Stalking Fallow Stags in Africa

A group of Fallow Deer with a few mature stags.
A group of Fallow Deer with a few mature stags.

 

By: Engee Potgieter
By: Engee Potgieter

I have always been fascinated by the Fallow Deer as they offer the South African hunter an unique opportunity to hunt an animal which he may not necessarily be able to in its native country, I have certainly made use of this and have been fortunate to take quite a few over the years. The biggest point of controversy surrounding introduced species such as the Fallow Deer is because they are alien species which can and will compete with endemic species, yet in regards to the Fallow Deer they have proven not only to adapt well to our colder regions, but have done so with little to no effect on our local native species. First introduced from Europe by the first colonialists during the early 1800’s, the Fallow Deer has actually become a rather popular hunting specie with many hunters today, because of their superb meat quality as well as for the fact that many farmers in Mpumalanga and the Cape are eager for hunters to come and hunt these largely migratory populations and often at a bargain price. Being a good deal larger in build than a mature Blesbok they offer the meat hunter great value for money.

 

Trophy stags on the other hand have become increasingly popular with trophy hunters and as such have swelled their price substantially in the past decade, although the general trophy quality of Fallow Deer Stags in South Africa is not quite on par as those found in New Zealand, Europe and South America, not that our stags are anything to sneeze at, with many huge bucks over the magical 30 inches taken, but what have drawn hunters from across the world because of their availability locally and the fact that a hunt for a trophy stag here van be had for but a fraction of what can cost when compared with the aforementioned countries. When researching a hunt for a trophy Stag there is one name in particular that keeps on coming up, and with very good reason, as in my opinion there  is only one clear choice if you are looking for an outfitter to guide you onto a great stag, and that is professional hunter and guide, Abrie Arlow of Pronk Safaris. He is without a shadow of a doubt the absolute best in his field, with an incredible wealth of knowledge and an unmatched success rate with these colourful and fascinating deer. Talking to him soon reveals his absolute passion for hunting Fallows and it is amazing to learn just how much time Abrie spends each year closely studying and cataloguing Fallow Deer populations across the entire length and breadth of South Africa, as a result he has been able to guide his hunters onto the very biggest Fallow Deer ever taken by pin pointing Stags with above average potential early on in their antler development.

 

An example of the much sought after black colour phase stags
An example of the much sought after black colour phase stags

Part of my interest in these unique deer is the fact that rarely if ever will you find two stags that look alike, each and every trophy stag is truly one of a kind and even though an educated eye will be able to spot subtle genetic traits passed from a father to his sons. Another amazing feature is that even a single stags antlers will not look the same from one year to the next as they will continue to grow until the stag reaches his prime during its life cycle, after which the size of the antlers will again decrease in size every year as the stag grows old. Although the size of the antlers and their annual growth is very dependent on genetics as well as its diet and nutrient intake throughout the year and especially so before and during the period that the antlers are developing, the yearly antlers sprouting on top of the same stags crown will never look the same during its 15 year lifespan. Apart from the sheer number of different points, hooks, tines and palmation of the different sets of antlers, even the overall colouration of the Fallow Deer’s coat can vary considerably, from the beautiful summer coat dappled with white spots to the pale tan coloration of winter and even the rare and coveted snow white or jet black coats of some stags.

 

Abrie with Jason Stone client, renowned bow hunter Ricardo Longorio, whom Abrie guided onto this world record stag
Abrie with Jason Stone client, renowned bow hunter Ricardo Longorio, whom Abrie guided onto this world record stag

I usually plan my hunts for a trophy stag between the last week of February and the first two weeks of March, the reason for this is simple, Fallow Deer stags will start to rub off the velvet that covers the antlers during the growing period from about the middle of February, then one has about a month or so before the stags will start the rut. Now during the fighting associated with the rut stags often break off many points or in some cases whole pieces of their antlers, the tags also lose condition very fast during this frantic rutting period and usually get a pungent musky smell which makes the venison near inedible, and seeing as how Fallow Deer has such superb quality venison I would strongly suggest you consider planning your hunt before the rut. When lightly marinated for the braai Fallow Deer is almost indistinguishable from Karoo sheep, absolutely delicious. So it was the second week in March that Abrie had arranged for us to visit one of his many properties in the Freestate to hunt a beautifully palmated stag which he has carefully watch reach maturity. The stag we were going after was one of three big stags in a herd of about 40 which would certainly make it much more difficult to get close enough for a shot. Yet Abrie knew the property well and when we arrived on the cool overcast morning he already had a good idea of where I could set up.

After gearing up I took a few practice shots to make sure that my sight hadn’t moved or my point of impact had not shifted due to the change in climate or atmospheric pressure. A quick few shots luckily confirmed that everything was still spot on out to 60 yards. The area in which the Fallow Deer were keeping was a long stretch, roughly rectangular in shape interspersed with a stand of Black Wattle trees which the fallows were fond of using as cover when approached by hunters. Arriving at the exact spot we fortunately noticed that the fallows were leisurely grazing out in an open field, some 400 yards from the Black Wattle, this would allow me to sneak into the cover of the trees and get settled in at an ambush point along the far edge of the trees, Abrie would then take a wide detour to get behind the fallow deer, he would then allow them to catch his scent as he would expose himself by walking straight toward the herd, this will hopefully cause them to move up the slight ridge toward the safety of trees, where I would be hiding, bow in hand.

 

My first trophy stag I had taken in 2007 in Mpumalamga
My first trophy stag I had taken in 2007 in Mpumalamga

The plan worked like a charm as I saw the herd almost immediately start toward the thick stand of wattles as soon as Abrie came into view beyond them, they however weren’t too spooked and rather than come toward the trees they chose a trail lower down which skirted around the Black Wattle, moving by me just too far and to quickly to be able to take an accurate shot at the big stag within the group. We quickly regrouped and decided that seeing as they weren’t aware of me hiding in and among the trees, Abrie would try and push them back, although this time the wind would be totally wrong for where I had set up as they would now be moving upwind as they come back toward the trees. So I quickly took up a position a little further back and just on the outside edge of the wattles, I was guessing that they were most likely going to move directly into the trees, which will force me to thread an arrow through the thick wattles, which taking the size of the herd into account and the fact that I was after one particular stag was highly unlikely.

The other probability would be that they might actually use the very same trail they had used to come up the ridge with, which skirted the far edge of the trees and I was hoping I could get a shot at the stag if I could get him to stop at the right spot. Nestling in next to a large Pine tree I used the few moments before the fallows came back into view to range a couple distinct features in the landscape as there would definitely not be any time to do that when the herd was before me. Taking a Muzzy Trocar tipped Goldtip Velocity from my quiver I nocked the arrow, clipped on my release and settled in with my bow in hand, I was ready! Now it was just up to the fallows to play along so that I could get a shot at that trophy stag. Moments later I could make out some females and fawns filter through the trees, it looked like they were again using the trail around the far edge of the trees, so I adjusted my position in anticipation of the longer shot off to my left. The herd seemed rather unalarmed and still totally oblivious of my presence as I kept looking back in hopes of seeing the stags where usually toward the back of the herd, some females actually briefly stopped to look back at Abrie in an open area I had flagged as a possible shooting lane, so if I was lucky the Stag might follow suit.

Soon the remainder of the herd caught up and true to form two of the three big stags were bringing up the rear, I tried my best to keep tabs on the correct one through the maelstrom of moving bodies and black wattles which were blocking my view. The stag I was after was constantly rallying for first place with the other equally impressive stag which made it difficult to distinguish which were which without any unwarranted movement which was going to give my position away to the lead animals, but as soon as the stags hit the open area they slowed to a walk and I made a mental note that “my” stag was the one behind and to the right of the other one. I slowly drew my Elite Energy 35 and as the cams rolled over into the familiar solid back wall I anchored and let out a soft grunt to try and stop the fallows, they kept moving so I grunted again, a little louder which immediately worked as the group in front of me froze in their tracks. The big stag was standing a few paces in front of a big dead pine tree which I had ranged at 42 yards earlier, so I settled on 35 yards and brought my sights bright yellow pin to rest high behind the shoulder, breathed out, and touched my familiar old Scott release, sending the arrow sailing through the air toward the buck.

The razor sharp Trocar tipped Goldtip hit the stag low and behind the shoulder with a satisfying thwack, passing clean through in an instant! The big buck bucked and took off, the rest of the herd milling around confused, not entirely sure as to what had happened, the mortally wounded stag meanwhile ran in a large semi-circle, only to come to a stop close to where he had taken the shot, he stood on unsteady legs for a few moments before toppling over. From receiving the deadly shot to going down took less than 15 seconds, with the majority of the herd still standing around, confused as to what had happened to the stag, even after more than 20 years as a bow hunter it never ceases to amaze me just how lethal the bow and arrow can be.

 

Another stunning trophy and equally beautiful photo of Pronk Safaris client, Shannon van Zyl’s trophy Stag.
Another stunning trophy and equally beautiful photo of Pronk Safaris client, Shannon van Zyl’s trophy Stag.

I decided to wait for Abrie before we made our way over to where the stunning stag had taken up its final resting place, he was absolutely beautiful, from his colourful summer coat dappled with a vast number of white spots, to his long and wide straw coloured antlers with their wide palms and numerous points and tines. Some seven years before I had taken another very respectable stag in Mpumalanga, yet I couldn’t help but admire this stag as we were setting it up for the traditional trophy photos, my stag had the perfect balance of antler height, palm width and numerous long tines. I was ecstatic with my trophy and will be ever thankful to Abrie for guiding me onto this stellar trophy.

 

My trophy stag taken with Abrie Arlow of Pronk safaris
My trophy stag taken with Abrie Arlow of Pronk safaris

For more please go to: Engee Potgieter