Sambar hunting

Hunting High Country sambar

Ken and Ned discover the joys of hunting on public land in Victoria, bagging three sambar in 18 hours

We were traversing a 1500-metre ridge where Ned warned we could see a sambar any time. His .375 Ruger looked a little like overkill, but in this country you want to put them down where they stand. No more than five minutes later, we came around a bend – and there stood a sambar stag, looking straight at us. As I watched the motionless stag, it felt like ages before I heard Ned’s bolt closing.

As Ned brought the rifle to his shoulder the deer broke and, simultaneously, something caught my eye. I realised it was a much bigger stag just as I heard the boom and the small stag dropped in its tracks. In a flash the big boy crossed over, vanishing into a deep gorge to our right.

The 270gn Interlock did its job. We took photos and retrieved the hind legs and backstraps. With light fading, we headed down to where Brendan and his father Warwick were camped on the lake to fish. We pitched our tents and settled around the fire for dinner and a few beers. 

Sambar hunting
Ned shows off the stag he shot. It dropped quickly to the .375 Ruger

The boys showed us the trout they had caught, and a great evening followed. Lounging in the camp chair with a million bright stars above, we were serenaded by wild alpine dogs. It could not get much better than this. We were on crown land available free to everyone.

At 4.30am next morning, early riser Ned was splitting timber. Reluctantly, I crawled out to a blazing fire and cooked breakfast on the coals. before sunrise, we headed up to where we had seen the big one the evening before.

Once up top, with the vehicle parked and the sky lightening, we started our stalk. A cold westerly blew up from the valley as we quietly made our way along the tops, peering into each valley and glassing as we went. After about a kilometre without luck, Ned suggested we change sides. With the wind against us, we would at least be a bit warmer with the rising sun. 

It proved fortuitous, as we soon heard a deer crashing through the bush; he had caught our scent.

Signs were everywhere. We were worked our way along the ridge, glassing, when I felt a small rock hit me in the back. Surprised, I quickly turned to see Ned squatting down with his finger to his lips and pointing.

This happened so fast that the weight of my backpack threw me off balance. I fell, landing on my backside with the muzzle spearing into the soft soil. 

“Oh gosh!” I grunted — or words to that effect. 

You can strip an R8 Blaser in about 10 seconds, so I blew the crud out the barrel in no time. Despite the pressure of the moment, Ned saw the funny side.

Deer rub tree
This rub tree was just a few metres from the campsite’s toilet block. No shortage of sambar!

The two sambar spikers remained unaware of us. We looked down on them in fairly thick cover from about 150 metres away. I could only see one now and then as it moved in and out of the foliage, feeding. I moved downhill and got closer but lost my height advantage, forcing me to play cat and mouse with the spiker for what seemed an eternity.

Finally, they both broke cover and stepped out to my right. I placed the crosshairs on the shoulder of the first one. Still not a clear shot. 

Swinging onto the second spiker where the cover was thinner, I drove a 185gn TTSX from my .338 Winchester into its right shoulder. The deer took two shaky steps before crumbling to the ground. By reflex, I chambered another round and centred the crosshairs on the back of the second deer’s head.

But I knew we already had two meat animals and din’t need a third. 

Hearing me open the rifle’s action, the second spiker took off, weaving in and out of the densely wooded trees and crossing the track we’d walked down. 

That’s when Ned fired. The second spiker dropped dead under a bush. Had anyone else taken that shot, I would have called it a fluke. But I know Ned better.

dead sambar spiker
Third deer down. The spiker provided another good haul of meat

We now had three animals within 150 metres of each other within an 18-hour period. After harvesting the venison, we stopped briefly for firewood and were back by at camp 10am. 

This was day one on our four-day hunting trip and we spent the rest of it out in the boat trying to catch a fish. With our run of luck, I’d have liked to say we landed a five-kilo rainbow trout but the fish we caught made the Tassie Devil lure look big.

It would have been nice to spend the next three days pursuing a big stag, but heavy rain and snow down to 1400 metres was predicted for the next day. Wishing to avoid towing a boat out in those conditions, next morning we had a leisurely breakfast, packed up and said farewell to the beautiful lake and mountains.

People I know often say they have nowhere to hunt, especially young guys who have not been involved long enough to gain permission on farmland. Victoria welcomes hunters and fisherman to its national parks and state forest camping grounds with toilet blocks, picnic tables, barbecues and even firewood in some places. 

game meat processing
An improvised meat-cooling setup, which works perfectly during cold High Country nights

All they ask is that you respect the privilege and clean up after yourself.

The Victorian Government knows how much revenue hunting brings into the state. It is a shame other states not do likewise. 

Next time you are looking for somewhere to go, do your homework and check out the Victorian Game Management Authority website. Like they say, you will never know if you never go.




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Ken Harding