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  1. #1

    Big Mama, last sambar hunt for 2012

    I offered to take a member of this forum - Swede- to hunt the big brown deer in the north-east of Victoria. He had not hunted sambar before, and said yes. this was for me the last go-round for 2012.


    I joked with Wah before I left for a hunt that I would ‘shoot a deer about 450 metres from camp’. True enough that I knew where they were; but Wah said ‘no, sounds boring’. Righto.

    I was camped with Swede, near a logging coup in Nth East Vic. A logging coup is where the timber has been harvested (either plantation or native) and the bits the timber fellows don’t want have either been dragged into a pile and burned, or just left there.

    This is Swede's panoramic shot of a logging coup, like a holocaust for trees. There were piles of timber logs, stripped and ready for processing, between 3 and six metres high.

    Quite often, the dragged timber is in ‘windrows’. These provide sambar with some cover. They also annoy the hunters. But deer are attracted to the turned soil, and the shelter.

    -First Day-

    Swede was there on his own and was tootling about.

    He managed to see plenty of sign.

    This is a clear print of an intermediate size.

    This second print is smaller, but it shows we were on the right track.

    I arrived at 10-ish on the Friday, which was for me the first day, having put hours behind me from city-dom.

    I talked to Swede about hunting, about sambar. I answered some of the usual ‘fallow’ questions, as if sambar deer follow any bloody rules at all. I told Swede what I know about sambar deer, which is a bit, but with a lot still unknown.

    At the time I was thinking – do I have it? Can I really put him on a deer? You see, I have brought this fellow out into the bush, without knowing if I can even put him on a sambar. It has been months of hard work that kept me from hunting. I hoped to see sign worthy of putting Swede in a stand, or on a sit-and-wait.

    -Second Day-

    We got up late-ish. We stalked around a small gully which I knew held deer, as I had seen them there many times before. I did not take a bow, as mine had not been sighted in. No point in me taking a 'blind shot', so I accompanied Swede as the hunter guide. My plan was to walk some windrows, and see if a hind was there, that I had ssen before.

    No deer evident. There were doggers moving in the area, (we heard a single shot) and we heard a dog barking and moving near a ridge above us. No deer were spotted, and I marveled at how the sign which had been red-hot in July was now looking decidedly weather-beaten and summery. That is, dry and as if there were no deer nearby.

    The gully head had clear trails in it, and much fresher sign than elsewhere nearby. As we walked out, I suggested to Swede that he would be well advised getting into a treestand nearby, to shoot a deer in the evening.


    During the arvo, I sighted my bow in and Swede tried to work out some of the kinks he was having with this arrow flight. It was hot, around 30 degrees.

    I had all but decided to cross a nearby creek, and do an afternoon hunt I have done many times before. Then I thought of my conversation with Wah: and wondered if the deer I had seen, now several years ago, were using an old logging area.

    The logging area was only 250 due south from camp. By road and logging trail, it was closer to 450 metres. I decided to walk it, and see. the position I got to was with native bush on the south side of a logging cut, running due east-west. On the native bush side was a small gully, where I had also seen deer. The north side of the cut was all full of blackberries and inpenetrable overgrowth.

    The sun was going down. The gusty wind faded. I walked slowly to get to my logging cut, so slowly that my last 80-ish metres took me nearly an hour and a half. About 100 metres off the main walking trail (which took me in there) I was honked. It was (if such a thing exists) a hesitant honk. It came from a face far above the gully I was near. A deer that was a long distance away.

    That was it, my curiosity piqued. I crawled slowly into the native bush, more or less on the main saddle leading to the gully. I was, as I remained, on the south side of my logging cut, and glassed for 15 mins for my honker. No movement; no deer. I was still quite close to camp.

    First three deer

    I was just about to leave when i heard something you don't hear every day in sambar bush: crashing deer noises, at a distance. The noises came closer. I nocked an arrow.

    The noises were distinct. There were three deer at about 45 metres, moving at a rate which would take them about 50 metres or more in front of me. As silently as I could I moved forward, and crouched. Two of the deer were smaller, and moving fast. The one in front was a hind, who propped in front of me at 25 metres and just scanned the bush to my right. she honked a single honk, and departed after the other two deer. There was no way that I could have taken a proper shot. And I doubt she knew I was there.

    Other than the main hind in front, I could not tell you what the other two were. They were two flitting shadows in fading light. It is possible that something like another hunter spooked those deer - but more likely a predator like some of the wild dogs in the area. Adrenaline flooded me and I just paused to catch my breath.

    Second three deer:

    I was pumped from seeing three deer so close by. I studied the sign near the logging cut, and noticed that all rubs were looking 'summery' and faded. You would have to be a mad-keen sambar hunter to even recognise them as stag rubs. they were adjacent to a distinct path (I thought) from the logging cut, through the regrowth, heading towards the gully where I had been honked. I found distinct impressions, and large ones.

    I did my calculations. I thought the deer would come from the safety of nearby faces, or from the gully on the south side, to the north where the regrowth would include lots of edible goodies including banyalla, acacia and other deer-like food. i took a position on a flattish section close to the prints I found, crouched down and again nocked an arrow.

    Light continued to fade. It reached that 'blue light' stage (when it is harder to judge distances, and when the light is reflected from the blueness of the sky) and with no fanfare, it happened: a large sambar hind ghosted in, from the side I had not expected. She came from the regrowth, utterly stumping me as I stared.

    My heart felt like it stopped. I froze. I was too berloody close!! The sambar hind was standing in an opening, visible between the trees and only 9 metres away from me! She stopped. She scanned for long minutes. Her eyes drifted over me twice, and I was immobile. She moved, and then stopped to scan again.

    She licked her nose with a long, pink tongue. The wind was coming from west-sou'-west, so over her shoulder and straight past me. She did not look behind her, or in a westerly direction: with a wet nose, she just canted her head to the wind and took deep, sucking breaths. It was a David Attenborough moment.

    Watching undisturbed deer like this, and observing their unforced behaviour is something hard with sambar, and something I have done only a few times. I drank it in: she was in immaculate condition. A big, blocky hind with a square profile like the shape of Angus cattle. She was sleek, and fat. She was also super-alert and 'wired' in the way that a vulnerable deer can be: she looked intently, scanning and re-scanning for danger. This is a typical sambar hind, I thought; she is absolutely wired, on edge and alert for any danger. And here I am, ready.

    I could not raise my bow, because at that proximity she would bolt for the hills. I waited for her to move or look away. She moved away from me, following the line of the path, and I relaxed slightly. I could hear movement behind the hind, and saw - a tiny calf.

    Following the Big Mama was an 8-10 week old calf. Big Mama's calf was a young one. A bit like a chocolate brown Labrador, but a sambar-like snout and gait. I studied Tiny Calf closely. His or its ears seemed pink, compared to Big Mama's and he was not fat or sleek, but kind of ruffled like an old rug. Tiny Calf did not do what Big Mama did. He had his eyes straight ahead, watching Big Mama's movements. he moved more hesitantly, and strayed so he was off the path Big Mama was using. He was at about 8 metres. I felt like I coudl reach over for a pat! it occurred to me that I was not interested in shooting him. I watched dispassionately, as he moved across the opening, and followed Big Mama.

    Now at ease, I had my bow up, arrow on the line, and my release connected. The calf would have been an easy shot - but only as soon as Big Mama's head and gaze was out of the way. I did not want to shoot - something that others (Swede, Solar) have not understood. But I had about a second to decide, and I resolved that I wanted no hind, not even Big Mama - I wanted her boyfriend. I waited to see if he showed up.

    Less than ten seconds after the calf came the final deer for the night - yearling hind. She too was following Big Mama. She was chocolate brown, like the Tiny Calf and also like Big Mama. She was likely to be Big Mama's calf from 12 months before. Like the calf, she did not gaze intently but just followed the departing deer with her eyes. I lowered my bow to see who else was invited.

    I waited. I waited another 25 mins, until long after dark. no stag came. I left slowly, and with the wind at my back, sure that I had not spooked any deer. I was not honked or barked at by any of the second three deer I saw that night.

    The whole time I was there, I was in blaze orange hat, gloves, face cover and my 1-piece camo suit. I did not get busted (aside from that initial honk, near the gully). Ladies and gents, camo works.

    I nearly ran back to camp, elated with what I had seen.

    She was quite simply the biggest hind I have ever seen, whether in the bush, on trail cam or anywhere else. We used to be told (circa the middle 1980s) that ‘stags were up to 280 kg and hinds 150’. Well, either hinds are getting bigger or even those with big heads on their walls, back then, did not know what they were talking about. Make your own judgment.

    I have scanned through my many sambar pics, for a representative hind. None exists. She was an order of magnitude bigger than the two i carried out of the bush near Omeo with fellow hunters, and she dwarfs the beast in the picture below. She was bigger, and many kilos heavier. I estimate her at above 200 kg live weight.

    Swede returned to camp later, having seen nothing. I was disappointed for him.

    -Third day

    Not a good hunting day. Sunburn and walking a long way (never a good idea with sambar) were the events. No deer seen.

    I will be back. though I did not really want a hind (else I would have shot the yearling) it was a good feeling to be back in the bush. it's also a good feeling that the many days and years I spent in the north east still stay with me: I can find deer, even in stinking hot weather. I will go back, because that animal was a survivor and would have made a special trophy.
    Last edited by teed; 1st November 2012 at 05:18 PM. Reason: typo
  2. slinkymalinky's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Gold Coast, QLD
    Fantastic read, Teed. My heart was pumping just reading the story... could just about smell the grass! I get where you're coming from with not letting the string go on that big girl... its just like releasing a really big fish. You had her under your sight so job done. Meat in the freezer would have been nice but not as satisfying as finding her in tough conditions and watching her wander off because you chose to.

    Awesome writing. What are those shafts/collars and broadheads in the pic... they look like some serious gear.

    Cheers, T
  3. #3
    Well written Teed, even though we had a couple of days in the bush I already feel like going back. It was a long drive for me but well worth it. Next time I hope to see one of these magnificent creatures in real life. I now know what I am up against and it goes without saying that I need to pick up my game.

    Slinkymalinsky those shafts are Victory VAP shafts with fire nock outserts and VPA 150 grain penetrators.
  4. #4
    Thanks, Slinky. Yeah, deer hunting and particularly sambar is a big deal for me, I cannot imagine going after much else.

    It does make me wonder: how can an animal, with a brain the size of a walnut, be so hard to hunt? i cannot be sure.

    But Swede, we saw heaps of sign; you will be a red-hot go next time. EDIT: I know what you mean by going back. I would love to spend a whole week in that logging coup. I reckon I would have a go at a few.
    Last edited by teed; 1st November 2012 at 05:06 PM.
  5. Brooster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    Well done Teed, not sure I would have been keeen to take something with a young calf in tow. The right thing to do me thinks.
  6. Macka's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    melrose SA
    well written mate, they sound very elusive those sambar! something i'm looking forward to putting some time myself into one day and try and outsmart one.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Brooster View Post
    Well done Teed, not sure I would have been keeen to take something with a young calf in tow. The right thing to do me thinks.
    Bruce, it's just a part of sambar hunting - most hinds will be pregnant (whether you can see it, or not) most of the time. It's likely that Big Mama was even pregnant, though if so, very early on.

    If you cannot stand (for ethical reasons, or some related reason) shooting a pregnant female, then best not shoot hinds at all. You have to make that decision early on. As for the yearling, she too would have been with child in a couple of months. When she cycles for the first time (14 to 18 months) the local stags will be on her like a shot.

    As for the Tiny Calf, there have been times when I would have shot him in a blink. They make great eating and are an easy 50 kg 'handbag' model to carry, compared to 200+ kg of stout hind.

    And the same ethical reasons exist for not shooting him -- namely maintaining numbers and balance within sambar groups. Though deaths of individuals does not matter much to sambar 'herds' as they are not a herd deer (they live in smaller family groups of 2-4) and the death of even large numbers does not affect the overall picture. At least not much.

    Macka, they do your head in, sometimes. As a bowhunter, they make you really have your act together.
    Last edited by teed; 1st November 2012 at 09:44 PM.
  8. wahcat's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    NSW - Out and About
    Great write up Teed. Good one leaving the little hind for next time. Big muma would have taken hours of gutting, scraping/cutting and carrying back to camp. Its always good when you can gut one and carry it back yourself, ie a small eater.

    Here's to next years hunt. I'm still sorry I missed this hunt even though there was no deer put on the ground. Its always good to just shoot the bs around the fire at night.
    Last edited by wahcat; 2nd November 2012 at 12:27 AM.
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  9. #9
    Wah, there will be a time for you to come along, too. I hope in April it's your turn to huff and puff like I did, in getting to the top of the hills in the first panorama!

    Your point made on PM is worth repeating here. I did not think of not shooting the big hind, the Big Mama, because the calf would starve. Far from it: much younger calves than that one have survived, because of the 'family group' nature of sambar, and the fact that this one, the Tiny Calf, already had the yearling as a travelling companion.

    I have found carcasses of dead (and presumably starved) sambar calves. They tend to be newborn, or very near to it. What happens is the mother first hides the calf, and then goes to a wallow, or food source. They only do this when the calf is very young indeed, for in early weeks of life most sambar calves are largely scent-free, thanks in part to the developed hygiene practices of the mother, and part to the natural defences.

    Second: if the mother is shot at the wallow (yep, can happen) or is chased off by wild dogs (less often; sambar hinds, particular big ones like the Mama, will put up a hell of a fight) then the calf stays put until it dies.

    But not at the Tiny Calf's age. At 8-10 weeks, it is probably only occasionally on the milk. It has been on solid or partly-solid food for a month or perhaps a bit more. If I had shot Big Mama, that one would have survived and thrived.
    Last edited by teed; 1st November 2012 at 11:24 PM.
  10. #10
    Great write up Teed - and the photos are excellent quality.
    Shame you guys didn't score - but an armed bushwalk with no game taken still beats a day's anything else in my books.

    When I saw this picture:

    I just started laughing - I recognized Swede's arrow and imagined him frothing at the mouth. He likes to hunt hard and that would have had him going!

    Cheers for sharing the trip.

    Swede I'll have a chat with you Sunday - I've gotten us a 1500 acre property 5 hours from Syd - a boer goat farm that has problems with ferals trying to hump his prized nannies. He also has pigs wandering his farm in daylight, very brazenly trying to get to the goat fodder. No other hunters allowed on - took me 3 hours chatting to get us on. :)
    Last edited by AndyD; 2nd November 2012 at 05:43 PM.
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