Driving home one night Gillian Schmidt was astounded to find a stag in full antlers standing at the intersection of Somme Pde and Quick Ave in the Whanganui suburb of Aramoho.

She'd been out to visit her sister, and was returning home at about 11pm on a quiet Sunday night.

"It was a beautiful big stag, and it was caught in the headlights. It was just standing there, looking down Somme Pde.

"It just stood and looked at us, so we just waited. Then it started trotting up Quick Ave and we drove quietly behind it."

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At the end of the street the deer jumped into an empty section on Paterson St and disappeared up the hillside.

"I just wish we had had a camera," she said.

A post about Aramoho deer on the Wanganui Chronicle Facebook page last week got 66 reactions. Savanna Clotworthy said two deer stopped outside her house in the early mornings. Dawn Wilson has had deer running down her street.

"I live at the rural end of Delhi Ave. As I was driving down my drive about 7pm one evening I met four deer heading up it. They fled when they saw me. My neighbours have seen deer dancing around on the tarseal down in the street."

One Facebook user saw deer in Roberts Ave. Anthony Davies and others have seen them in Brunswick Rd's Hylton Park. One person was asked whether the broccoli in his garden had been munched.

Though lots of people had seen deer out in the street in daylight, no one could provide a picture.

About half the people who posted didn't want any story published, in case the suburb attracted irresponsible hunters. But Whanganui/Rangitikei arms officer Merv Beech said police would crack down on careless hunting.

People tended to think firing a gun in a built-up area was illegal, he said. In reality the same rules apply in town as anywhere else.

The main point is that it's illegal to endanger or frighten a person by discharging a gun or air rifle in or near any house or public place. It's also illegal to shoot anywhere without specific permission from the owners. So shooting from the road is out, because it's owned by the public.

It's even illegal to carry a loaded firearm in a vehicle. Shooting at night with a spotlight is okay if you have permission from the property owner, but you would have to know the area well in daylight to be sure it was going to be safe.

"If there's somewhere they can shoot a fallow deer safely, without doing any of those things, then there's no issue."

Mr Beech said police would respond to any complaints in Aramoho.

"If people have concerns then by all means they should ring police. Police will certainly go and check anything that's occurring as soon as they are able."

The Aramoho deer are wild fallow deer, originally native to Europe. I thought Whanganui might have the only suburb in New Zealand where deer roam city streets - but I was wrong.

Mr Beech says there are fallow deer on most city boundaries. New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association president Bill O'Leary, based in Nelson, said deer wander down the main road in Stoke. Whanganui Conservation Department (DOC) senior ranger Jim Campbell says you can find the same thing in Turangi or Raetihi.

He's been a DOC worker for about 35 years, and said deer numbers were definitely increasing. They went down for a while, in the late 1970s and 1980s, when there was a market for wild venison and deer were hunted from helicopters.

That market is gone and numbers are climbing again. Mr Campbell puts that down to more tree cover, from forests planted since the 1950s and from regenerating manuka.

With the upsurge in numbers he's also seen renewed interest in hunting for meat, with affluent young people now using helicopters and quad bikes to get around.

People think there are lots of feral deer on DOC land, he said, but it's not true. Most DOC land is in bush and deer prefer open grassland, only hiding in the edges of forests.

Many DOC staffers hunt deer and pigs, and Mr Campbell is one of them. But most also want to see areas completely free of introduced mammals - including stoats, cats and deer.

The department encourages hunting, to keep deer numbers down. The Mangapurua Valley is one of the best areas for red and fallow deer.

"We've got good numbers there, and they need to be controlled."

Some farmers don't like hunters on their land. Others enjoy the "pretty little feral deer" and don't see them as a problem.

"Mainly that's because they don't actually see the numbers," Mr Campbell said.

He knows of a farmer in the Ruatiti Valley who thought he had about 100 deer. When he did a flyover he saw close to 1000.

"When he culled them all, from a chopper, he got a lot better lambing percentage."

Some hunters will kill only stags, not hinds, to make sure there are still plenty of deer. Mr Campbell is not usually that fussy.

"When I'm hunting, and I'm hungry, I shoot most things," he said.

Fallow deer are some of the best eating around, deer farmer and hunter Andy Jarden says. Their meat is fine-grained, tender and low in fat.

Mr Jarden will shoot a pregnant hind (female deer), a spiker (young male) or a stag. But he won't shoot females in the first three months after fawning, when fawns risk starvation without their mothers' milk.

Fallow deer are natives of western Europe, but have been introduced to countries across the world - from Tunisia to the Falkland Islands. Their colouring can vary from dark to white or cream, and some have spots all year round.

What they are doing depends on the time of year. In autumn, as the days get short, hinds come into season and stags choose a territory and defend it from other males. Their antlers have hardened and they dig up ground to mark out their rutting pad.

At that time a deer that used to eat out of your hand can become a deadly enemy, Mr Jarden says. He was bailed up by one while changing the ballcock on a water tank. The deer pushed away his ladder, then attacked his motorbike.

A hind on heat exudes a milky substance that drives stags wild. Mr Jarden once rubbed some on his hat before he went hunting. He hung the hat on a tree and returned to find two stags fighting over it.

Most mating happens during two weeks in April when the stags are "roaring" for fallow deer, a sound between a grunt and a snore. It's an easier time for hunting because stags can be attracted with sound.

"If you stand in his territory and roar, he will come after you."

Hinds give birth around the end of November. For the first few weeks they hide their fawns during the day and return at night to feed them. It's the only time hinds are seen on their own, and their fawns keep very still.

"You can step on them, or run over them in the long grass, because they don't move."

At about three months the fawn will follow its mother around and the hinds move in groups of up to 50 with their young. Meanwhile the stags have cast their horns and lost all interest in mating. They form their own groups.

"You see mobs of mature stags together. They prefer male company right through until February."

Deer are gregarious, and don't like to be alone. They can move in groups of up to 150 and females tend to be the leaders.

"If there is danger the matriarch will lead the mob away to safety, with the stag usually in the rear."

People are most likely to see wild fallow deer when they are most active - in the hour before sunset and the hour after daybreak. At this time of year sightings of young deer are especially likely.

The hinds push their 10-month-plus youngsters away when their milk runs out and they are pregnant again. The youngsters move off by themselves, and they don't know how to behave.

"They're hopeless teenagers. They're missing their mothers. They think they're bulletproof, like all teenagers. They tend to stand and look at you. It takes them a while to learn that not all people are friendly," Mr Jarden said.

If there's no hunting pressure deer will graze at any time of day. When people are hunting them they mainly hide during the day and graze at night.