I often hunt sambar alone. One set of feet crunching through the bush means I get a little closer. It does however have some drawbacks, both in safety and, if you’re lucky enough, extra effort getting the harvest out and back to the vehicle.
Stalking wet forest is what I love. It’s more challenging than grassy, open forest, and you’re often encountering deer at fewer than 50 metres, usually as they vanish into the ferns and shrubs. But if it was easy you wouldn’t do it. Definitely gets the heart racing!
Walking them up when conditions are right works well. Sneaking along the floor of wet shallow-sided gullies has filled my freezer many times. You need to be able to see up and out through the tree ferns, otherwise you’re just bush walking. But by far the most productive way is to sit and wait on a game trail between their beds and the feed. A log or buttressed tree is a good spot to sit against. You could be there for a few hours so make sure it’s comfy. If there’s a bull ant nest close by give it a miss, find another spot.
Getting into position before first light, siting 10 to 15 metres higher than an active scrape or wallow can produce a nice stag, but visits can be few and far between. Frustratingly they commonly arrive in the dark. Or a hind will come past and give you away just when you need everything going your way. A trail camera can help refine your attendance on these spots.
The success rate increases towards dusk. Depending on the location and deer movement, siting for up to three hours prior to dark may be required. Ideally taking the shot an hour or more before last light will give you time to find and complete the breakdown efficiently. Shot placement is important at all times, closer to dark you will need to consider if you take the shot at all. I find a neck shot is best at these times. They fall where they stand. No tracking by headlamp or torch.
Seeing a deer or even finding a cast antler makes a great days hunting! If you choose to harvest an animal for the freezer and you’re one out, this is where the work starts, especially as the sun sets. You don’t need a lot of fancy gear, but spoil yourself with a good head lamp. You deserve it.
If you’re likely to be a long way from your vehicle use a pack that will carry the majority of the meat. If it’s only a few hundred metres a smaller pack will do. The less trips in the dark the better. In the pack I carry a skinning knife, boning knife, sharpener, GPS, two litres of water, 15 metres of six millimetre rope, six pillows slips, torch and head lamp.
It’s all come together, you’ve place the effective shot and located the deer. Let the real work begin. Don’t stress, it’s just an overgrown rabbit.
If you can or need to, reposition the deer before you start the breakdown.
Sometimes this is physically impossible due to their weight. I prefer moving them to feet pointing downslope, hind legs lower than the forelegs. This puts gravity on my side when removing the stomach. Use the rope to pull the top hind and foreleg up to allow you to make the first cut: groin to rib cage. Take the insides out, take your time there’s no rush now.
With the cavity empty and legs up, get the best cut, the inner fillet. These are two muscles running on the inside of the spine from pelvis to ribs. They’re not big but they are tender and tasty, and I give them their own slip. Dropping the legs temporarily I run a cut along the spine, skinning up and over to remove the back-strap cleanly on the high side. Put it in a slip, the other one will join it soon.
You can also skin out the top legs at this point to the knee, or leave it on, your call. Reuse the rope to prop one leg at a time, one leg per slip. Remove the lower leg as there is no meat on it and it is just extra weight to carry.
With one side now done the carcase is significantly lighter. Flip it over and repeat what you’ve just done. Remove the back-strap and put it with its buddy. Remove the legs and place in slips. You should now have all usable meat in the slips and only a picked clean spine, rib cage and head left in the bush.
If it’s a long walk out, consider boning out the hind legs to reduce some weight. I change the slips before placing it all in the beer fridge for four or five days to age. Without too much effort you end up with steaks, roasts, diced and minced. Variety is the spice of life, and venison is very versatile: experiment.