Mel Gray - Sambar Spike hunt
Hunting the elusive Australian Sambar with Swazi Ambassador, Mel Gray.
The day began as I crossed a tranquil creek during the early hours, signalling the start of my journey into the heart of a vibrant and lush green gully. An area known to hold good feed year-round, it was laced with an intricate network of game trails and bedding areas, setting the stage for a captivating exploration.
My attention was quickly drawn to a well-defined game trail exhibiting fresh tracks, an invitation I couldn’t resist. I followed this path with a gradual ascent, all senses tuned to my immediate surroundings.
As I ventured deeper into the bush, I stumbled upon a frequented wallow – well carved into the ground from months (or even years) of use. Adjacent to it stood a prominent preach tree, bearing the marks of countless interactions, the ground at its base stripped bare from the feet of inquisitive stags. I knew immediately that this place would be worth keeping an eye on.
The opportunity was ripe to install my trail camera, a silent observer poised to capture the movements of these deer and hopefully give me an understanding of their patterns. Filled with hope, I strategically positioned the camera to overlook the wallow, eagerly anticipating the potential footage of the resident stags.
Continuing my exploration, I traced the contours of the hillside, attentively scanning for signs of deer. My efforts were soon rewarded as I encountered a well-marked rub tree, its bark bearing witness to the formidable power of the sambar. As I approached, I glimpsed the distinctive ginger rump of a sambar moving gracefully through the dense vegetation – a young spike browsing peacefully on the hillside ahead of me.
I took a moment to consider my options as I watched the spiker, unaware of my presence. Should I capture the moment with my camera and risk having the sound of the shutter disrupt the scene in front of me, or take the opportunity to harvest some prime venison for the table?
With determination, I opted to take the shot. I advanced cautiously, with each step being deliberate and calculated to avoid alerting the deer. Making a beeline for the nearest tree, I utilised it as a sturdy rest for my rifle, taking precise aim. The bush held its breath as the shot resounded, and the startled spiker dashed downhill, piling up in a thicket of dogwood and expiring quickly.
A familiar sense of accomplishment washed over me as I approached my quarry. I took a moment to sit and admire the beauty of the spiker, snapping some photos of its soft features in the morning sunshine. Once satisfied, I set to work on the butchering process, removing the backstraps and both hind legs of the young deer – prime condition for the table, bound to be wonderful eating. I loaded all the meat into my hunting pack and commenced the journey back to my vehicle, my heart filled with gratitude for the bush and its generous rewards.
Back at the creek crossing, I dreaded the final stretch of ground towards my ute. A gentle uphill slope would normally be nothing short of a breeze, but with the additional weight of the precious venison in my pack I know it wouldn’t be long before my legs felt the burn. Even so, I was determined to push on as swiftly as I could manage to avoid any spoilage.
Finally, glimpses of white through the vegetation ahead reassured me that the carry-out was over. A sense of relief and satisfaction swept over me, as I continued to unload the weight from my back to the tray of my ute and prepare for the drive home.
As I made my way back home, the satisfaction of a successful hunt accompanied me on the journey. My mind buzzed with reflections on the personal gains from this adventure. Not only had I secured a harvest of free-range, sustainable protein, but I had also honoured my understanding of the landscape and gained invaluable insights into the popular deer hotspots. Another incredibly valuable takeaway from a great morning in Sambar country.