Shrapnel Gully Sambar

Heavy rain, alpine blizzards and snow falls down to 600 meters was predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology and boy did they get it right.

Overnight, we had 50mm of rain and it was still bucketing down next morning at 3.00am, when the alarm went off.

I had arranged to go hunting with my best friend and hunting companion John, and half expected him to phone and suggest we give hunting a miss until the following weekend.

However, that call never eventuated and I was dozing on the couch, when I heard the familiar sound of the Hilux reverse up the drive. After a quick greeting, we loaded my gear and were on our way.

The weather was appalling and the heavy rain continued for most of the trip.  Sleet and light snow made for a slow trip over Mt Slide and the Hilux’s driving lights struggled to light up the road.

Visibility was so bad that we hit a wombat standing in the middle of the highway. The poor old bugger never stood a chance, as we didn’t see him until he was about 20 metres from the vehicle and we had nowhere to go, other than over him. The impact was like hitting a tree stump, but fortunately we escaped unscathed.  

At about 6:00am we stopped at a small café where the owners were preparing for the day’s ski traffic. There we had a quick breakfast of coffee and bacon and egg muffins. A short time later I was standing at the bottom of a spur waiting for it to break daylight.

Standing in the dark and miserable pre dawn, listening to sound of the Hilux get fainter and fainter, I heard it stop for a short period, before continuing on its way.  I couldn’t help but wonder why.

When the pre dawn finally receded, I saw that everything was covered in a thick blanket of powder snow. I then concluded that John had briefly stopped to lock in the Hilux’s hubs.

It was so bitterly cold, the only way to stay warm was to keep moving. The spur was steep, wet and slippery and it was with great difficulty that I kept my footing on the greasy, red clay surface.

After considerable time, effort and deliberation about being too old for hunting, I eventually reached a well-used game trail. There were some deer marks visible, but they had all but been washed out by the heavy rain.

The game trail took me to a large blackberry choked gully, where I dusted some snow from an old log, sat down and started glassing. However, my binoculars fogged every time I put them to my eyes.

After sitting in the still, icy conditions for only a few minutes, the biting cold found its way through my polar fleece pants and jacket. It was absolutely freezing and far too cold to remain stationary.

Continuing on, I found an odd deer mark here and there, but they too had all but been washed out.

After stopping to take photos of a small frozen waterfall, I realised I had lost my cap, but after backtracking for a few hundred meters I found it just to one side of the game trail, where I had bent down to get through some dogwood.

On reaching the waterfall a second time, I crossed a fast flowing creek and headed up a fairly steep spur. I planned to make my way to the top and walk around the rim of a large basin, from where I would have an advantage over anything below me.

However, a couple of slips and falls and a good whack to the back of my head from my rifle barrel soon convinced me otherwise.

It was then I decided to look in an area that John had affectionately named ‘Shrapnel Gully’. So named, because it was a real deer magnet and we had each taken several deer from the area.  

After slipping, sliding and skidding on the red clay surface, down to what almost resembled level ground, I crossed another fast flowing creek, where I picked up and followed another well defined game trail.

The trail wound its way around the side of a fairly steep gully system and the sodden ground carried a few rain affected deer marks.

Continuing on, I came upon the large marks of a Sambar stag, cut deep into the soft soil. The stag had joined the game trail and was heading towards Shrapnel Gully.

His marks were dead fresh and indicated that he had passed by sometime after the rain had stopped. My guess was within the hour.

I followed the stag’s marks for several hundred metres, to a point where the game trail split into two. The main game trail passed through the head of a large gully system, before climbing its way to the top of the next ridge, while the other lesser trail speared off downhill, in the opposite direction.

After leaving the main game trail and angling downhill for 100 metres or so, I reached a steep rocky outcrop, overlooking the gully.

There, amongst the blackberries at a distance of about 70 metres stood a Sambar stag. He was a mature stag and his white tipped antlers were quite distinctive against the dark background provided by the blackberries.

Standing at the edge of the rocky outcrop, I had made the mistake of being caught in the open. However, luck was on my side, as I was high above the stag and he hadn’t seen or smelt me. Ever so slowly, I ran the scope’s cross hairs up the stag’s front leg, until they settled on his shoulder.

As the shot reverberated around the surrounding hillside and gully head, the blackberries erupted, as another previously unseen Sambar bolted into heavy cover and made good its escape.

Meanwhile, the stag I fired at trotted up the gully and was immediately swallowed up by a larger patch of blackberries. I then picked out an opening in the blackberries where I thought the stag would emerge, shouldered my rifle and readied myself for another shot.

It was then I noticed that the currawongs and white winged choughs had stopped calling and it was deathly quiet. In fact, it was so quiet that I became conscious of my heart beat. There were many things racing through my mind, including: “Did I miss him? No couldn’t have – I should have taken more time.” “Where was the other Sambar?”  

Suddenly the silence was broken as the stag burst from his hiding place in the blackberries. I knew from his erratic behaviour that my shot placement was good and as I stood and watched, he ran sideways for several metres, then backwards for several metres, before changing direction and cartwheeling end-over-end and coming to rest at the head of a small watercourse.  

A post mortem revealed that the 160 grain Accubond from the 7mm short magnum had entered the stag’s right shoulder, passed through his brisket and left an exit wound the size of a 20 cent piece.

The stag was also in quite poor condition and appeared to have recently been gored in the stomach by another stag.

Several hours had passed since I was dropped off in the pre dawn, most of the snow had melted and I was wet and cold, so I lit a small fire, dried off and got warm.

An hour or so later I got in radio contact with John, who walked in and butchered the stag. Several trips later and we had the head and meat by the roadside awaiting pick up.

By the time we loaded the Hilux and changed our clothes, the snow had melted, the sun had broken through and the transformation in the weather was amazing. It was one of those magnificent crisp winter’s days that only Victoria seems to produce.

Incidentally, that was the only Sambar I have ever found inedible, which I put down to his poor condition and the fact that his stomach wound was most likely much more serious than first thought.

Cold Weather Hunting Tips
Alpine hunting during Winter in the Victorian Alps is not an activity to be taken lightly. Short hunts after sambar can end up being unexpected nights in an improvised bivvy in inhospitable conditions. Here are some suggestions of pack contents that will always pay dividends.

  • Layering of clothing is sensible. No cotton next to skin – start with a synthetic thermal light layer and stay active under a breathable windproof, waterproof top layer and keep a mid layer of fleece to warm up. Active bodies need temperature regulation that can be achieved by putting on and removing a beanie and gloves, or undoing zips on top layers.
  • Keep dry tinder handy. A waterproof container with some rubber inner tube strips or kero or vaseline-soaked roller bandages are a good start with a protected propane gas lighter and backup matches. At a pinch, some propellent emptied from a cartridge will work too.
  • Carry an emergency beacon. If you break a leg down a gully, it will pay off.
  • Even in wet, cold conditions, water will sustain life, especially if it’s hot with a tea bag in it with sugar.
  • Chocolate will provide a quick energy hit, but let you down later. Try good quality trail mix instead, for sustained energy release.


This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Sporting Shooter magazine.





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