Buffalo Hunting in Australia
Asiatic Buffalo Hunting in Northern Australia
The Asiatic, or water, buffalo of the tropical regions of Northern Australia is a large bodied, thick-skinned bovine very similar in size and tenacity to its African cousin, the Cape buffalo.
Tremendous wide-spread Asiatic buffalo bull at close quarters in typical thick scrub, this bull would easily score in excess of 100 inches (2.54 meters).
A mature aged bull in prime condition is capable of attaining a body weight approaching 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds) and despite this size can show an amazing turn of speed, especially over short distances. With skin 1 ½ inch (3,81 centimeters) thick on the back of the neck, thick, heavy-set muscular composition and a solid bone structure, the Asiatic Buffalo proves to be a very sturdy test for large caliber firearms and controlled expansion projectiles, and when pursued with respect for ethical hunting methods they can be a challenging, rewarding and exciting hunting experience.
Wallowing in Red dust.
In the past, Buffalo in Australia have been shot, and taken very satisfactorily, with an array of cartridges from the .308 win upwards. In these instances, were the primary concern was removal and reduction of numbers, when shot by pet-meaters, eradicators, government employees and rural staff, the animals were typically shot from the safety of a 4x4 vehicle with little consequence or concern for the results. A solid projectile was delivered to the brain-pan at relatively short distance with the result being one hapless, dead buffalo. The various merits of the hunting challenge, of the unfortunate animal, were, for a long time, deemed as inconsequential as the vast majority of exposure to the buffalo was generously provided by the speed and power of a 4x4 vehicle.
Some 30 years after the infamous Brucellosis and Tuberculosis (BTEC) campaign ended, all of this is of little relevance to the traveling trophy hunter keen on mixing it with the big bulls of the tropics, and experiencing a legitimate big game hunt, undertaken within legitimate hunting ethics.
Buffalo numbers and quality have returned to many parts of the “Top-End” and many hunters from all parts of the globe are beginning to realize the great value in hunting “Aussie” buff, particularly when compared in cost to similar hunts in Africa for the Cape Buffalo.
Beautiful bull with very heavy bases and a tint of albino-ism through the horn structure. Taken by a Polish hunter on the second day of his hunt in a very remote area this bull showed signs of extreme advanced age. A spectacular Trophy.
Typically, there are three different hunt experiences available to those wishing to sample the excitement, the reward, and the potential hazard involved with hunting these buffalo.
Within easy reach of the Capital city of the Northern Territory, Darwin, on sealed roads, where stores and supplies for camps are economically procured, thereby providing a less expensive option, are several estate hunts where buffalo, and in some cases a selection of other South Pacific game animals, are contained in extensive fenced areas offering secured results in limited time frames providing a service for those on restricted schedules, and for others wanting multiple species hunts.
Wonderful bull taken during a very exciting hunt at very close quarters in thick cane grass. This bull put up one heck of a fight, and lost the battle to a .470 & 458 Lott.
The second option available is the station, or cattle ranch, hunt where, in a number of areas sometimes bordering Aboriginal lands, privately owned cattle ranches with populations of migratory and/or resident buffalo offer hunting rights to various safari companies to harvest animals and therefore increase revenue in addition to the existing cattle enterprise. Hunts occurring in this scenario are also generally less expensive than the wilderness deal as most of the cattle stations involved are a good deal closer to amenities and supplies for stores and foodstuffs than wilderness operators. For those not accustomed to the region the station hunt can still provide some sense of wilderness as most of the stations are extensive in area and will, to some extent, exhibit exposure to a lot of the region’s animal and bird-life. Standards of accommodations on station hunts can reasonably be expected to be of a higher standard than wilderness hunt options, though hunters choosing this option must realize that the constant reminders of agricultural enterprise, such as cattle fencing, watering troughs, gates, mustering activities and farm staff are also part and parcel of this hunt.
Big paper-bark forest bull scoring 102 SCI. Taken with a Blaser .470.
The third option available is for the purists, those who want to sample remoteness, pristine wilderness and broad expanses of country where there are NO fences, no stock troughs, no gates or power-lines, few roads and the country is as you would imagine it was hundreds of years ago.
For this experience you need to venture to Arnhemland.
Spoils of the hunt. Photo was set up down on a remote beach for effect. When packing up after this picture was taken a bull was spotted swimming out in the ocean after he had been walking down the beach and was rudely interrupted by our presence and was trying to make his way around us! (see below)
Arnhemland is aboriginal owned land encompassing some 95,000 square kilometers (36,600 square miles) of little disturbed wilderness where the buffalo, and other animals are free to roam and wander where they please. Isolated, remote and difficult to access, the costs involved with this hunt are generally higher than the previously mentioned options as operators are forced to transport stores, supplies and fuels from great distances and supply services in one of the most remote regions remaining on the continent of Australia. Being a wilderness option results cannot be assured, but most operators structure their hunts for a duration where they reasonably know that all being equal, and some straight shooting results, the clients will have multiple shot opportunities over the course of the standard hunt offering.
An uncommon open-country shot on a beautiful bull.
Remote beach of Arnhemland, Australia
As an operator who is based in Arnhemland I will contain my reference to hunting in this area.
Arnhemland scenery and wildlife.
Our company operates a concession spanning in excess of 4,000 square kilometers (1,550 square miles) 2 of pristine wilderness country where there is no domestic stock, no cattle fences, no agriculture and very little other signs of modern development. Interspersed with permanent rivers, swamps, billabongs, seasonal creeks and coastal habitat the terrain can vary from day to day dependent on location.
Scenery Arnhemland, Australia
Typically, the hunting terrain in our area is medium-thick scrub and accorded to our preferred hunting methods, all hunting is done on foot and normally shots taken are in some sort of cover at close quarters. Early season hunting ( June to August ) sees the average for shot distances being about 50yds, which may stretch out to 100yds or so later in the season. Early season hunts are perfect for those double rifle hunters, bow hunters or for those that specifically want extreme close quarters contact, the essence of hunting big game. Mid to late season hunts ( August to October ) are prime time for targeting the very biggest of bulls as the country starts to dry out and remote, temporary water sources evaporate, forcing remote area living bulls to travel further for their requirements therefore increasing our incidence of contact with them.
Hunters can reasonably expect to be targeting bulls in the 95 to 100 SCI mark, with some bulls taken exceeding the 100 inches (2.54 meters) mark, and some not. Irrespective of size, a mature bull taken at close range, on foot with your favorite big game rifle is a trophy and experience you’ll not soon forget.
Typical hunting situation on our concession. 70 yards (70 meters) shot in medium-heavy cover. Large caliber firearms are required to put this animal down without it running too far.
A young bull tests his strength on a sapling.
In these types of hunting situations, specifically referenced to the concession we hunt, we enforce a minimum caliber of .375 H&H with 300gn projectiles in order to ensure recovery of the trophy and a humane dispatch. I must note here that there is no legal minimum requirement enforced by the government, this is a self-imposed clause implemented with consideration for the successful outcome for the hunter and with consideration for the animal’s welfare.
A hunt in the wilderness of Arnhemland will also give you an insight to a tremendous array of native and seasonal bird-life, opportunities to land the infamous barramundi fish and perhaps a sight of some saltwater crocodiles that inhabit the region.
Crocodile Arnhemland, Australia
Typical hunting routine involves departing camp at dawn after a leisurely breakfast and traveling by 4x4 to a predetermined location where you will proceed to hunt on foot. The terrain is typically flat, on hard ground where the difficulty factor is mild. Dependent on location, and due to an inherent lack of vehicle access hunters can expect to have to walk reasonable distances in order to reach areas that are expected to produce results. The level of exertion can be tailored to individual’s requirements to a point, but the greater the limitation placed on ground covered during your hunt may also effect the standards of expectations in terms of trophy size achieved. It would be fair to estimate that on an average morning hunt a gentle walking pace covering anything from 3 to 6 kilometers (1.86 to 3.73 miles) would be required, sometimes less, sometimes more. It is not uncommon for trophy bulls to be seen from the vehicle whilst traveling through the country, and an unexpected opportunity is presented which requires little output in terms of energy expended. In these situations we prohibit shooting bulls from the vehicle, again another limitation that is not legislated by our Government, one we enforce as a company with respect to ethical hunting guidelines. In this instance the hunter present will be provided the option of taking the trophy after the vehicle has been removed to a suitable distance away from the original contact, and a foot hunt to re-contact that animal will begin.
By 10:30 to 11:30 am each morning, as the day begins to heat, winds will begin to eddy and shift direction becoming less predictable. This makes continued hunting a low percentage activity, as most animals will now be bedded down ruminating and resting and vigilant to potential threats. At this time of day we recommend a return to camp to recoup, rest and lunch, or if in an area far from camp we will have meals and refreshments available for a break of a few hours. Apart from the occasion of bulls sometimes visiting a waterhole for a mud-bath or a wallow the middle of the day is generally downtime from hunting and the buffaloes lowest level of activity.
Hunting will recommence again in the middle of the afternoon where traveling to a new area will create more opportunities.
Big water buffalo bull that made it into the swamps after 2 hits from a .470 and one from a 458 Lott.
Our own standard hunts for both one on one and 2x1 hunt durations have been structured accorded to the numbers of buffalo we see during the course of the respective periods and our conviction accorded to the knowledge of our hunting concession that durations of these hunts will provide hunters of reasonable fitness and acceptable firearms skills at least several opportunities over the structured hunt durations to take a respectable, representative or better trophy bull. Results in a free-range wilderness scenario cannot be guaranteed, but then it would be fair to suggest that most operators achieve a standard of results exceeding 90 percent success rates on representative bulls or better.
Record class buffalo bull.
Potential buffalo hunters need to consider these issues when planning their hunts. Hunters wishing to take multiple bulls should plan extended hunts for extra days to ensure success. Hunters who have expectations of record class or better trophies need to accept that size of trophies can not be contrived, and for the best opportunity at the biggest bulls there is no substitute for having the appropriate length of time to do so. Heed the advise of your operator, he knows his area the best. Also, hunters need to accept that unknown and unexpected factors such as unseasonable/unexpected weather, shifts in wind patterns and other factors can have undue effect beyond the operators expectations, and your own.
On an average hunt in normal conditions in good country you can expect to see as little as 30 to 50 buffalo per day and as many as 100, or more, on a good day. The percentage of these animals that may be representative trophies, or better, may range from as little as 1 to 3 bulls or as high as 6 to 8. For hunters wishing better odds or stronger assurances you may be better served hunting the confines of a preserve scenario.
Nice bull taken by a client on his first visit to Arnhemland. Taken with a .375 with 300gn Barnes T.S.X's.
With the knowledge we have of our area and the average of the experience of previous hunts we try and focus on bulls exhibiting characteristics of age and maturity. On a normal hunt we will begin by targeting bulls showing these characteristics, of age and maturity and bulls that will score 94 inches (2.39 meters), or greater. For a bull to make this score it will need to have a girth dimension of 17 inches (43.18 centimeters) at the bases together with a horn length of at least 30 inches (76.2 centimeters). Unless otherwise instructed by the hunting client we have not taken, nor is there an expectation or need to take bulls under the 90 inches (2.28 meters) mark as, unless a bull has a portion of broken horn or does not meet the prescribed dimensions it will more often than not be a result of what we ( our company ) deem to be an immature animal.
Asiatic buffalo bull, Arnhemland, Australia.
when your buff is in the salt and there is time remaining you may have the option of experiencing the greatly undervalued resource of hunting the tenacious wild Oxen, locally referred to as the Scrub bull or Red-Skin, to you hunt. A species of wild cattle running feral for over a hundred years and acknowledged by SCI as a game animal the Oxen can provide an incredibly taxing and exciting addition to you buffalo hunt.
Wild Oxen, Arnhemland, Australia.
Wild Oxen, Arnhemland, Australia.
Wild Oxen, Arnhemland, Australia.
Buffalo hunting in the remote Northern reaches of Australia’s tropics can provide hunters with immeasurable pleasure and enjoyment, exciting confrontations and real exposure to a potentially dangerous big game animal in a safe country to travel to, for a fraction of the cost of a similar exercise undertaken in Africa.
Representative buff taken with .416 Rigby at close quarters. Ended up expiring in the river after a volly of shots.
Beautiful bull hiding in a Fan Palm forest.
For the big-game, or big-bore, enthusiast this hunt provides a comparatively inexpensive opportunity for some real fodder for that double gun or big bore you have at home. When combined with the tremendous tourism opportunities available in the Top-End such as Heritage listed Kakadu National Park it’s a heck of an excuse to bring your partner along and experience a piece of the “down-under” land.
So what are you waiting for!
Good health and good hunting to you all.
Arnhemland Buffalo Hunt Experience
Arnhemland Buffalo Hunt Experience
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.
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.