Sika deer hunting is an experience you won’t forget.
Two things keep coming up when talking with hunters about sika deer: how challenging they are to hunt, and how they provide some of the best tasting venison to be found on the planet.
First, a little background and biology. Sika deer are more closely related to elk than to whitetail deer, although they are comparable to whitetails in size and weight. There are two primary varieties of sikas, Japanese and Dybowski. Adult males of the Japanese variety stand anywhere from 25 to 35 inches at the shoulder and weigh from just under 100 pounds up to 175 pounds. Contrarily, the Dybowski strain sees adult stags standing from 35 to 43 inches, and weighing between 150 pounds and 240 pounds, with occasional specimens reaching 300 pounds. The females of each race are considerably smaller.
Color variations abound in sika deer, with animals ranging from rusty to chestnut to brown to nearly black. Some also have visible white or cream colored spots. They also carry a darker horizontal stripe running from the back of the head to the tail, as well as a distinctive white rump patch that flairs when they become alarmed.
The head is particularly wedge shaped or triangular in profile. The antlers of the males (only the males carry antlers) range from 11 to 18 inches in the smaller Japanese or Formosan variety, generally with three or four points coming off the main beam, while the larger Dybowski race will have antlers up to 34 inches in length, with possibly six points.
Sika deer are very vocal. Both males and females let out a high pitched whistle when alarmed. Females, or hinds, will bleat, mew, whistle and bark, and the males, or stags, will bugle aggressively during the rut, not unlike elk, although usually in the form of three shrill whistles.
Stags tend to travel alone or in small bachelor groups, while females and young form small bands. During the rut or roar, males will keep harems of hinds just like male elk. Battles between males for dominance or control of a harem can be quite fierce and even result in death. Males also mark their territory with a series of scrapes, shallow depressions into which they will urinate.
The deer are a bit better at adapting to changing conditions and a variety of forage sources than are whitetail, and as a result have overtaken whitetail in some parts of their range.
Hunting sika deer is a challenge, at least partly because of the animal’s smallish size and preference for thick cover. When alarmed they will whistle and bound off of all four legs simultaneously, like pronghorn antelope, in a behavior known as stotting.
Alternately, sika have been known to lie flat on the ground at the approach of a hunter. Often this will be enough to fool a hunter who doesn’t look under that normal height of the animal or is unable to see at ground level due to thick cover.
Sika have also been known to “throw” their voices, in a sense. When a predator is spotted they will occasionally put a tree between themselves and the hunter, and whistle or call out. A shrewd hunter will move very slowly, peering closely at normal deer height, ground level and around trees.
Be sure that you wear clothing that is quiet when brushing up against vegetation, and that you walk with a soft step.
Preseason scouting for the best spots and habitat is wise, but if that is unrealistic then a guided hunt – at least for your first sika hunt – is a good option. An Ox Ranch outfitter will be able to set you up and give you plenty of pointers for successfully hunting sikas. Their job is to help put you on deer, and to share their experience and knowledge with you. You’ll learn a lot from a guided hunt, and will likely come away with not only a trophy but with a much better understanding and appreciation for this elusive animal.
Once you do score your trophy, you will enjoy some of the finest venison on the planet. Sika deer meat has been heralded as exceptional and is a treat not to be missed. Value the challenge of the hunt and the trophy you obtain, in both antlers and in table fare.