either as a full- or shoulder mount, or as a skull mount.
I am not going to go into hunting gear, such as the calibres or optics needed. Any medium-bore calibre will do, on condition that the client uses good ammunition. These deer are not difficult to kill but bullet failure may result in your losing a trophy you worked very hard for. I can say this, however: good quality binoculars are essential. In the hunting field you spend a lot of time looking through your binoculars, and to be able to correctly judge the trophy quality of the animal you are looking at, you need to be able to see well.
Some typical fallow buck in an area where the best feeding programmes are combined with sensible culling to preserve quality genes.
A buck reaches its peak trophy size at between six and seven years. They can live up to 12 years but after seven years the trophy size decreases each year.
These animals are reddish-brown in colour with white spots but can vary being from completely white to pitch black. Bucks can grow up to 100 kg and ewes to about half that size. Only the males carry horns and they are typically branched antlers. At one-year-old they have short, straight horns with only a lump at the end. From the age of four years males can grow a decent set of antlers for the trophy hunter but it is always wiser to look for older animals. Fallow deer shed their antlers each year around November, and a new set develops fully within four months, growing bigger than the year before. During this growing period, the antlers have a velvety covering. Each year, the antler length will increase, the palms will get wider and the number of points formed also increases. The Rowland Ward minimum score for a fallow deer hunted in South Africa is 110 points (120 point when hunted in Europe), and the measurement is done by using Method 3.
Fallow deer live in family herds with offspring, as well as bachelor herds. Older males will sometimes be found alone. The males are very territorial during the mating season, which is in April / May. During this time the males can be tracked by their grunts, or by looking for signs where they scrape the ground with their antlers and urinate.
They tend to feed when it is cooler or at night, and usually bed down during the day. Early morning and late afternoon is a good time to look for fallow deer activity. They are very intelligent and also very wary. One of their best evasion tactics is to lie flat to the ground and so they are often overlooked by hunters.
When it comes to trophy judging, I think personal preference often takes precedence in conversations. Because the antlers are so unique, there is not a right or wrong, or better or worse trophy. I would rather find an older buck with a lot of character for a client than a young buck with very long antlers and a short brow tine. The brow tine is the first two ‘spikes’ that grow off the main beam in a forward position, and the prime purpose of these tines is for fighting (and protection) during the rut. The older a buck gets, the more prominent these brows become in both length and thickness. Also, the beam gets thicker and these two attributes show the true signs of age. For me that’s where the true trophy value lies.
To hunt a fallow deer is quite an experience. Because of the many different areas in South Africa in which they roam, you can experience many different hunts while going after the same species. We at Pronk Safaris have spent decades studying these animals and if you are looking for a memorable European fallow deer trophy in South Africa, feel free to contact me at any time. (Contact details are shown in our full-page advertisement on page 59.) ASM