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In 2009 we decided to attend a Deer Hunting and Education Course at Rawson. It took 7 years of limited deer hunting opportunities to take my first sambar. Since then I have spent as much time as I can in the bush honing the skills required to be a successful sambar hunter. It wasn’t until 2019 that backpack hunting piqued my interest after hearing backpacking stories from Geoff (Gadge) Abrahall, from H&S Firearms in Sale.
I began watching as many deer hunting YouTube video’s as time would allow. I just happen to come across Zebra’s Sambar Hunting Adventures YouTube video’s one day and thought “Wow, this bloke really knows his stuff”. It wasn’t just about Zeb hunting, he was sharing his expertise and knowledge. The advice and tips he was sharing were invaluable. I found myself implementing these in the field. Zeb was also backpack hunting! That was it, I wanted to give this backpacking gig a go. So back to Gadge I went for advice and tips on getting started. I understood and appreciated the risks of doing this by myself and with Ross’s interest in deer hunting waning I asked my son, Ben, to come with me. He was 17 at the time and also a keen deer hunter. All geared up and with heavy 22kg packs we set off on our first backpack hunt, packing in about 4km. It was big country, we didn’t see a thing but I absolutely loved it just the same. Our second back packing trip also saw us carrying 22kg but his time it was a 6km hike in the dark to get to our camping spot. We saw 7 deer that trip but didn’t find the animal we were after, the walk out in a snow storm was amazing.
I have been super keen to get back out for another backpack hunt but with Covid everything was put on the back burner for a while. Once restrictions lifted and Zeb was monce again out making hunting video’s and now offering guided hunts, I said to hubby “If Zeb offers 1 on 1 backpacking hunts I am going, I don’t care what it costs”. I set about finding a new backpack in preparation. I went and saw Gadge at H&S Firearms in Sale who allowed me to try a few and found one that fitted me and felt comfortable. I made contact with Zeb and let him know that I was eager to do a 1 on 1 backpacking hunt when he was up and running with his new venture. With his insurance now in place Zeb & I set about planning our weekend. Two weeks before my hunt Ross and I travelled over and met Zeb and his family. I took all my gear for him to go through and we discussed how to get my pack lighter. We also discussed my objectives for the upcoming hunt. The next two weeks were a flurry of both local and online purchases followed by impatience whilst waiting for everything to arrive in time!! I was able to drop my pack weight considerably with my new purchases. I was like a kid a week out from Christmas, I could hardly sleep I was so looking forward to the upcoming hunt.
On the afternoon of Thursday 19th May, 2022 Zeb and I set off on our planned trip. Arriving at the designated parking area we donned our packs, double checked we had everything then set off on foot at 5:00pm for the 4km hike into our first camping spot. The last 1km or so was under head torch, taking our time as the terrain was steep and slippery as we neared the river. After setting up a basic camp we set about making a well earned dinner before retiring for the night. The night was crystal clear, with no competing light, the stars were bright and the movement of flowing water beside us a reminder we’ll be crossing the river first thing in the morning.
Friday morning I woke to find Zeb was already awake and making our breakfast. After filling our bellies with nice warm oats we got to packing up camp and putting the river shoes on ready to cross the river. Zeb navigated the river first then directed me to take a different path where the water level was a little lower. As I stepped into the freezing water I grit my teeth and slowly waded my way to the rocky shore on the opposite side. After drying our cold feet and putting our hiking boots on we hung our river shoes in a tree to await our return in three days time and set off up the bank. It wasn’t long before we put up a hind and young one. We continued to contour around the end of the spur we intended to hunt along. We stopped to glass a large open sunny area, where we spotted a large hind, a good sign I hoped of things to come. Once we’d climbed our way to the top of the spur we began our slow trek along its length, there was plenty of fresh sign so we began to look for deer. It wasn’t long before noting the distinct and very strong smell of stag. Slowing as we crested a slight rise I spotted two hinds only 40 metres below us. Halting our progress Zeb pulled his camera out and began photographing them and playing with them with a caller. It was amazing to witness this interaction. After 15 minutes or so they decided to slowly move off. We continued along a well-used game trail and after rounding a rocky outcrop found a great spot to glass the opposite north facing hill. Within minutes a hind then a nice stag were spotted at roughly 700m. After Zeb filmed the stag he asked if I wanted to try to get within my comfortable hunting range (300m) to take this stag. I was excited to give this stalk a crack as this is exactly what I was here to learn from Zeb, how to stalk in on an animal seen on an opposing face. If we spooked him and didn’t get a shot off then I was prepared to take that risk.
Zeb came up with a game plan which I quizzed him about to understand the reasons behind the decisions.
Our plan was to get up above the stag and come down on top of him. We left the rocky outcrop at 9:30am to start our journey across to the other side of the valley. With the wind on our south face not ideal we decided to take our time walking down into the valley floor. It was steep, damp and slippery as we made our way to the bottom. With a small creek crossing safely navigated and the wind still not ideal we decided to pull up, have a rest, early lunch and wait to see if the wind would change. The wind remained undesirable in the valley floor so Zeb decided we’d walk around into the next small gully before beginning the steep climb up. The further we climbed the more we detected the wind was starting to become more favourable, it was now coming up the hill and perfect for implementing our plan. We climbed to an elevation that Zeb believed would place us above the stag’s last known position. As we continued to round our way into the small gully we walked right under a small spiker feeding not more than 30meters above us. He caught our scent turned and trotted off, thank goodness he didn’t honk! Rounding our way out of the small gully we dropped our packs off and went into what Zeb refers to as ‘sneaky, sneaky mode’. Making our way onto the same spur as we’d seen the stag we took our time placing each footstep and glassing well and often. As we quietly descended the hill we came to a small rocky outcrop where Zeb said he believed the stag would be 100 yards below. We continued the ‘sneaky, sneakies’ down the hill and the next time we stopped to glass I saw the top of one antler.
I slowly turned to indicate to Zeb that I’d located the stag but he had the bino’s to his eyes looking away from me, I couldn’t do anything but wait until he finished his scan to look at me. Zeb quietly whispered ‘there he is’. Lowering the binos from his eyes to look at me, it was clear to Zeb that I’d already spotted him. We were just 47yards away! The stag was lying in his bed exactly where we’d seen him but he had obviously stood and turned to lie the opposite way during the time it took us to get up to him. He was facing downhill away from us and with the wind still in our face, the stag had no idea we were there. My heart rate began to lift and sweat coated my hands as Zeb was quietly telling me to relax. In the position the stag was in there was no opportunity to take a chest shot. Zeb weighed up waiting for the stag to stand on his own accord, to give him a little call, to break a small stick or to take a head shot. We stood watching the stag from 47 yards for a good 30minutes until Zeb said ‘you’re going to have to get closer and take a head shot’.
I looked at him aghast, closer, he wasn’t joking!
I went into super slow sneaky, sneak mode using the stronger gusts of wind in the heads of the trees to help conceal my footfall on the dried leaf litter to close the gap to 32 yards. As I stood waiting for Zeb to follow me (as he’d promised!) it became apparent that he was staying back to watch from our original distance of 47 yards. It was now all up to me. I needed to get a couple of steps over to my left to open up my field of view on the stags head. I took a few long deep breathes not daring to take my eyes off the stags head. I noticed there was a thick blanket of dried leaf litter where I needed to step. I managed to place my left foot quietly and far enough across to open up an opportunity for a head shot, all I needed to do now was to move my right foot over to have a more stable stance for a shot. Without looking down I lifted my right foot to bring it into a more comfortable position, snap!! I stepped on and broke a small twig, I squatted slightly and balanced on my left foot as the stag looked around but he was not looking at me. In my semi- squatted position I was pretty well obscured by some long strappy grass between the stag and myself. I repositioned my right foot, snap! I broke another twig, I couldn’t believe it. It was now or never…. remaining in my semi squatted position I put my Tikka 30-06 to my shoulder, took the safety off then slowly stood to my full height and cleared the grass previously helping to conceal my position. Training the crosshairs freehand on the stags head I felt remarkably calm as I took a slow, deep breath and on exhale squeezed off a round. BOOM. I immediately stepped my right foot back for better balance as I reloaded ready to send another Norma 180grain plastic point if required, it wasn’t necessary.
As soon as I had squeezed the trigger Zeb let out a loud whoop of excitement, before racing down to congratulate me on closing out this stalk with a well-placed shot and taking the stag in his bed.
With the safety back on we slowly made our way down to where the stag lay, carefully checking that he had indeed expired. Zeb was full of praise and his excitement was palpable and infectious. I was speechless, I couldn’t believe it! Everything I had wanted to learn had played out so well and so early in our 3 day hunt!! It was 2:30pm, it had taken 5 hours to get in on this stag. We climbed
back up the hill to retrieve our packs then back down to take some footage and photos of this magnificent stag and to continue to celebrate what an awesome day it had been. It was like it was scripted from start to finish.
The rest of the weekend was spent exploring new country for both Zeb and myself. We managed to locate more deer over the course of the weekend, giving Zeb the chance to capture more footage of these elusive animals. Sunday we woke to a heavy frost, waiting until the sun was well up before venturing out of our sleeping bags, having breakfast and packing for the last time. We were not looking forward to wading the river again before starting the long steep walk out to the vehicle. It took 2hours 10minutes to climb the 4km back to the car where we took a well earnt rest, celebrated the end to our weekend hunt with our respective beverage of choice and cooked up a scrumptious lunch.
I can’t thank Zeb enough for his leadership, professionalism, dedication, patience and willingness to share his wealth of knowledge and expertise, he is truly inspirational. For me it was the ultimate deer hunting experience which I can only hope that I can repeat one day. There may be bigger stags in the future but there may never be another incredible story like what I’ve just experienced.
New experiences shared, new lessons learnt and new friendships formed, what a weekend!
An extra bonus to the weekend was that Zeb caught it all on camera! I agreed to allow Zeb to film my hunt so he could use it for advertising for his new guided/hunter education business. If you’d like to watch it and support Zeb, head to Zebra’s Sambar Hunting Adventures channel on YouTube.