Sambar Deer Stalking #102:

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Having mastered the art of lighting a fire in terrible conditions (I hope you have:, and making a passable comfy shelter so you can enjoy your time in the bush, the next big step is mastering the art of walking. Too many men take overlong strides and land on their heels. I don’t know whether they seek to avoid seeming effeminate by taking over-small steps or what, but it plays hell with the back, feet, and the knees over time.

More importantly it makes too much noise in the bush. There are many hunters I can still hear coming – and I am VERY deaf. Besides, there are many different gaits; you should try out some new ones even if you are mistaken for John Cleese’s ‘silly walks’ sketch. There are many lighter gaits which not only make much less noise, but eat up the miles with much less effort. Scientists have even measured the energy required by those African girls who carry large calabashes of water atop their heads and marvel at their energy efficiency. Watch them walk! Walking should be well-nigh effortless. A gliding. Why not try a rolling gait, a sliding gait? Remember Cliffy Young!

Watch people walk: particularly people who appear to effortlessly glide along: lightly built women and children can make a good study, but occasionally you will notice a very large person who seems to float along. Most people clomp hopelessly. Avoid that. You are probably walking badly. At least let those footfalls quieten. Even at 68 and somewhat overweight, I still sometimes walk 20, even thirty kilometres in a day in the bush (carrying a hiking pack). Coming back from Everest in November I did two 40 + kilometre days The further you walk, the more deer you will walk past! Remember that. And remember this: if you want to walk uphill without becoming breathless, breathe OUT longer than you breathe in. Count, if you need to. Make those outward breaths 50% longer than the inward. You will find you can walk all the way to the top without stopping! I know you find this hard to believe. It has something to do with the CO2/O2 exchange and partial pressures…I am not a scientist. Just try it! You will see that it works. After a while it can become automatic:

Different areas have quite different sambar deer. Long ago I used to hunt a particularly steep locale, one of the many ‘Deep Creeks’ – others eschewed it for the selfsame reason, which suited me fine. As I have remarked before, ‘No company is better than bad company’. For whatever reason, the deer there were built like hogs or Texel sheep. They were exceptionally stocky with snub muzzles and short muscular ‘porky’ legs. Much solider than your usual. Another locality in the Maffra area has deer which might have been crossed with some species of antelope: they were much taller and more gracile: what struck you most was their incredibly long muzzles.

I hunted a well-nigh unhuntable area in the Upper Thomson for quite a while with the late legendary Arthur Meyers. What an interesting character he was! This area clearly has/had just the right mixture of genetics, micronutrients, hound hunting along the edges, whatever: that it produced quite the biggest sambar ever taken in Australia. Back in 1962 Arthur decked three large stags in as many minutes there which the hounds drove out of a blackberry tunnel so that they all fell, touching each other at his feet. Arthur was persuaded to display one of the smaller of these heads at the 1984 Antlered Game Exhibition where someone (against his will) ranked it with the Douglas Score as being the largest head ever taken up to then – a status it maintained for nearly another twenty years. What folk don’t know is that this was nowhere near the biggest of the three. I have seen the largest of these heads in his home in Box Hill: it was a thing to marvel at! I wonder what became of it after his death. It would almost certainly be the paramount sambar trophy.

His mate took another monster in the same area around 1990 off my outstanding foxhound, ‘Harpoon’. It too was never measured. For one reason or another ‘George’ had to camp in the bush that night with his trophy. You may need to do this too, so be prepared ( We found him about 8:00am the next morning sitting huddled by a miniature fire, badly needing a drink: we offered him a choice between water and spirits – you can guess which he took first! As I came over a ridge, I saw him part way up the next sitting near a large log – but no sign of the deer. When I was twenty yards away, still puzzled, I blurted out, ‘Where’s the deer, ‘George’?’ More than laconically he gesticulated at the large log!

I was astonished! Lying, it was taller than my thigh! This giant stag had fallen side on to the ridge with its legs facing uphill on an approx 15 degree incline. ‘George’ was only a slight man (and had a twisted ankle) so I maybe figured that was why he had been unable to turn it facing downhill so he could gut it properly. I have always prided myself on being stronger than average. I had a big try and could not budge it! It was as much as two of us could manage just to turn it over! It was as large as a Hereford bull! The head was so big it would not fit in the rear of their Nissan Patrol so that they had to tie it on the bonnet facing forward where its antlers overhung the car! I have still a very poor 35mm snap somewhere. The photos taken in the darkness of the bush were/are rubbish.

I have spent more than one unexpected night out myself eg at c1300 metres up, the ground frozen, a cold wind blowing, snow lying all around, sitting on a thick piece of bark, wet woolen clothes, wrapped in one of those pocket-sized ‘emergency space blankets’ in front of a fire which I had to tend on and off all night. It is not the best of camps, but it is utterly survivable. TIP: Nothing is warmer than long-johns – particularly woolen ones! Another TIP: You can pitch a 5’ x 7’ nylon poncho as quite a good dry shelter (with a fire out the front). Tie the centre of one of the 7’ sides to a tree (or stick) about 3’ up, pin out the other 7’ side to the ground taut, bring the remaining two corners in as close as they will come to the tree, again as taut as they will go.

Now you have an excellent three-sided waterproof shelter open only on the lee (fire) side and long enough to lie down in. You can heap it with leaf litter for a soft bed & insulation (you need about 18″ (45cm) then wrap yourself in a space blanket in it. Some STRING in your pack is always a good idea. I forgot to mention that here: You can even use one of those mylar emergency space blankets in lieu of the poncho. They are surprisingly strong; the wind will not catch and tear them pitched like this. You can roll a teaspoonful of earth into a ball the size of a marble and tie a noose around it, catching the material in the noose in order to guy/tie it out. I hope that’s clear!

Here and there elsewhere you will come across truly giant sambar…in the head of the Aberfeldy, in the Avon wilderness…all sorts of places. Sometimes you will see them, maybe being too astonished to load the gun. A couple of occasions I have been. More often you will just see where they have been: Huge prints on the ground almost as big as a cow’s and a stride a yard long. They are the kings and queens of sambar. They are there to ensure the herd will improve. It is actually better not to take them, tempting as it might be. Sometimes they roar like bulls at each other half the night! That is only one of the rewards of camping out far from your vehicle.

Harpoon was an excellent tricolour foxhound. During winter his muzzle was always completely naked. He would fly through blackberries like an eel completely disdaining pain, wearing all the hair off. We hunted sambar on Saturday and foxes on Sunday. You could never leave him home on Sunday even if his pads were worn quite off and he could barely lift his head with exhaustion from the day’s Herculean efforts. If you tried, he would climb a six foot electrified fence to come with you. He was a very keen hunter. I have clocked him at over 40kph on the flat. In an easy day he would run 70km. He had a manifold voice. All who heard it swore that there was a pack of hounds voicing – which was how I knew it was Harpoon.

One morning he started a large stag at 7:00 am. He was on it by himself all day until another crew shot it about 3:30pm. A walking bail for several hours, but he would not give up! Quite a run. I knew they had; I heard the shot from atop a mountain miles away, and hied myself back to the car so I could cut them off – to tell the truth in case they decided they might just like to keep him. They too had heard him going up and down the river all day, miles from where I was, or could get to – and thought it was someone else’s pack. Many gullies in this area have blackberry thickets twelve foot high and more than a hundred yards across. The guy who shot the stag was quite loath to give the dog up, truth be told: he had fed it all his own tea, and would have shared his beer with him too only Harpoon was teetotal! He offered me $2,000 for him there and then – but I would not have parted with him for far more than that!

Once he put a deer up in Blue Jacket (a tributary of the Jordan) and bailed it on the Glenmaggie Creek just out of Seaton in the afternoon. Some deer have amazing stamina – and some hounds! One day I was hunting with him by myself near Brunton’s Bridge. I often did this – yet over many years I have met only one other solitary hound hunter. He had run a deer along a track there several kms so fast it had no time to step off. When it came to the main road, it crossed but a car cut Harpoon off and spirited him away. I tried mightily to solve the mystery of his disappearance, you can be assured. I only hope it was not a low-life in the area who was reputed to steal and destroy hounds. However, I suspected another person who used to ‘recollar’ dogs and trade them far away.

I found a hound (on foot) in the Upper Thomson roughly during the same period. I was on a track, and along came a guy on a motorcycle (illegally actually) who offered to take it out (I had a walk of about ten km). He met up with another chap in a vehicle after a while who offered to return it to its owner. I had noticed the name of the real owner, and happened to ring him. The dog turned up months later with someone else’s collar on him near Healesville! We figured out who the guy who ‘rebadged’ him was, but with no proof he could only be warned. I suspect the dog’s owner did just that.

Someone else I know has had hounds shot and left in the bush. There are some mean sods out there; fortunately they are few and far between. The prevalent use of tracking collars has meant a lot fewer ‘lost’ dogs, but are also used unethically to take more deer. I do not understand what sense of achievement such folks can have: It is one thing to traipse all day after hounds maybe walking 30-40 km uphill and down; an old worn-toothed doe taken in a bail-up after such a chase is a trophy indeed. An old girl who has perhaps beaten the hounds consistently for fourteen years! But to drive around the road, to just drop in on a ping on a computer screen for an easy shot – what skill or determination is there in that?

I know my great-grandfather William Jones hunted with hounds in the Southern Highlands and Hunter Valleys of NSW in the mid C19th. I was with my grandfather George when he took his last hare off his old hound a week before his death 60 years ago near Morpeth NSW. He used to hang them under the top of his verandah until they went green before he ate them. Despite such unsanitary habits he lived to be just shy of ninety when he caught a nasty pneumonia, maybe from too many days hunting in the rain in just an old woolen coat. My father Lawrence was also a keen hound man, though he, alas, did not live long enough to enjoy much leisure.

I grew up near Maitland, Paterson, Dora Creek…NSW hound hunting most weekends – in those days it was wallabies, hare, the occasional fox; sometimes a bush pig would come our way – whatever you could put up; mostly it was a recycling exercise as the hounds were fed the ‘catch’ – we did it for the ‘sport.’ We were shotgunners mainly back then. One day on our farm at Paterson with my grandfather, my dad’s old harrier, Felix, put up a goanna and bailed it on my grandfather’s head! He went to his grave just a couple of years later with some interesting scratches on his old bald pate!

He had an old Damascus Twist hammer gun, a double barrel. It was deadly at both ends. The stock was split and wired up tight with copper wire. The barrels were worn tissue thin at the end; I imagine it had been his father’s gun too – and had maybe come out from Cambridgeshire with him in 1854. We always expected the barrel to one day unwind like an exploding corkscrew and take half his head off – but it never did! On his death it went to one of my many cousins, though I would have loved it as a keepsake. In his turn my cousin handed it in in one of those many ‘amnesties’ years ago, so it is lost forever now.

I hunted with hounds in our Victorian mountains for over thirty years until just a few years ago when my really bad back (now ‘fixed’) and increasing deafness (I could no longer hear the beagles we now had to have) meant I hardly ever went – which was unfair on the hounds, so I reluctantly gave the last beagles away to a young local hunter. Now I guess I am a stalker – at least a walker. I am keenest now in just being in the bush, marveling at its beauty and diversity, spying out its secret places, walking all day, making a quiet camp, and then the same next day…for often a week or ten days at a time – if I can get away. Sometimes I take no rifle. Such solitude is what I call ‘civilisation’: I have scarce ever met anyone in such a place who was other than ‘civilised’. More often than not (it suits me) I meet no-one. He is a nice man! And excellent company!

None who travel so far have need of laws to bind or control them. They have their own resilience and rules of moral conduct and need no others. The worse the roads and tracks are, the more ‘civilised’ the folks are, I have found. The closer you get to better roads and more people, the more riff-raff there is; the greater a need for police, rules and regulations – this is what I think of as barbarism. You don’t have to agree! But I prefer the wild freedom of the mountains. One day you may stumble over my weathering bones under some tree fern on one of your walks. Leave them there. It will be where I wanted to be.

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6 thoughts on “Sambar Deer Stalking #102:”

  1. Great read! Im from tasmania and am looking to organise a backpack hunt into some brilliant country just not sure on a starting point some hints would be great you sound like you know where to find them cheers oli

    1. Thanks very much. ‘Tell me your best hunting spot’ is probably the most popular question there is. I like to hike in to rivers which don’t have road access and which take at least half a day to get to – which means no day hunters. Then I camp along the river flatsfor a few days. Often this means you don’t even need a 4WD, though I have one. For example, there are some wonderful flats on East bank of the Snowy roughly in a line between Gelantipy and Deddick which can only be reached from a closed (management Vehicles Only) track on the east side. This is the sort of place I would go because there would be no competition and the animals there would be quite undisturbed. Unfortunately (if you care) that area is closed to hunting. It is also about where the crest of the sambar ‘wave’ has reached. Start with the GMA deer hunting maps and Google earth to spy out such areas. All of eastern Victoria’s forested areas are alive with sambar deer anyway. Good hunting!

  2. Dennis kovacevic

    Loving reading about your stories and adventures, just gives me the bug to get out in nature evem more, and what i wouldnt give to be able to spend some time out with you absorbing a tidbit of the knkwledge you have gained over a lifetime in the wilderness

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