We studied the short-term vocalization rates of fallow bucks to determine the primary recipients of the signal conveyed by these rates. We used the contexts in which groans occurred to investigate whether the signal represented an intrasexual threat or an intersexual advertisement. We found that fallow buck groaning rates were highly variable and that this variation was associated with the contexts of groaning. Groaning rates were higher during the rut than during the prerut, and also higher when males were with females than when they were with other males. Males with females groaned at higher rates when other vocal males were nearby. We identified a postcopulation call that consisted of the highest groaning rates that males produced. The presence of a harem did not contribute to the variation in groaning rates, except to a minor extent in postcopulation rates. Our findings suggest that the signal transmitted by short-term vocalization rates is primarily a threat aimed at other males. Copyright 1999 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.