Starting From Scratch
New to sporting shooter, experienced in the bush, Jared Matthews joins us for a formative series of sambar hunts.
Growing up on a property in River Country, most of my younger years were spent trapping and shooting rabbits, foxes and ducks. I always admired my neighbour's sambar stag he had on the wall and read his magazines when I was there. It wasn’t until I had my licence that I could finally venture off to the high country in search of a deer of my own.
Back before the days of social media, Google Maps and any other digital interfaces like we have today to accumulate information we relied on word of mouth or a lot of boot work to find a hunting spot. A good friend and I had a bloke tell us of a spot to try up in the Alpine national park where he had seen a couple of deer. We then spent a lot of time in the area learning about the deer but most importantly learning from our mistakes. We both managed to take a couple of deer in the area over the years and after a while we expanded our hunting spots across the north east and the Alpine National Park.
Since then I have been lucky enough to take some beautiful sambar stags including a once in a lifetime 34” sambar stag. Most of my hunting has been with good friends, making for some great memories which I am thankful for. However, after a while it was time to grow up and make a career change, so I decided to take a job on a gas plant in Queensland. The job ran for a little over two years and I was missing the Vic high country something fierce, so the wife and I packed up and headed south. We decided to buy a place at the foothills of the high-country range where we could both work and have deer not to far away.
The new place was a fair way from my old hunting spots and I felt like I had to start from scratch to find a nice local spot where I could rely on finding a nice meat animal or stag if I was lucky enough. Nowadays, we have the benefit of Google Maps and we can scout some area before getting in the car and driving out there for a look. I spent a lot of time cross referencing google maps to GMA’s maps working out all the places near home I could hunt. Luckily for us deer hunter’s deer numbers have exploded and I think the hardest thing is finding somewhere where the bush is open enough to present a shot rather than finding the deer themselves.
I started by looking for systems that gave the deer everything they needed; sun, shade, water and most of all feed. In most cases what I could see on Google Maps looked good however it was choked by dog wood or blackberry thickets. I spent too many hours bashing through thick scrub and not finding the nice green gullies I had hoped for. The deer were most definitely in there, but the scrub was so dense they would hear you coming well in advance and scatter before you could catch a glimpse.
I was losing a bit of motivation by now and had started taking whole weekends and heading away to my old hunting spots. The wife was pregnant with my now two-year-old son, so I knew weekends away were going to be hard to have and I needed to start looking back near home.
I decided I would get myself a hunting dog for a companion most of all, but also to assist in this thicker country that I had been lucky enough to avoid the last twelve years.
I decided to buy a male vizsla from Chris Rudd, a local breeder and passionate sambar hunter, he firmed up my thoughts on my hunting area and assured me to keep at it there was some great country amongst it I just had to find it.
The training began with my young vizsla pup named Moose; once his legs were long enough I took him into the next spot I had in mind. We bashed through a gully for a few hours and ended up finding a beautiful cast antler and a string of wallows. I persevered with this spot a few more times before finding some real hunt-able gullies amongst the thick bush.
One particular day I decided to head in over another main ridge where I found some beautiful green feeder gullies. It didn’t take long to see my first hind and, with moose in tow, a quick shot saw her drop on the spot. Moose was excited and it was a great feeling seeing him enjoy it as much as he did.
This milestone set him up to work fresh marks really well, putting me on to a number of deer but unfortunately, they were all hinds and one spiker. He works out at around 30 metres from me, which I personally like, being in the hunt with him is important, in my opinion. He hasn’t picked up on the pointing so much but that’s fine with me he just loves being out there with me.
Recently I decided to tackle this patch of country differently by walking in from the bottom end of the valley where it goes out to the farm country. This time in particular, Moose had me cutting up a steep face, wind scenting all the way up. We finally cut fresh marks and his nose hit the ground,
we followed them up and over into the next system. Cutting down the next gully I spotted a hind on the adjacent face with a fawn. I pulled moose up and back to my feet and I began glassing around them, expecting to see a stag. I moved another couple of metres down when I spotted one between a dogwood thicket he looked reasonable (and I wasn’t going to be picky at this stage). I got down and took the shot off my knee and down he went. We went to head straight over when I spotted a second bigger stag take off over the ridge but I couldn’t get a shot.
We headed over to the downed stag and when Moose got to him the stag stood and ran straight at me. I took a step to the left and shot him off the end of the barrel through the neck, he then piled up this time for good. An absolute heart racer for Moose’s first stag and he couldn’t have been more excited. It’s these moments that you really appreciate hunting over a dog.
A few weeks later the weather had started to heat up and plenty of snakes were around. Consequently, the bush is no place for a dog this time of year. It has got to the point where I feel guilty heading into this bit of country without Moose, who helped me discover it and learn how to hunt it. But that big stag which busted off after I shot the last one was playing on my mind, I needed to get cameras in there and try turn him up.
I refreshed the two Bushnell game cameras with new batteries and SD cards. After working Melbourne Cup day, I headed up the bush with the intention of getting a decent way into a wallow I had found in the same system I took the stag. We had a couple of wet days prior which made the bush quiet under foot, I got in to the first gully system and started to sneak my way along looking into the open spots that were getting some afternoon sun. I started to move again when I noticed a tiny bit of movement, I put the bino’s up and all I could see was part of an antler and neck of a deer. I put the rifle up and I could now make out a massive inner. I had nothing to steady the shot, but I put the cross hair on his neck and felt confident to take the shot. I squeezed the trigger off and down he went, I could see through the scope a decent amount of antler. I gave him a few minutes and then made my way over to him, I could only make out one antler from a distance which at first I thought he was a malformed stag.
Further investigation revealed that his antler had cast from the impact of the shot. It was a bitter-sweet moment shooting this stag, as I really wished Moose was with me to experience. On the other hand it was great to finally take a respectable trophy from my local patch of bush. Being so close to the car I had him caped out, butchered and the whole deer back in the ute before dark.
He was a mature stag that had his fair share of battles with torn up ears, battle scars and good weight in his antlers. I am near certain he was the one that got away on the previous hunt and he is the kind of animal that keeps me walking those mountains in search of the unknown.
Happy and safe hunting.