There's a letter for you from the Sambar Deer Management Foundation", Jen said as I walked inside from mowing the lawns. I took the envelope from her and quickly read through the letter. " Probably missed out again" I said, not daring to hope for anything else. "Just read on" came the reply, a slight smile playing around the corners of her mouth. You have been successful in drawing the Justice Block of the Harakeke Forest for the third weekend of the ballot, read the letter. "You beauty!" I said as I shoved the letter over to Jen for a look. " Already read it , you can't expect me to wait for you to open it".
This was the third year I had entered the ballot and the first time I had been successful. I quickly rang around five other mates and found out that I was the only one to have drawn a block. "You'll be needing a gun bearer" was the comment from my good mate Tony. A phone call to one of the main men of the Foundation in Dannevirke turned into a very enjoyable and enlightening conversation, this guy really knew his stuff and wasn't afraid to share his knowledge. "Harakeke is not as good as some other areas but it isn't at the bottom of the heap; you'll have to look hard but don't give up, they're there". I was never expecting it to be easy so this didn't put me off.
The appointed weekend duly arrived and at 4.00am on the Saturday morning my Hilux headed north loaded down with two good keen men and all the associated trimmings. An extremely unimpressed little brown dog was left at home to keep mum company. Arriving at first light we were soon away hunting heading north through the sand dunes. This area had recently been made available by DOC and we decided to try it first as it would be the first place to get busy. To cut a long story short we saw no sign at all and at midday made our weary way back to the ute. A feed soon perked us up and the middle of the day was spent further exploring the main block. This time we started getting closer to pay dirt in the form of a few old tracks and droppings. This completely stuffed Tony's theory that the Sambar were hovering three feet above the ground and shitting in little plastic bags (it sounded good at the time though mate).
At first light next morning we were on the job again and as the dawn sifted through the trees we were in full stalk mode. The area we were stalking was predominantly large trees with a series of shallow bramble choked gullies running through it. Our hunch had paid off and for the first time that weekend we cut recently made sign. Coming out to the edge of a large flat area I immediately picked up large animal quartering on to me among the trees. My first thought was 'Cattle Beast' but something wasn't quite right. The rifle came up quickly but smoothly and through the scope I suddenly found myself staring down the barrel at an XOS size Sambar Stag! The bolt handle went down and the cross hairs centered forward of his near shoulder to drive the projectile back through the chest. BOOM. The 30.06 Ackley had it's reverberating say and the Stag turned and ran down into the gully behind and up a low ridge. The second round had automatically been fed in to the chamber and I desperately tried to get a look in between the trees to send it home, but to no avail. Then as he dropped over the ridge out of sight I was running hard, hoping to get another shot in over the other side. Did you hit him"? Tony snapped, coming up beside me as we sprinted for the top. "Definitely", I said, "keep your eyes out. We made the top and I searched desperately for any sign of him, Despair welled up inside me as nothing caught my eye and then fifty metres to my right came "he's down, he's down". Turning quickly I was beside Tony in a flash but there was no need to hurry. In a shallow hollow lay the biggest deer either of us had ever laid eyes on! I thought I had shot big bodied deer before but this made them all pale into the background. He was impressive in every way and as my eyes wandered over him they fell on the antlers. Six well shaped points and a throwback on one side added up to a fine looking seven pointer, not a world beater but right at that moment I couldn't have cared less, and I still don't. As we both stood there the enormity of what I had just done washed over me and at that moment I wished that he was still alive and free. I felt like I didn't deserve this animal, for so long he had managed to avoid the poachers and spot lighters that frequent this area and then I had just come in for the weekend and got him. It didn't seem fair.
"You jammy prick"." An eight point Sika, a fifteen point Red, a nice Fallow and now this, all in one year!" Tony's comment put me back on the planet and I shook the hand that was offered. Then the bubble burst and we were jabbering like a couple of fifteen year olds. "Did you see him turn and run when you hit him with that cannon of yours?' "He just gave you the fingers and took off'. "No wonder, just look at the way he's built". The stag wasn't much taller than a big Red stag but he looked like a weight lifter. It was like comparing a Pointer with a Lab. "No wonder they have a reputation for soaking up the lead" I thought to myself
"Lets leave him here for a short while and have a took around the area while we wait for the light to improve for photos" Tony said. Stashing the rifle we carried on along the low ridge. We had only gone 100 metres when a smaller six point stag leapt to his feet in front of us and disappeared in a flash. "Where the stuff did he come from" Tony exclaimed as we set off in pursuit. The stag however was long gone and we didn't get a chance to have another look at him. We made our way back for the big photo session and it was after this that we made an interesting discovery. We back tracked the stag to where he was standing when we first saw him and found that he had followed a different path to that of the stag I had tried to get a second shot at. When I had shot the first stag he had disappeared from sight and the second stag was the one who had run up on to the low ridge. "Imagine having to explain two stags to the Foundation"
I made my way out to the ute to try and get it as close as possible to the stag. We were going to try to get him out in one piece (unzipped of course). My luck continued to hold when who should drive along but one of the neighbouring block holders and a real nice guy. And wouldn't you know it, he had a four wheel drive which was promptly offered to assist in the extraction (like I said a real nice guy). A short drive, a bit of effort and before you know it the stag was on the tray of my ute. Our new mate wouldn't accept any venison, my success had fired him up and he was going back that evening for one last try.
We packed our gear up and then headed in to Wanganui to meet Dave from the Foundation for measuring and registration. Once again the high level of service continued in the form of tea and pikelets with jam and whipped cream laid on by Mrs Dave, this lovely lady saved our lives though I feel a dangerous president has been set. A really pleasant couple of hours followed and we were sad to drive away. All the way home it was obvious that the stag strapped to the tray was drawing a lot of comments. I would love to have heard them all. This continued when we got home in the form of two separate and previously unknown hunters who rolled in for a chat and a 'gawk' while we were dismantling the animal.
The antlers now hang above my desk in the office and they serve to remind me that there are still some real nice unselfish souls out there who not only love the animals they work with but they get a genuine kick out of seeing others achieving their hunting goals. I know I did. And as for Tony. He reckons that next year I'll be the Gun bearer!
On opening morning got out of the truck and walked 100m, looked below me a deep gully and here were 4 deer. I think the hind was on heat as stag keeping close & fawn at side & the lessor stag keeping about chain back. If I had had my own rifle he was mine but circumstances I had to borrow a rifle, & very heavy job which I couldnt get scope right. While I spent some time trying to settle they walked behind a tree so I thought I had better have a go at the lessor one standing back. I fired straight down and the recoil kicked the scope into my forehead opening up over my eye. Bled like a stuck pig and deer took off. My forehead is still a bit numb. So instead of a trophy in 4 minutes I got none.
Is there any explanation why Sambar antlers come in two sorts. Example pale gray with worn off tips or brown antlers with sharp points. The one I shot last season had four very worn off tips & gray. This season I saw two stags about two hundred metres from where last years one was & one was same color with blunt tops and the other longer sharp points & color of dressed rimu timber.
Are the pale ones result of living in sand hills & rubbing in the sand say as the velvet is coming off and the brown one say having lived in the bush. Do any deer farmers have these variations when they are shut in. Do they know exactly how long before antlers are dropped.
On the weekend before the season started we spent time on the Saturday driving around the block to establish the size of the block & boundaries. On the Sunday we spent about 6 hours walking through the block including some of the very thick thinning. Found very fresh sign in the south east corner of the block which is pines & Toi-Tois. My mate spooked 1 deer but didnt actually see what it was and then saw a hind & a stag. I spooked a deer but didnt see it and then saw a young stag later on. When it came time for my hunt 5 weeks later we werent so lucky. Didnt see any animals and only very little fresh sign. The most promising area seemed to be about the middle of the block on the eastern side. Plenty of animal trails through the thinning. Do these deer make any vocal noises? We heard what sounded like a grunting noise at one stage but didnt find anything. On the Saturday we saw a group of at least 6 beach buggies hooning around in one area of the block. Looked like lots of fun, but there was one reasonable sized young pine flattened. On the Sunday we found a nice quiet spot to sit and watch in the thinning when someone came through in a beach buggy and fired a shot at something (.22), I wouldnt have minded if theyd managed to spook something. Thanks for the chance - maybe next time.
Drew this block for the opening weekend. Took a look over the block the Sunday before after some positive info from Ian and Warwick. Impressive. First through the gate on opening morning and eagerly away at first light. Windy, overcast conditions. Set a compass bearing and zig zagged our way as best we could, into a very uncooperative westerly breeze. Some tracks and droppings seen, all old. Found where a stag had gone berserk tearing up long grass and fair ploughing up the soil like a grunter. Oh to have seen this boy in action!! Just after midday we came upon what we called Sambar State Highway 2 This magnificent game trail, freshly used and about 1 metre wide wound its way through a very thick block of scrub, high fern and recent pine thinning. We spooked one deer following this trail who barked loudly at our presence but kept well hidden in its advantageous surroundings. Disappointingly the wind plagued us constantly the three times we stalked this area. A light breeze would certainly produce results as the place fair screamed Deer. Away at first light the next morning gave us a couple of hours respite from the wind while looking over the hot spots. By 10am the breeze had whistled up to its buffeting best although occasionally we sidled into the odd sheltered spot. The deer obviously had these sites mapped out as was evident by the increase of fresh sign in these areas. We hunted the afternoon as hard as we could spending the last hour slowly picking our way back along a seldom used track the Big One was frequenting. No Go! Maybe next time. All in all an enjoyable 2 days. A reasonable animal population and if mixed with a little wind and a slice of luck, could produce a good stag for someone willing to put the effort in. Thanks to the SDMF members for their help.