Recent work suggests that the yellow dung fly mating system may include alternative patroller-competitor mating tactics in which large males compete for gravid females on dung, whereas small, non-competitive males search for females at foraging sites. Small males obtain most matings off pasture, yet the behavioural mechanism(s) giving rise to this pattern are unknown. We investigated the male and female behaviours that determine mating success in this environment by conducting field mating experiments and found small males to benefit from several attributes specific to the off-pasture mating environment. First, small males from foraging sites exhibited higher mating propensity, indicating that large males away from dung may be depleted of energy and/or sperm. Second, small males were more discriminating, being significantly less likely to attempt with non-gravid females, which are absent on dung but common off pasture. Third, non-gravid females were generally more likely to actively struggle and reject mating attempts; however, such behaviours occurred disproportionately more often with large males. Female Scathophaga stercoraria thus appear to preferentially mate with small males when off pasture. These findings challenge assumptions about male-female interactions in systems with alternative mating tactics and reveal hidden processes that may influence selection patterns in the field.