Sambar Deer Australia
If Australia's deer species were listed alphabetically, sambar would be last on the list. But as sambar are unquestionably the most important of our six free-roaming members of the deer family, they must be ranked first.
Why are they the most important? Well, of all Australia's deer, sambar have clearly demonstrated that they can survive and prosper in the Australian environment without dependence on improved pasture or human interference of any kind. They appear to be as suited to the Australian environment as any native species and, because of their social structure and behaviour, the effect of sambar on the environment is not as noticeable as kangaroos for example. They are still increasing their range and the sambar that now inhabit eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales comprise the most important herd in the world outside of their native countries where the available habitat is diminishing daily outside of protected areas and where their IUCN status is listed as Vulnerable. Sambar are the largest of Australia's wild deer and the third largest of all deer species behind moose and wapiti. They are extremely wary and shy and have a well-earned reputation as one of the hardest to hunt of all the world's game animals. It is quite normal for the majority of the human population to be unaware of the existence of sambar populations in our forested areas.
They are strong and tough animals with a thick hide and coarse hair of a uniform brown colour on the body. This brown colour fades to a light buff colour under the chin, on the inner legs and along the under-body. The rump is usually ginger. The ears are large and round and the inner ear is pale with tufts of longer hair at the base. Sambar are expert at standing completely motionless and it is only an occasional movement of their prominent bat-like ears which sometimes betrays them to an experienced eye.
The colour of individual deer may vary between a light brown, almost grey, to nearly black. However, the colour of an individual will also vary at different times of the year and in different weather and light conditions. An old hunter's tale that sambar grow darker with age has no basis in fact.
Stags can stand up to 130cm at the shoulder (about the height of a Jersey cow) and weigh over 300kg. Hindsare smaller and can grow to about 115cm and weigh in the vicinity of 230kg. Although they are plainer than most other deer species there is nothing to match the magnificent presence of a sambar stag or the beauty of a sambar hind.
Calves are born after a gestation period which appears to be more variable than in other species but averages about 262 days (Harrison 2010).They are not spotted at birth but usually have a pronounced dark (dorsal) stripe down the spine.
A sambar antler is typically three tined and the outer top tine is usually the continuation of the main beam while the inner top tine is somewhat shorter. This is not always the case and there are many instances of stags with 'shanghai' tops where the inner tine matches or exceeds the length of the outer tine. If there is any rule about sambar antlers, it is that, though similar, they are almost never identical.
Sambar have a hollow below the eye in which the preorbital gland is situated. This gland is everted when the deer is aroused. The sight of an aggressive sambar stag or hind with everted glands, rolling eyes, grinding teeth and hissing fiercely is certainly one of the most frightening sights you could ever wish to see. Sambar stags, and to a lesser extent hinds, have a ruff or mane about the neck just behind the head, and this can be erected when the animal is aroused.
They have a metatarsal gland on the outside of each of their hind legs and their hooves are small and neat in comparison to the animal's size.
Sambar were obtained mainly from Sri Lanka with a smaller number coming from Sumatra. They were first released in the early 1860s at Mount Sugarloaf in what is now the Kinglake National Park, and at Harewood, near Tooradin, on the edge of the then Koo Wee Rup swamp. Later releases were at Ercildoune, between Ballarat and Mount Cole and at Wilsons Promontory and French Island in Westernport Bay. Another release was made on the Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory.
Although the South Gippsland deer prospered for a time, most eventually disappeared probably because of reduced habitat as land was cleared for farming. The Tooradin deer gradually moved through the Koo Wee Rup swamp, which was also being drained and cleared, and eventually began to colonise the West Gippsland ranges from Pakenham through to Noojee.
In 1939 wildfire destroyed much of the forest in eastern Victoria, and the regeneration which followed provided a wonderful source of food for the expanding sambar population. The timing coincided with the Second World War, which meant that hunting pressure was reduced dramatically, not that it was ever great, and the sambar built up their numbers in nearly ideal conditions. But a good population of sambar would be considered to be low numbers for other deer species. The social structure of the sambar population does not allow for high population densities so, as numbers increase, the deer colonise new country or slow down their breeding activity.
After the war, recreational hunting slowly gained in popularity and the deer were regularly hunted in the Bunyip, Tarago, Latrobe and Yarra watersheds. At the same time, young deer, which had been forced out by social pressures, were infiltrating the river systems to the north and east. The deer from the Mount Sugarloaf release followed a similar pattern and the two groups eventually merged.
From their original release points, the sambar dispersed into almost all of the forested country in eastern Victoria, in a slowly moving 'wave' pattern. At the front of the wave were young animals which roam widely and establish themselves in the best of the available habitat. These animals mature into very large deer because there is little competition for food. Numbers gradually increase until a peak population is reached, when there is a sharp decline brought about by a reducing food supply and a social structure in which the older females force the younger ones to leave and find their own home ranges. When there are comparatively large numbers of deer, body size is markedly smaller and the reproductive rate is less.
Behind the wave, the sambar gradually rebuild their numbers at a rate dependent on the quality of the habitat. Natural events such as floods and wildfire, and human activities like forestry and fuel reduction burning, play their part in producing good or bad habitat for wildlife and the sambar respond to these changing conditions in the same way as native mammals.
Breeding and Reproduction
A healthy sambar hind is sexually mature at twelve to sixteen months and can be expected to produce her first calf at about two years of age. She will then produce a calf annually, on a more or less regular basis, until her best breeding years are over when calving may become irregular. Twins are very rare.
Sambar calves are 'hiders' and remain hidden under bushes or in thick cover for about the first four to six weeks of their existence. The hind does not necessarily remain in close proximity but visits regularly to feed the calf. As the calves become older, they are sometimes left in company of a yearling or another hind while the mother is feeding. In normal circumstances, the father of the calf will be the dominant stag in her home range. Hinds spend most of their lives within a home range which encompasses sufficient diversity of habitat to provide for nutrition in all seasons, and cover to produce and rear her off-spring. Several hinds may share the same home range but, when too many are present, excess hinds, which are usually the younger animals, will be driven away. Hinds have a similar pecking order to stags and there will always be one hind who is the acknowledged leader whenever they come together in a group which is usually when they congregate at a common food source.
From the time that they leave the hind at about two years of age, young stags are very mobile and wander freely. They enter a 'pecking order' and their rank is based on age, size and fighting ability. Mature dominant stags have a home range that normally takes in all, or part, of the home ranges of several hinds. They assert their dominance over younger and lesser stags by means of 'body language' displays, scent marking, and visual display on rub trees. Dominant stags do not waste energy fighting for possession of a hind in season-all their fighting has been done by the time they become dominant, either because they have beaten an old stag in decline, or when a vacancy is caused by the death of the previous dominant stag.
For the six or seven months that they are in hard antler and prime breeding condition, the stags travel around their home range, visiting hinds and marking out their breeding territories with strategically placed markers such as rub trees, scrapes, preaching trees and wallows. Scent plays a major part in all of these and, even when rubbing and gouging the bark off a tree, the stag always deposits scent from the pre-orbital glands below his eyes on the freshly rubbed bark. A breeding or mating territory may be established anywhere that hinds 'in oestrus' are living.
Preaching trees vary in size from large shrubs and saplings to large trees, but they all have an overhanging branch or trunk on which the stag can leave his scent by rubbing the waxy substance in his pre-orbital glands onto the bark. He achieves this by rearing up on his hind legs, or 'preaching', after having scraped the ground bare beneath the limb and urinating there.
When the dominant stag has cast his antlers and is 'in velvet', the next stag in the hierarchy will serve any hinds which may come in season. This may even be a two or three year old stag if he is the only one in hard antler at the time. Normally, though, a stag will not get the opportunity to breed until he is at least seven years old. It is unusual for a dominant stag to hold his position for more than two or three years at most before he is challenged by a younger rival, The practice of shooting ‘anything with antlers’ reduces the amount of young stags available to produce quality mature stags.
Stags and to a lesser extent hinds begin their decline at about ten to twelve years of age with the hinds producing calves less regularly, depending on food supply and tooth wear, and the stags being displaced by younger, stronger animals.
State Forest and other Unoccupied Crown Land
Generally, hunting for pest animals and game species (including game deer) is permitted in all State forests and unoccupied Crown land (ie. Crown land that is not leased or licensed). However, some restrictions may apply. Hunters are advised to consult the local DSE Office for specific information about any restrictions that apply to the area of State forest or unoccupied Crown land that they wish to hunt. Remember, many people use State forests for recreation and for their livelihood. Never shoot on or across public roads or tracks and never shoot towards populated areas, including camping and picnic areas and walking tracks.
Provided hunting is permitted in an area, pest animals may be hunted at any time and hunting for game species is allowed only during the open season for that species. Make sure that you know when the open seasons are.
State Game Reserves
Six State Game Reserves are open to Hog Deer hunting during the open season. These are: Lake Coleman; Dowd Morass; Jack Smith Lake; Ewing Morass; Clydebank Morass; Heart Morass State Game Reserve. Hunting for Sambar, Fallow or Red Deer is not permitted in State Game Reserves.
Pest animals or other non-game species such as sparrows or starlings may not be hunted on State Game Reserves at any time, unless specific authorisation is provided by the Department.
State Game Reserves Maps are available to Hog Deer hunters, which include details of how to get there, what facilities are available, what game species may be hunted and other information relevant to hunting and camping.
Game species (including game deer) may not be hunted at any time in areas declared to be Sanctuaries. However, pest animals may be hunted. Major Victorian sanctuaries are: Mount Cole Sanctuary (South West Region, DSE), Gunbower Island Sanctuary, Kow Swamp and Reedy Lakes near Kerang (North West Region, DSE). The location of other sanctuaries should be checked with the local DSE Office.
Melbourne Water Catchment Areas
A number of catchments and reservoirs in the outer metropolitan and central highlands area are controlled by Melbourne Water and are part of the metropolitan water supply system. Public entry to these areas is prohibited to ensure a high-quality water supply.
Forest Parks, Flora and Fauna Reserves and Nature Conservation Reserves
Carrying and using firearms in these areas for deer hunting is prohibited.
National Parks, Coastal Parks and Wilderness Parks
Most Wilderness, National, State and Coastal Parks are closed to deer hunting at all times. However, you are allowed to hunt in the parks listed below, subject to varying conditions. Hunters must not possess a firearm in, or transport a firearm through a park (except in some instances) when hunting is prohibited. Also, where hunting is allowed, firearms must only be those calibres or gauges permitted for the species available for hunting in that park.
Alpine National Park (North East, Gippsland Regions, DSE). In certain sections of the park, Sambar Deer may be hunted by stalking only from 15 February to 15 December. The use of dogs to hunt Sambar Deer is not permitted in this park. Avon Wilderness Park (Gippsland Region, DSE). In certain sections of the park, Sambar Deer may be hunted by stalking only from 15 February to 15 December. The use of dogs to hunt Sambar Deer is not permitted in this park.
Baw Baw National Park (Gippsland Region, DSE).Sambar Deer may be hunted by stalking only in the area east of Thomson Valley Road from 1 May to 25 October each year. The use of dogs to hunt Sambar Deer is not permitted in this park.
Lake Eildon National Park (North East Region, DSE). In certain sections in the south-east of the park, Sambar Deer may be hunted by stalking only from the first Saturday after Easter until 30 November. The use of dogs to hunt deer is not permitted in this park. Check with the Lake Eildon National Park Rangers office on (03) 5772 2038 (03) 5772 2038 for details.
Gippsland Lakes Coastal Park (Gippsland Region, DSE). In certain sections, Hog Deer may be hunted in season. Hog Deer must not be hunted with the use of dogs. Check with the Parks Victoria Sale office on (03) 5144 3048 (03) 5144 3048 for further details.
Mitchell River National Park (Gippsland Region, DSE).Sambar Deer hunting by stalking is permitted east of the Mitchell River from 15 February to 15 December. The use of dogs to hunt deer is not permitted in this park. Pest animals and other species must not be hunted in this park. A number of areas were recently added to the Mitchell River National Park. However, at the time of writing, hunting was not permitted in these areas. Check with the Parks Victoria Bairnsdale office on (03) 5152 0400 (03) 5152 0400 for further details.
Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park (Gippsland Region, DSE). Hunting for Hog Deer is permitted in certain sections in season. Check with the Yarram DSE Office for details of which areas are open to hunting (03) 5183 9100 (03) 5183 9100 .
All alpine resorts are closed to hunting at all times. However, you are allowed to transport a dog through an alpine resort in a vehicle. You are also allowed to transport firearms through a resort providing the firearm is in a safe and locked compartment of the vehicle.
Leased Crown Land: Game species (including game deer) in season and pest animals may be hunted on leased land, provided hunters have obtained the permission of the lessee to enter the area. Remember, many people use leased land for recreation or for their livelihood. Never shoot on or across an area of leased land without the permission of the lessee and never shoot across public roads or tracks or towards populated areas, including camping and picnic areas and walking tracks.
If you are in doubt about the status of a particular area, please contact your local DSE Office.
Licensed Crown Land
Generally, hunting for game species including game deer (during their respective open seasons) and pest animals is permitted on licensed Crown land. However, some exceptions may apply. If an area is licensed under the Land Act 1958, hunters must obtain the permission of the licensee before carrying or using firearms on that area. This generally includes areas such as unused roads and water frontages, which may be licensed for grazing or other purposes.
If you are in doubt about the status of a particular area, or require any further information, please contact your local DSE Office.
Game species (including game deer) in season and pest animals may be hunted on private land provided hunters have obtained the permission of the land owner/manager. You must not shoot on or across public roads or tracks at any time.
Sambar, Chital, Rusa, Red, Hog and Fallow Deer stalking in Victoria
Sambar Deer by stalking
There is a year-long open season for hunting Sambar Deer by stalking.
Being an Asiatic species, Sambar Deer are capable of breeding at any time of the year. Periods of vulnerability, therefore, are not well defined, and a closed season is not needed to protect the population during a time of susceptibility to over-hunting. The twelve-month season for stalking of Sambar Deer appears not to have any negative impacts on the success of the species, as anecdotal evidence suggests that the Sambar Deer population continues to extend its range, density appears to be increasing and harvest levels remain high.
If you are in doubt about the status of a particular area, or require any further information, please contact your local DSE Office.
This document was last reviewed on 04/05/2009
This information is only a guide please check for more current information, rules and changes to information from your DNR Victoria
The secret of the sambar's success lies in its low population density and its adaptability. Individual animals have a very low impact on their environment and, because they are so sparsely scattered, their presence is often undetected in bushland. This is not so in fringe country where the forest meets improved pasture and, particularly, in dry years, many farmers are annoyed at seeing numbers of sambar encroaching on their land.
They will eat almost anything that grows in the bush including even juvenile eucalyptus leaves. One feature of the sambar's diet is the wide range of prickly plants it eats. Although commonly referred to as browsing animals, sambar feed on grasses, herbs and aquatic plants whenever they are available and these form a large proportion of their diet. In cold, wet and windy conditions, the deer will shelter in the deep gullies and feed heavily on the blackberry bushes that are now entrenched along our watercourses but, as soon as the weather clears, they resume their normal activities over the entire habitat. In the absence of wind, snow does not worry them at all.
Sambar are naturally more active at night when they do most of their feeding but, in the absence of hunting pressure, they will often feed during the day as well. Many of their activities such as wallowing and rubbing are carried out en route from their bedding areas to their feeding places.
In any group of sambar there will be a lead hind, which tests the area for possible danger before the deer emerge from deep cover. She will always approach from downwind of her objective, even if this means a circling manoeuvre while still in cover. If she is satisfied, her body adopts a more relaxed stance and the other deer will slowly emerge, usually in single file and with any large stag towards the rear of the group. A raised head and tail indicates potential danger and the hind, when unsure of the source of her anxiety, will often stamp a front hoof repeatedly or deliver a loud challenging bark. A sharp alarm bark or 'honk' is guaranteed to send the other deer into the bush. If there is no wind the deer will probably return in an attempt to identify the problem. If there is some breeze the deer will quickly circle downwind to identify the interloper by scent.
Sambar have remarkable powers of sight, scent and hearing. Perhaps sight is the least of these as they may have some difficulty in identifying a stationary object but the slightest movement will be spotted immediately. Normal bush sounds are ignored but any unusual sound makes the big, bat-like ears 'zero in' like radar antenna. Scent is the final arbiter of whether to stay or just melt back into the undergrowth, and the deer will often lift their noses skyward to test for any foreign trace in the air.
Every movement of a sambar deer is calculated and deliberate and they are not prone to headlong flight at the sight of a human unless they are caught in the open. Because of their colouring, sambar are very difficult to see in the Australian bush and their capacity to stand absolutely still ensures that many encounters with humans are known only to the deer. If the person is going to pass uncomfortably close to the deer a loud 'honk', which is not unlike a truck's air-horn in sound and volume, 'freezes' the intruder for the vital seconds necessary for the deer to escape. Once heard, a sambar's 'honk' is never forgotten.
The Douglas Scoring System based on symmetrical size is a well recognized system that has been used for many years by the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association. It was hoped that the Register would not only be a valuable contribution to the deer's history but also that it would provide an extension of the hunter's interest in the deer. This was an important step in the direction of having Australia’s deer accepted as a valued game animal. The first publication of the Top 10 trophies took place in 1976 in Vol. 1 No. 1 of Australian Deer. At the time, only 4 species of deer were available for legal hunting.
Before a trophy is measured a drying out period of at least 60 days after the trophy was taken must be met before it is measured. Measurement is carried out by a panel of three, comprising the Chief Measurer or a State Measurer, or a Certifying Measurer and two Accredited Measurers. All measurements are checked until agreed upon.
If the trophy meets the minimum standard for that species, and all other obligations, the trophy is then recorded in the Register.
To be eligible for entry in the Register a trophy must meet or exceed the following minimum Douglas Score:
Sambar: 200 Douglas Points
Trophy Register: Sambar ADA Sambar Trophy Register Number 1: G. McPherson, Victoria, 1994. Score 233.
Safari Club International Record Book of Animals
"Joining information": Are you a new member to SCI? If so, as a thank you, your 1st record book entry is free (a $35.00 value).
The SCI Record Book of Animals uses SCI’s unique all-inclusive record keeping system, the most used system in the world, to document our hunting heritage. The scoring system recognizes typical and non-typical animals and both free range and estate taken animals.
NO deductions are enforced penalizing animals for asymmetry in the SCI scoring system.
Bronze Score 103 93
Silver Score 131 1/8 0 N/A
Gold Score 141 4/8 114 6/8
SCI South Pacific World Record Rifle: Number 1 & 2.
1 166836 Michel C. Bergerac 189 2/8
2 118200 John R. Clarke 181 4/8
SCI South Pacific World Record Bow:
1 147267 Leon L. Nuehring 125 6/8
Aussie John back in the 1980's Backpacking for 10 days into the Wonnangatta Valley from the Great Divide
Aussie John back in the 1990's Hunting the Buckland Valley Victoria.