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Have a system in place
Now that you have your optics, weapon of choice and are in deer country, don’t just assume that sambar will fill your binoculars every time you sweep them over a ridge. It doesn’t happen like that, and to be efficient and consistently productive with your sambar glassing you will need to have a plan, be determined, adaptable and prepared to think outside the square to get results.
Once you have reached an area you want to glass, you must have an idea of what you believe the deer will be doing and have your game face on. Don’t sit there trying to glass thinking about the work you have to do at home when you get back, don’t glass for five minutes then stretch out and have a nap, don’t spend more time on your cell phone then behind your optic, you are there to find deer and your thought processors must be focused on the task ahead. When reaching a glassing point I often spend a minute or two just looking with the naked eye, I’m not trying to find a bedded deer at 600 metres, I am trying to scan likely areas for a deer out in the open, walking along a trail or out on a river flat. The reason I do this is sometimes there are deer in very visual locations and you need to pick them up as quickly as possible. If you automatically sit down and start glassing, and you have a large area to cover in front of you then it is possible by the time you put the optics over the area where the deer was that you could have located with the naked eye it is very likely to have moved and could even be out of sight. Terrain and habitat will determine how much time I spend with the naked eye trying to locate a deer.
When its time to start working the binoculars I like to initially glass the edges of clearings, flats, spurs and saddles, the reason being that if deer are about to walk out of view, then you need to check these areas first so you don’t miss an animal by glassing in other areas. Play the percentages with these locations then start working the rest of the area methodically. I like to sit there and think if I were a sambar stag, at that time of the day, in the current weather conditions, in the location in front of me during that time of year, where would I want to be? You won’t always get it right, but if your not thinking about it, you will never get it right at least some of the time.
My first sweep with binoculars is usually pretty fast, again I like to try to find those easier deer that are highly visual, except this time it is for the ones I can’t see with the naked eye but I am trying to find with the binocular. I will cover the entire area in front of me and then when I am satisfied I having giving everything a good once over, I will start to methodically work all the areas again, but at a much slower speed. Looking not only in the obvious areas, but glassing under trees, against rock ledges, on benches and in tighter cover. Prepare yourself to not only look for the whole shape of a deer, but all the other indicators and visual clues that something is out of place and might actually belong to a deer.
As a general rule of thumb, the speed at which I will glass for sambar is governed by what the deer should be doing. If I expect them to be up on their feet and feeding, then I will glass a bit quicker as the deer will be moving and more visual, if the morning has worn on and the temperature increased and most deer have found their beds, then my glassing speed slows right down.
Some people like to grid an area, others will work contour lines and other hunters will glass spasmodically until they cover all the available terrain in front of them. Figure out how you like to glass, what works for you and stick with it.
If there are two or three of you glassing, don’t all just sit together in the one spot, the view will be very similar and often you will all be frequently covering the same country. If the terrain allows, switch it up, have somebody sit a bit higher or lower and another person around the ridge a bit. Keep in eye contact or within earshot of course, but often the slight adjustments in angles will give the glassing hunters an entirely different perspective of the country before them and often this will translate to an increase probability of deer sightings.
Keeping notes on deer encounters
It’s important to take note of everything around you when you glass up a sambar. Some hunters will remember everything in their heads whilst others will find value in keeping notes on your device or writing in a diary. You can include time of day, what the deer were doing when you glassed them, food sources they were eating, what age and sex the deer were that you glassed, time of year, weather conditions prior, during and upcoming to when you seen the deer, elevation they were at, moon phase, temperature etc. After a few entries you will refine your note taking to the essentials and anything out of the ordinary.
You might find this a bit tedious at first but in time you will soon start to see patterns emerging and you can use this valuable information from previous entries to plan your upcoming hunts to ensure you give yourself every chance of glassing animals.
Sambar will always do everything for a reason and with purpose. Everything they do from feeding and bedding to the elevation they are at to the social groups they form is governed by an accumulation of many factors. Try to understand these and take note for future reference so when you see a familiar set of conditions forming you will have an idea of where the deer should be and what they are doing. You won’t get it right all the time, however if your always learning and prepared to think about each deer encounter when glassing then you will be on your way to gaining a better understanding of sambar behavior.
On the flip side of the coin, it is also important to learn from the trips that you don’t see deer or locate a lot fewer then what you normally would. Ask yourself what is different this trip and try to figure out what you need to do next time to adjust your strategies to place sambar in your optics. With the sambar populations surging in many areas, most hunters will be hunting in areas they know deer are living, its just figuring out how to locate deer regularly that takes time on the hill, hours behind glass and a questioning mindset that’s keen to learn about the deer.
Weather and glassing
Weather heavily influences and controls deer movement. Their usual patterns are often interrupted and sambar will know well in advance when these changes are coming. If a big cold front is approaching, sambar will interpret the change in barometer and feed up in earnest before the bad weather hits, no matter what time of the day it is. Drizzly days, especially the first few hours of drizzle after a dry spell, will get most deer in the system up and moving, even if it hits in the middle of the day, they just have to get up and move around to feed in these conditions. They do not like bedding up getting rained on and will move around to keep warm and feed.
Overcast days and cool temperatures will definitely keep deer feeding out in semi-open country longer so make sure you hang in there on those overcast mornings and be in a good glassing spot early in the afternoon if it becomes overcast during the day.
Glassing sambar on windy days
Sambar like all deer don’t disappear on windy days, however they do tend to favor certain habits when the wind picks up and starts blowing. A smart hunter will use this to his advantage and learn to identify areas and locations that the deer are likely to seek out on windy days. No different to livestock in a paddock or us humans in the outdoors, sambar will seek sheltered areas to get out of a strong breeze. These areas will typically have reduced noise levels and this helps sambar with their defense mechanisms and survival against predators, including humans. Sambar certainly are nervous on windy days, so focus your glassing efforts to the lee side of ridges and any gully heads that are sheltered.
A few years ago I was in the bush hunting when there was a massive storm expected to hit later that evening, I was hunting in the afternoon and there were sambar everywhere. Feeding up in the clearings, walking down spurs to food sources, active and eagerly eating all they could. I was tripping over them and it was apparent every deer in the area was up and about. Their level of behavior was clearly elevated to what they would have normally been doing and it was certainly attributed to the big front coming through. These deer were simply filling themselves up on food so they could weather out the storm when it came through.
Likewise with the first calm day after a big front, the deer will be very active to replenish their food supply now that the weather has settled. Often it might be a small area on a high point, or where a funnel of wind has knocked down a few trees. These locations can be magnets for the local deer as they will readily feed on the fresh leaves within reach from the fallen tree and they will also be attracted to the exposed soil that has been brought to surface by the upturned roots. As the leaves die and harden they will loose appeal, but if roots are still connected to the soil, and the tree stays alive, it can provide a valuable food source for the resident deer.
Its amazing the mixed diet that sambar take in, and they certainly vary it up whenever they can with a wide range of plant species and a strong wind will help them obtain diet that isn’t always accesbile.
Effects of sunlight and shade when glassing
Often when your glassing early in the morning you will get a period of no direct sunlight and this will mean there are no shadows from rocks and trees on the opposite faces. We all know these periods are peak times to locate animals but the fact that there are no shadows will also reduce contrast and change in colour and it will be much easier to identify deer in their habitat. Once the sun hits your basin or ridge you are glassing, there are shadows everywhere and the challenge of locating sambar will increase.
Sunlight is a big factor controlling where sambar will be and how long the stags feel comfortable feeding into the morning. Following a very cold or wet night the deer will definitely enjoy time on a sunny face or ridge, but as the temperature warms up they will soon head to their beds. Often deer on sunny faces in moderate temperatures will bed early so it pays to keep this in mind, as the deer on the shady ridges of a morning will stay up on their feet longer before they get the urge to bed. Smart hunters will keep this in mind when they are planning their hunt. Those same ridges that catch early morning sun and cause deer to bed up will often be in shade early in the afternoon and these areas are where I would start my morning glassing session. I always assume that if the deer bed up early in a certain area, then they will get up earlier in the afternoon then the deer that feed well into the morning due to the location of their feeding area.
I don’t believe big mature sambar stags like to feed too long or stay on their feet in strong direct sunlight in open areas. I have glassed many stags that are happily feeding in shade on a ridge and as soon as the morning sun hits them, they look to head back into heavier cover or climb out over the top and bed up for the day. A couple of exceptions here are evening sunlight that is loosing strength and temperatures are cooling, this doesn’t worry them as much. Also if a hind is cycling and a mature stag is rutting on her he will often be dictated by her movements and feeding patterns and if she happens to stay out in the morning sunlight for a while he will likely stick with her even if it makes him uncomfortable. The urge to mate with a female in estrus has caused the downfall of a big percentage of mature sambar stags.
Mornings versus evenings
Some glassing locations seem to produce more deer sightings in the evenings and others produce in the morning. There are many reasons as to why this is so and you need to be aware of the factors that control this. Often in a big valley with a river and flats in the bottom the deer can take quite a while to shift elevation from their beds and drop down to feed on the flats, it might even take them half the night to get there. So early mornings glassing this country can often turn up deer that you would not have seen the evening before as you locate them heading back up at daylight. A lot will depend on the terrain, pressure, weather and how open the habitat is in regards to how visual the resident deer will be.
I have shot a lot more mature stags in the afternoon then I have in the mornings, but that doesn’t mean mornings aren’t as productive, they are, its just I have probably spent more evenings on the hill hunting after work then I have mornings. I always believe that sambar in the morning with a full belly can be nervous and pretty keen to head up into thicker cover making them mobile and quite alert. This can make them harder to close the distance on in big country and it can make them leave open farm country pretty quick. Whilst the same deer in the afternoons tend to be more preoccupied with eating and are pretty relaxed with darkness approaching and often settled in on the food source or heading to it.
When glassing in head basins and big valleys at elevations where deer will be bedding, keep in mind that often it can take a couple of hours after sunrise for the deer to climb out of their feeding areas to their bedding locations. Keep glassing until mid morning as sometimes sambar might not be visible until they get to a certain elevation level or if they have had to feed up through thick gully heads.
If your glassing farm fringe country there are many variables that will affect whether you are seeing deer in daylight hours. A few trail cameras on edges of clearings, game trails and nearby wallows will help create a picture as to what routine the resident deer are currently in when you are not there.
Availability of food can affect speed and distance travelled by sambar
Not all country is equal where sambar live, there is habitat that is abundant with a variety of food sources 12 months of the year and there are other locations with just as many deer where the bush is hungrier and leaner. Soil quality, pressure on browse by the deer and other animals, rainfall levels, average temperatures, elevation, bushfires and access to fertilized farm country will all have an affect on just how long a sambar needs to be on its feet to obtain its daily dietary intake. Often this drier country will see the deer travelling further on their daily feeding routine and by staying on their feet it will make them more visual. On the other hand, there are many highly fertile systems where deer can happily live in head basins that offer a wide variety of high quality browse and these deer will simply not need to travel as far from their bedding areas to access good feed. Deer accessing farm fringe country are often under some hunting pressure and tend to travel a reasonable distance back into the bush before reaching bedding areas they feel are relatively safe.
Hunters glassing for sambar will need to keep their expectations in line with the location they are hunting and just because their mate in a different location is seeing double digit numbers of deer every session he glasses, it wont mean that is what you should be seeing whenever you are out on the hill. I often hunt sambar in country where I will glass up less then a handful of deer for an entire weekend, but often out of these deer there will be a mature stag and I know of many places where multiple deer are glassed on an hourly basis at the prime times of the day but you really have to work hard and look over a lot of deer before finding a decent stag. It’s always nice to glass a few deer up, but you need to work out what it is your trying to achieve and find locations that suit your style and glassing abilities.
Hunting pressure and glassing
One aspect of sambar hunting you can never control is how much pressure the local deer are under, especially on public land. If you are always taking notice of the habits and traits of the deer you are glassing you will be more effective with your hunt plan when decisions need to be made. Nowadays, I always assume that no valley or basin on public land is sacred, it all gets hunted each year at some stage, so you just have to make sure your hunting any area efficiently and wisely to ensure the greatest probability of encountering deer. Thinking outside the square will help you locate deer. Maybe you have studied Google Earth and located a basin that looks great a short walk over a ridge that isn’t visual from the track that everybody is driving up, maybe you have found a great lookout watching river flats full of grass and blackberries that is only accessible and visual by crossing a river and maybe you have decided to hunt outside school holidays and long weekends when possible to reduce hunters in the bush in an effect to locate more settled deer. All these factors don’t seem like much, but when they start adding up, sooner or later a box will get ticked and eventually it comes together for you. Keep doing it and your one step ahead of the other blokes that do the same as everybody else in the same locations that generally produce the same results.
When you glass a deer or a group of sambar their body language can tell you a lot. Are they looking nervous and edgy, how often do they put their heads up and look around for danger between mouthfuls of food, are they moving to heavier cover at a fast walk right at the crack of dawn, are they relaxed and in no hurry to leave open country, are they bedding in the toughest, roughest, thickest country or are they just lying down on an open ridge with their heads on the ground sleeping. All these factors and many more will help you gain an understanding of the local deer, their habits and just how much pressure they might be having from hunters and predators. It can help you plan a hunt and give you an idea of your best strategy if you glass up an animal you want to harvest.
Some old mature stags are very good at living in pockets that are either impossible to glass into or are simply very cunning and rarely head into open country in daylight hours. You will never see all the stags in any given catchment or area and as autumn progresses stags will move around a lot more, so if you are seeing deer always have confidence that sooner or later a mature stag will turn up or make a mistake and make himself vulnerable. Once again the use of trail cameras on game trails, bedding areas, wallows and saddles in the areas you are glassing will help build a picture of the quality and numbers of the deer currently living in the area. Remember that even trail cameras will never take images of all the deer in a given area so again, persistence with boots on the ground is the key.
Remain undetected to the local deer
The best possibly situation is to be glassing without having deer in the immediate area know you are there. Sometimes it can’t be avoided and you must sacrifice scenting up a certain part of a drainage while being able to glass the rest of it. If you are moving across a range and glassing down into basins it is inevitable your scent will reach some sambar, so make sure you plan your hunt so that your not back in these areas at prime time trying to locate animals that are already alerted to your presence.
Always, take not of what the wind is doing, it should be automatic, from when you step out of the vehicle, to when your climbing a ridge to when your setting up on a spur to glass to even what the wind is doing on the other side of the valley. It will help you make the correct choices for when you need to plan a stalk to close the distance on an animal.
Understand how shade and sunlight affects wind movement and the times of day when the thermals change direction and you will be able to both anticipate deer movement and plan stalks with confidence.
Try to never sneeze or cough out loud, always be aware that in the thin mountain air these foreign noises will certainly get resident deer on edge and you should never be talking in loud voices when in sambar country. Always keep it low in tone or preferably a whisper. Nothing will ruin your hunt more then having a conversation with your mate in normal volume whilst you’re trying to glass deer. If you have split up and you need to contact a mate, do a bird call or a gentle whistle that is audible for them to hear and understand you need their attention. Have a system in place with your regular hunting partner and stick to it for familiarity.
Sambar will be much more visual if they don’t know humans are around and this is what you should always be trying to achieve.
Learning whilst not in the bush
Even maximizing your spare time when not in the bush can pay off. A good keen hunter can learn a lot about sambar and glassing when not sitting on a remote ridge. Most of us will have access to the internet, you can watch youtube clips, dvd’s, read forum boards, look at live deer pictures in the magazines, study your trail camera images and get used to how deer look on different angles in various types of terrain in changing light conditions at different distances. You can start training your eye to what you actually need to look for so that when you are in the bush you have your game face on from the moment you start glassing.
In the final part of our ‘Glassing for Sambar’ series we will go over hunt tactics and the decisions that need to be made when a stag is glassed up.