I was fortunate enough to be allowed access to a farm to have a look for Sambar, and it was too good an opportunity to miss. It turned out there were a considerable number of goats on the farm also, so the afternoon was spent stalking them. I saw around 70 in total, and managed to get very close to some. I didn’t shoot any though, as I still had plenty of meat in the freezer for the dogs, and I was enjoying the sun and the exotic-sounding cries of distant peacocks.
Towards the evening I got on a quad bike with the farmhand and we took a ride to the back of the farm. The country was spectacular, perfect sambar territory. Pine trees in the distance, scrub-covered gullies and a thick fortress of cover across the hills. Hiding the bike, we followed the ridge downwards a little until a good lookout spot was found. At around 8pm I spotted the first one, surprisingly it had almost a red deer appearance as it grazed away from me into a gut. I decided to move away from my companion and see if a shot would be possible. It wasn’t long before I retreated however, judging the distance to be around 300m. Far too long for my little .243 on such a big target! As the decision was made that I would go into the scrub and have a go at bush stalking, more animals appeared. Five sambar crossed the top clearing in a group, moving into the gorse.
The first time I had ever tried hunting sambar was literally the day before, so I had almost nil experience. But I figured they were deer and I am fairly decent at stalking, so with the deer hidden in the scrub I left my companion and quickly covered the slip face below us. Crossing a stream and a rickety barbed wire fence, I entered the gorse forest. From the hill top it had looked pretty open, but up close and personal was a different story. I donned my neoprene gloves in the naive hope that they would help, put my thick jacket on and a balaclava, and hit the gorse painfully face first.
Once a game trail was located it was a bit easier. It was quite incredible to appreciate the size of the animals that were making them; they were big! I took a few wrong turns, hitting dead ends and getting frustrated. Within the thick cover of the gorse there was not a breath of wind, and the heat inside my jacket was stifling. Most of the sign I was seeing was old, and the trail difficult. I wouldn’t wish crawling on hands and knees over dead gorse fragments on many people, but it had to be done. It wasn’t long before I caught the familiar scent of deer and the trail suddenly opened up. Fresh sign appeared. I crept slowly, scattering flocks of twittering quail. I was scared that they would give me away, aware too of the sound of gun metal on gorse, and the scrape of my jacket as I eased past some thick stuff.
Suddenly I found myself in a clearing, and there was a flurry of hooves in the bush to my left. Multiple animals ran in different directions, unseen. I froze, and movement caught my attention. A hind grazed 10m from me on my right, oblivious to her fleeing companions. I could only see her ears and brief glimpses of her head, and as I squatted to get a look through the scope my ankle made a tiny pop noise. That was all it took. She suddenly lifted her head in alarm, wheeling around and honking. I cursed to myself, yet felt pretty exhilarated. I had never seen a sambar before today!
I felt eyes on me and moved my own upward. There, in the scrub, was a spiker watching me from around 30m. Even as a youngster his size was impressive, and he gazed at me in puzzlement. I considered reaching for my camera, but as I slowly lowered myself into a sitting position he started to wander off. Thinking quickly, the safety was off, and I made a tiny noise to distract him. He froze. I lined up on his neck, and squeezed the trigger and immediately the thud of a good hit came back to me. I quickly reloaded and watched the bushes move. The shot obviously knocked him off his feet, and then he moved a short distance up hill and didn’t go any further. I didn’t yet unload, but put the safety on. I had been told repeatedly about how sambar are hard to kill, and a .243 is a bit light for this species. I was nervous. There was no blood on the ground but I could see his footfalls imprinted in the grass. As I approached the vine-covered patch where the deer was, I could hear movement within. My heart was hammering; twigs were snapping, and I couldn’t see him. I felt apprehensive, wondering if an injured animal was going to stampede over me at any moment. I crept around the top of the bush where I could see inside the thicket. Movement caught my eye. I raised the rifle to get a better view, and then realised that I had been so focussed on the movement that I completely missed the dead sambar in front of me!I unloaded the rifle with shaking hands and a big smile. I had bagged my first sambar!