Fallow Deer Hunting

The following information on Fallow Deer hunting comes from Practical Rifle Shooting by Walter Winans. Practical Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.

Although there are a few herds of wild fallow deer, the fallow deer is seldom found outside parks within the British Islands. Where wild, they are shot much as red deer are shot, but they are less easy to stalk under such conditions, as they prefer wooded country and move about more than red deer.

The rifle for wild fallow deer may be a little less powerful than for red deer.

Park shooting needs the utmost caution, on account of the risk to people who may be about. No shot ought to be fired in a park unless the firer is certain that his background is safe. The high wall, which often surrounds old parks, makes a safe background against which to fire.

Only rifles shooting weak charges should be used. My own preference is for a .36 rifle, shooting a very weak charge of black powder, and loaded with a very hollow-pointed lead bullet. The chief thing in choosing a rifle for park use is to select one powerful enough to kill a fallow deer, but which will not carry long distances. The modern high-power, small-bore, smokeless powder, nickel-coated bullet, armament must never be used in a park.

By “a rifle powerful enough to kill a fallow buck,” I mean a weapon the bullet from which will kill the animal outright when it strikes him in the brain. It need not be powerful enough to drop him to a bad body-shot.

A park fallow deer should never be shot except in the head, because—

  1. A body wound spoils his meat.
  2. A body wound spoils his skin.
  3. The poor beast is in a confined space, and cannot ultimately refuse to be shot at, however long he may elude your attempt. It is only sportsmanlike to give him a “sporting chance,” and a body shot under such conditions is poor “law” for him, besides being a bungling piece of work. One ought never to try a shot unless one is satisfied that the chance of killing the beast amounts to a practical certainty.

Shooting for the brain, however, requires care. A low shot will break the jaw, and hours of work are likely to follow before you can finish the job. The buck will run into the middle of the herd, and the whole thing will be a botched affair, not to mention the needless cruelty, for you may never get another chance at the wounded animal until the herd has been so harried that they will turn him out.

The safest shot, as far as clean killing goes, is to fire when the buck’s head is up and he is looking straight away from you. A shot between the ears from behind will drop him stone dead where he stands. If it goes lower, but gets his neck bones, it will drop him also. If too high, it will miss him, and so no harm be done. If to one side and low, it may cut the jugular vein, and, at worst, will inflict no more than a flesh wound.

The second safest shot, from the “killing” point of view, is to hit him in the forehead as he faces the rifle. A low miss, if in the direct vertical line, may still drop him. The danger lies in being a little too low, for such a shot may break his nose and not stop him. Moreover, a nose wound frequently does not bleed more than a few drops round the nostrils, which the animal will lick off, so that you may find it hard to recognise him in the herd. (Never shoot deer without carrying a field glass or telescope.)

None but a good shot, and he only at close range, ought to fire at the head of a fallow deer in profile. The spot to hit, then, is just above the centre of a line between the root of the ear and the corner of the eye, and the least deviation will miss the brain. The almost inevitable consequence is to send him off with a broken jaw, and you with a devout wish that the shot had never been fired. A wild deer, hit thus, is not likely to give you a second sight of him. Or, as once happened to me, you may spy him days afterwards with the glass, endeavouring to drink from the stream in which he stands, but unable to do so. He will elude any stalking, and may perish miserably of inability either to drink or feed. The sight cured me of taking “profile” head-shots at wild deer. If you drive in a cart which the deer are accustomed to see, you may get a close shot out of it, but be sure that the horse stands fire.

The custom of some parks is to cut a buck’s throat instead of sticking him, but this seems needlessly cruel to my ideas. The place to stick a deer is at the junction of throat and breast, where the ring of a hunting breast-plate comes on a horse. A thrust here goes straight to the heart. The knife should be long and broad, and held like a foil, not a dagger. A beginner is apt to break the point of the knife on the shoulder bones.

Caution is needful in sticking a deer. The best plan is to approach from behind, on the side from which he is facing, and seize the horn on the side farthest from yourself. Dig the nearer horn into the earth, or kneel on the head, and never let go until the buck is stuck and you have got clear of him. Otherwise he may plunge straight into you. The safest of all methods of “sticking” is for some one to seize a hind leg and turn the animal on his back. A buck can give a nasty cut with his fore-feet.

The reason for park-shooting is usually to thin the herd and improve the stock, and not to kill good heads. Therefore the animals to be chosen are the worst bucks—the bucks which are of a bad colour, have “bad heads,” are deformed, lame, aged, or otherwise undesirable for breeding purposes.

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