By Alex Proft
Since the first time I was honked at by a sambar, I’ve been obsessed by them. Over the last three years much of my spare time has been spent down in the Victorian high country trying to work out the habits and behaviour of these remarkable creatures … and of course trying to hunt and kill them. I’m drawn to them for many reasons. On one hand they look unique compared to other species, they are very large, imposing animals yet for something so big they hide so well. They are so alert and hunting them can be very challenging. But that challenge is what makes so many hunters love them even more.
Sambar have an incredible home in Alpine Victoria and the beautiful forests that surround it. I’ve been lucky to hunt many different spots there and if I’ve learnt one thing for certain, understanding sambar behaviour is key to finding them in all kinds of different areas. There’s one particular basin I’ve hunted regularly over my last few trips and by getting to know it well I’ve managed to take some quality deer out of there.
I had a few full weeks off work over winter this year, and I decided to spend most of it down south trying to find a good stag. But I was also feeling the pressure to fill my almost empty freezer with venison. So my first mission to the bush was to shoot any deer I could and then find a good wallow to leave my trail camera on, to sus out what stags might be resident to the area.
This first trip went to plan. I spent the first day scouting, and after spooking a few deer out of their bedding areas half way up the hillside, I decided to hike back first thing the next morning and ambush any sambar that was returning up the hill from its feeding area. Just as I had hoped, I put up three hinds feeding their way up a dry creek bed. As they bolted up the other side of the gully the first deer offered an easy target. As soon as I had a side on target I squeezed the 7mm-08 off and could tell she was hit straight away.
After following a blood trail back down the gully I found her easily. It was great feeling to make a plan and then pull it off as well. The rest of the day was spent breaking down the carcass and packing it out to the fringe. Now that I had some venison for myself and my relatives who I was staying with, the mission became simple. Find a good stag and keep hunting till I had him on the ground.
Over the next few days I had my camera set up on a well used wallow. I also found plenty of fresh tree rubs and had a very close encounter with a stag who was sitting in some very thick regrowth. I didn’t see much of him but I knew he was big. Every part of me wanted to track him down but my time ran out. Although I drove back to Sydney with full eskies, I felt I had left unfinished business behind. I resolved to return as soon as possible to that same gully and find that big fella.
Just over a month later I found some more time off and headed straight back to Vic. The stag had been on my mind a lot. I’d often find myself thinking about where he’d want to bed during the day, if he’d be chasing hinds around or if he’d slipped over a saddle into a new basin. When I arrived there I went straight to the wallow and retrieved my camera. The photos I found on it were very exciting, a mix of small hinds, young stags and one large nontypical stag with an antler bending sideways. All the deer were visiting round late afternoon and evening.
On my first hunt I attempted to sneak into the wallow round dusk, hoping to intercept deer as they came down, but as I got within 50m I hear the familiar crashing of more than one deer leaving the area. That was a bummer but it was still the first day. As I walked back to the track I heard the hills come alive with the sound of wild dogs howling. It can be a chilling sound but it reminds me that hunters are not the only predators at work in these mountains.
The second day I stalked into the wallow again in the early afternoon, found a sheltered spot to sit and wait, and wait I did for three hours till dark. I don’t usually hunt like this and I found it quite a test to sit still for that long. On dark I finally stood up, and on turning around I got the loudest honk of my life from less than 15m away. From the silhouette of its head I could see it was a hind and she bolted a few seconds later. It amazed me how I didn’t hear her move in so close, it also left me wondering how long she’d been there watching.
That night I decided if I wanted success I had to change tactics. I knew roughly where they were bedding down, so I opted for a morning hunt instead and I would climb up the hill above them and hopefully ambush them as they feed their way back to their bedding area.
Just before dawn the next day I started climbing the spur that would take me up above the deer. Two thirds up as the sun was rising I saw a small mossy clearing on the hillside and feeding his way up the hill was a large sambar stag. It was a great feeling because I’d put a plan into place rather than just taking my chances. It almost made perfect sense that I would find him there. He was relaxed and unaware of my presence about 60m uphill from me. I rest my rifle on a branch, put the crosshairs behind his shoulder and he dropped on the spot. It’s the only time I’ve ever shot a Sambar that didn’t run.
The clearing where he fell offered a fantastic view across the surrounding farmland and mountains. An ideal photo spot but more so a great place to stop and reflect on a great few days in the bush. With the help of my cousin I was able to drag the whole carcass down the hill and there was space in a local cool room to hang the meat. The stag was in good condition with a layer of fat on his rump. After the prime cuts were taken for steaks, the rest became salami and sausage.
I get great satisfaction from hunting in a number of different ways, but of all the rewards to be gained, I get the most pleasure out of using my wits to track down and find game, regardless of whether I shoot it or just take a photo. The more elusive an animal is, the more I desire to find it. For me its like finding buried treasure, and I’m sure many will agree that there’s no greater treasure than the mighty sambar.