With a quick good bye and a double check of the pick up day and time I was left in a cloud of dust struggling to see my surrounds in the pitch black darkness. My mate had just dropped me off in a remote location in rural Victoria, he was on his way to work, and I was at the start of a sambar adventure I had been waiting for with much anticipation.
My mates in Victoria love their sambar hunting and had spent plenty of days in the hills looking for an ideal location to set me up in. We wanted terrain that was good to stalk in, held plenty of deer to create opportunities and was reasonably remote to make sure the deer were on their feet well into the mornings and up again with plenty of daylight in the evenings.
After a few discussions we settled on a place and now here I was, shouldering the pack, gathering my gear, turning on the headlamp, commencing a climb up a spur and absorbing all the sights and sounds of the night creatures living in the forest.
The GPS was switched on to aid navigation for the marks the guys had left me and with a few days under my belt to hunt I was confident of some close encounters with the big brown deer that are just so elusive to put an arrow into. Once this backpack hunt was finished we would then head far north and hunt another location my mates had recently seen a lot of deer in.
The walk in was pretty good with a clean forest floor and I gained elevation fast before contouring around the side of a ridge. I encountered some fairly thick scrub but I pushed through it and dropped down as the valley flattened out. Eventually after a couple hours walking I found a nice level spot not too far off the first marks I had in the gps to check out.
It was now getting light enough to see so I dropped everything out of my pack onto the grassy clearing and loaded it back up for the days hunt. I was heading to some intermittent clearings the boys had told me about where sambar often feed through. The surrounding bush was interspersed with tea tree, which offered good bedding habitat and being winter the boys told me if I got any overcast drizzly days the deer would most likely be active for a good portion of the day. This sounded good to me and apparently would be an advantage as from my past limited experience hunting sambar I knew it was much easier to locate a deer on its feet then bedded up and motionless.
I didn’t even get to the first clearing before I got honked at and I stood there listening to an animal crashing off through the tea tree at close range. The noise is fairly loud and scares the shit out of you when you are not ready for it, which you usually aren’t.
I spent the next couple of hours in socks slowly stalking through these clearings and saw a number of sambar crash off after frightening me each time with a loud honk! I just couldn’t seem to spot them before they located me and if I went any slower I would be hardly moving. Eventually at about 10am I popped out on a small clearing and spotted a large hind feeding on the far edge. I ranged her at 60m and when she went behind a tea tree bush I closed in about 20m. I could see she was feeding away from me behind the bush and then soon turned back through my only lane for a shot. I drew back, gave her 50m and watched the arrow sail just over her back. Needless to say she was out of there in a flash. I was a bit devastated that I rushed the shot and didn’t use my rangefinder again but at the same time it was good to get within range and it didn’t seem so impossible all of a sudden.
After looking for my arrow I had to crawl through a bit of thick tea tree to get up on top of a small ridge and started to follow that back towards camp. I thought i’d set up my tent in the middle of the day then get back into it mid afternoon. I’d only gone about 30m along the ridge when I found a nice narrow clearing and down the end of it there was a big brown animal that fed behind a bush. I stopped in my tracks and grabbed the binoculars out. I had to wait for the animal to change position but he eventually fed out towards me and when a nice set of antlers materialized I knew I was looking at a decent sambar stag!
The heart rate really picked up now and a million things ran through my head as I tried to think of a way to get an arrow into him. He seemed to be browsing along the strip I was looking down to my right so when he went behind cover again I moved over to where I thought I could intercept him. The plan was working perfectly and watching those white tips of antler wave back and forth in front of his course hide had the adrenaline cranking. I ranged a really good lane he was heading towards at 25m and waited with bow up ready to draw.
I felt confident covered in my Lamellar camouflage and a couple of times he swung his head around for a glance at his surrounds and he looked straight through me each time. It was great knowing I blended in so well to the habitat and remained completely undetected. He made ground fast and next thing I knew I was at full draw as I watched my sight fill with chocolate hide when he stepped into the opening. I picked the spot, released smoothly, and watched the arrow disappear through him.
With a crash he was out of there and plowed straight through a big patch of scrub before everything went quiet. I was shaking like a leaf now though and grabbed my phone out to see if I had service. I had a couple bars so gave my mates a ring to tell them I was pretty confident on the shot with him and we all agreed to give him a couple hours to make sure as I wasn’t taking any chances on my first sambar.
I ended up marking the spot and going back to set up camp and have a rest for an hour. I really didn’t get much rest as I kept replaying the shot over and over again in my head. It seemed like an eternity but finally I was back on the trail and his prints were fairly clear in the soft earth. There was no blood at all and the marks seemed rather small for an animal of that size but I soon found a small splash of blood. After about 40m there was a trickle of blood on the ground that did a few circles which I thought was a good sign and not 10m on from there lay my first sambar and he was a nice stag!
I rang my mates and we had some very excited phone calls and sent them a few pictures. He was wedged into some thick tea tree so it took all my effort to drag him out into the clear for the pictures, which is a bloody hard task in itself as they are one big critter!
It was an insane feeling to be sitting there looking at such a majestic animal that I had harvested. I looked over his body, the scars, the antlers he had grown and thought of the life he had lived that now had come to an end. I savored every moment and was aware that this might very well be the better sambar stag I will harvest.
After the photo’s I went about caping the stag and butchering the back legs and backstraps. It was going to take a couple of trips to get it back to camp and then another couple trips to get it all back to the pick up point where I had arranged to meet my mates the following evening. I hung everything in a shady place and hunted most of the day deeper into the gully still on a high knowing I had a sambar stag hanging back in camp. I busted a few deer out and got some nice footage of a couple hinds and a group of three stags but couldn’t pull off a stalk for an upgrade. There was a mature stag in the group, but just as I closed the distance and was about to draw the wind shifted and one of the younger stags honked and took off taking his mates with him. I wasn’t too concerned though and was really just happy to be hunting in an area with such good numbers of deer.
The next day was filled with excitement, plenty of deer encounters and lots of lessons learned on the ability of sambar to use all their senses to full effect.
That night I meet the lads and went back to one of my mates shed to have a heap of celebratory beers and watch him do all the work on finishing the face caping for a shoulder mount.
The next few days we decided to head deep into the ranges and we spent the entire time hunting in one of the worst low fronts to have come through for the year. It poured rain constantly and really limited our options. But we stuck to it, located plenty of deer and learnt more country for future hunts.
A few weeks later my schedule opened up for a couple more days down in the same valley system where I got my stag and I was to find out how lucky I was to take him on my first trip. They are one sneaky species of deer and although I spotted a few stags for the trip their senses way outdid mine and I didn’t get a chance at a good stag. I did manage a nice 50m shot on a spiker on the last day to fill my mates freezer. I was stoked to have taken my second sambar and I can’t wait to get back and keep trying for a nice even mature stag. The boys reckon it might take 20 trips or it might take two, but sure as anything they will keep an eye on the deer and I know I will always have plenty of action to get into when I get over for my sambar hunts.
They keep telling me about the big stags they hunt up high in remote country backpacking deep into the wilderness, the areas they walk into behind seasonal gate closures over winter and the Spring hunting they do when the feed is up, the hinds are hungry and the stags are rutting. It seems like I have found success very early on in my sambar hunting career, but I get the feeling that it really has only just begun and I am really looking forward to the challenges that each hunt will bring. The sambar bug has bitten hard and there really is only one cure.