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If you spend enough time in the bush sooner or later you will encounter sambar wallows. They are an obvious display that deer are, or at least have been in the area, and wallows are an important communication point for both male and female deer.
Wallows will be located in all areas across the range that sambar occupy from creek bottoms in farm fringe to benches at 1650m asl. Nothing gets the blood pumping more then sneaking in on a wallow and finding its has recently been used by a stag. Mud splattered all over the area, freshly torn up dirt, grass, sticks and branches thrown around and imprints of hooves, antlers and hair visible in the damp ground. In this article we will go over a few points about wallows and the roll they play for both the deer and the deer hunter.
As easy as it might sound, finding wallows isn’t a slam dunk every time you head into the bush. You need to cover plenty of ground, keep an open mind where moisture might be in the region your hunting and follow game trails.
Creek or river flats are an obvious place to find wallows, water is available, food sources for the deer will be close by and many flats hold deer of an evening and into the night. Generally sambar will not wallow in running water, so look for level areas off to the side on flats that might have creeks running past or areas that will get flooded in heavy rains and hold water most of the time. Sambar don’t need much moisture in the ground to dig out a wallow so make sure you check out all areas that the deer might find suitable. Swampy ground along rivers or creeks is a superb area to find wallows, the moisture is there, the ground is generally soft and often in areas with good numbers of sambar there will be plenty of wallows along swampy flats.
Tree ferns often indicate moisture in the ground and if you find these growing in a gully there is a good chance a wallow won’t be too far away.
If you ever find dried mud on ferns, rubs, tree branches or grass along game trails, make sure you back track it either way to find the source of the mud as surely a wallow will be nearby.
Natural springs and soaks up in gully heads, benches, and on plateaus are great locations to find wallows, as these springs should hold water most of the year.
Sometimes sambar will opportunistically wallow in what appears to be random areas. It could be an overflow from a dam or spring after heavy rains, a wheel rut in a vehicle track that has just the right consistency of mud and water or a depression in a flat that is holding water and a passing sambar thinks its ideal to roll around in.
These random type areas can be anywhere, but often aren’t the religiously used wallows that deer zone in on week after week during the cooler months. If you happen to find a random looking wallow that is recently well used, it is still worth noting its location and considering hunting the deer that are using it. That deer might not be around the area in a weeks time, so always have the mindset to be adaptable and open minded with your hunt plans. Better to hunt an active stag in a marginal location than to push past him and search for one in an area that might not even be there.
Maps and Google Earth can give you an idea of terrain when pre scouting new locations for potential wallows and if you always mark or GPS in any wallows you find, then you will soon see a pattern developing with where these wallows are located.
Why do sambar use wallows?
Some sambar that come by in the warmer months are in velvet and will be using wallows simply to cool down from the heat. The cold water will help lower their body temperature and certainly on the hotter days they will be drawn to water. A light covering of mud might even assist the deer in summer with protection against flies and biting insects in their vulnerable regions, although generally their course hair will be enough to keep them at bay.
Stags in hard antler use wallows to leave scent, cover themselves in mud, roll around in and generally try to impress any resident hinds with their rutting behavior and larger than life appearance when they have mud all over their bodies and antlers. Keep in mind though that not every stag that visits a wallow will go to town and create a party. Often all the stags do is scent their way in to the wallow and around it in an effort to see who has been there before them and if any hinds are getting close to being in estrous.
They might simply keep on walking past if they have satisfied their curiosity and continue on their way.
Hinds will also readily use wallows to identify the stags that have passed before them and also to leave scent and urine to give the stags an idea of how far away they are from their next cycle. Wallows are a bit like rub trees in that they are focal points for both resident and wondering deer to come past and there is a lot to be gained from the animals visiting these locations from a courting perspective.
Hinds also bring their young calves past wallows to learn about the important role they play in development of sambar behavior. Both male and females calves from an early age are frequent visitors to wallows and it could be one of the reasons dingoes often scent past wallows, to monitor the frequency of visits by the young and vulnerable sambar.
When do sambar use wallows
I’ve had trail cameras over dozens of wallows for thousands of accumulative days in sambar country and I can say there is no definite pattern regarding wallows and their use. They will potentially visit at all times of the day and night in all weather conditions during all phases of the moon. Obviously there is a slightly greater percentage of use when sambar are actually up on their feet during the early morning and late evening, but in typical bush habitat they will potentially visit it at any time.
I’ve gone over my trail camera pictures and noticed no activity for a period of time and then boom, half a dozen different stags might hit up the wallow in a short space of time. It could be that there are a few cycling hinds in the area, the deer have shifted elevations or pressure from hunters and wild dogs might have made them move. It might even simply suggest that they are wallowing in other areas in better locations perfectly suited to a roll around. This is a critical point to remember, that the consistency of mud and water is a factor as to how often the wallow will get used. Too much water and the deer don’t feel that comfortable in it, too little water and the mud is going hard and the wallow not really suitable for them. The ideal situation is when the mud is almost like concrete mix, a nice thick soup consistency and this is certainly when the deer will find it most appealing. They definitely know which wallows are holding too much or too little water for optimal use.
There are other factors that might influence when sambar come past and an important one is whether the wallow is located in a high use corridor for deer or tucked away off in a quiet location that doesn’t see a lot of deer traffic. You need to be a little wise with wallows, for example a wallow 250 metres out in a farmers paddock on the edge of a dam will likely not get used during the middle of the day, but a wallow deep in the bush at the junction of 3 valleys in a remote location will see deer potentially come past at any time of day.
Looking at the thousands of trail camera pictures I have taken, if somebody was to ask me when to hunt a wallow in typical sambar habitat I would probably say both the first few hours of the day and the last few hours might see an increased chance of use by stags. If it was cloudy and overcast or even drizzling lightly then hang in there a bit longer as the deer will obviously be on their feet more then normal and they could visit the wallow anytime. A nice settled day proceeding or following a bad weather front will see an increase in deer activity and use of wallows.
Probably one weather pattern when sambar don’t appear to utilize wallows is during periods of heavy rain. It can be a great time to hunt sambar when it’s raining, but certainly sitting off wallows in the rain is a very low percentage hunt. Keep kicking the boots over and hunt sheltered area with plenty of feed and heavier cover during rain.
Whilst sambar can visit wallows at any time of the year, there certainly is a greater likelihood of wallows being used when the stags are in hard antler. Broadly speaking April through to November will see a good percentage of the stags in hard antler and this will mean an increased level of use for all wallows in sambar habitat.
There are many factors to consider when hunting wallows. If you plan on sitting off a wallow or hunting the immediate area the next day then walking all around the wallow and surrounding gullies leaving scent is only going to alarm any animals that might visit it in your absence. Due to the terrain and habitat sambar generally live in it is normally a challenge to get up high and glass down into a wallow, but if you can do this, and create a style of low impact hunting then that is ideal, but very hard to do in typical sambar habitat.
If you’re keen to sit over wallows, then it’s probably an idea to have general knowledge of when that wallow gets used at the different times of year. Always plan to hunt it either at the start of the hunt then hunt other areas due to your scent being spread around or sit off it when the general area has sign of heavy deer use and you roll the dice hoping an animal will come past while you are watching it.
A good wallow set up is often when the wallow is in semi open areas such as farm fringe or on a grassy creek flat and then at least if you sit off it you get a couple slices of the wedge in that deer can either step out to feed and become visible or visit the wallow. I have found just sitting over a wallow in the bush is a pretty low percentage play. There are a lot of variables, but I’m well aware if you sit over them often enough and in the right locations sooner or later stags will come past, but it is a waiting game and you better have time up your sleeve.
Changing wind currents are certainly your biggest enemy when waiting over wallows and their shifting direction makes it a tricky set up when you might not know which area a stag could come from. I often wonder when sitting over a wallow how many deer have approached but scented me and bolted off without ever knowing deer were on their way in.
If you are going to sit off a wallow do so from as far away as possible, no need to sit close by if you can hang back and reduce the risk of scenting up the area.
Get comfortable, keep warm and be prepared for a long wait. Take a book if you need to or just sit there engaging yourself with the sights and sounds of the forest.
Lets break it down a bit though, consider the hunt area 360 degrees and deer potentially might be in any of it, you will likely walk into the wallow location so your presence and scent has already covered maybe a third of the area, then normally the wind will shift around a bit so that might take you up to half of the area being scented up. That means stags might likely only walk in from half of the immediate area and as there is normally no telling where they might come from, you start realizing how many factors are against you when sitting over a wallow and hoping deer will walk in. A constant breeze is always a help if the weather dictates this and often choosing the right wallow to sit over factoring in where the deer could be at that time of the day and year is critical to giving yourself every chance of success.
Always approach wallows cautiously keeping an ear out for sounds that might indicate it is getting used. Splashing of water, sloshing of mud, trees getting thrashed and heavy hooves hitting the ground as animals preach next to the wallow all are sounds that might give a nearby stag away.
I always walk into any wallow downwind on a game trail and slow the pace as I approach it keeping an eye on any sign of recent use of deer on the trail and obviously in the immediate area. When I approach the wallow I always have a look around for cast antlers and take note of the activity. If it is spring fed and has a slight trickle passing through it then any recent activity in the form of discolored water might be quickly washed away, so I then focus on tracks, signs of deer lying down and activity around the wallow. Always keep an eye on these marks to give you an indication of how old they are and more importantly what direction they are coming in from. This could give you an idea of where the deer are currently bedded and dropping into the wallow or feeding and heading to the wallow before climbing to bed for the day.
Wallows in pools of water that are stagnant will hold sign and stirred up mud and water for quite a while. These wallows can be frequently visited over autumn, winter and spring and often have a long history of deer use. Always remember that recent rains can make any sign look old and weathered, so keep that in mind when assessing deer use around wallows.
Some hunters who don’t have patience or the desire to sit over wallows will instead choose to hunt the region where they are located during prime times for deer activity. They will assume if they hunt these areas during the last hour or so of daylight they will have a good chance of finding deer up on their feet and also a slight chance of finding stags heading to or in the wallows. When your keeping the percentages in your corner, then every little bit helps and often this is a good hunt plan to increase stag sightings.