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The previous editions sambar article in Wild Deer was always going to be a challenge to write. There were a lot of new ideas and information within the content and it might have been hard for some hunters to fully understand the complexities associated with initiating discussion on how best to manage our growing herd of sambar. The article had to be written punchy enough so that people took notice, but not too left field so that guys thought what the heck is this all about. Finding that balance is never easy with article subjects when your trying to be ahead of the curve.

Most hunters will probably not realize it, but actually building a sustainable population of animals is one of the biggest challenges many countries face with their game species. We have it very lucky in Australia with our wildlife herds, but many regions simply can’t get animal numbers up enough to allow sustainable hunting. Once that is achieved there needs to be education, protection, management and utilization of the resource. Clearly we have a wonderful population of sambar that is thriving across a huge range of habitat from the highest mountains to thick coastal scrub and everywhere in between. It is now up to all hunters to put the best interests of the deer first, and that is the long-term welfare of sambar throughout Victoria and New South Wales.

In this article, we will look at some of the social issues associated with hunting sambar and how every decision you make in regards to pulling the trigger can affect not only the herd, but also other hunters perspectives on how they view sambar hunting.

Clubs are the grass roots of any sporting interest and a great place to meet other outdoorsman. They offer the perfect environment to discuss management and all aspects associated with sambar. You could help arrange a few photographs on a slideshow presentation, organize video footage and even put together an antler display of stags across the age range. Maybe include a few cast antlers or dead heads from young deer, malformed animals and old stags heading back with antler growth and there would be plenty for members to get involved with and participate in discussion.

Other locations to bring up the subject of managing our sambar might be the local gun store, shooting ranges, around campfires in the bush and pretty much any occasion where there is a gathering of hunters. Online hunting forums are commonly used and even thoughtful posts will generate interest and get guys thinking. Aussie Houndsmen, Australian Hunting Net and Australian Bush Deer are a few of the local hunting forums that will be suitable places to discuss our sambar herd and its future direction.

There are also overseas online forums that have deer management sections that can be incredibly informative and even the American based Quality Deer Management Association (www.qdma.com) would be well worth becoming a member of. If funds are an issue, why don’t you sit down with a few hunting mates, pool some resources, subscribe to a few of the management based magazines or organizations and share the information around when it arrives.

Most of us have access to the internet and a device and there is an endless online resource that you can search and read up on the subject of wildlife biology. The studies don’t always need to be sambar related, as many facets of game management follow a similar course and you can always learn something about another wildlife species that might be applicable to our sambar.

Then there are the social media platforms. Both Facebook and Instagram have huge followings and there are many educational accounts created by hunters that can be suitable to follow and learn from. Some pages are now discussing age classes, genetics and the selective harvest of animals and this can not only be good for sambar but also Australian hunting in general. Unfortunately there is still plenty of bravo associated with social media and not all hunters will ever fully understand the consequences that can come from a single post with poor content. Always be wise about how you display images, portray hunting, set up field photography with harvested animals and remember once its out in the public, anybody and everybody has access to it, for better or worse.

A lot of the younger generation hunters have grown up with social media and these pages can be very influential to the next crop of deer hunters. I read plenty of social media, I have a good grasp on it and its clear that there are a lot of new hunters who need education on all aspects associated with deer, sambar and hunting.

In many European countries it isn’t so easy as obtaining a licence, buying a firearm and heading bush to shoot a few deer. There are courses that need to be undertaken from shooting tests focusing on shot placement, firearm safety, field care of animals and very importantly the principles of game management need to be understood. Most hunters will not shoot mature male deer as their first animals, it is usually females or very young males and through these initial hunts they will develop a greater understanding of the responsibilities they carry with being a hunter and caretaker of the resource. There is no bragging, no ute full of antlers, no bone pile in the shed, no half grown velvet stags wasting away on a table, there is simply respect and admiration every time an animals life is taken. I understand this a far cry from our system, but if new hunters were to grasp the enormity of being a hunter and the role we play in nurturing wildlife, then perhaps better outcomes could be achieved and worked towards as they mature and develop.

Young hunters are thirsty for knowledge and very impressionable and I was reminded of this a few months ago when I took my 16-year-old nephew up into the snow gums for a hunt. He hadn’t shot a sambar before and was keen to get a look at a few. I had an empty freezer and instructions were for him to shoot the first deer we found provided it wasn’t a velvet growing stag or a hind with a dependent calf. The first day turned misty but we persisted and out on a bench we found a hind feeding. She was on her own and my little buddy put a bullet into her chest. She ran a short distance and piled up. I was happy he had taken a hind as his first sambar and we completed the field care on her. After the work was done and the meat retrieved we sat in a high country hut and had a chat with the bush tv on full noise. I asked him if he was going to put some pictures up on his social media account and he said, “nah, think I will wait until I shoot a stag.” And I guess that’s where things are at with a lot of younger hunters. They repeatedly see everybody else sitting next to stags and think this is also what they must do. I suppose at 16 we were all pretty naïve, but it was a good example of how many young hunters are currently thinking.

The shooting of young stags also needs to be put into perspective in regards to each hunters situation. For example if a hunter only goes bush a couple of times a year, has a family to feed and a young stag steps up, then I assume it will be going home with him. That’s quite ok, we can legally harvest what we want and the hunter has to make the most of his limited opportunities. But if that same person goes out every couple of weeks hunting in areas with plenty of deer and keeps on shooting younger stags while letting hinds walk then maybe they need to reassess their decision making. Often these hunters will shoot stags until they thin them out and then move on to other areas in an effort to find more antler for the shed. Neither the deer nor the hunter will benefit long term in this situation and nobody comes out a winner.

Some hunters are openly stating that the deer had a good cape and that’s the reason he was taken. It is extremely hard to get an accurate view of all aspects of a sambars cape when hunting them in the bush so that comment is hardly justified, even more so when the deer are younger animals. Having a bit of length to the hair around a stags neck doesn’t really qualify as a good cape and should not be the reason a stag is taken.

I’ve read about guys shooting 20in sambar stags and stating he was seen last year and hadn’t improved so he was culled because of poor genetics. Sambar are slow growers of their antlers and just need time to reach full potential. These very same sambar hunters will also lament the fact they cant find any big stags in the areas they hunt, yet they give no thought to the half a dozen or more sub 24 inch type deer they have killed during the year. Not to mention the previous years accumulated pile of bone.

The list goes on and on and in the end all the hunters are trying to do is justify their actions of repeatedly shooting young sambar with antlers. If the stag didn’t grow a tine, or was malformed in antler growth then there is every reason to consider removing him, but when they are young and have everything in place you have to ask yourself how long can this keep going on for.

If I didn’t shoot it somebody else will is a phrase often used to justify why they shot a young stag. Whilst that statement has some credibility it’s also soon put to rest. Sambar are quick learners and unless that stag is habitually feeding in open country during the daytime in a very visible location next to a road then they soon learn. I always believe if a stag has lived so long and made it through then he has every chance to keep on living, you just need to give it to him. There is nothing wrong with letting him get your scent and smartening him up, or giving him a scare if he needs a reminder that humans are danger.

On the flip side if you are able to, you could also sneak in close, take videos and pictures, practice your stalking skills and try new tactics. Give stag grunts, hind and calf calls, rub branches on trees or just sit there and learn from him. Observe how often and how long he lifts his head to check for danger, watch how he reacts to birds and other wildlife and see how he constantly uses his ears to detect foreign noises. The learning aspect from observing every stag you come across can potentially be ten fold to what is obtained by putting them in the crosshairs as soon as you can and ending their lives.

I admit some blokes might find these comments a bit harsh, but many hunters don’t actually seem to get it, and unless these topics are put out there to get guys thinking, then any effort spent on these types of articles will be wasted.

The stag in the live pictures accompanying this article is a good example of the type of deer that needs to be left alone. If you glance at him you will see he is missing an inner on the right hand side, however it is actually busted off and not a genetic trait. There is a big difference between a broken antlered stag and a malformed animal, so always take the time to check them out properly. This 4.5 year old stag simply needs a few more years under his belt to reach full potential yet many hunters would put him down as soon as they could. He might never turn into a 215 type 32inch deer, but that’s ok, not many sambar are actually capable of this. If he lives to double figures and reaches maturity in good health that’s all you can hope for with each male deer.

Our sambar are a superb deer species, we are incredibly fortunate to have them so freely to hunt in the numbers we do and whenever a resource is taken for granted its value is decreased and ultimately the wildlife ends up suffering. Every hunter needs to understand that wildlife populations around the globe are inevitably cyclic and at some stage we will see a reduction in sambar numbers due to natural or external causes. They are a resilient species that can live and survive anywhere, but it wont make them immune to issues that sooner or later affect all animal species that overpopulate. If we start preparing ourselves now and work on maintaining a healthy herd then it will be a lot easier in the future to adjust and tweak things as populations fluctuate. Sustainability of a resource with our sambar herd would be a superb goal, and whilst it might be a dream to see this situation, it isn’t impossible to set the wheels in motion and see where the path takes us.

I may be repeating myself a little here, but harvest by hunters is the number one reason so many younger stags are getting shot each year. This needs to be driven home. Its very simple, take a look at the big picture and consider that every young stag you take is one less that will never have the opportunity to reach maturity, they all wont make it, but if he is dead he goes from having a reasonable chance to zero chance very quickly. Make an effort to let them live and give them a chance to grow old, shoot more hinds and everybody will benefit from these decisions and more importantly so will the deer.

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Wild Deer

Australia and New Zealand’s premiere dedicated Deer Hunting Magazine.

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