Big game hunting in the Northern Territories

For my birthday my wife gave me a Fabarm under and over rifle in 9.3x74R. This was a good enough reason to plan something a little different instead of the usual deer hunting that I do. My mate thought a trip on the buffalo and pigs would be in order and I found that I could not disagree! He had a contact and set up a hunt for the next dry season. As well as the 9.3mm I would take my Ruger in .416 Rigby as a working rifle, as there was meat hunting on the agenda.

In the intervening months I suffered a serious back injury requiring surgery and I wasn’t sure that I would still make it. I had 6 weeks to departure and had to get fit in a hurry so I walked at least 10 km every day. It was tight, but with a clearance from my surgeon, I ventured north to try my luck.

When I left home the temperature was a cool 13 degrees and after a few hours in the air, I was greeted by a much more pleasant 32 degrees in Darwin. I was met at the airport by some mates and with a change of transportation we headed east.

Soon the corrugations and river crossings started, but the water is well down this time of year so did not present any problems. I certainly experienced some of the beautiful untouched scenery this country has to offer, and after a few hours driving we arrived at our camp site. This was to be our home for the next 10 days.
Up early the next day and the first order of business was to collect some buffalo meat for the locals and some pig hunting on the side.

After a somewhat bumpy drive we arrived at a large billabong. Here we split up and worked the edges and nearby scrub. There was plenty of buff sign entering the billabong and all pointing to an island right in the middle, but there was just no way to get to it as the swamp was still too deep. After a couple of hours we came across a couple of fair sized bulls retreating into some burnt scrub. They were a good 200 metres away and had not seen or scented us, but even at just their normal walking speed they soon disappeared from sight and were lost.

We continued on to a large soak that looked as though it had been quite busy in the past but unfortunately did not show any recent sign. However, something did not seem quite right. I had ‘that feeling’; we all know the one, which caused me to venture up a little used game trail. I had only walked a short distance when I saw a pig bedded down under a pandanus palm, only 5 metres away. I slowly raised my rifle and the boar lifted its head, allowing a clear shot. Fortunately, at the time I had the 1.5 to 6 Schmidt and Bender scope on its lowest setting, or I would have had trouble finding him in the field of view.

Job done, time for some photos and tusk recovery. They were only small and my mate thought they weren’t worth keeping, but as they were the first for the trip, were taken anyway. As it turned out I was glad to have recovered them, as I didn’t get an opportunity at any boars for the rest of the trip. Later we all met back at the vehicles and as the others had not seen anything we headed back to camp.

As luck would have it the trip back to camp was most productive. The lead vehicle came to a sudden halt and we had to break hard because of the dust and excitement. A couple of cull bulls were seen in the distance; one was anchored within a short distance and the other was chased a further 200 metres before expiring. Two bulls down with a .300 Win Mag and the work began. With a trailer of meat we continued back to camp but 5 minutes later we had to stop again as there was another bull standing just off the track He was taken, this time with a Ruger in 450/400 Nitro.

An early start the next day saw us travel to the local community to drop off the meat, and then off to a nearby flood plain. The track was barely discernable as it had been destroyed by flood during the previous wet season. We spent quite some time removing deadfall from our path and it took over an hour to get there, but when we did we were greeted by the sight of a couple of hundred buffalo; right out in the middle!

Because of my recent back surgery they were just not accessible to me. The plain was still very wet, with waist deep water in places; there was just no way I would be able to get near them. The others saw a couple of good heads in the distance and were off.

Luckily for me I could see a couple of representative bulls out on a dry section of the plain some 600 metres away. I just had to trust that they would not venture into the swamp before I could get to them and all would be lost.

The wind was all wrong and they were testing the air constantly but as they were my only real chance, I was determined. With rifle in one hand and shooting sticks in the other, I entered the heavy scrub and tried to work my way around them. It was hot and muggy under the canopy, with plenty of dry pandanus leaves making a quiet stalk almost impossible. Every so often I left the scrub for the edge of the plain to assess my progress. While I had made some ground on them, I saw that they had split up. Now I only had a chance at one of them, as the other had turned back and was heading into the swamp. The remaining bull was still unsure of what was happening and continued to walk in the direction of the scrub line.

I entered the timber once more and continued my way around, hoping to intercept him. I constantly checked my progress by going back and forth to the edge of the plain. I was slowly making ground. The bull would lift his nose to test the air; he could scent me but could not see me. He just kept walking at that pace that they do, always making ground. I continued to gain on him and after half an hour I was exhausted but in a shooting position. He was still 150 metres way and that is a fair shot with a double rifle.

The wind was still wrong, blowing directly from me to him. I set up the shooting sticks as quickly as I could to shoot over some 4 foot high scrub, making sure I was at least out of his vision. I had just placed the rifle in the sticks when he stopped, lifted his nose and tested the air once more. He was looking straight at me now and immediately turned away to run. I aimed behind the ribs into the lungs and his off shoulder and fired before he could step off. The 286grain Barnes TSX found its mark but did not break the shoulder. The bull was running and the second barrel was a miss, but I could see that he was unsteady and slowing. A ‘ping’ of the ejectors and I reloaded. By now he had slowed down to barely a walk and then collapsed, but a rear raking follow up shot was taken for insurance. He had managed to travel 70 metres from the first shot.

Crossing the ankle breaking ground was quite a task and after some initial photos I walked back to the vehicle to summon help with some more photos as well as head and meat removal. It was day two and I had taken a representative buff and boar with my new rifle; not a bad start to the trip. The others had been successful using their .375s and we dropped back to the local community with more meat, eventually calling it quits back at camp long after dark.

I stayed in camp the next day to give my back a rest while my companions concentrated on the pig population, with some good tusks taken. The following day I had recovered and switched to my .416 from then on. The remainder of the trip was mostly spent with cull and meat hunting, with some pig hunting in between. There was still plenty of water around and I found it hard to find concentrations of pigs in any one area. Still, I managed to get out for a look and got a few sows, which wasn’t too bad as pigs are really fun to hunt. I was certainly glad that I had taken the time to remove the jaws from my earlier boar, or all I would have had would have been memories.

While out and about we were surprised to see a poacher’s vehicle in the area and he took off as soon as he saw us. After a couple of days we found ourselves with a trailer fully loaded with meat and it was off into town once more for a delivery. This pattern continued for the rest of the trip.
Shooting ranges of the buff were from 20m to 220m. The closer shots had to be taken between the paper bark trees and so a scope was very useful. Even though we all had the option of open sights, nobody used them.

Shooting sticks were very handy when on the plains, as taking an unsupported shot at up to 220m is quite a challenge.

All of the calibres worked well and all but one buff were taken with Woodleigh bullets. While none of the buff dropped on the spot, the .416 at least stopped them from moving more that a couple of steps; no surprises here! Both the Woodleigh (soft and solids) and Barnes bullets worked as advertised, with many of the soft noses in .416, exiting the animal. They were only recovered if a double shoulder shot occurred.

The tenth day brought to an end of my trip. I had got my “Birthday Buff” and some more to boot. I had taken a representative head and had helped to collect quite a quantity of meat for the local communities. In all, it was a very successful trip.

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter, November 2011




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