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For many hunters this topic might not have great appeal or interest, but there is a lot to be gained from understanding and learning about sambar beds. Hunters can add another piece of knowledge to their sambar wisdom by realizing how important beds are to sambar, how it assists their survival, how they communicate through visiting bedding areas and how best to hunt these areas in varying conditions.
Sambar beds can pretty much be found in all areas they frequent throughout their daily lives. From the edges of clearings just inside cover to blackberry choked valley fl oors to side gullies fi lled with dogwood all the way up to grassy benches and underneath rock ledges sambar will fi nd safety and security to bed up. They will use all of these areas periodically with external factors infl uencing just where they choose to bed on that day. Feed availability, hunting pressure, wind direction, weather conditions, snowfall, sunlight, temperatures and cycling hinds are just some of the variances that will have an eff ect on where and why sambar are choosing to bed where they do.
Often hunters will stalk through a clearing and notice well used beds in the grass or on the edges just inside the timber or tree line. These beds are mainly used at night where sambar have been feeding and then either return to cover or lie in the grass to ruminate and rest up. They might be doing so because the moon has risen and is lighting up the clearing or a frost has developed and the deer will lie down until pre dawn when they will get back up and feed for a few more hours making their way to the daytime bedding areas.
Very occasionally in areas that might lend itself to glassing, hunters will locate deer (and stags) seemingly bedded up in very open habitat. It might be that a hind is cycling and the stag is in an area he normally wouldn’t bed, or that the weather has infl uenced their decision to bed in an open location. But whilst it might look open from the opposite valley, there will surely be handy cover nearby, a couple of escape routes, deceptive folds in the terrain and probably more trees and shrubs nearby then what fi rst appears. Often when you get over there you will notice it seems a lot thicker then fi rst impressions and that the deer haven’t chosen poorly, its just you got a break because your glassing position gave a good view into their bedroom.
Very frequently stags will bed on ridges and spurs or near a saddle where a quick exit ensures them safety into the next gully or system. They have a habit of always being quite elevated in location where they choose to bed and often will bed above other sambar to use them as an early warning device should trouble arise. Stags also like to bed up on ridges because as the day warms thermals will rise and this will put that big nose of theirs to work and give them full use of their senses. They do everything for a reason, including placing themselves in the best possible locations for survival.
Hinds and particularly stags certainly like rocky cliff s and ledges to bed up against, these areas always need to be checked out by the hunter with optics and preferably from the opposite face or above. Stalkers can also work the elevations through these areas and many times empty beds will be located giving the hunter encouragement that deer do like using the areas and its just a matter of persisting until animals are located. The rocks will give warmth on cold days, potentially block a cold wind, provide security and also off er mineral rich grazing underneath where rain water has rolled off the rocks and into the grass below. Some areas vary a lot with soil content and minerals in the rocks, but it is unquestionable in many areas stags will seek out these areas targeting the higher nutrient level from the accumulation of minerals slowly leaching out of the rocks.
As a general rule, and where habitat allows, sambar will bed above their feeding areas and travel routes. So if your glassing deer on a fl at or creek bottom it shouldn’t take too much to work out their direction of travel keeping in mind the time of day and where they have likely come from or are going to. Often you won’t actually see sambar bed up as they head back into thicker habitat, but you will loose sight of them and assume that is probably where they have chosen to lay down. Keep in mind that sometimes deer will stay on their feet for a quite a while in the mornings in heavier cover where they feel secure and occasionally they do travel a lot further back into valleys then what might be fi rst thought.
Probably the most challenging form of sambar hunting is to try and outwit a sambar in its bed. There are so many variables that can work against you and most of the time the deer will have everything in their favor. But the task is not impossible and if you want to make the most out of each day of hunting then it is a viable option to keep you in the hunt over that mid morning to mid afternoon period.
Sambar like all deer will get up, stretch, urinate/defecate, have a quick feed and adjust bedding location or direction they are facing at some stage during the midday hours. Often they will do this numerous times throughout the day. They shift bedding positions for a number of reasons, but the changing sunlight and shade is one major factor that will make them move. It might only be a small window to get a look at them whilst they are on their feet, but it does open up possibilities for the keen hunter who is in suitable habitat at these times of the day.
I remember a late summer hunt when we were glassing during a full moon period, it was very early in the morning with just enough light to see and I located a mature stag half grown in velvet already bedded up on the opposite face. He was in relatively open country, but close to cover and already laying down behind a small shrub. Twenty minutes later as the sun rose over our shoulders we watched it light up the face opposite us and when sunlight dropped to the level of the stag he promptly stood up, turned around and walked into heavier bush seeking shade and better security. There was absolutely no chance that stag was prepared to spend his day in such a vulnerable location. If we had of glassed this area half an hour after daylight we would never have known there was a mature stag growing out there. These are very good lessons that hunters can store away and keep in their memory bank for future hunts.
Something to keep in mind is all areas that sambar occupy vary greatly with habitat and conditions and in turn the bedding traits of the local deer. Farm fringe deer will be using beds that are located in entirely diff erent habitat, elevations and positions to the high country sambar that cover a large area of range over their yearly movements. Generally the bigger the country the more habitat the deer can choose their bedding areas from and the harder it will be to identify bedding areas, especially if your hunting new country. Nothing will beat leaving boot tracks on the mountain in your search to learn areas. In certain locations there are plenty of sambar that live in relatively open habitat. These areas can be easier to fi nd beds because the suitable habitat will often draw animals to them for bedding due to a shortage of good cover at the right height in the right location within the area.
At times sambar will feed along a face and be content to lie down on a temporary bed, it might be a fl at spot next to the game trail on the side of a hill where they just want to rest up, or it could be a summer bed near water where shade and a cool breeze coming off the creek lowers air temperature and make the area very appealing on hot days. A previously used bed doesn’t have to be ground 6 inches into the dirt to make it appealing for the resident deer to use. Sambar being sambar will bed where they like and certainly in big country have dozens of diff erent beds where they will use throughout the course of each year.
When you come across frequently used beds, have a look and try to take in a bit more then the obvious. Are there fresh rubs nearby, droppings in the bed, other beds in close proximity and if so do these other beds vary in size. It could indicate family groups are recently using the area if beds of diff erent sizes are apparent. Try to build a picture of which way the deer in the beds are likely to face, the typical wind direction, escape routes and likely times the beds will be used. Stand in the bed and ask yourself what is the best way to approach this bed, can it be viewed from above, across the valley or stalked into relatively easily. Are their distinguishing features of the bed to make the immediate area stand out so you can recognize where the deer could be lying next time you approach it. Gps in the location and make notes if need be.
All this is doing is adding more depth to your sambar hunting and if you can connect up a series of beds for some light footed stalking during the midday hours it can keep you in the game a lot longer and increase opportunities of encountering deer outside of peak movement times.
Sambar are very hard to locate when lying down and you will need everything going for you if you are to get a look at them before they burst out and head for safety. Only parts of the deer will be visible. Antlers, ears fl icking, shapes, patches of brown or a horizontal back line are all features to look for when searching for bedded animals. Obviously stalking through sambar bedding areas leaves a big scent trail right in their bedrooms and if you are planning on doing this then it would be wise to not hunt these same areas the following day. Recent rain will change things of course and allow everything to freshen up and cover your scent trail if you don’t have any other options except hunting the same areas again.
Putting up a sambar stag out of its bed is an occurrence that will be repeated many times over the course of a sambar hunter’s life. Each situation will be slightly diff erent and you need to adjust your next move according to what just happened. The fi rst thing I always think about is what alarmed that deer. Was it my scent, movement, noise, another animal or even a bird. From that I will determine what to do next. If human scent reached the deer your chances of locating him again that day is pretty slim. The deer will be on full alert and unless the habitat he went into is relatively open (this isn’t likely to happen) it might be worth letting him settle down and back out of there or loop around to hunt fresh country. If the deer has only been disturbed by noise or movement then you are in with a chance of relocating him as often the animal will run a short distance before settling down to a walk or pausing in cover to watch its back trail. If there is a defi ned game pad the deer has followed or soft soil allows tracking, by all means have a go to increase your skills, but a good point to consider is giving the deer time to settle down before following his trail.
If you have a favorable wind into the direction he run, then that is a big help, but there is every chance the deer will be looking to circle around or climb into a system to get the wind back in his favor.
They will all behave a bit diff erently according to their past experiences and how much pressure they have recently had. So don’t just assume a stag heading out of his bed will do what he has done before or what other stags have done in terms of the distance he goes and habitat he heads into. If there are two hunters working together pursuing a stag that has risen out of his bed, a good tactic is to have one hunter scanning ahead for the deer and the other hunter remaining on the tracks so you work in tandem and give yourselves the best chance of locating the deer before he runs off again. If you happen to bump a deer a second time after putting him up, then it will be very hard to get another look at that animal. They might give you a second chance, but very rarely will a third opportunity present.
Occasionally sambar will detect danger from their beds, but hold their ground and let hunters walk past them before getting up and relocating to a safer area. They know they have the advantage when they are laying low and I’ve seen them fl atten right out with their heads on the ground to minimize detection from humans.
Weather can heavily infl uence just where the deer are bedding up. Very cold frosty nights will at times see deer bedding up where they can receive sun and warm up, although it isn’t often mature stags will lie around all day long in full sunlight. Hot days will see deer wanting to cool down either by catching a breeze or being in heavily shaded areas. Windy days obviously will see sambar wanting to bed in gullies and basins out of the wind so they can still eff ectively use their senses to detect danger. If your in doubt as to where you think the deer might be bedding, stop for a while, have a look at the surrounding habitat, think about the weather and cloud cover and ask yourself if you were a deer where would you want to be for the best security and safety. It often doesn’t take too long to work out where the most appealing locations should be.
Another advantage of working deer beds, either by stalking or glassing into them is sambar stags will defi nitely know the locations of most of the beds in any given system. He will work these areas leaving scent for other deer to recognize and also periodically do the rounds of beds to help him locate hinds that are in estrous or about to start cycling. Stags will scent the ground at all beds they come to and this makes their task of fi nding deer to mate with a little easier then if they were just randomly wandering through deer habitat.
One thing to consider when you do fi nd a sambar in his bed is to decide whether to shoot or wait for him to stand up. This can be quite a tricky situation, as sometimes you might not have a lot of time with daylight, the winds are variant or unsuitable habitat prevents a clear shot. There have been many good sambar stags missed by hunters shooting above them as they lay in their beds. The vital zones of deer are much smaller when compressed in a laying position compared to a standing shot. Sometimes there are angles involved, intermittent scrub and no suitable rest for the hunter. These factors all accumulate and can increase the chance of a missed shot on a bedded sambar. I would only take the shot on a bedded sambar if you have complete confi dence in your rifl e and shooting abilities and a sturdy shooting platform.
Normally you can get a deer to rise from its bed and hold its ground before running off . There are two schools of thought as to what noises to make, either try a noise that is disturbing to the deer and gets him to stand up for further investigation, or a passive noise that he is familiar with but still needs to rise from his bed to check it out. A deer honk, low volume dingo howl, dog bark, rock rolling down a hill and sticks breaking are all sounds that a sambar will affi liate with as potential danger. Passive noises range from working a stick against a tree to stimulate another stag in the immediate area rubbing his antlers, to making hind, calf or bird calls, or simply shaking a shrub. All these sounds will get the animals attention providing he is within earshot of the noise you are making. If there is a breeze blowing or you’re a little distance away you might need to increase the volume of the sounds you are making to get his attention. Do this gradually and watch for ears swiveling and his head moving nervously to indicate the animal has heard the sounds you are making.
If you are unsure what to do, a good tactic might be to start of with non-threatening noises and if these aren’t having the desired eff ect, switch it over to more obvious sounds. But be aware that no matter what noise you make, sambar standing up from their beds usual won’t give you lots of time so be ready to take the shot when it is off ered.
We really have only scratched the surface with the role that beds play in the day to day lives of sambar, but it is a start for hunters to get thinking about how they can utilize beds to their advantage and how bedding areas can play an important role in the hunting of sambar. Next time you pass a sambar bed, stop and take in everything around you, there just might be a lot more to learn then discovering nobody is home.