Fallow Deer (Dama dama)
Fallow deer are the small, spotted deer often seen in large groups on deer farms as you travel along country roads. In that semi-domesticated situation, they bear little resemblance to free-roaming fallow deer which have the alertness and bearing of all the natural prey species that have learned how to survive and prosper in the wild by constant awareness of their surroundings.
Mature fallow bucks stand about 90cm at the shoulder and weigh approximately 90kg. Does are much smaller and lighter, standing about 76cm and weighing only about 40kg. Colour varies considerably in fallow deer and ranges from the common or ‘red’ fallow deer, through the black or melanistic fallow, to animals which are creamy white.
A mature fallow buck’s antlers are quite different in shape and style to the antlers of any other deer species in this country. Brow and trez tines emerge from the beam as in some other species and, occasionally a bez tine is also produced. Above the trez tine, the beam flattens or ‘palmates’ into a broad palm-like area. The points on the rear edge of the palm are termed ‘spellers’, while the lowest of these is called the guard tine
Fallow deer originated in parts of Europe, Asia Minor, Spain and north-west Africa and have been established in the wild in Australia since their introduction and release sometime around 1830. They are now the most widespread of the six species which successfully adapted to the Australian environment with wild populations in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Fallow deer do well in fringe country where there is a mixture of developed and semi-developed farmland with open forest or scrub nearby. Wherever they occur in Australia, their habitat consists of these basic requirements.
Fallow are one of the most abundant and wide-spread species of deer in Australia.
There is a very strong population in Tasmania where large areas of ideal habitat consisting of undulating grassland broken by areas of hardwood forest provide excellent feed and cover. In New South Wales, fallow deer are found in the Glen Innes area and, further south, near Lake George in the ACT. Queensland’s fallow deer are located near the border with New South Wales in the Stanhope/Warwick area of the Southern Highlands.
There are several populations of fallow deer in Victoria, perhaps the most significant one being a herd living in mixed softwood/hardwood forest at Koetong in the north-east of the State. Other groups such as those along the Murray River, in the Healesville/ Narbethong area, in suitable fringe country just north of the Central Highlands and on Sunday Island are relatively insignificant. Small and scattered populations exist elsewhere in the State are mainly the result of escapes from deer farms-these latter groups are not likely to expand in most places because of habitat limitations.
The management of fallow deer in the south-east of South Australia is a role model for management of deer on private land anywhere in Australia.
It’s bitterly cold, and the hunter folds his arms firmly against his torso to ward off the chill and keep his fingers warm. Low-hanging fog hugs the ground as the first glow of day- light filters through the scrub and works its way across the pasture country where the fallow deer love to feed. The hunter has chosen his position well and done the legwork early, and he now lays in wait, binoculars at the ready. Then, across the flat reverberates a sound that the hunter has been waiting all year to hear; the throaty croak of a fal- low buck as he sounds his challenge. While Australia indeed has some amazing deer hunting opportunities available, to me this is up there with the very best of them.
Of the six wild deer species we have in Australia, fallow are by far the most widespread, and for this reason they are often where the newcomer starts out in their deer hunt- ing journey. Since their initial release in the 1830’s; fallow populations are now well established in Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory, and there are even small popu- lations in Western Australia, offering great opportunities for dedicated hunters. Some areas have even initiated manage- ment programs to keep growing numbers in check and ease the burden on landowners and the environment alike.
The correct terminology for fallow deer is Bucks, Does and Fawns. Mature males weigh around 90 kilograms while a doe will average less than half that. Coat colours vary mark- edly; the most common being rusty reddish-brown, with white spots blending to a white underbelly and legs. A black stripe runs along the back and extends into the tail. Menil fallow are lighter brown also with prominent white spots, but lacking the black dorsal stripe. Other colour variations include melanistic (black), and white; which are often just very pale menil deer. Regardless of colour, fallow are a very attractive animal which in this author’s opinion are only out- done in the beauty stakes by chital.
While all the other deer species in Australia feature round- beamed antlers, fallow antlers flatten out into ‘palms’ in the top half of the main beam, more like a moose. The antlers feature brow and trez tines off the front of the main beam, while points growing along the rear edge of each palm are termed spellers; the lowest of which is called the guard tine. Antlers are cast and regrown every year, and while a certain buck will retain identifying characteristics, no two sets of antlers are ever the same.