Hunting Hungarian Fallow Deer is Full of Tradition and Excitement
Originally published in the May/June 2023 issue of Safari Magazine.
By Mike E. Neilson
The barking croak of several rutting fallow bucks floated back through the hardwoods. My guide Misha glassed the landscape, looking for a suitable route to slip into bow range. We began to slowly close the gap.
Walking hunched over then turned to moving on hands and knees and finally belly crawling. The dew-drenched flora soaked my clothes. Wishing I had knee and elbow pads as well as a good pair of leather gloves, I inched around plants reminiscent of stinging nettles. Finally, peaking along the edge of the field, I was greeted by a half dozen fallow bucks in full rut mode. Welcome to Hungary!
With the decision to retire from my 35-year high school teaching gig, I wanted to check off a bucket list trip while I was still gainfully employed. A short email to Adrian Skok of Taiga International Outfitters led to a phone call about an exciting opportunity to hunt fallow bucks in the premier hunting location of Hungary.
Skok didn’t have to twist my arm to line up a hunt that would coincide with the fallow rut as well as my fall break. Skok hooked me up with Albert Lazlo of Passion & Prey Outfitters. Lazlo has the right place with the right people who could help me get within bow range of big fallows.
The flights from my home in Indiana to Budapest, Hungary were blissfully uneventful. Flying with archery equipment is always interesting, and crossing several international borders can be a bit daunting, but this trip was a breeze. Lazlo was waiting for me outside the airport and in no time we were whisking our way to the Guth region for a 3-day hunt.
Arriving mid-morning in Budapest, we motored south and east toward our hunting adventure. Along the way, Lazlo and I got acquainted and he told me about life and hunting in Hungary. We discussed how the hunt would progress, and whom I would be hunting with.
I was assured that all the guides spoke some English, so communication might not be perfect but would be enough to be effective. In addition to that, most of the hunting guests were bilingual and could help if necessary.
My humble abode for the hunt was anything but humble. Imagine a 5-star lodge with some of the best meals you could imagine. Having never been to Hungary, let alone tasted authentic Hungarian cuisine, I felt spoiled. If the hunting was half as good as the lodging and the food, this was going to be a fantastic adventure.
My first hunt was that afternoon. We traveled in well-kept vehicles, and I couldn’t help but stare out the window, soaking in the land and comparing the trees, fields and crops to those of my Hoosier homeland.
Everything looked familiar but just different enough to remind me I was in Eastern Europe. The fallow bucks sure didn’t look like the Midwest whitetails I hunt, but deer still act like deer. While we saw some great-looking fallows that day, nothing was close enough, and we headed back to the lodge at sunset.
Once back at the lodge, hunters and guides gathered around a field where the animals taken that day were given proper respect and the successful hunters were honored. This included a 2-tune hunting horn salute by four of the guides.
I could feel the respect, pride and tradition of saluting the animals and hunters. I can honestly say it was moving to witness this event. I really wanted to be on the far side of the field where the lucky hunters stood in a place of honor.
The next morning, I was paired with Misha, who would be my guide for the rest of the hunt. We started our hunt by slipping into the woods and moving toward a ground blind. I was amazed at how the last 20 meters of the trail was lined with limbs and brush to conceal the hunter’s approach.
We crawled on hands and knees the last 10 meters to get set up. What a sight to see rutting fallow bucks cruising the woods, running here and there, and scrapping out beds in the dirt and leaves. Several bucks were within gun range but always seemed to stay just out of range for my bow.
We had one quick opportunity at a great-looking buck in bow range, but the woods were still too dark for me to see my pins. With a scoped rifle, I would have been done that first morning, but instead a nice fallow walked out of my life. That morning we had several stalking opportunities, but the hunting fates were not with us. We had deer action, but it just wasn’t close enough for my bow.
A little later in the morning, Misha spotted a nice buck, and best of all, it was in a stalkable position. We slowly moved through the woods, careful not to step on the fallen limbs and leaves that were strewn about the forest floor.
Eventually, we crawled up to a small berm and caught a glimpse of the fallow. Our patient waiting earned us an opportunity at 40 meters. The arrow, on the other hand, sailed right over the back of the buck — a clean miss.
That afternoon, Misha took me to another section of the woods with an elevated stand. Sitting on the stand and observing the rutting action was one of the highlights of the hunt.
A dozen fallow bucks had claimed their own little piece of the woods and croaked out their challenges and calls to the does that ghosted through the area. Several times bucks would get up to move about, but nothing came within 70 meters.
Still, it was awesome and educational. While no shot presented itself, the deer action was amazing. I was truly falling for fallows.
The following morning was a repeat of the first day. Big, trophy fallows were spotted regularly and within rifle range, but the elusive silver-class buck within 40 meters was much harder to find. Misha and I persevered at our task as the morning wore on.
Walking back towards the truck, we spotted a pair of fallow bucks easing through some standing corn. We ran to cut them off and played cat-and-mouse with one buck that met our criteria nicely. Misha expertly guided me around the field and woods to intercept the fallow.
Unfortunately, the buck had other ideas, and we came close but not bow-range close. The buck popped out of a clear-cut and caught us flat-footed near a pile of logs. With no cover to help conceal us, we had to hold our position.
I nocked an arrow and waited to see how the situation would play out. Then the fallow buck got nervous and began to move to our left. I drew and tracked the deer.
Misha grunted to stop the buck and the arrow was on its way…to parts unknown as the shaft bounced low. The fallow was kind enough to pause broadside at 80 meters for us to verify a miss.
I was depressed by my inability to seal the deal, but Misha just shrugged his shoulders, smiled, and said maybe tonight we would be luckier.
I was on the second day of a three-day hunt, and it was time to admit defeat with the bow and borrow a rifle. I’m sure on a longer hunt, I could have taken a fallow with the bow, but time was not on my side. The ride back to the lodge was silent as we both contemplated what the evening would look like.
With the afternoon waning, the hunters gathered around the trucks and began to disperse to their assigned hunting areas. Misha showed me his rifle, an 8mm Mauser. I was not familiar with this rifle nor the caliber, but Misha assured me that it would get the job done. So far, I had not impressed him with my archery skills and hoped to redeem myself with the rifle. Moving to the same area we had hunted that morning, we eased back to a spot we had seen many fallow bucks that morning. But the evening was slow, and I was beginning to worry that we would blank again.
Misha was determined, and we edged out of a wood block, heading towards a distant bark of a fallow buck we had heard 20 minutes earlier.
Leading us through a series of trails along wood edges, Misha spotted a buck that was just what we were looking for. A berm of dirt helped hide our stalk as we eased up to 60 meters.
The shooting sticks came up and Misha pointed out the bedded buck just on the edge of the woods. I could see his rack, but the body was hidden by too many tree trunks.
After 15 minutes, the buck jumped out of his bed and began to quickly walk away. Misha grunted as I acquired the fallow in the scope. At 80 meters the buck turned, quartering to us and froze for just enough time for me to pull the trigger. The fatally shot fallow ran just 40 meters before hooking his great antlers around a tree for the last time.
It had been an amazing hunt, but it was not done yet. Misha went to fetch three small leafy branches: one was a “last bite,” another covered the wound, and the third to congratulate the hunter. Misha presented over the hat on the left, while shaking my hand with his right.
Back at the lodge, a Danish and Hungarian hunter had also punched their tags on fallow deer. Four guides then performed the horn ceremony to honor the hunters and the hunted.
Finally, I was on the hunters’ side of the event, and I was overwhelmed with the tradition and custom. At the end, the guides and other hunters tipped their hats and shook my hand. I didn’t understand what they were saying as it was in German and Hungarian, but I could feel their meaning.
The next afternoon, I was invited by a Cornishman, Eric Nichols, who was hunting for fallow. He had taken a great buck that morning and was going out for a spike fallow. Nichols asked if I would like to ride along.
But we were not riding in a truck. Nichols had booked a traditional hunt with horse and carriage. It was an awesome experience to travel in an old-world fashion. I really appreciated the opportunity to experience it.
Too soon the hunt concluded, and it was time to head back to Budapest and ultimately home. While I didn’t achieve my goal of taking a fallow buck with archery gear, the hunt was successful on many different levels.
I can’t thank Albert Lazlo of Predator & Prey as well as Adrian Skok with Taiga International Outfitters enough for making this bucket-list hunt a reality.
A few weeks later I received the CIC score of 183.84, a low gold-medal buck.
Mike E. Neilson is a Life member from Indiana.