AUSTRALIA: Big Buffalo, Bulls & Boars With Hunt Australia Safaris

blacks

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Hi all. This is the story of a hunt I undertook back in 2010, organized by the late, great Matt Graham of the former Hunt Australia Safaris and guided by his younger brother. It's been just over two years since Matt's untimely passing, so I thought I'd recap the account of one of the best hunting trips I've ever undertaken anywhere in the world. RIP Matt. Thanks and good hunting mate.

This story was published in Guns & Game Magazine, which is also now defunct. Both great losses to the hunting fraternity here in Australia.

Credit for many of the photos to my hunting partner, Sean Joyce.

Apologies the formatting got knocked around a little. Enjoy!

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I tore the top off the blue packet and fifty shiny new .458 Winchester Magnum cases rolled out onto the bench before me. Lovingly, each case was sized and lightly trimmed to true up the mouths, before being loaded with Federal 215 primers and a 480 grain Woodleigh RN seated and crimped over a mildly compressed 74 grains of AR2206H. Although I am always a cautious handloader, these cartridges received extra special attention, for they were being taken on a hunt I had dreamt of doing since childhood; a hunt for the much vaunted ‘top-end trio’ of buffalo, bulls and boars.


Fast-forward a week and two plane flights; a long year of anticipation came to an end as I found myself at Darwin airport on a balmy Thursday morning to meet my fellow hunter, Sean Joyce from Brisbane. After a day of R&R we were met by our guide, Leith Graham of Hunt Australia Safaris, to make the four-hour journey to our hunting concession. We had booked into Hunt Australia’s main pig hunting property, as it offered a wide variety of game and was more affordable than their more remote Arnhemland camps where monster floodplain buff are the target. Most hunters come here to target tusky boars, but Sean and I had come primarily to target the buffalo which had steadily built in numbers over the years. Being October, it would be a late season hunt with the ‘wet’ fast approaching, but this also gave us the advantage of game being concentrated on any remaining water. The heat and humidity however would be a real battle to contend with, with temperatures pushing 40 degrees forecast for the week ahead and a very real chance of storms.


Leaving the bitumen behind, we had only travelled another 30 kilometres when we had our first buffalo experience. A huge old bull and a number of cows stepped across the track in front of us as we dived for our cameras and started clicking away. His heavy horns sagged down from his bosses before sweeping out to an impressive spread; unfortunately though we were still a little way short of our concession so we left them to wander on in peace. Arriving in camp just on dusk, we chose a tent each and settled in before heading in to the main camp building where Leith soon had some tasty scotch fillets plated up alongside a pile of fresh veggies. With bellies full and hearts full of hope we hit the hay, keen for a big day in the field tomorrow.


As the sun rose in the eastern sky we were already on the trail, stopping for a quick check to ensure the hardware was still shooting straight. I was using my Mk. X Mauser in .458 Winchester Magnum, topped with a Leupold Vari-X III 1.5-5x20 scope in Warne QD mounts. Sean was carrying his express-sighted CZ 550 Safari Magnum, chambered in .416 Rigby and firing handloaded 410gn Woodleighs over 98 grains of AR2209. While we would both be over-gunned for the smaller stuff, we had decided to stick with one rifle/one load each and they had to be able to handle the buffalo primarily.


Making ourselves comfy on the seats atop our Landcruiser shooting rig, we set off into the warm morning air, feeling for all the world like the ‘last of the great white hunters’. Two small mobs of buffalo cows were spotted and glassed over before we veered off the main track to follow a wide, timbered valley. Crossing a dry creek, we hadn’t travelled far when our guide let the ute glide to a halt behind a thick screen of bush. “I reckon there’s buffalo over there,” he gestured as we left the vehicle. Leith sure had good eyes; we had the benefit of elevation and hadn’t seen a thing! I stayed back to watch proceedings with the camera and binos working overtime; it was now obvious there was a good bull trailing the mob, too. I watched as the two hunters snuck in, eventually dropping to a cat-crawl to avoid some watchful cows and pausing whenever they looked alarmed. As they moved in further I lost sight of them, but I kept an ear to the wind, listening intently for any action.


After a tense wait back at the truck I finally heard a shot, followed a split second later by another. Jogging a few metres to my left I saw the big bull hit the ground with a thud. As Sean slowly closed in from behind he fired another couple of insurance shots to anchor the bull and it was all over – all within the first hour of day one! I waited until everything had settled down before shouldering the camera bag and walking in to congratulate both hunter and guide. Sean recounted the detail; “We were keeping an eye on the cows to our left as we slowly crawled in to take up position behind some large boulders. Then, as we poked our heads up to glass to our right, my binos were filled with a massive set of horns glaring back at me above the long grass.” Surely a moment he would never forget, being up-close-and personal with the huge beast. He was taken from a mere 25 metres, falling within 12 metres of the first shot.


Sean’s trophy was a beautiful heavy ‘sweeper’ bull, carrying his mass right out and showing plenty of character. Measuring 95 SCI points and sporting an excellent cape, he would make a beautiful mount; so Leith set towork caping him out after our long photo session came to an end. I made a mental note that this bull was going to be a tough one to better, and if I could find one as good I’d be a very happy hunter!

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blacks

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That afternoon, after completing the headskin and having some lunch, we headed out again to explore some more country. A pair on donkeys made the mistake of crossing the track in front of us amid some recently burnt country. I bagged the Jack first then Sean shot the Jenny; needless to say the .40 cal’s did the job with power to spare. Donkeys were a ‘first’ for both of us, so despite the lack of a challenge it was exciting to get a couple on the deck. Not much further on, Leith rolled the truck to a halt and led us a hundred metres to a secluded creek; I wouldn’t have even noticed it despite being so close. Tip-toeing up to the bank, our guide peered down and nodded back with a wry grin. All I saw was the muddy water fly up as Sean let rip with the Rigby. A tiny muddy pool, the last water for several kilometres, and it just happened to have a snout protruding from it. Leith waded in and retrieved Sean’s prize, an awesome trophy boar sporting a great set of hooks. It was certainly shaping to be his day!


We covered well over 100 kilometers that first day, it was great to get a feel for the lay of the land and glass plenty of game in the process. With Leith I made stalks on two buffalo, a scrub bull and a lone boar, but none of them were what we were looking for so early in the hunt. We lost count of the number of wild cattle and buffalo sighted, along with another dozen or so pigs out feeding in the fading light. It was dark by the time we reached camp, and after another big feed and a couple of coldies to celebrate our success it didn’t take long to drift off to sleep.


Early the next morning we had just finished another big breakfast when we noticed a large mob of buffalo feeding along the edge of the plain adjacent to camp. Binoculars were produced and a quick inspection revealed a promising looking bull leading the mob, so Leith and I quickly jumped in the ute and took off to the other end of the flat. Leaving the vehicle tucked in the trees; we walked in through the scrub until we located the mob, then continued to stalk to within 50 metres of the bull. While he was an impressive animal with great shape and long, dagger-like tips; we both agreed that he needed a few years to put on some more length and mass. It seemed we had found our ‘last day bull’, but Leith knew there were better trophies out there.


We spent the morning driving in to some remote creek systems which snaked their way like arteries across a large timbered plain, looking in particular for an old, straight ‘sweeper’ with broomed-off tips that Leith had seen around during the season. Apparently the bull lacked curve which would affect his score, but looked impressive nonetheless due to his very heavy rack. Again, a few family mobs of cows and calves were spotted, and after a quick glass of each group we wasted no time in moving on. A couple of the cows would have made impressive trophies in their own right, with long, curling horns; just lacking the mass of a mature bull.


In a thick patch of scrub we spotted two young bulls making their way out of a steep-sided creek and Leith thought this might be the mob we were searching for. Leaving the truck in the shade, I grabbed my rifle and headed off behind my guide. An inspection with the binos confirmed that the young bulls were not worth pursuing. “A little young to be on their own, I reckon,” whispered Leith, and we continued to glass the timber-choked waterway. Then, the glint of sun off a polished black horn gave away the whereabouts of another buffalo. “This looks a little more promising!”


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blacks

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Carefully I followed in Leith’s footsteps, wary of every sound my boots made behind my silent, barefoot guide. Tip-toeing from tree to tree, we made it to 80 metres then stopped for a better look. He was a big, mature bull alright; not the one we were looking for, but far bigger! He looked simply massive in body and horns, and we didn’t need the binos to know he was worth taking. Wiping the sweat from my brow, we continued on, my heart really starting to pound as we snuck further into the big fella’s territory. Eventually we dropped to a crawl and edged to our right to open up more of a broadside angle. Reaching a spindly dead tree, I ever-so-slowly stood up and braced the .458 with my forehand against the trunk for a rock-solid rest.


The bull browsed on the green pick of a tree, now less than 25 metres in front of me; but timber completely blocked his shoulder area. I waited; minutes seemed like hours as sweat ran into my eyes and my left arm slowly went numb from the weight of the rifle. If he would only take two steps forward, he would be mine! Finally he took one step and I lined him up again, winding the scope up to three power; but sticks and leaves still obscured his vitals. I thought about a shot for a brief second but then remembered the words of my guide and all the research I had done before leaving home; ‘make sure your first shot is perfect!’ I took my finger off the trigger and carefully wiped the sweat from my brow once again as I listened to the unalarmed bull chew his leaves; my heart rate settling now as instinct took over. Finally he turned and took two steps to the right, coming out from behind cover and opening up the perfect broadside shot. I held the crosshairs low on his shoulder and squeezed the crisp trigger of the Mauser, not even noticing the recoil. Hit hard, the bull spun 180 degrees, by which time I had chambered another round and fired again, hitting him in the lungs from the other side. He ran to my right, just as my third shot hit him high in the spine, sending him crashing to the ground.


Leith looked at me and neither of us could help but grin. We slowly walked in through the shoulder-high grass, again approaching the bull from the rear. Leith touched the muzzle of his .375H&H to the bull’s eye to check for corneal reflex, but there was none; the old master was dead. The trophy that lay before me was massive, a huge body with heavy, curving horns to match, a dream come true for sure. My guide headed back to bring up the truck which gave me a few minutes to sit alone with my bull and recount the stalk. While I had done harder stalks and longer shots in the past, I reckon for sheer excitement this was the best hunting moment of my life.


When the others arrived I enjoyed a cool drink from the esky before another long photo and caping session began. The morning was getting extremely hot, and with another forecast of 39 degrees, time was of the impetus to get the cape salted and cooling. Later, after Leith had removed the skull-cap, the bull was measured at 105 SCI points, more than I could ever have hoped for.


Several hours later, with the hard work done and lunch eaten, we found ourselves heading into a secluded valley to see what ferals might be about. What a beautiful place, with a small creek running through the middle and two huge jump-ups dominating the skyline in either direction. As we reached the bottom of the valley, Sean was quick to point out a large boar that had flushed from a shaded waterhole upon our arrival. Leith and I hit the ground running in pursuit as the pig headed into a patch of thick, waist-high grass. As he emerged from the other side I was ready and flattened him with the .458; he was a big-bodied young boar but his thick tusks lacked a little length. Still, a fine way to cap off an awesome day’s hunting!


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blacks

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With the pressure off, it was a more relaxed start to the third day’s proceedings. After another hefty breakfast the sun was already scorching and the humidity high when we set out to walk a long creek-line in search of pigs. After a long, hot trek, we were eventually rewarded for our loss of sweat when we stalked in on a big old boar asleep in the sand. Sean made no mistake with the big CZ and added another good trophy to his haul. A little further on a couple of promising scrub bulls were seen and Leith and I stalked in for a look, but he was determined to find me a big one so we let them be.


That afternoon we took a long drive along a particularly sandy creek, fondly dubbed ‘Bondi beach’ by a previous hunter. Well, it certainly paid dividends! Half way along the creek I spied a couple of feral horses ahead through the timber. The station was happy to see them culled and Sean and I were happy to add them to the list. We quickly stalked in on the two brumbies as they stood in the dry creekbed. Taking a knee, Sean fired the first shot as planned, but then all hell broke loose! Horses came from everywhere and they ran straight for us, passing within 15 metres. Before long we had both emptied our magazines, managing to cull seven from the mob which we estimated at 30 strong. How they stayed out of sight initially is beyond me! After that fracas I thought we’d have scared off every animal on the place, but only a few hundred metres further on we found two fat sows fast asleep in the cool creek sand. We were only really chasing trophy boars but couldn’t pass up this opportunity; side by side the .40 cal’s barked and the sows never even made it out of bed!


Now rapidly approaching the magic hours of late afternoon, Leith cut through a side track away from the creek and declared that we would go and look for a good scrub bull. We hadn’t travelled too many kilometres when the first pair were spotted, but one was too young and the other had a droopy horn on one side. Only a few hundred metres further down the track we spied another scrubber with a drooping horn on the other side, what a great matching pair they’d make on the wall! As the sun began its descent we stopped to glass yet another pair of red bulls; proper red shorthorn scrubbers with no trace of Brahman blood – just the type the cattle farmers don’t want mixing with their herd. With a massive body and heavy curved horns, it didn’t take long for Leith to decide that the lead bull was a shooter!


Quickly grabbing my rifle, we headed across the flat, ducking through the timber and trying to keep a tree or two between the bulls and ourselves. We dropped down through a creek choked with waist-high grass, and cautiously poked our heads up on the other side. The lead bull, our target, was now quartering away feeding but the second bull to our right was looking decidedly edgy. Carefully we crawled in single file to get within 30 metres; I had a good look through the scope and decided to take a quartering away shot. Holding tight in on his ribs I aimed for the far shoulder and let drive. The bull kicked out his back legs and faltered, before both bulls instantly hit top gear and took off running from left to right in front of us. Swinging the .458 onto his nose, I emptied the magazine, hitting him at least twice more as he weaved through the trees. Then, just as my hopes started to sink, he dropped stone dead after a 300 metre dash. In the end, a classic heart shot, and certainly an adrenalin-charged sequence of events!


We followed the ever-growing blood trail over and found the dead bull lying in a clear patch of dirt. It was a big effort to roll him over for photos, he certainly seemed to give away little in both size and tenacity to a buffalo bull. I was stoked with my scrubber and surprised at the weight in his horns; they were 13 inches around the bases and later scored 62 SCI points.


As we made our way triumphantly back to base, thunder began to roll and lightning crashed across darkening skies. Another mob of pigs was spotted by our eagle-eyed guide, but a quick stalk revealed only sows so we continued homeward bound. Soon after reaching camp it was upon us, heavy rain at first closely followed by gale-force winds. We scarpered for our salted buffalo capes, laid out drying, and dragged them under the cover of the shed. A couple of our tents were literally picked up and flattened by the storm, which thankfully soon abated as quickly as it had arrived. Thankfully, most of our gear was still dry and we managed to salvage a dry bed and tent each. It appeared we had timed our hunt at the last possible minute, as the impending wet was fast stamping its authority over the north.


After a well earnt sleep-in the next morning, we hoisted the canoe onto the landcruiser and headed down to the river for a spot of fishing. Leith sat in the middle and paddled us along while I took the front seat and Sean the rear, rod each, flicking a lure with the hope of a top-end barramundi. Well, we did manage a couple of sooty grunter to add to our rather large haul of catfish, but the barra’ remained safe from us. It was simply a pleasure to be out on the water in such beautiful surrounds though, and we never went too many casts without a hit. Late that afternoon we went out to explore a creek and managed to bag another pair of donkeys after a brief pursuit on foot.


With every species we had come to hunt (and then some) now ‘in the bag’, we spent a leisurely final day around camp, our guide cleaning up our trophies in addition to a spot of fishing. I think the fishing was only suggested after the other blokes got sick of trying to teach me to play cards! Later in the day we set out for a drive to check if any pigs had visited our horse or donkey carcasses, and indeed they had! Pig tracks were everywhere and there was little but heads and feet left of the baits, an amazing amount of damage in just two days. Alas, there were no pigs at home but I did manage to clobber a pair of wild dogs that had come in for a feed. The second one came in to see what happened after my first shot – big mistake!


Tomorrow morning we would break camp and head back to Darwin, being the last group of hunters for the season. And what a week it had been, a dream realized for me with lots of big game hitting the deck and some top-notch trophy bulls amongst them. Not to mention many great stalks, photos, and memories of true fair-chase hunting in some ruggedly beautiful country. We were certainly well looked after by Hunt Australia, with great meals, a comfy camp and friendly atmosphere; I’d especially have to thank Leith, ‘the dreaded hunter’, who worked hard from before sunup ‘til after dark every day to ensure we had a good time. There is only one downside to this style of hunting – it is extremely addictive, and once is never enough….

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cagkt3

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Very nice report and some fine animals taken, thanks for sharing!
 

cpr0312

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Some nice pics and trophies!! Congrats to all and thanks for sharing!
 

gillettehunter

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Wow that hunt sounds like a lot of fun. Good shooting. Thanks for sharing. Nice pics!
Bruce
 

BRICKBURN

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Thanks for sharing your hunt with us.
 

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You guys certainly had a great time, congrats !
 

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Well done Tim. We need to get back there, right......
 

blacks

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Well done Tim. We need to get back there, right......

I think so mate. 8 years is too long. I really should take Matt's 375 there....:E Hmmm:
 

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What a grand time that must have been! What I can’t understand is how you got all that meat out of there and you must have a giant walk-in freezer just to store it!
 

blacks

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What a grand time that must have been! What I can’t understand is how you got all that meat out of there and you must have a giant walk-in freezer just to store it!

Unfortunately mate in that country, given the remoteness and the temperatures, meat recovery is almost impossible. There is no electricity other than generator.
Generally all carcasses are used for pig baits for hunting boars over later in the week or by the next group of hunters, so they are recycled in a round-a-bout way. We did however, partake in plenty of buffalo biltong and some donkey curry while in camp and both were very good!! ;)

All of these species are considered introduced pests to a greater or lesser degree so there are no laws etc here regarding carcass utilization.
 

JPbowhunter

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Never realised guns n game went under, mind you I don't read hunting mags.

Congrats on a great hunt
 

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