Top stalker Charly Green looks at the theory behind calling fallow bucks during the rut and contends that summoning them may be difficult but is certainly not impossible
Living and working in the New Forest as a professional stalker and sporting agent, I have been privileged to have unlimited access to what is widely regarded as the best free range fallow area in the UK, possibly the world. The New Forest represents a fantastic opportunity for all to experience the fallow rut in full flow and at close hand, either as a casual observer on Crown land or through paid stalking on one of the few privately held estates within the National Park. Much can be learnt about the stalking of this species by observation alone, and the rutting activity has to be the most interesting of all.
Many people have asked me about my techniques with fallow in the past, and a lot are amazed to hear that it’s possible to call a buck during the rut. It is true that you won’t get the same bold reaction to a call that you might expect from an amorous roe or muntjac, but this is largely down to the way fallow rut. With fallow, the buck takes up a stand that he vigorously defends from rivals while groaning to attract any does in oestrous to him. Once a buck has chosen a stand, he rarely leaves it, which makes simulated calling very challenging.
A recent study of fallow deer mating activity indicated that there may be a link between the frequency and pitch of a groan that gives an interested doe or defensive buck some indication of the physical size and dominance of the calling buck. This could be the key to imitated calling – for the resident buck to move off his stand and defend the area, he needs to associate the call with a fight worth taking on. Lesser bucks making higher pitched calls may well be treated with disdain and seen as not worth the effort of a challenge.
So what equipment will you need? Aside from your usual stalking kit, there are a few things you may wish to consider the next time you tackle fallow in the rut. A face veil can be useful, especially when approaching an area where a few bucks are groaning, as there will be many pairs of eyes in the vicinity ready to give the game away.
As for the caller, there are a few different grunt or groan calls on the market today. Most of these originate in the USA, where they are employed for whitetail hunting. Practice with these calls is essential to master a solid groan, and you can use a recording to ensure a good imitation. It is also possible to recreate the groans with the mouth and throat – practice makes perfect, so expect some funny looks from your family while you work on it. The last item is a pair of cast antlers, used to simulate the sound of a fight in progress. The hope with these is that you will draw an animal expecting to see two well-matched opponents sparring in its patch.
The first step to calling bucks is to identify the location of their rutting stands. You may ask, ‘Why, if I know where they are, can’t I just stalk in and take the shot?’ This is where it gets tricky trying to account for a buck in the rut: he tends to have a large amount of satellite activity around him in the form of interested does and lesser males, all milling about ready to give the game away.
It’s not until you have successfully stalked to within shot of the rutting stand that your call can be of any assistance. If you observe a fallow buck rutting [there are many excellent videos on YouTube of this activity] you will see that he rarely stops moving around his stand and periodically lays down to rest, on occasion continuing to groan. This makes locating the animal easy, but getting a clean shot extremely difficult. Any opportunities will be fleeting at best.
Now we employ the call to our advantage in the hope of either drawing the buck closer, making him stand, or just stopping him for long enough to take a good, clean shot. As a buck may approach from any angle, you will need to have eyes in the back of your head.
Before you call, try to select an area that affords good vision all round, and most importantly good backstops to allow a variety of safe shots. Every now and then you will encounter an aggressive buck, so don’t be surprised if you have a close encounter. As with any form of calling, you need to be ready at all times to take a safe shot if the opportunity arises.
This is all assuming you are after a master buck. Last year I was able to use a call and an antler rattle to attract two curious youngsters that were milling around the outskirts of a rutting stand. When you have a cull to achieve, any ethical method that yields success is an important tool to both the professional and the recreational stalker.
I stalk a lot of fallow and have observed them for many years. Calling yields mixed results but it is a fantastic addition to any stalker’s repertoire. I don’t often carry a call with me but I can make a passable groan with my mouth, which has saved the day a few times. Have a go yourself – you never know, one day it may mean the difference between a blank stalk and the buck of a lifetime.