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Glassing for sambar might not work out every time you get behind the optics, but if you keep chipping away sooner or later things will start coming together and locating sambar in the optics will happen a lot more consistently. Broadly speaking the number of hours you spend glassing for sambar will simply translate to increased deer sightings, the more you glass the more deer you should be locating. Lets go over a few tips and strategies that will give you a helping hand towards developing a hunt plan to help you locate sambar on a more regular basis.
Sambar can be creatures of habit at certain times of the year
Whilst over the course of a year it is guaranteed that all sambar stags will shift range and move around considerably, hunters need to understand that they can also be creatures of habit. At certain times of the year, when feed, habitat and seasons align, if you can find animals in a particular area, there is every chance year after year they will be back in this same area around a similar time. They might not be on the same bench or in the same gully to the exact day as seasonal conditions will vary, but if they have survived the winter there is every possibility of them repeatedly using areas they are familiar with and feel secure in. This is particularly reflective of the high country sambar that live at 1500-1650 metres ASL over spring and summer and shift range according to feed, temperature and conditions.
If you can isolate a few of these areas and keep checking in on them then sooner or later you will turn the animals up. The fresh green clover and grass that grows during spring and into early summer is a good example of how at certain elevations when it flushes, the deer will be right there eating it. The paddock edges and clearings in the low farm country are the first to experience this green growth in spring and as temperatures heat up and the higher elevations also experience warmer weather, these mountainous areas will also commence the spring growth and deer will climb out of valley floors to keep following it to stay on the best available tucker. A hunter only has to drive up to a ski field in early spring and take notice of the grass growing on the side of the road as he gains elevation to soon work out approximately where the best feed currently is. The main purpose for sambar stags at these periods is to maximize food intake to replenish reserves lost over winter and to put body mass back on to assist with antler growth. For the hinds being on the best possible food will help with the calving process and milk production. Of course spring is also a great time for stags to locate any cycling hinds and naturally the best feed is where the deer will be and where you will have the best chance of finding a stag rutting on a cycling hind.
Hunters will need to keep in mind valleys and spurs facing in different directions will get varying amounts of sunlight and heat so this does affect what areas within any system will be experiencing the better growth. North and east facing benches and ridges will grow grass earlier in spring as the ground temperature heats up faster here, but these areas will also dry off quicker, so when that happens hunters need to concentrate on the south and west facing locations.
If a hunter can have a few secluded basins or clearings that sambar favor in spring, then they will certainly do well to keep visiting these areas each year when everything has lined up for the deer to be there.
Likewise in winter on cold mornings a hunter might glass deer climb up to or feeding on a certain north-facing ridge to warm up after a frosty night. Keeping this in mind it is possible that this area will repeatedly draw deer in after cold nights and could very well be located above a favorite feeding area or under a good bedding area making it the obvious choice for deer in the immediate area to go to when conditions are ideal.
If you keep an open mind to when you are seeing deer in certain areas and why they are there then you will start to build patterns and this will assist you with your hunt plans over the course of each year.
Utilize all your time on the hill
There is no doubt that repeated glassing can be taxing on the body and mind, especially when you are not finding what you are looking for. Come mid morning you will need to decide whether its time to head back to camp, have a snooze on the hill to give the eyes a rest, keep glassing or move into new or different country to locate areas for your afternoon behind the optics. Well you can do all of these things and still be in the game come mid afternoon. Use your down time wisely, check out saddles for movement along game trails, look for wallows, cast antlers or set tc’s in likely areas, it will all assist your knowledge base and increase your probability of getting better at locating deer in the area you are hunting and where you should be laying down the optics at the peak times of deer movement. If you are going to do this obviously keep well away from where you want to be glassing later in the day so you don’t scent up areas that might hold bedded deer.
Sambar stags are incredibly good at melting out of view when lying behind even the lightest of cover, so you need to slow down the glassing speed and change your mindset to get in the groove of what you need to look for in order to locate sambar during the midday hours.
Always be prepared and motivated to go walk over the next ridge or spur to see what’s on the other side, every kilometer hiked in sambar country is a worthy investment.
If you are keen to keep glassing throughout the day or the weather and deer are telling you to hang in behind the optics, then you need to adjust your game plan as the day progresses. Ask yourself if you were a deer wanting to bed where would you be, look at the habitat, predict hunting pressure and locate the areas where a sambar would feel safe lying up for a few hours. Try to gain elevation so you can glass down into bedding areas, as it will be much easier trying to locate a bedded sambar preferably from above or at the same level rather then from a lower elevation.
Keep in mind over the midday period all deer, sambar included will get up and have a stretch, grab a bite to eat and change their position as a result of shifting shadows and temperatures. It will only be for a short period that they do this, and often they will remain in cover, however if you can get the optics on a good stag adjusting his position you will have a few hours up your sleeve to make a play on him and try to get set up for when he begins his evening travels. It is probably about the hardest challenge when glassing for sambar, locating them whilst they are in their beds, especially in typical bush cover, so don’t expect the percentage of deer you locate lying down will be that high, but the ones you do find can create good opportunities.
Even if you locate a hind or two it will be beneficial because there could be a mature stag right there with them that you can’t see. Sometimes when there is a hind close to coming into estrus stags will be aware of this and stay near the female, he might be a short distance away as they feed and he might bed around the ridge or higher up, but it pays to keep an eye on any hinds glassed as its amazing how often a stag will seemingly appear out of nowhere to come check them out.
Always take notice of what the wind is doing at all times of the day, I have said it before, but a swirling wind is the major reason why so many sambar stags have had their lives extended. By taking notice of how the breezes change throughout the day according to sunlight, temperature, wind direction and shade you will be able to automatically plan any stalks or reduce distance comfortably when you have to with full confidence that your scent wont mess things up.
Keep on glassing
When in big country, it can take up to 15 or 20 minutes to effectively glass all of the area in front of you and generally once you have finished you will need to start back over again. Sambar can do a lot in a quarter of an hour and cover plenty of ground if they want to. They can also feed in and out of small clearings on timbered hillsides in a very short space of time, and it is very easy to miss and not see animals that actually are in a visible location simply because you cannot cover all of the ground in front of you at the same time. If there is more then one of you glassing, make sure you are glassing different areas, its good to go back over country your mate might be working with his optics and him to look at yours, but try to be looking in separate areas as much as possible to give you the best opportunity for locating deer when they are visible. As we have already said, try to sit with different angles and views into the country you are hunting to just open up a bit more terrain that deer can move into.
Many times we have been glassing all afternoon, confident that there are deer in the area and then we start noticing wallabies and wombats moving around feeding before we see any deer. We know it is only a matter of time before sambar stand up from their beds and become a lot more visual. If the wallabies are out early, then the sambar could very well be active early as well. Other bush animals will be a good barometer to deer movement, so it pays to take notice of all the animals you are glassing when in sambar country.
Always get to your morning glassing point at the break of day incase animals are moving off feeding areas early and always hang in behind the glass until you cannot see through the optics, if you can define objects on the other side and potentially make out deer, keep glassing. So many times we have seen mature stags hang back on the edges of clearings and moving into the open really late in the day and even if you can’t get there or it doesn’t happen with a shot opportunity, at least you have a starting point for the morning hunt or that next evening. Try to never hike back to camp or the vehicle in the last hour of daylight, this is when you have the highest chance of deer encounters and you should be maximizing your glassing effort at a prime location during this peak time of the day. Being in the bush in a great location for the last 30 minutes of daylight has been the downfall of many big sambar stags. Headlamps are cheap and very effective, so always try to walk back to camp with them switched on knowing you have given the day everything you have.
Don’t ever think that because you are in a remote location the resident sambar will linger around in the open longer of a morning and possibly come out earlier in the evenings, it is often not the case, sambar being sambar will always bring their best game to the table.
Locating sambar in the optics
Never assume there are no sambar in the area you are hunting because you are not glassing them up. Sambar can be incredibly difficult to locate. You only have to glass and watch a deer walk and feed for 15 minutes in a typical bush setting and you will be amazed how often the animal seems to disappear and then reappear within its surroundings. You will soon learn how quickly it can go from being in full view to impossible to see with only the slightest of movements. A sambar only has to change its position from side on to facing directly away and it’s immediately a challenge to see in the bush. Add in a few leaves and branches and that sambar is now camouflaged very effectively. Even a slight breeze that moves leaves, grass and shrubs can make glassing sambar that little bit harder as your ability to identify movement from deer will be challenged with everything else getting pushed around by the breeze.
When glassing always look for parts of the deer, the horizontal back line, the vertical shape of a leg, the white on the inside of a sambars leg on the opposite side of its body, the flick of an ear, the swivel of a head, the movement of antler tips, the shaking of a tree as a deer rubs his antlers, the movement of a sapling as a deer browses on leaves, the sudden flight or alarm call of a bird that the deer disturbs as he moves along a game trail. There are many indicators that deer are in the area you are glassing, its up to you to interpret them all and use them to your advantage.
Glassing wallabies, dingoes, birds and wombats will help train the eye to pick up detail, minor movement, shapes and changes in colour. Whenever I glass up a deer, I always keep going back to it every few minutes. This will help train the eye for locating deer in different habitat, positions and angles as it moves around and often you will glass up other deer within a small herd that you might not have seen previously. The more minutes you spend looking at sambar in the optics, especially in bush settings, the more effective you will become with locating previously unseen deer.
Sambar will give you plenty of body clues and signals about what is going on in their immediate area and what other deer might be close by. Also take note of their altitude or level of height on the hill, as providing there is more suitable habitat in the area, there is a good chance other deer in the immediate location will also be at this level. Another benefit of continually going back to deer you have glassed is often there are other deer laying down that you cannot see, sooner or later they will get up. And many times there are stags holding back a bit in heavier cover, standing still watching what is going on or stuck in a little gully on good feed and sometimes these stags are not very visual. If you don’t keep going back to check on deer you have located then you will miss these opportunities. Take note of what the deer are eating and how much time they are spending in these locations on the different food sources. Are they just walking along browsing as they follow a game trail or are they spending an extended amount of time on a particular food source. Identify what they are eating and use this knowledge to your advantage on future hunts.
Identifying sambar you are glassing
Learning to identify visual variances that can give you confirmation of the sex of the sambar you have just glassed can be a challenge. Antlers will clearly indicate a stag, however often the terrain, habitat, distance, light levels and angle of deer will create issues with learning more about the sambar you are looking at.
Male sambar tend to be deeper in the chest, have a larger overall body size and when carrying hard antlers will have a thicker neck then females. Often sambar are glassed on last light at long range, and when the light is too poor to define antlers then a hunter will need to look for indications to help with confirming the sex of the animal he is looking at. At times behavioral traits such as the way the deer is acting in the company of others and its general mannerism will help strengthen a case as to what it is you have glassed up. A single deer tending a small deer close by would likely indicate a hind and a calf, however a single deer on its own moving at long range could be anything, hind, spiker, young stag or mature stag so it’s worth becoming familiar with what to look for to help confirm just what that animal is likely to be. Often the way a deer moves its head around as it surveys its surrounds, responds to other deer or noises in the bush will give you an indication of what the sex of the animal might be. Hinds and younger males tend to throw their heads around with ease whilst older stags are a bit more measured in their movements. Often hunters will think antlers should be easy to see on a sambar stag and immediately visual, but this is often not the case, especially at longer ranges so it pays to pay attention to all deer glassed up. Sometimes you need the deer to pass in front of a light colored tree trunk, a patch of grass or a rock to get a better idea of its antler dimensions.
Has the deer stood up on its hind legs and rubbed its face into the branches of an overhanging shrub, this normally indicates a male sambar preaching.
Sambar can very easily disappear and reappear from behind the lightest of scrub or tree foliage, they don’t need much to break up their outline. They have lighter colored mid sections, bellies and legs that allow them to blend in very easily to Australian bush. The appearance of sambar stags will vary a lot between animals. Stags living in the same catchment could range from light brown, to grey, to a chocolate brown to a ginger color. Don’t just have it in your mind that you’re looking for a big brown deer on the side of a hill.
Size that deer up as fast as you can
It’s important to really make the most of your deer sightings. If you glass a deer at a distance in light scrub, and can’t quite work out its sex or if it’s a stag and you can’t quite see how much beam it has jump behind a spotting scope or get any mates onto it asap. So many times guys will see a deer, not pay too much attention hoping it will stick around or walk into a clearing then they don’t get a proper look at it, the deer disappears and they start asking themselves what it was. Get a look at all deer while they are in view. It can save you a lot of time later on in the day and if you identify the animal as a mature stag before it heads into heavy cover at least you have something to work with.
Some deer will only give you a few moments to analyze it whilst it is in view, so make sure you have higher power optics or spotting scopes set up ready to use whenever you glass. There is nothing worse then having a stag walk across a face in view for 15 seconds and your spotting scope or larger powered binoculars are deep inside the backpack under a heap of gear.
When a deer is glassed whether you are on your own or have mates close by, I always like to identify a prominent feature or landmark before I take my eyes of it. It might be a peculiar shaped tree trunk, a rock outcropping or a certain clearing, basically anything that will catch your naked eye easily again. Reference the animal to this landmark as once you take your eyes off the deer it is very easy for the animal to change position slightly, walk two steps behind a tree and be a whole lot harder to relocate with lots of second guessing as to where the deer actually went to.
Buying yourself time
When glassing, one really important tactic that you can do that not a lot of guys are prepared to try is deliberately making noise to stop a deer from walking out of sight to either get a better look at it, a photograph or even to set yourself up for a shot. Providing the wind is in your favor relaxed sambar will often hold their ground for quite a while trying to identify noise. Don’t do anything that they wouldn’t hear in their normal lives though. A simple deer honk, crow/bird call or dingo howl will stop most deer and this will create time to accomplish what you need to do. Obviously the deer will be looking in your direction once noise is made to distract it, this needs to be kept in mind so don’t move around too much to give it reason to get nervous and head into cover. If the deer doesn’t stop after you have made a noise, either try again louder or repeat yourself a couple of times. If they are further away or it is windy and the deer still hasn’t stopped it probably isn’t hearing you. Increase the volume of your efforts to get the reaction you want. I remember glassing a mature sambar stag up high on a bench and watching him feeding in a relaxed state. It was a calm day and I could clearly hear an airplane approaching our direction. I thought this was going to be interesting and when the airplane was near the stag, he casually lifted his head, looked at it for a couple of seconds and went straight back to his feeding. It was obviously a noise the stag had heard many times and grown accustomed to and illustrates how if they are familiar with certain noises they wont be immediately alarmed to hear them even though we might know they aren’t generally associated with typical bush life.
Capitalize on your opportunities
We find it very important to make the most of all sambar encounters. If you see a deer outside of your comfortable shooting range that you want to try to harvest or a stag you want to shoot, and it is in a good location, get over there and get it done asap, or get set up and shoot it asap. Don’t sit there and think that a stag is a bit too far away, or you’re only a 50% chance of getting close enough before he beds up. Grab your gear and close the distance. Countless times I have heard hunters say they watched a good stag for a couple hours in the morning before he headed into heavier cover to bed, then got set up on him in the afternoon and he didn’t appear before dark. I have seen it many times. There are a lot of variables at play and often that same stag cannot be relocated the next morning either. Always make the most of your encounters and try to capitalize if you have a deer in sight you want to take. Setting up for the evening or coming back the next morning to try again comes a distant second to the likelihood of making it happen on that deer. Wind, weather, other deer, hunters and your scent will become variables that can change the movements of a targeted deer if you have to hunt him at a later stage. There will be times when it is not feasible to get within range of a stag, especially in big open country, so you really need to plan the hunt wisely and take everything in to ensure the best chance of success when setting up on him. An exception to this I can think of is when waiting on farm fringe and sambar are hitting a certain food source, be it clover, crops or a paddock with no livestock in it. If you glass them up one evening and they come out too late to get an ethical shot off or they head back into cover at dawn and you can’t make it happen, then in this semi-controlled situation there is every likelihood the deer will be reasonably routine in their habits, but again, there will be no guarantees with sambar and what they do.
If at first you don’t succeed
Sambar shift and move around on a regular basis, many factors will dictate why the deer are where they are, it could be hunting pressure, weather, food sources, wind direction, predators, hinds cycling or direct sunlight and often it is a combination of many factors that will determine just where the deer are.
If you sit on a hill and glass a dozen deer underneath you one evening, there is every chance the next evening you will see new deer and different deer to the evening before. And an extremely good chance in a weeks time what you glass will be vastly different to the week before. Stretch it out to a month and anything is possible, including not seeing very much! What this means is that the animals are always changing and adapting to the environment and conditions around them. Many times we have researched new areas and glassed them to find the deer thin on the ground, but when we have gone back at a later date, we have glassed up good numbers of deer. Back yourself and have confidence in your abilities to glass and locate deer in both new and familiar terrain. Always remember that no two mornings or evenings will be the same in any given location so keep at it.
It all comes down to dedication, persistence and time on the hill. If you keep doing the little things and putting yourself in the game, glassing sambar will become the norm rather then the exception. Start thinking like sambar stags and what you would be doing if you were a stag at that time of the year in that location during those types of weather conditions at that time of the day and you will start getting a lot better at actually locating sambar stags and not just seeing sambar. After a couple of decades in the bush everything will become natural and you will be making decisions on auto pilot, the key is to fine tune your strategy to give you the best opportunity for success every time your in the field. It’s undeniable glassing is a fantastic hunting method to increase your odds of finding more deer and learning about this great game species. No hunter will ever fully understand wild sambar, and that’s probably part of the reason why so many hunters devote a lifetime pursuing them.