By Adam Greentree (Australia)
The fact that I renewed my life insurance before the trip said enough about hunting in Northern Australia. Deadly Snakes, poisonous Spiders, flesh devouring Crocodiles, trampling Ox bulls and of course, bone crushing Water Buffalo, all a part of the thrill of this hunt.
My Wife Kim actually organized this exploration during an appointment at the hairdressers of all things. Just when I thought she couldn’t possibly be more of a babe, she lines up a buffalo hunt, too good to be true.
I was leaving things a little late for the wet seasons approach running the risk of being landlocked by heavy rains. It’s also the hottest time of the year but if you don’t mind the heat obviously the later during the dry season the better as the game is concentrated to the areas that are holding fresh water. A few storms had been brewing up over the preceding weeks, but my area for hunting still looked good and accessible, as informed by my contact in the hunting area.
It was a hefty effort to get to my destination, but a few flights later and a few days of traveling into remote Northern Territory I reached what could only be described as a wild frontier filled with nature’s wild beasts, a paradise for hunters and outdoors persons alike.
I felt like I had ventured into the late 70’s as I set the binoculars over a plain of brown grass with a watercourse through it on the drive in. Grazing and wallowing buffalo spread out across the area far and wide, there was possibly sixty beasts in view include a good bull. I stood in awe on top of the escarpment cliffs looking over an unforgettable sight before continuing on to see the landowner to confirm I had arrived safely. I dropped of some supplies in appreciation for the access to the land and then it was game on. I had arrived and was going to be chasing buffalo in this wide space of land the thought had me buzzing with excitement.
Day One Afternoon
Out on the bone dry edge of a Pandanas swamp, I spotted a large bull, which absolutely looked just like a black tank with horns. This was my first up close Buff and first impression and what an impression that fine beast made. They are actually a very pretty animal with unique facial features and light markings.
I was super keen and ecstatic to be heading in for my first stalk on a Buffalo. Aaron my camera man and backup followed in on my footsteps with the video in his hand and rifle over the shoulder. The ground was littered with crunching loud dead leaves, which made stalking very difficult until I hit a game trail of bull dust and followed it along towards the bull, that was still a good two hundred meters (219 yards) away.
Eventually, I had to leave the game trail to close the gap on the big buff, but not before letting a wild stallion walk between the bull and myself. I crossed the leaf litter covered ground when leaving the trail, every step felt like it sounded like a piece of 2x4 hard wood being snapped beside my ear.
Whenever the bull had its head down feeding or walking, I moved as it too was making a lot of noise when busy. Fifty meters felt close, but I continued on and moved into a deep washout. From there I moved closer, crouched over and out of sight before popping back up at 35 meters. I was looking for the right angle and placement for my arrow, which I had studied a lot before the trip.
I drew back as the bull angled away and released. I was consumed and totally excited as it soaked up the arrow high in the heart. The bull spun as the arrow slipped out through the opposite shoulder and ran past me at just meters before crashing to the ground. After a few minutes I stalked up on the downed bull and watched it to make sure its chest wasn’t moving. My first buffalo and a beautiful big bull at that, 44inches tip to tip, 93 Douglas Points.
The Hoyt Carbon Matrix RKT at 70# had proven more than efficient at slipping an arrow through such a big beast even when connecting with the ribs on entry and exit which happened in this situation.
In the harsh heat we had to jump on the field preparation of the cape. This is where the real hard effort comes in when securing a trophy buffalo in these conditions. It’s certainly made easier when there is a few hunters to help cape and carry out the hulking beast’s precious trophy. The skull and hide needed every bit of strength of two men to carry back with many stops on the return.
My first afternoon in the Never Never was one I will never forget, the remote Northern Territory truly is a playground for anyone seeking wild adventures.
We started early with breakfast in the dark of morning and headed out glassing buffalo herds and lone bulls out along the high flats, grazing on white grass. The landscape yet again was a marvellous sight to behold, with white gum trees and an array of termite mounds. The best sight through it all though is seeing grazing buffalo. Could the place high in the sky be better than this? We glassed the herds and lone bulls and while there were some great bulls amongst them, none of them were bigger than what I had already taken so I moved on.
I set off on a massive walk in the stinking hot heat of day, out to a creek in no man’s land. I eventually reached the creek looking over a few buffalo on the way. I thought that I’d get some relief from the heat in the creek, but the water was hotter than the air, which was above 110 F. All I could do to cool down was drench myself in the creek and sit out under the shade of a tree in the hope of the breeze cooling my skin as it passed through the damp of my clothing. I ended up digging a hole in the sand to reach cool water and also buried some water in a bottle to cool for drinking, which all worked well.
I headed west along the creek and spotted a good boar that had stood up from its bed in the shade of the creek bank. I quickly followed it up from above the steep creek bank and closed the gap on the boar before putting an arrow down into the kill zone securing him in seconds as the arrow exited the heart.
Not much further down the creek I glassed an old cow buffalo lying in the water with her calf. After gaining some ground on the cow, what I thought was a calf buffalo, was a massive big old tusky boar. I kept hidden behind the bank of the creek and stalked over directly above the boar and drilled it from five meters, straight down into the heart also.
The water exploded as the boar ran on dead legs to the other side of the creek where it crashed. The buffalo woke from the commotion then stood up, before simply aiming me up and charging me, as I was well within its comfort zone.
I came to full draw and held the pins between the cows eyes as she stopped just in front of me. Not being able to climb the bank to get me, the cow backed up and charged again, this time I didn’t want to find out if she would make it up the bank on her second try and I dropped the pin into the front of the chest and released. This just about took the cow off her feet, as she stumbled and turned to run as I set another arrow for launch.
As the cow turned back towards me and was broadside, I put the next arrow through the lungs which zipped straight through the buffalo, “BANNGGG!” Aaron didn’t want to see if she would carry the two shots far enough to get back to me either, as the back up rang out seconds after my shot to make sure she was done to limit the risk. She was gone, but it was definitely a better to be safe than sorry moment and it certainly a hunt memory that will stay drilled in my mind as one of greater flurries of action I have had the privilege to have been a part of.
Early light this morning I glassed with the binoculars over some semi clear country scattered with termite mounds and white gum trees. A dead horse on the top side of the ridge that edged the clear had attracted some scavenging wild dogs. I set fourth for the stalk on a very wary old dog that was forever looking for danger as it fed from the rotting carcass. I circled out wide and got down wind as well as putting the dog behind a tree to move in closer and quicker, as two wild dogs had already left the carcass as the sun started to burn all that was under it.
I also slipped off my boots, choosing to walk over sharp burnt brushes and branches rather than noisy crunching leaves. As I got closer a large buffalo appeared in the background and he stared me down as I closed the gap on the dog. The smell was far from charming as the dog tore at the stench of meat.
I stood out from behind the tree as the dog put its head down to feed and drew back. Just then he started to walk into the shade of a close tree and as he reached the shade he stopped broadside as I released. It was a good kill, as the dog did a small circle and dropped right where it had been hit. The buffalo bull was now fully alert and staring me down and moving closer, looking rather aggressive whilst doing so. I didn’t give him too much attention as I walked back to my boots and slipped them on.
Returning to the wild dog, the buff had most of my attention as he had closed the distance to half of what felt safe in the open and was still slowly edging towards me. I picked up the dog and moved towards the trees and captured the photos there while the buffalo settled down and I moved on, had it sported bigger horns, the story might be different for one of us.
Later in the day I found myself stalking along a creek with good flowing water, which had its share of resident buffalo. It was beautiful country again and what you’d imagine after picking up a brochure on the Outback Northern Territory. A running creek carved through rock and was edged by yellow sand, lined by paperbark trees with escarpments of red and white cliffs on either side. To top it all off, there was a stunningly blue sky to light the rich colours of the earth. Even without game, this place is of great beauty to those who have passed through it, I have been truly blessed by the sights.
Down along the creek under a shady bank, I put my eyes on a decent bull, which would have been a class above my first big buff, but despite my best efforts I couldn’t make it happen. That stalk, that buff, ingrained a deep want for another, despite being thoroughly happy with my first stunning bull.
Hiking back downstream for the return in the late afternoon, I looked into all the shady spots for boars and buff, when a boar appeared out of the wickedest looking spot. The boar strolled out from the rocky cliff face and headed straight towards me. My guess was to the wallow I had just walked pass.
I dropped to my knees and clipped an arrow as the boar closed the distance between us. A large gum tree was right beside me and this would be my opportunity to draw the bow if it walked past me. Sure enough after a bit of eyeing off, the boar continued past my position and once its head was behind the tree, I turned and drew back. As the boar appeared out the other side I placed the arrow low in the vitals taking the heart, a six or seven meter shot. The boar crashed into a deep washout into some swampy water where I had the pleasure of venturing down into for the recovery.
This morning we made the time and effort to shoot two young buffalo for meat, which we boned out and packed into a large esky before making the journey back to the homestead, delivering the prime meat to the local Traditional Owners and their families. Our efforts didn’t go unnoticed as we were granted permission to another parcel of land, Mountain Side, another million acres in which I would cover but a rain drop in a pond. The country was much different to what I had been hunting in with a lot more plains and springs. Things were looking good.
What a wild place. I watched some good buffalo out on the dry plains, the burning sun barely bearable to stand under and yet, right out in the open were black skinned, mostly hairless, buffalo soaking it up. The heat and sun obviously doesn’t bother the beasts. While pigs and scrub bulls (Ox) are looking for shade Buffalo are going about their habits.
After a decent look over a number of animals, I continued towards a watercourse and a breach in the bank opened up to a beautiful waterhole. Big barramundi could be clearly seen swimming around, like I said Wild Place. Sooty grunter and Archer fish also teemed the beautiful water and no doubt so did a few crocodiles, both of the fresh and very ominous saltwater variety.
I sat under the shade of a large paperbark tree on the edge of the water for a lunch time bite. Here the waterhole flowed into a small shallow stream where you could clearly see if any crocs were lurking. The water here ran cool; unlike the creek we had previously been walking and was a real relief from the soaring heat. Sitting there I noticed a large wake on the water’s surface and heading towards me, a large barramundi cruised downstream in water barely deep enough to cover its back. I stood out in the water further downstream, dead still, crouched over with my hands submerged and ready to grasp the Barra. As it swam within reach I clutched it between my hands, but simply couldn’t keep a grip on the rather large fish and it darted off back upstream, cool as.
In the mid-afternoon I watched a large Buff bull stroll up from a dry creek and onto a timbered flat. This bull was sporting the largest horns I had set eyes upon as yet, the beast looked absolutely stunning on the hoof as it strolled along the flats looking like and having the attitude to match that of a Boss Beast. The bull was heading towards my position, slightly angling away, but getting closer all the same. It was still two hundred meters out, but this distance quickly closed as I stalked in line with the bull as it kept moving forth towards me.
The bull was certainly that next class of animal, it looked awesome walking along and if I have it my way it will look awesome on the wall and in the album. If things don’t go my way then that’s all good too, as what a great hunt it was about to be, kill or no kill. Unaware of the danger that was about to strike, the bull strolled right pass me as I eased to full draw. I followed with the pin lined up center on the vitals, waiting for the bull to angle away slightly. The Carter release clipped off, leaving but a few inches of fletching sticking out of the kill zone. The bull spun and bolted away from the hit finding the ground in short time.
Cautiously I approached the bull with another arrow nocked and set the binoculars over its chest, eyes and nose, looking for any signs of life before walking up to it, but no, it was all over for the beast and the spoils of the hunt went my way.
What a beauty, another fine beast hits the ground. For those interested, the bull measured 44 inches tip to tip (98 Douglas Points), there is a huge gap between 90 DP and 95 DP, so I was very pleased with the bull.
Last night I researched my GPS that is equipped with Google Earth maps and found a massive series of billabongs, but whether they were reachable or not was another thing. MY intention today was to see if we could get the vehicle within a few kilometres of one of those billabongs to be able to walk in with enough water to hunt around it for the day. The temperature rising up to 120.6 F made it difficult on drinking water to hike too far between water courses.
First we headed back along what was now being named as Hot Creek, where the water runs above the air temperature. I wanted to see if any boars had settled up on the carcass of the cow I shot in defence. That tree where the buffalo charged me had become twice as dangerous now. I stalked around the tree to get some photos of another cow, which had its calf there also.
The calf looked worse for wear, as it had been attacked by wild dogs and where they had tried to pull the calf down, they had left it with shredded ears and deep lacerations down the nose. If it survives the next few months, I’m sure it's going to grow into a big bull and besides eating, wallowing and breeding, its favourite thing to do will be grinding Wild Dogs into bull dust after its torment.
So here I was once again inside the comfort zone of a buffalo, but the second bit of danger was much harder to see. Curled up just beside where my hand held onto the tree was a Golden Tree Snake, luckily non venomous but I still didn’t want to find out first hand. Seconds after spotting the snake and getting some pictures, the cow and calf were alert to my presence and sure enough, being within the buffs zone, it charged me.
The calf's wounds were apparent now, as the cow hardly held the strength in her old age to defend herself, let alone her calf, as she fell over during the charge. I walked out wide and left them at peace, as the cow stood back up and slowly moved off. Unlike all the other buffalo we had seen this old cow was skin and bones, certainly right at the end of her long life.
I ventured out following the GPS, but unfortunately after some exploring, I simply couldn’t get within any sort of reasonable distance to be able to hunt the billabong without walking dry our water supplies. She’s big country, mostly untouched, no fences and a very limited amount of tracks, which are all just about over grown.
I hunted back out towards the heavily timbered country and came upon a new species high on my list, the elusive wild trophy Donkey. There were seven animals in total, two of them being mature jacks that were fighting over the jennies, which looked on for the champion. The jacks ran around calling, screaming at each other with their mouths wide open and show their teeth in aggression.
I stalked in under this commotion at what was admittedly, a very difficult animal to stalk, as they are highly strung and don’t let any movement within sight go unnoticed. Multiple times during what I considered a very sly stalk, I got locked into a stand-off where I was a statue on the ground. Eventually after a lot of careful stalking, a shot presented itself on the biggest jack and I put the arrow through the chest.
Another beautiful critter despite its odd shape, the mane is very unique along with the patterns they carry on the hide. This was to be my sixteenth species on the Australian twenty one hit list.
I spent the remainder of the day glassing buff, looking for something special, a freak animal, something to top the charts.
Another day passed in the extreme heat, which you had no choice but to grin and bear with the paradise that comes with it.
Today’s effort was as good as any and paid three fold on some serious game. We left camp early, racing the sun to the horizon as the temperature rose with the glow of morning. We headed mountain side, as it had proved to be the area holding the big bulls, despite being harsher grounds than the other areas we concentrated on.
I covered miles of country in the a.m. but only put the glasses over a few cows and calves. By midday I reached a strip of Pandanas swamps, which screeched with Red Headed Flying Foxes, as well as smelling terribly, as thousands of the creatures hung in the trees fluttering and trying to keep cool.
The bats made for great cover noise as I stalked down and through the swamp. I locked onto black hair just beside me some fifteen meters away and froze. I couldn’t tell front from the rear, but could make out a hefty pig laying low in a wallow. I cast the binoculars over the animal and noticed a mutt looking ear (boar) and front leg. Aaron set the video up beside me and I drew back settling on my mark low in the chest, just above the tucked up front leg. The arrow punched straight through the boar and it blasted out of a mud heap on dead legs. Five meters later it was all over as the boar piled up.
I walk over through the slush to what once would have been a champion of boars, but today the boar was just skin, bones and a tusk. The old boy had surely had his run in these parts, but was now basically toothless, mostly blind with just a small cloudy opening in one eye and was also missing most of its ears. An old wound had robbed him of a tusk and grinder on the right side and the gums had grown back over. The left side tusk was massive and the grinder stuck out like a sore thumb, although busted up and splintered.
The boar, if carrying both tusks, would have measured in excess of 34 Douglas points, a ripper old boar. Boiling also revealed major bone deformity in the jaw where the old injury had heal over leaving one side of the jaw bone twice the size of the other.
Trudging out from the swamp and from under the screeching and stench of the Flying Foxes, I put my eyes on a massive Ox bull standing under the canopy of a large tree. Glassing the bull, Aaron whispered, “Another big bull behind the first bull.” I set forth in stalk mode over a million crunching leaves and dry Pandanas palms before reaching some sandy patches, which I stepped in and out of as though I was playing twister.
The first bull was onto me before long and trotted off, slightly alerting the bigger bull in the background. Standing still out under the sun, I waited for the big bull to settle and moved in again, keeping behind a small tree to break up my outline and conceal some movement. 34 meters out with no more cover and the bull perfectly broadside, I knelt down and got stable for the shot. The arrow and broadhead slid along the rest as the string on the Carbon matrix turned the cams and flexed the limbs, the arrow shortly disappearing deep into the bulls kill zone upon release.
The Bull lunged forward a meter not knowing what had hit him or from where, it turned looking for danger before stumbling and expiring just meters from where it had been hit by the fatal arrow sent from a fateful bow.
The Wild Ox was by far my biggest, in both body and horn, you needed two hands to get around the girth of a horn and it was an effort for two men to position it for photos.
The day rolled on as we hunted into the afternoon and started to look at some big bull buffalo. They seemed to come out of the woodwork as we reached another series of wallowing holes and Pandanas swamp. I had measured the ears on the few bulls that I had grounded thus far and I used these measurements while the beasts were on the hoof to judge their size.
To better the trophy size of what I had already taken, I was looking for a three and half ear length horned bull or better with thick bases. It set a high goal and made for great hunting, as I passed up many good bulls during the trip, as the trophy size grew after each bull. I didn’t take the task lightly though and thoroughly looked over every beast with the binoculars, which was a great hunting experience in itself.
This afternoon there were a lot of borderline bulls that had me looking carefully. I looked over a half dozen, but continued on until a big curled back horned bull appeared walking down a game trail amidst a white grass covered flat between rocky outcrops. The bull was thick, maybe seventeen or eighteen inches around the bases, with both tips still in good shape and running parallel to one another, maybe three and a half ears long each horn. It was game on and I planned the stalk with the prevailing wind.
Another younger bull out to my left caught sight of me while stalking and instead of heading away as hoped, it bolted towards the big bull and put him on alert. Patience came into play as I stood there some eighty meters away soaking up the blaring sun waiting and hoping that the big bull would settle back up and continue browsing along.
Eventually the bull started feeding again, but knowing that something was up, he started to move off and kept his eyes looking behind him whilst doing so. Buffalo have great eye sight, especially their peripheral vision. Even when in motion going forward, a buffalo will capture your movement to their side or rear, which made it hard to close the gap. Being spotted generally results in a front on face off where the bull lifts its nose. The usual end result is a bolting buffalo that will disappear pretty quickly into the wilderness despite its size.
I kept at it, making very little ground in doing so, but persistence paid off when I was able to move in quicker behind some trees that blocked out my movement. All this time the bull grew bigger as I’d had a lot more time looking at its horns from different angles, or maybe it was just the chase getting the better of me. Either way, I was about to step out from behind the trees and draw on the bull for a shot if the vitals were on offer.
I leant out and ranged the bull that was angling away, thirty five meters. I stepped out to draw back and the bull was straight onto me, which turned broadside and stared. I was about to draw when in the background, this huge black beast caught my eye. It materialised out of the wallows along the creek. It was an absolute monster bull buffalo and had horns that were a true testament to its age. At a glimpse I couldn’t say how big it was, just that it was that much bigger again than the already big bulls I had taken and seen.
I turned my back on the good bull I was within bow range of and headed towards Aaron on the camera, keeping an eye over my shoulder obviously as I done so. Aaron must have wondered what I was thinking, turning my back on the good bull within range. Excitedly, I told Aaron of the freak beast leaving the wallow before quickly executing a plan, which was to head out wide to get a better wind and try and get in front of the monster. I had last seen it heading north of the wallow with five other animals.
Out wide I went with Aaron in tow with the camera in hand. I worried a little as we covered some eight hundred meters of barren and burnt timber country and as yet had not seen the beast. But then there they were, appearing out over the black burnt ground walking through the sparse timber.
I kept cutting out wide, hoping to get the herd to walk past me and keep the wind right. In thought it was good, but their stroll and a fast stalk are not comparable and the herd was going to out walk me without being seen. The best option now was to head straight at the Monster Bull.
Side on, it was hard to pick bull from bull which made it hard to tell if I was headed towards the right animal. Two bulls were out in front with the remaining buffalo some hundred meters behind. Aaron obviously caught a glimpse of horn as he pointed to the second from the front with an excited expression on his face; I started to close in on the monster.
‘Struth’, I tell you what, stalking up beside the big beast, I caught sight of the horns as it swished its head around in annoyance of the insects. Slowly over a lot of following, I closed the distance. When the big fella stopped, I stopped and got ready to shoot. The beast turned front on and looked in my direction, “big mo fo bull”, but a few spindly trees kept my outline and movement concealed.
This thing front on was jaw dropping as it revealed its true size, plain old huge. He turned and continued on his path with myself sneaking along with its every step with my rangefinder ready to take a reading if it stopped again. I was getting nervous as I felt the stalk coming to an end; the bull stopped again, no doubt sensing something was at play.
I drew back but the buff angled on looking around for what was amiss. Again, without seeing the hunter it continued on its path. The gap was only getting bigger at this point and the bull more on edge. I stalked towards it again as it travelled along, trying to keep the gap the same and within my shooting distance.
As he slowed I ranged him and drew back, seeing that he was about to stop. Still relaxed and looking not staring (if they’re staring it’s all over), I settled the pin on the heart and made the shot. The highly tuned bow sent the arrow, built for one purpose, right to the mark where it buckled the Monster bull, which was immediately running dead.
The arrow exited the bull at what looked to be the same speed as it arrived. I was ecstatic as the shot was a sure thing and throwing the binoculars on the bull, I watched him crash to the ground.
Bloody oath I was excited and amazed at a truly magnificent hunting experience on a legendary beast.
After the first freak out I did when I put the arrow in the spot, I calmed myself to ensure the beast was down and dusted. A close look through the binoculars revealed no movement. Still, I slipped up to the beast with an arrow ready, but the task was done, the search was over. I find myself questioning how lucky I was to be able to shoot such remarkable game. I’m so thankful and respecting of hunting the game I chase and I love every ounce of it. Be it the heat, insects, a night sky, a broadhead, the stalk, the travel or a beautiful big and powerful Buffalo. It is the essence of my being and I am sure many of you share the same passion.
The monster Buff had no ground shrinkage and was every bit as big as I granted it for, if not bigger. It was a full stretch to hold both tips, five ear lengths a horn. The body of the bull also showed its age, as the back bone and hips stood out, a fine time for the hunter to do his part. I marvelled at the beast as I sat behind it, I have been enriched with magnificent hunting experiences yet again.
The bull measured 63 inches tip to tip, 108 4/8 Douglas Points or 87 inches along the fighting edge as measured back in the old days. The monster buffalo is the new Australian Bowshot record with Trophy Takers.
What a place, what a hunt.
Take care and hunt your hardest.