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In the Heart of the Rut

June 20, 2024

By Paul Kretschmar.Photo: @k_mar_outdoors

Hunting friend Ralf and I have arrived late at night, here at the home of our hunting guide Bruno in the Moravian-Silesian region on the border with Poland. The three of us toast our upcoming hunt with a herbal liqueur.


I place my Sitka Gear hunting bag and hunting gear down next to boxes full of toys. Pictures of colorful unicorns adorn the pale pink walls. I feel as if I can hear the hoarse bellowing of rutting fallow deer between gusts of wind before I fall into a deep sleep.


I wake up to the barking of the two Bracken dogs that regularly accompany Bruno on his hunts. After a cup of hot coffee, we get ready to set off. It's still dark outside, but luckily the wind has died down a little. Ralf will stalk with hunting guide Pavel, while I join Bruno in the dark green Ford Ranger pickup truck. Bruno is a forest ranger with heart and soul. In addition to the forestry tasks in his hunting grounds, which cover a total area of 4,000 hectares, he also organizes the game management of the red deer, fallow deer, mouflon, roe deer and wild boar found here. In addition, he has to keep the predators short in order to preserve the small game.



The wind is fresh and I'm glad to have packed my lined scarf. With the rifle loaded and shouldered, we stalk slowly forward, first along a forest path and then "across the forest". We stop again and again in search for fallow deer. We stalk cautiously along a narrow path.

Bruno gives me the thumbs up with a smile - we're on the right track! Fallow deer in rut! The hoarse staccato sounds make my pulse quicken in anticipation of contact with the game. We pause again and again to scan the area. Little by little, we carefully approach the rutting activity until we can make out the first game carcasses between the trunks at a distance of around 150 meters. A glance through the glass confirms it: Fallow does. But where are the stags, whose throaty roars we can hear so clearly?

I can make out the steady bobbing of dark antlers between thick trunks in the dense forest, but only see the head and shovels of a stag. Its dark, dominant roar reveal that it is the dominant stag, the king of the rutting grounds. He moves to the right, then abruptly to the left again, snarling his displeasure at his brazen rivals into the morning sky. These in turn, three weaker half-shovelers, are constantly trying to win the favor of the does without exposing themselves too strongly and thus exposing themselves to an attack by the dominant stag.



The rutting action takes place in a hollow in front of us, so the bodies of the game are concealed. Nodding his dark-antlered head restlessly, the warrior moves back and forth, threatens, attacks one of the weaker rivals. Turns. Even the does scattered around the battle arena are restless and watching the action closely. I talk to Bruno in a hushed whisper. As we are standing in a barricade, we have no other choice. We have to try to get closer and into a shooting position without being spotted by the deer.

I will take the lead, while Bruno will keep an eye on the rut and follow as soon as I am in position. I sense my way forward, carefully pushing down the brown sea of leaves under my stalking boots. Stalking from tree trunk to trunk, I try to gain as much height as possible. My anxious gaze keeps wandering to some does to the left of the fighting ring, but they are too enthralled by the deer's activity to pay any attention to me. I reach a rise below a mighty beech tree. It should be possible from here. I set up the new stalking stick with 2-point rest and take aim. The rifle rests securely, the only problem is that I had set the height adjustment of the telescopic legs far too low this morning in the dark. With my legs wide open and bent, I now have to contort myself a bit to get a clear view through the scope. Should I adjust the stick now? While I'm still weighing things up, Bruno is behind me and whispers: "Paul, the big one!". I can no longer adjust the stalking stick, it has to work like this. With my back bent, I bend down to the optics again and set the magnification to 8x.


A look through the crosshairs confirms that the rutting ground is still a hive of activity. The dominant stag is driving the does around the rutting site, while repeatedly putting the three younger rivals in their place with aggressive growls. He constantly shifts back and forth between the trees, shouting animatedly;

I let the barrel swing along, follow the heated hustle and bustle of the "big one" and wait for my chance. Bruno is one of the "good" hunting guides. We had agreed beforehand that I would shoot as soon as I felt safe. I can take my time 
without the excited "Shoot, shoot!" of some other hunting guides who try to force me to shoot.

So I wait for the right moment. For the moment when adrenaline and reflexes take control, the tension builds up into a huge wave that breaks through the release of the shot.

The stag clearly acknowledges the shot, bends its front legs, comes up again and heads off to the right, following the fleeing deer. I lose sight of him between the trees and turn to Bruno. He nods confidently and signals "thumbs up". He had been watching the deer through his binoculars and thinks the shot was a good one.


At first I can't find the deer, but Bruno has long since eyed it. He's clearly enjoying himself, constantly correcting my direction: "further right, straight ahead!" and asking again and again in between: "Can you see it now?" Until finally I almost stumble over the deer. The right shovel has become wedged in a tree stump and the deer's body has come to rest in a hollow. The black and brown fur with the light spots provides perfect camouflage on the forest floor covered in oak and beech leaves. I enjoy a moment of silent contemplation, while Bruno moves away and returns with two oak quarries, wishing me a hearty "Lovu Zdar" (Czech for "good hunting") and together we relive this experience. I am grateful that I was able to experience the fallow deer rut so closely and my hands are still shaking from the adrenaline rush.