Arnhemland Buffalo Hunt Experience
Here above is the ancient bull featured in this article, taken by Peter.
Peter Lynch and Trevor McEntee are both fine New Zealand gentlemen and hunters, keen, fit and enthusiastic when, back in 2007, they booked a weeklong hunt with me for buffalo in the remote wilds of eastern Arnhemland. This hunt was to be their first dangerous game hunt, a precursor to African hunting plans and a chance to give their respective doubles a trial on some "proper" animals.
Pete had brought along a Blaser and Trevor had a Krieghoff, both in .470 and both finely tuned and regulated with Woodliegh 500gn slugs, as the targets on the first morning's testing showed. This firearm/calibre combination is perfect for the early season conditions we experience in our area from June through to early August.
Pre-hunt discussions had revealed that Pete had a definite preference for aged animals and that it was Trevor's priority to take his bull at close quarters. Not very demanding requirements I thought, but at the end of the day this is a wilderness hunt, the results of which I cannot orchestrate, nor programme, but I explained that I would do my very best to achieve the experience that they had come here for.
Following the sighting in of the rifles we loaded up in my truck with the intent to start our search for trophy bulls in an area down by the coast, about 40 minutes drive away. Several buffalo were seen from the vehicle as we drove down the "driveway" track, but nothing of any significance, but the boys were having fun seeing their first buffalo and marvelling at the sheer physical build of the animals they had come here to hunt.
At the end of the "driveway" track, I turned north on the main "road" and proceeded in this direction for a few kilometres when another lone buffalo was sighted, several hundred meters off the track, on the timberline and mostly hidden from view by tall dry grass. The general body confirmation and fact that it was a lone animal indicated that this buffalo was a bull and so I suggested that we should take a more detailed look.
The guy's had previously decided that Pete was to have first refusal/option at a trophy, so he prepared his Blaser and off we went.
At this time of year, with abundant ground cover and thick bush, approaching buffalo can be made simple by using the available cover. Within half an hour or so we were a 100yds of the undisturbed bull and glassing his potential. My immediate impression of this animal was that the horns did not exactly take my breath away, being somewhere in the low 90's s.c.i, but I was flabbergasted by what I believed to be the oldest bull I had ever seen in my life. I relayed this information to Pete, as he had previously expressed a priority for aged animals rather than high scoring bulls.
I think it was due to the fact that it had happened so soon into their hunt, or perhaps there may have been a small part of Pete's mind telling him that I was trying to get him done quickly into the hunt, when he turned round to me and passed the bull up. I was stunned ! Here in front of us was the oldest bull I have had the privilege of seeing (still alive anyway) which was what Pete was after as a trophy and he passes him up ? I tired several times to get Pete to reconsider, whilst pointing out all the visually obvious signs pointing to the bulls extreme age and although he verged on changing his mind, he still declined. When I was sure Pete was not going to take this bull, I asked his permission to spend some time photographing and videoing this bull for my records. In due course we spent a very enjoyable half an hour or so recording the bull before he became aware of our presence and slowly moved off, and out of our lives. I was quite sure this bull was 18-20+ years of age and I think that by the time we got back to the vehicle Pete may have had a tinge of regret over his decision. I felt quite confident in being able to get him a bigger scoring bull, but I was also quite confident that it would be some time before I ever saw such and old bull as that.
Here above are two images of the ancient bull featured in this article, taken by Peter. The two images were taken of the bull quite some time before Peter decided he would like to try and take him as his Trophy. The bull was eventually taken some distance from where we original photographed him from. In the images you can see the general emaciated and poor body condition. body weight was a good 1/3 lower than normal. Teeth were mere yellow stubs on the gum line.
On reaching the coastal country we met up with a buddy of mine who was guiding two other hunters at the time. They were to head to the east of us, whilst we hunted a system of billabongs to the south. Whilst there we decided to have a quick break for some refreshments and introductions for all-round. I was at the back of my truck organising cold drinks and a bite to eat when Pete, who had been showing Glen (the other guide) the video of the bull we had passed up earlier, quickly approached in a fuss of sorts to tell me he had just shown Glen the video of the bull and Glen had remarked that he had never seen a bull as old as that one !! Pete was visibly distraught over what he now knew was a mistake in passing up the bull and asked of there was any chance we might be able to regain contact and take that bull. Now this is some 20 or more kilometres away from the original incident, in pure wilderness country with limited tracks and an animal that was aware of our presence when we left him. I explained to Pete that our chances were limited at best, but if we were to have a chance we would need to do it immediately and that we would have a real hunt on our hands. All parties agreed, Glen wished us the best of luck in our "search" and off we went.
Arriving back roughly were we thought we had first seen the bull, we gathered all our gear before heading out. It took me some time to find some marks and sign indicating where we had taken the video footage earlier in the morning, but eventually I managed. Arhemland soil is not like in Africa. The ground is baked as hard as concrete, animal spoor in certain areas almost impossible to read and extremely difficult to follow. I managed to find the general line the bull had taken when he became aware of our presence and the best I could do was interpret where I thought he would go.
This lead me into a grove of two lines of low growing Wattle trees, growing from two separate low ridges. The groves were about 20 meters wide, clear in-between and two hundred or more meters long. The wind was blowing in our faces and it was nice and cool and I had a feeling the bull would be resting up somewhere in these Wattles. We slowly proceeded down the middle of the grove, peeking under every bush and into every shadow. Nearing the end of the Wattles and still not having found the bull, I decided to round out across the grove on our left and check the bottom side. As I slowly rounded out across the front of the grove, a great bull rose from under the scrub and stood, looking surprised, at us from about 15yds. In the split second it took for me to recognise that this was our bull, I firmly instructed Pete to shoot him. The .470 Blaser roared, the bull took the impact squarely on the shoulder, dropped, then stood back up again, veered away from us and ran !! The initial shock of seeing the bull get up again slowed Pete's reaction before a second shot echoed and the great bull went down.
The euphoria that enveloped us at that moment is hard to describe. Pete was ecstatic, apologetic, relieved, tired, hot and emotional. This was a grand old bull in the final few times of his life. A spectacular trophy in anyone’s language and I was MIGHTY relieved we had found him.
Camp spirits were at the extreme level that night as the hunt was told and re-told a dozen times and we now had a further 6 days to find Trev a nice bull.
Over the course of the next four days we had numerous encounters with bulls. Fluffed stalks by changing winds, a missed shot in challenging conditions on day four and countless miles on foot in remote country found us in camp on the last day, and Trevor still didn't have his bull. The constant reminder was Trevor’s stubble, which had now grown into a short beard as he had promised he wasn't going to shave until his bull was in the salt.
The second last evening of the hunt I warned the guy's of a huge day following as we only had one day left to get Trev a good bull before they had to fly out the next day.
We got up early again and despite looking over several more representative bulls that day, I wasn't happy for Trev to just settle for a bull, just for the sake of taking one. The problem with this is that I had pushed the hunt into the final afternoon to produce the result.
That afternoon we hunted a region of springs where there is ample water and good quantity of feed to attract many buffalo, the problem with hunting this area is that it is very, very thick and often animals are hard, next to impossible to see.
Well, we had come to down to the final few minutes of the available daylight, and I'm quite sure, although no-one said as much, that Trev and Pete had resolved that Trev was going home without his trophy buffalo.
I had rounded a natural corner formed by tall swamp reeds, my mind wandering between concentrating on looking for animals and thinking of a plan if this area failed us, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted the back-end of a buffalo bull feeding, facing away from us, not 40 yds away on the edge of the reeds. I quickly got the attention of the guy's as we hunkered down behind cover.
A quick glass showed a fine trophy bull and conscious of little remaining light, I asked Trev to take the bull when he was ready.
Trev took his time and waited for the appropriate moment, then let rip with the Krieghoff. Just that split second Trev fired I had the vision that the bull had taken a step forward and the dull thud of a hit too far back echoed back to my ears. Being in such tall, thick undergrowth meant there was no chance for seconds or follow-ups. The sound of the bull crashing through the tall grasses could be heard, and then just as suddenly all went quiet.
On asking Trev how he felt about the shot, he confirmed what I had seen and explained it was too late for him to pull the shot back, but the bull had stepped forward as the trigger broke.
It was now next to dark.
Allowing only a few minutes for the bull to stiffen up, I grabbed a torch and made a decision that nearly cost me dearly.
Holding the torch with my left hand whilst cradling the rifle I left Trevor and Pete back where the shot had been taken and pushed my way into the tall reeds. There was a very strong blood trail to follow, the problem was I had to first look at the ground to get the direction and then shine the torch upwards to look for the bull.
I find it very hard to describe the state of anxiety this situation had me in and, in hindsight I still kick myself for exposing myself to such a scenario, but I was keen to recover the bull before my two hunters had to leave camp, which was to be the next day.
At some point during the follow up, the wounded bull stood up in front of me, in thick, over head-height swamp reeds at about 10 yards. I remember being able to only make out the silhouette of the body and a faint outline of the horns projecting from the head. I had no idea which way the bull was facing. The shot came quickly and instinctively and luckily hit the mark, pushing the bull who now went deeper into the reeds. By the time I recovered and reloaded all was quiet again. I was confident the bull was done, but my sight had been impaired by the muzzle flash and I felt extremely exposed, not being able to see properly. Backing out of the reeds and returning to where Trev and Pete had been waiting, I described the events as they happened. I also explained the situation was not going to be resolved tonight and that I would return immediately after seeing them catch their transport the next day.
Pete and Trev quickly resolved to make arrangements to stay the extra day in order to see a resolution to the circumstances we found ourselves in and fortunately I had a few days to spare before the next hunting group, so we went back to camp for a late dinner and a restless night's sleep. I'm pretty sure I didn’t even close my eyes that night, constantly replaying the events of the previous night and hoping that the bull hadn't got too far away. Waking several hours before daylight, breakfast was a quiet and sombre affair as I tried hard to reassure the guys we would find a dead stiff bull. Just prior to leaving camp Trevor pulled me aside and explained he understood my obligation to his safety but requested he be present in the follow up, accepting all responsibility for the consequences. I shook his hand and smiled and my respect for this man was cemented.
Reaching the scene of yesterdays events, I went through a detailed series of instructions for Trevor on what we may expect and how to ensure our own safety.
We then checked and re-checked our gear and pushed into the reads.
It didn't take long to reach the point of my shot at the bull the previous night, where a massive blood trail was found.
The bull was bleeding strongly down from the front right leg as indicated by pools of dark red blood in his right front hoof print on the trampled green reeds. A painstaking 40yds further on failed to locate the bull. Now we were in pure, wall thickness reeds, dozens of waterbirds scattering noisily overhead doing little to relieve the tension.
Another 10yds on and the bull stood up in front of us and we both emptied out magazines.
Both of Trevs .470 barrels and 3 from my 458lott, all landed in the shoulder AND THE BULL VEERED AND RAN FURTHER INTO THE MAIZE OF DENSE GROWTH. Composing ourselves and reloading, we proceeded once more. 30 yds further on the bull stood once more and again took 5 more .45cal +, 500gn slugs, turned and pushed deeper into the swamp. By now I was frustrated and raced after the bull, calling to Trev to keep up and remain close whilst reloading and to try and keep the bull in sight.
The bull heard us coming and stopped to face us at about 15yds. I had only managed to get 2 extra shells in my magazine by this time, but stopped and stood and delivered both rounds, just as Trevor was doing the same. My last round was delivered to the neck, which finally dropped the bull, and I was now out of ammo. We approached the now dying bull and placed the final two 470 rounds down through the chest at point blank. The bull stiffened, then relaxed and so ended one of my most exciting buffalo encounters.
Examination revealed that Trevor’s first shot had infact landed too far back. My shot from the previous evening was in the back ham angling forward into the chest as the bull must have been facing away (probably the only thing that had saved my skin the previous evening) and the next 14 rounds were all in vital killing zones.
Two happy New Zealanders went home the next day with a couple of fine trophy buffalo bulls and a small book-full of exciting hunting memories to tell all their buddies, and for me a number of lessons to not underestimate an animal I hunt each day and sometimes get complacent with.
Cheers, and good hunting to all.
Southern Safaris Australia