With Chris Eaton
I have been undertaking this form of hunting since the early 1990s and have learnt a lot in that time but like most hunters can always learn to hunt better or smarter.
When getting into hunting with hounds the first thing needed is a willingness to learn, just like every other form of hunting. If you are not willing to sit around the fire and listen to the old blokes and their tales of yesterday then you will miss little titbits that will one day come in handy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to make sure you understand exactly who runs the crew, or where or what is expected of you. There is not much worse than walking down the wrong spur or dropping off the opposite side of a spur to where you are expected to go and having to bash back up through the scrub to where you were supposed to be. Don’t worry though because we have all done it. It’s especially hard to find your way, when you are told to go to where someone shot a deer that was a long time ago and you have never been there before.
Any prospective hound hunter (or stalker for that matter) needs to learn to like the bush and to find their way around the bush and to remember which way is out. There is no shame in calling on the radio and letting the rest of the crew know that you are geographically embarrassed. You will probably get a ribbing around the fire at the end of the day, but that is far better than having a search party out looking for you.
It is amazing what the bush can teach you also, when you sit back and listen to the everyday noises that are there; birds calling, branches falling, a 4WD grinding its way up a steep climb, rifle shots off in the distance, the wind in the trees and a river’s murmuring. The bush can go quiet also and that’s when you need to listen hard for breaking sticks and search the scrub for movement.
Hound hunters need to be mobile so a backpack with a few necessities is an essential. The pack should contain things like toilet paper, matches, a sharp strong knife, some food, water, spare ammunition, dog leads and a camera but that about covers the basics. As you get more involved there will be other things that you will pick up that are handy to have but are not essential.
Comfortable footwear is a must. There is no requirement to have the latest and greatest but they have to be comfortable. There is no place in hound hunting for elastic sided boots, protective toe caps or boots that do not fit correctly, they will make your day hell, especially if you are hunting steep country or having to cross rivers. I have tried lots of different brands and styles and currently have a pair from one of the well-known hiking boot manufacturers and apart from the soles being a bit hard they are very good. While they suit me other hunters prefer a runner-style boot with mesh fabric uppers. Good quality socks are as important as the footwear. Woollen socks will keep your feet warm even when they are wet and are worth their weight in gold.
Warm comfortable clothing is your next thing to choose. It’s not necessary to spend heaps when you are starting out. Jeans will do the job, though if you get wet they are going to be cold and they tend to grab around the knees, but make sure you wear a belt to hold them up. If you decide to stick at it then hunting pants will be on your list of priorities. A good jumper or jacket is fine and most wardrobes would already have something adequate. To me camouflage is low on the agenda - I wear camouflage pants but the top half is all high vis or blaze. This is not only about firearms safety, it’s also about other people being able to find you if needed. Deer being trailed by hounds are more intent on the hounds that on you so camouflage isn’t really needed - as long as you are standing still they won’t see you.
There are so many electronic gizmos out there that it is difficult to know where to start. The most important is a UHF radio. Some crews will want you to use one of their own while some crews will want you to bring one along. It doesn’t have to be fancy as long as it will work all day. Companies like GME and Icom produce very good 5-watt handhelds that are water or splash proof. I wish they had them ten years ago it would have saved me heaps. If you have to buy one find out what the hunting crew you are going with use, but ask first as someone will probably have one you can borrow. You don’t need a GPS to hunt sambar - you cannot hunt deer while looking at a screen although one might help in finding your way back to camp after the hunt is over.
Any rifle of a suitable calibre is fine to hunt sambar with. Heavy kicking magnums are not needed and long barrelled firearms can be a nuisance when pushing through the bush. Any rifle needs to be fitted with a sling. Low powered or red dot scopes are preferred although open sights are generally adequate. Many people who hunt with hounds prefer pump or lever action firearms which allow for quick follow-up shots. The .30 calibres are probably the most common around the traps with .308, .30’06 and 300 magnums being amongst the mix. One advantage of sticking with a common calibre is the ease of finding ammunition if you run out or have left it at home.
You are going to need some dog leads and shouldn’t start a hunt without a couple in your pack or around your waist. The crew will probably have a few leads to loan out to newbies but please make sure they get handed back at the end of the day. At the very least it’s handy to have some pieces of rope in your pack to tie hounds up with. The little leads that you have for walking you pet poodle with at home probably aren’t going to be much good with a bloodhound, harrier or beagle hanging on them, especially at the start of the day.
Some form of comfortable, warm, easy to use sleeping gear is required. Swags are probably the most common amongst hound crews with a good quality sleeping bag or doona to keep you warm. It gets cold in the mountains and the night is long if you are unable to sleep because you are cold. Some people prefer to roll their swag out on the ground while others use fold up beds, others erect tarps to keep the snow, frost and rain off.
Food needs to be easy to prepare using basic cooking arrangements, usually a barbecue plate or grill, frypan or similar is what’s required. Check with the crew you are going to hunt with to find out what they do. Some blokes just grab take away on their way through town. Most people will share food and don’t be frightened of passing around your after hunt-refreshments either. Make sure you have something to snack on during the day. It’s generally accepted amongst most hound crews that you get two feeds a day, breakfast and another one, there’s no lunch break and energy levels can get low without a top up. Check how many days you are going for and bring enough food for an extra day as you may be required to stay back and help recover hounds. Hounds and deer don’t work to a clock.
A big tip about hounds - they can find their way back to camp and the first thing they will do is look for food, generally in the easiest to open esky. So if you bring an esky along make sure it has a lid that locks down or some way of holding it shut. Hounds will empty an esky pretty quickly but I haven’t yet found any that can open cans. Don’t leave your bread out either as the birds and possums enjoy that as well.
Transport is entirely up to you. I would suggest that if it’s your first time or even first few times that you try and con a ride with someone else. Save scratching up your town car until a bit later on when you decide that hound hunting really is for you. If you are travelling with someone else don’t be frightened to chip in for fuel - they will more than likely say ‘Nah mate she’s all good’. An offer to buy them a few refreshments on the way home may be well received though. Make the effort!
Make the effort! Now that sounds like a good place to finish up. Make the effort to give hound hunting of sambar a go. That’s what I did way back in the early 1990s and have hardly missed a day since. Be prepared to get hooked and to spend every weekend of the rest of your hunting life chasing hounds about. Hound hunting is not for everyone but it is an addictive way of life.