Thinking of hunting Sambar deer in Victoria? Here’s what you can expect.

Location: Corryong/Nariel Valley – Victoria
Time of year: Sep/Oct

I have wanted to get more involved with where my meat comes from for a while. It’s why I got my firearms licence in the first place. I’ve heard much of the horrors of factory farming, and while my long term plan is to actually eat more vegetables and less animal protein than I do now (in line with Valter Longo’s Longevity Diet), the animal protein that I do eat should be sourced ethically and responsibly.

The first step in the right direction is to buy animal protein from responsible producers such as Cleavers and Inglewood Farms. The next step is to source it myself from wild animals.

Australia is home to many species of introduced animals, including well known pests such as rabbits, foxes, and wild pigs; and also larger deer species including fallow, red, hog, and the aim of this hunting trip: sambar.

Sambar deer were introduced to Australia during the 1860s from India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. They’re one of the biggest deer species in Australia, with full grown stags reaching up to 230kg in weight and 130cm in height!

Male sambar deer
Source: Joseph Lazer

Coincidentally, the draft strategy for deer management in Victoria was released just as we were coming home, and it paints a dire picture of the need for deer management in Victoria.

Just one look at the population of Sambar deer in Victoria shows it growing throughout the east and middle of the state. Unfortunately, Sambar deer have many negative impacts on agriculture, including harassment of cattle, competing with livestock for feed, causing damage to crops and transmission of disease. According to the draft strategy document, 1080 species of flora and fauna would benefit from deer control efforts in Victoria.

2015 map of Sambar deer distribution and sightings. Source: Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning. 

There’s a concentration of Sambar deer in the foothills of the Australian Alps in Northeast Victoria, so we packed the car during the October long weekend and drove the 5.5 hours from Sydney to Corryong. Because I haven’t been shooting or hunting in over 6 months (I plan to get more regularly involved), I resigned myself to helping without shooting.

Day 1 – The land of grass and antlers

Our first day 20 minutes from Corryong began with us meeting the gracious landowner who had let us hunt on his property. He took us around his sprawling land, telling us about his farming operations as well as regaling us with funny stories about sudden encounters with rogue roos.

He showed us multiple gully systems and some isolated land at the back of his property that he knew was home to many deer. He also told us we’d see plenty of rabbits, and told us about a powerful stag in some of his other land that a seasoned hunter was trying to hunt as we spoke.

Hillside
The hillsides on the property

That night after a good old fashioned country pub meal, we suited up and connected our spotlight, eager to head out to the more isolated back part of his property.

To say we saw some deer and rabbits was an understatement. The land was like a zoo of native and introduced animals. Wombats threaded from hole to hole, rabbits sprung up and darted in front of our vehicle, kangaroos bounced around, and we spotted approximately 10 deer.  Unfortunately many of the deer we saw were too far in the heavily wooded hillsides for us to properly scope. Two deer darted out in front of us in a clearing, but we let them pass as they were too small.

We finished the night tired and empty handed, but excited to resume early the next morning. We were confident that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Day 2 – Hikes and honks

Early the next morning we drove out to the gullies our host had shown us the day before.

Gully one
The gully entry.

To get there we climbed up a steep and heavily wooded hillside for about 30 minutes, and towards the midpoint we were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a large stag looking straight down at us from his position 50 metres away. He looked at us curiously from behind the consistent thicket of trees. As my friend readied his rifle, he honked loudly and then powerfully launched up the hillside. I could see glimpses of at least one other deer bounding off in front of him too.

Gobsmacked, we slowly tried to give chase for 15 minutes up the steep terrain, our boots crunching over dried bark and sticks. With no more signs of the stag or his posse, we rested before resuming our climb to the top of the hill. Along the way we spotted animals moving in the distance and saw deer tracks and droppings everywhere, and heard another honk. After a long walk back to our starting point (including two creek crossings), we left empty handed again.

Wooded hilltop
Finally at the top of the hillside!

Later in the afternoon we trekked up towards another part of the more isolated back part of the property, walking down another gully into a creek system. We spent a couple of hours walking and waiting at various points near the creek as the sun gradually set. Unfortunately we spotted nothing, but kept seeing fresh deer tracks and droppings criss-crossing our path. We decided to pack up again as it got dark, walking back to the car.

Deer tracks
Deer tracks
Deer poo
The ever-present site of sambar deer droppings.

As we got out of the gully into the clearing where our vehicle was, we were stopped in our tracks by a booming honk to our immediate right! We turned to see a large dark brown stag looking at us. He was at the bottom of an open hillside with tree cover just above him. Gobsmacked, we clicked on our flashlights but he sprang up the hill and honked again.

Picking our jaws off the floor we gave chase up the hillside, but he darted over it. As it was getting dark we thought it wise to head back home, eat dinner and head out refreshed for our final hunt.

For our last hunt of the weekend we chose to spotlight a detached part of our hosts’ land further down the road. We opened the gate and drove along the treeline, scanning with our spotlight as our active shooter sat in the back of the ute. After only 10 minutes, our driver grabbed our attention and pointed out a beautiful doe leaving tree cover and walking up a steep hillside. Our shooter aimed and fired, bringing the doe down instantly with a shot that passed from the rear through the lungs. It was over in seconds.

Hunting butcher
Processing the doe.

We were elated as we walked up the steep hillside and retrieved the large doe. We proceeded to process it under the glow of the spotlight, taking a hefty garbage bag of meat and thanking the animal as we left.

What followed was a tiring but worthwhile night as we drove home, cleaned the meat and bagged it up for our trip home the next day.

Deer leg
Some of our meat after the successful hunt.

The next morning we made the drive back to Sydney a bit worn out, but inspired. It was a tough few days of steep hiking with many close and disappointing opportunities, but it was well worth it. We had a great time out in the lush green of the Victorian bush, close to both our beautiful native animals as well as these wonderful yet elusive deer.

Canola field
The beautiful scenery on the drive home.

Male Sambar Deer Image Source: Source: By Joseph Lazer (Personal Collection) [CC BY-SA 2.5 in], via Wikimedia Commons

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