aFTER THE SHOT
Contrary to popular belief most Sambar deer will very rarely drop on the spot when hit by a bullet. This applies to stags, does, and even young deer. Of course the exception to this is if they are hit in the head or the spine is severed. Should this happen the deer will drop on the spot. However, this type of shot is extremely risky and should only be attempted at close range with a good rest and with a rifle that you know exactly where it is shooting at that range.
Ok, so you have taken a shot at a Sambar that did not know you were there. In most cases it will run off, and it is not uncommon that there will be little or no indication that it has been hit. Also in most cases the animal will be out of sight in a relatively short distance (depending on the thickness of the surrounding bush). At this point, if you have not seen the deer go down, it is important to stay calm and not dismiss your shot as a miss. Over the years of following up many deer shot by hunters we have concluded that in most cases the animal will be down within 200 yards or so, if correctly hit. The first thing you should consider before you move is visually note as precisely as you can the location the deer was standing when you took the shot. Then walk to this spot and mark it in such a way that you can find it again if required. This is vital if the immediate area contains other deer tracks as this can make things confusing, and if there is no blood trail that can tell you which tracks to follow. It is not uncommon for there not to be a blood trail immediately at the spot the deer was standing when hit by your bullet. In some cases there will not be a blood trail for the first 30 to 50 yards and in some less frequent cases even longer.
To those who have not found themselves in this situation, you may be thinking that a large animal such as Sambar should be easy to find. How hard can it be finding something the size of a small horse? Well, if lady luck has smiled on you, it may in fact turn out easy. With relatively open bush, ground that is soft from recent rain, deer tracks that stand out in the soft ground are not difficult to follow, especially if made by a running animal. However, any hunter who has chased Sambar long enough can tell you that perfect conditions such as described do not always occur even in winter. Be it the time of year you are hunting, terrain, north or south facing hill side, lack of rain and other such circumstances often make tracking deer difficult.
One of the advantages in hunting with us is that if you are in this situation then help is only a radio call away. But if you are hunting on your own then consider the following. To begin with hopefully you can at least determine the direction the animal went from the spot that it was hit. Even if it’s only approximate. The first thing you should try and look for are deep prominent tracks made by a running animal. If the direction is downhill then tracks will often appear as long skid marks that can be anything up to 12 feet apart. Follow the tracks slowly, do not rush as sometimes the animal may change directions and this is easy to miss. If you lose the tracks return to the spot of the last track. It’s not a bad idea to mark the tracks every so often for this reason. All along you should be looking for blood; this could be in the form of small drops so look carefully. Again mark the spot you first find blood as this a good reference. Now obviously you do not need to be this careful if trail is really obvious. Also keep in mind that the animal may have run off at a great rate of knots, but it’s not unusual for the deer to slow down after a short distance. This then affects the way the tracks look.
If you have followed the tracks for say 50 - 100 yards without finding any blood and the tracks have gone from a running deer to one that is only at a trot or even walking it may be that you are following the wrong tracks. Especially if there was more than one set of tracks to begin with. This is why it is important to mark the spot where the animal was originally hit. You should go back to this spot and try looking for another set of tracks. Essentially this is a process of elimination and it will take time. Do not give up.
The other thing that pays to observe as you are tracking is the general terrain the deer is covering. This can be an indication of how badly it is hit or if at all. You may start to observe that the deer is progressively heading in an uphill direction this could be a sign that perhaps you are tracking the wrong animal, or that you missed, or that the animal is only lightly wounded. If on the other hand you observe that it is continually heading downhill or even not gaining height then this can mean that you are on the right tracks and that the deer is hit well. Again the thing to remember is that you need to combine all the sign you can see and put together a picture. No one single piece of sign is conclusive to finding your deer.
Everything we have described here is only a basic guide and lot of what you need to learn is mostly achieved by experience. A great deal of help is knowing the area you are in, and the associated terrain. There is plenty of information on tracking available on the internet, and it is a good idea to read as much as you can. Keep in mind that all hunters, especially those who have taken Sambar on a regular basis have their own way of tracking hard to find animals and this is always good to know.
We hope you find some of what is written here helpful, especially should you be standing in the bush trying to find that big Sambar Stag that you just took a shot at.