Sambar Deer Stalking #103:

I have been a hunter for over 60 years. I still feel much more thought needs to be given to the ethics of the hunt. It never ceases to amaze me (for example) that Rene Descartes, one of the West’s pre-eminent thinkers (and someone I also recognise as an outstandingly bright hombre cf his contribution to the calculus…) could nonetheless conclude that animals were merely automata; that they did not have souls (as they called it then); that pain they might feel and express (during live dissection for example – Yes!) was simply the output of an automaton.

2006: Moose Hunting Seaforth River Fiordland - 70 kms (& at least 3 days!) from the Nearest Road
2006: Ten Days by Myself: Moose Hunting Seaforth River Fiordland – 70 kms (& at least 3 days!) from the Nearest Road


To me, you would not have to have much contact (eg) with our two little Jack Russells before you would conclude that they are intelligent beings, though in many ways different in their intelligence than us. By the same token, you would not have to have much contact with many human beings before you concluded that many had rather less intelligence than our Jack Russells! Before I consult the experts (or received opinion) I first assess carefully the evidence of my own eyes and senses. And think hard upon it. You would do well to do likewise!

Deer are sentient beings. They are not mere playthings for human beings, nor simply trophies. The Minnesota Dentist who is everywhere on the news at present for ‘hunting’ a ‘protected’ lion in Zimbabwe with a bow and arrow, also so poorly that it had to be tracked for two days before it could be dispatched, is a symptom of a sick attitude to our prey. It is one thing to hunt and kill a deer; it would die someday in any case; a quick clean kill of this year’s ‘surplus’ production is very much better for the deer as a whole than pitiful starvation (or cruel poisoning), the alternative consequence of an unmanaged population. Nonetheless, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this ancient activity (hunting). Respect for the prey animal must be paramount, or else the anti-hunters have the stronger case – and we deserve to have our recreation outlawed! Mind you, I have no sympathy for Mugabe who recently ate many more ‘protected’ wildlife than the Minnesota dentist, but also some years back murdered one of my dear gentle friends.

There are some elements which have not just crept into hunting practice – they have well nigh overwhelmed it. In hound hunting, for example, there is a near universal use of vehicles, radios, tracking collars, GPS and computers as an ‘aid’ to the ‘hunt’, even though all are illegal. Such practice is not a hunt. All these electronic aids are just as unfair as spotlights and game finders, and ought not be used. Already you have a gun: that is surely unfair enough? Stalkers are overwhelmingly using camo, trail cameras, hides, tree stands, scent lures, telescopic sights, etc. all these things are just as bad, and ought to be outlawed, in my opinion. It is impossible to police such things, of course. It is just that if people cannot hold to enough ethics to eschew such immoral behavior, then the anti-hunters (and they are the majority after all) will have a field day with us! It is easy for them to know what we do: folk boast about it in magazines and forums all the time.

Most of my deer hunting has been in horrible inaccessible country pretty much that no-one else would hunt. I mentioned (in a previous post) hunting for many years with the ‘legendary’ Arthur Meyers. Much of this hunting was behind the locked gates (legally) in the Upper Thompson catchment where we had to walk the hounds in on leashes for an average of seven kilometres before we began a hunt. Most of the tracks there then were permanently closed (MVO). ALL our hunting was on foot. We returned to our vehicles (if we were lucky – sometimes we were not) only at the very end of the day (usually after dark) after walking for about twelve hours through very rough, thick, steep country, riddled with mine shafts! We each had a four hour drive each way to get there. At least we had no need of a 4WD! Usually we arrived home over 24 hours after we had left.

Arthur used to call us ‘the last of the hound hunters’ because that was mostly what we did: hunt for the hounds! In that country CB radios worked infrequently and very poorly, so each of us (usually 3-4) was typically on his own from dawn to dusk with nothing but our eyes, ears and native intelligence to guide us. Time enough then to chew the fat and a sausage over a cook-up about your part in the day’s hunt – and everyone else’s. We took deer infrequently, and with great difficulty. We carried the meat out with even more difficulty. We richly earned every deer we took, and the deer had as good a chance as we did; probably better. One stag who used to camp near the Ross Creek Hut ruins I practically knew by name!

Arthur was a very fit man. I can remember talking to him on the radio one afternoon; I had just struggled up out of Blue Jacket and the Dry Creek onto the Mount Victor Spur; I asked him where he was, ‘I’m just running up the Bald Hill Track’ was his answer (he was 65 at the time; and it was a very steep track), ‘The dogs have gone over into the Red Jacket and I am going after them’. (There was a ridge you could follow down.) ‘I’ll meet you at the bottom (junction)’ I said, and off I went too to our rendezvous approx seven km away through the bush. You can have a look at the maps: it is big country: we mostly walked 20-40 kilometres on a day’s hunt.

I remember another day meeting up with him after many hours, miles from camp. Yarning, whilst listening to one of his bloodhounds (Thunder?) working a gully above us, a giant tree just suddenly and silently crashed to the ground right next to us, the tips of its branches whipping our legs as it fell. There would have been nothing we could have done to avoid death had we been standing 20 yards closer. On the other hand most folks die in bed, therefore as my grandfather used to say, ‘Bed is a dangerous place and should be avoided’. Most of my hunting life I have chosen places where I would have a vertical climb of 350-750 metres sometime during the day (sometimes several times!) What virtue is there in an ‘easy deer’?

I notice a lot of people nowadays who expect to stroll out on their first or second hunt and take a sambar. I think it would be just as reasonable if they never took a deer until their second or third year of hunting – if they were giving the deer half a chance! Or if they never even saw a deer in their first year! What is the hurry? We all eat well in Australia. We are not hunting for survival; we are hunting for the hunt! Learn to hunt first. If you love hunting, you will not be rapacious about setting tallies. If we are going to abandon the ethics of the hunt, we will not be hunting much longer!

There are all these chaps who must have a big head on the wall, but you and I know that many of them were taken in the lights or from a fixed position informed by their trail cam’s data, or even from a thousand yards away. This is not hunting. This is ego. How many wounded animals are left to suffer and die because of this unethical behavior? Over the years I have found some horrifically injured deer who survived awfully – for a time! I was once drawn by the awful noise to a moaning, blubbering young stag whose bottom jaw had been blown off and was flyblown! Creatures who do have feelings and souls – even if Descartes did not think so. Descartes was wrong. He was just as wrong believing that he had invented a proof of the existence of God (the ‘cogito ergo sum’ argument). Or indeed in thinking that there was any God at all!

When I see your spotlights, I want to cock my rifle and aim at them: that would give you about the same chance as you were giving the deer. When I see your trail cams I want to do just the same thing. Such wicked devices are much more ‘fair game’ (for me) than a deer is at the end of a telescopic sight, or at a thousand yards. (I realise some people just want the pics). I think everyone should have to use iron sights (except cullers) so that they would have to learn to hunt (and shoot), to get close to where the deer are, to track and identify the deer and take them with great difficulty and skill – in remote locations.

I sometimes see people with whole deer on their vehicles. Who do they think they are kidding that they are hunters? Have you ever tried to carry a whole sambar deer (even a small hind) any significant distance – and almost always uphill (a long way) from where you likely would have taken it through rough, thick bush? I have, and I used to be pretty strong. They should not display dead deer to horrify the anti-hunters either.

Many people are proprietorial about their favourite hunting spots. I know I am. Territoriality is common in both deer and men. I have had to go back through the many posts which mentioned locales here, and edit out the most precise clues. I had noticed how people were tracking through my website, opening this post after that, clearly giving away that they wanted a tip on the best spot for them to go. Some even sent emails, or tried to solicit invitations despite my oft repeated homily, ‘No company is better than bad company!’ One place I recently wrote about had received other visitors next time I visited – even though clearly no-one else but me had been there for years!

One thing that separates out the sportsman or the hunter from the wanton slaughterer or trophy seeker: is energy and self-pride. The latter are slovens and want only the easiest way. The true hunter will go out of his way to make the chase difficult, so that there is a sense of achievement in obstacles overcome. A ‘friend’ has decided that he will take a group of eight this weekend for a week’s hunting to a spot I injudiciously mentioned to him – even (as an afterthought) telling me I would be welcome too! You wish. What s/he ignores is that where I park my car will be at least a day’s journey, probably more, (in this case 3-4) from where I hunt – so they are not likely to benefit overmuch from my parking spot. Still it does irk, I know.

Of course if it was my favourite spot they ought have pretty much cleared it out for some time to come – at least if they had any competency at all. It is clearly what they wish for anyway. And what good is that? Eight! That is a small army! It is too dangerous a number for a small(ish) area. As it happens the forecasts tell me they will have few river crossings, much damp bush and damper, colder clothing. I might have taken one person (I often have, in the past), even two perhaps, (my two boys perhaps?) but never eight – and never (others) if I suspected they were planning to return without me!

I used often to take young hunters ‘under my wing’ in this way, first teaching them the essentials: 1. How to light a fire in the rain; 2. Meticulous firearms safety and competency; 3 How to ‘read’ the lie of the ground, 4 How to get ‘unlost’, 5 Tracks and browse; 6 Deer (and other nature) behaviour…etc. I have spent overmuch time hunting for such folks when they become ‘lost’ – and I have experienced more times than I wish to repeat (ever) their ingratitude, so no more.

It seems to me that anyone can study the maps: first (perhaps) the GMA’s maps of where it is lawful to hunt – whether you obey them is your business: there is nothing unlawful (you would think) in hunting with a camera or your eyes only, but unbelievably there is! Then road and topographical maps, wildfire maps, etc. Work out for yourself where a good spot might be. Go there for a few days. Have a Look-See. You don’t need a ‘serious’ 4WD. You have feet! There is a lot of bush out there – quite enough that we should not be squabbling over it. I particularly like wilderness areas, mostly because I almost always have them to myself, not because there are more deer there. I love the solitude. There are most deer along the road – or in some farmer’s paddock where it is legal to shoot them with a spotlight and put them on the wall just as if it was some significant achievement! Personally I always regret having killed.

I am always looking first whether there will be a pleasant place to camp, as I like to return to a beautiful spot again and again. Experts will tell you that you should never camp on top of a hill (too cold and windy) or in the bottom of a valley (too cold and wet), but somewhere half way up a ridge. Experts will also tell you that it is impossible for a bumble bee to fly! I like a flat spot (with water) out of the wind with plentiful firewood. It does not have to be very big. The ‘footprint’ of my is less than 6’ x 6’. It will usually be my home again and again, so I probably spend more time hunting it than hunting deer. It is often harder to find! Fresh fish are also always welcome!

Valleys which are dry where they join the main stream still frequently run much higher up. Sometimes there is a soak right at the top. Deer which inhabit such a valley will have no need to ever visit the river for a drink – particularly the large stags. A small flat in such a position is a gem indeed. Sometimes where a side gully comes in, but there may be a small level bench almost anywhere.

You can camp in a hammock (I often have – both my own and Tom Hennessy’s) – it can be very pleasant. I find it hard to stay on my mat in his – Della does not. The hammock’s virtues are comfort plus, and that you can camp on any slope. Wet ground is also no impediment. Hammock camping with a fire is more difficult than ground camping, so it may be more pleasant in the warmer months. You would normally pitch the hammock side-on to the wind, so that you would need to lift (and prop) one side of the tarp to be warmed by the fire – and peg it down when you turn in for the night. The hammock will not keep your back so warm as the shelter above. Also, when you sleep in a hammock you must have a well-insulated sleeping mat – or you will freeze! It is also much harder finding a spot where two can hang nearby each other, though it is possible to double-bunk. My wife often accompanies me on these travels – though her failing eyesight is making this increasingly difficult, alas, and alas for many other reasons: she is a much better cook than I for one thing! The lightest hammock camping arrangement I can find/make is 160 grams for the hammock and less than 100 grams for a cuben fly: &

You need to plan your approach to these wilderness areas: for example, following ridgelines is always easiest but it is dry work. I hate carrying scads of water vast distances. Sometimes you have to. For example, there is little water on the various possible Mt Darling circuits. They are cooler places to walk in the hotter weather though because of their elevation. Badly denuded of game by wildfires though latterly. You might think about moving uphill as the weather warms – but water will be scarcer, so knowing where it is, is crucial info. You want to minimise your route as much as you can, but also it is pleasant to have a large circuit you can enjoy: one with 3-7 separate camping spots so you are always staying somewhere different – and do not exhaust the wood supply at your camping spots. Of course you only need a fire in the cooler months. Each camp might only be another hour or two’s walk from the last. You can always move on to your next camp if (unlikely) you encounter others. Plan what you are going to do – or what you believe you are going to do. Remember though, everything is subject to change without notice! Also, it is foolish to be in the bush without a sat phone! Dicing with danger is one thing; courting death quite another!

Mostly when I visit such places I am happy just to see the deer (and other creatures). I have no need any more to kill things for egotistical reasons. Knowing that I could have (had I wished) is satisfaction enough of a job well done. I have tried in all these pages to recommend some gear (and other tricks) which might safely get you to such spots (and back again) – and what I hope is some useful advice. I trust you have some time to browse, and maybe recommend them to your friends eg by ‘Liking’ my Facebook page, not just the individual posts! There are over 900 posts now, so you will be reading for a while yet.

Some Other Hunting Related Posts (there are many more):







Hiking Gear:













10 thoughts on “Sambar Deer Stalking #103:”

  1. Thank you kindly for your blog. I thoroughly enjoy the subjects and the sharing of your considered and wise perspective in which you frame them. I have been a hiker all my life and have only recently become particularly interested in bivouac hunting. Your themes speak to my developing sensibilities and enrich and fertilise my own thoughts as I try to understand my approach and posture to the wild.

  2. Agreed! My motivation is firstly the stalking and walking, second the successful outsmarting of a deer at close range – but all of that with feeding my family (3 humans, 1 dog) in mind. Not much interested in trophies, and would probably pass up a big rack on a stag if there was something edible close by. 😉

    1. So often your country must be noisy underfoot and the deer can see you coming. It is hard country to hunt. The antler came from near Dunolly. Even in that dry forest there were grassy rises with shelterbelts near the tops where deer would camp, and surprisingly some fair moist gullies. Good luck and good eating!

      1. Dunolly is on the drier northern side of what I regard as Central Victoria. I live on the southern, higher rainfall, hilly side – parts of Wombat and Upper Loddon State Forests are my wandering areas. Unfortunately we don’t have much of the trackless expanses of eastern Victoria here, and nearly everywhere (except in state park) is within an hour or so of 4WD tracks or roads. Still, I wander off track as much as I can. It has been quite non-crunchy underfoot until quite recently, but there is plenty of understorey to hide behind when stalking.The areas I usually go see me coming on the deer uphill and down wind of where they’re lounging. Always exciting … the Red Deer are most elusive and though I’ve seen their tracks often enough, I’ve only seen them up close once. Fallows on the other hand I’ve nearly run into, or been run over by, quite a few times.

  3. Exceptional piece of wisdom there. Thank you!
    This resonates with me, but I know many will disagree. But then with a Ph.D in ecology, I’m not your average deerstalker!
    In my little corner of central Victoria I’ve been trailing some Fallow and Red Deer for for about 18 months, with a longbow or recurve in hand. There have been times when I had a shot present but it was slightly marginal in done say it another, so I didn’t take it. Every time I see that ear flick out of the corner of my eye, and there they are, it’s a thrill. I will eat one soon, but in my case I now have 3-4 shooters who occasionally visit and blow up anything they can get near (kangaroos, wallabies, deer, trees …) – my quiet time with the birds and windflowers and deer might be limited. I hope that their impatience means that they’ll tire of this sitethat otherwise necessitates a 5-10km walk to see anything much more than the obvious.

    1. Thanks Lawrie. It is nice to get away from hoons. If you camp half a day away from where they can get with their cars, the deer will be more amenable and you won’t be bothered by unwanted guests. I was just up in your box-ironbark forest and came back with the biggest (cast) fallow antler I have ever seen, so the hunting there could be worthwhile!

  4. I thank you and commend you for this and past write-ups Sir. I know it will make most “hunters” cringe and become defensive. I also fear it will be unwanted advise to most and fall on deaf ears but please know there are at least a few that appreciate your blatent honesty. This has made me consider some of my own hunting practices and feel better about sticking to what I think is right instead of caving in to my peers saying “I must use a gun to hunt.” Rather than my bow, because it is a more effective way to hunt. I am only a begginer when it comes to hunting deer and have only seen a few in my trips out to the bush. Never close enough to take a comfortable shot, so I haven’t. Just being thankful for having seen one of these beautiful ghosts. Nothing is more satisfying than getting within ten to fifteen meters of a sambar and having it honk you only to scare the shit out of you and high tail it out of there (my first trip out into the bush hunting). Thanks again, I will continue to follow your writing with the intent of learning from the invaluable advice you have bestowed upon us lucky readers.

    1. Thanks Gareth. It IS wonderful to know there are others who share a sense of the worth of the creatures we hunt and feel that there is a morality which must apply. I am encouraged by the support for this post from some folk who are generally anti-hunting. Our conduct and values must win them over too, because it is by their leave that we continue. Good luck with the bow. You have chosen a difficult tool, one which must be used at close range. (I sometimes think that only shotguns and solids should be permitted so that gun hunters are forced to learn to hunt – but I rarely take a shot that is further away than I could take with a shotgun: what else if you are aiming for a quick clean kill?). If the deer cannot use its senses and flight ability to escape the hunter, it is nowhere near a ‘fair chase’. With a large new National Park being promoted, hunters need to realise that their activities are always under question.

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