It was a done deal, Nick was dead keen to come along and experience the offerings of a NT hunting and fishing trip, helped by the continuous pictures old mate Pete had been sending of big barra and mobs of buffalo. To say we were eager was an understatement. I had pity on our better halves, having to put up with our talk of hunting and what gear to take, not to mention a few trips to the local gun shop for reloading components .
After over four hours strapped into my seat the plane’s wheels finally hit Darwin airport runwa. It was still dark on arrival but we knew it would be a cracker weather wise, when compared to the dull, cold days we had been having at home. We disembarked from the plane to be met by Pete, who had driven in to pick us up. Gear chucked into the landcruiser, off we set to buy supplies and fuel for the duration. The bright sun followed us the whole four hours to our destination, west of Darwin. Nick was taking it all in and Pete was giving him a talking tour as he drove, naming the vegetation and where this and that track leads to; talk about a wealth of knowledge!
Finally we set up camp. Since it was mid-afternoon now, it was decided we hit the upper reaches of the nearby river for a few barramundi. We did OK, with Nick securing a good fish for dinner; we threw back countless barramundi, taking only what we needed. Those soft plastics are dynamite on these fish, go the Elton John’s. The sun was low in the west, as we headed back to camp; it was still and just so peaceful all around us, bird life and croc’s littered the majority of the river bank – a great place to be. After leaving the river behind, we had our first encounter with a buffalo. Not large, but a bull all the same, with a wide set of horns. We took a photo and let him be. Pete said “There’s plenty around, as the billabongs and swamps all have water”…we were pumped! We ate well, told stories and planned for hunting the next day and we didn’t sleep much that night.
The next day we were off to see the traditional land owners for permission to hunt on their land. We already had the appropriate permits and we were good to go. A rough mud map was drawn by the elders and we were set. About 12km of dusty bouncing and bashing down what the locals call a road; it continued to heat up with an expected temp’ of 32 degrees; Nick was keen to look for pigs. There was ample sign of buffalo all through the scrub on our way to the open plains; the anticipation was high. A scan of the surrounding area, revealed a large mob of pigs some 700m away and there were some hefty boars amongst them. Nick was watching the pigs and said “There’s a big buffalo in the water next to the pigs”, “You’ve been drinking!” we thought, having a laugh (as there certainly wasn’t one there when we glassed the same spot). Pete had a look and was unable to see the buffalo, but then a large shape appeared from the trees. He had obviously been in a wallow and decided to come out and feed – how lucky can you get?. The leupold revealed a large bull buff, glistening in the sun from the water dripping off his hide. The wind was behind us and going in the direction of the buffalo, but he was off to our right slightly. The only way to get near was to walk the outer edge of the tree line, to our left and come in from his right, to put the wind in our favour. Pete waited near the Ute with the binos to watch our progress, plus he wanted a rest.
Nick and I checked our gear, loaded the rifles and proceeded to stalk this large animal. We ditched the sunnies and emptied our pockets, last thing we needed was to spook any game. Off we set, through the light timber, which encircled the vast plain, staying in the shadows. It took another twenty minutes to get to the billabong where the buffalo was. Directly behind this billabong was another flood plain surrounded by sparse timber where, upon looking, we noted a large mob of buffalo emerging from the scrub to feed. Heart pounding, knowing they would get our scent and possibly alert the bull we were pursuing, so we pressed on again staying in the shadows. A further 400m would have us both within sure range of the unsuspecting buffalo.
Sweat began to drip down my face, eager to get there but aware to keep composure and stay hidden. Suddenly the bull had stopped feeding and was peering our way; we both froze and waited, a tense moment indeed. I slowly turned and nodded at Nick, he gave the thumbs up and we waited until our quarry was feeding again. We were now slowly making our way to within range of the buffalo and unaware, he carried on grazing. Faced with open ground between the buffalo and us, we quietly removed shoes and socks and entered the water.
100m to go and up to our knees in cold black plains mud, I made it to a nearby fallen branch, giving a clear view of the buffalo, whilst remaining hidden.
The awe of being so close to such a large wild animal is something I guarantee all hunters will cherish for keeps – nothing compares. Nick was a few metres behind and still in the water, making his way to me. Instinctively the bull dropped his head and faced our way, I cautiously motioned to Nick to freeze. Lowering his large head and extending his muscular neck, it was obvious he was trying to scent us, but we had the wind in our favour.
We knew now it was time to shoot. Taking a deep breath, I slowly released the safety waiting for the appropriate time to squeeze the trigger. Caked in mud the large horn protruded across his neck, covering the top of his shoulder, with his head turned back to his right. A high shoulder shot was out, so I aimed to break the leg at the shoulder blade junction, at an angle to penetrate the chest cavity. The rifle bucked as the 250gr Grand Slam sped towards the buffalo. Upon impact a loud pop was heard and the buffalo did a complete 90 degree turn and attempted to retreat. Mortally hit he staggered away, legs like jelly and a river of foaming claret exiting from both nostrils. Calmly I chambered another round, and ran out to the left to get a raking shot into his other shoulder (rather than a Texas heart shot). It all went to plan as he had made 20m at most, another Grand Slam was sent on its way, entering just behind the shoulder blade and the bull collapsed. He had expired.
Unbelievable!, buff down, now I could feel my feet hurting from running on the dry cracked earth and the cuts I received whilst in the muddy water, but it didn’t matter. My bull was down and my grin said it all. With Nick in tail, we both admired the size of this animal and retraced the entire stalk whilst in the background, Pete was rattling and clanging his way across to us. The first shot had been on the money penetrating the front leg, as planned and punching through to the chest cavity, a fatal shot. The second shot had entered just behind the opposite shoulder and exited through the neck region, excellent performance indeed. Post hunt pictures were taken, horns measured, then Nick and I waited for Pete to arrive.
“That was great to watch, and the sound of the first shot told me that buffalo was mortally hit, Well done”, said Pete, as he got out of the vehicle to shake my hand, “Now let’s bone him out and we can go and have a feed”,( a big “yes” from Nick and myself). It took about forty minutes for the three of us to extract all the meat from the buffalo, doing one side first, and then rolling it over for the other. If you have not butchered a buffalo before, some advice, have some good knives on hand and sharpening steel, as the hide is really thick and dulls the knife quickly. With the work done, we began the rattling, bouncing trip back to camp, via old Billy’s place, to unload most of the meat, for which he was most grateful. They all ate well that night. Back at camp now, Pete was off to distribute the remainder of the meat to the community about thirty kilometres away. It was at this point we both had a cool can of coke and a feed, nestled back into our chairs and relived the event. Just magic, although we did pass up the pigs. I assured Nick we would find more. Sleep found us early – the night air was still and warm, not a creature to be heard, only us three and the flickering flames of the camp fire.
The next day was as great as our first, our weary eyes were greeted by yet another perfect blue sky, with beaming sunlight glinting through the tree tops, and again our anticipation was high… Pete rolled out of bed and said “How bout we go up river and catch some fish”, you could guess the response, and the day was set. Travelling down the narrow jungle like track, we came across a small billabong and standing there in the open was a mob of buffalo with a few large bulls, cows with calves. Of course we had no rifles with us this time and we left them be. We encountered more buffalo over the next few days, which really is an awesome experience every time you see them; they truly are the giants of the Northern Territory. Nick was keen to land a Barramundi again, and Pete and I were just happy to be out there. We fished all day, Nick a legend with his pale pink soft plastic lure, and nailed countless fish and a good keeper or two.. So addictive this fishing cape. We did this for the majority of our stay, totally sidetracked, life’s tough!
Pigs were the order for our final day and we made ready to hunt in amongst the palm choked scrub that engulfed the nearby waterholes and lagoons. Nick couldn’t wait – he was all smiles. In the vehicle again, pushing through a wild track we ended up at a magnificent lagoon. The enormous rains had left their mark, a country tinged with green lay before us, wildlife teaming every which way you cared to look and of course, crocodiles too. Pete got out and began to survey the edges for feeding pigs and none were seen, but the fresh evidence of their ploughing kept our hopes up. Rifles slung on shoulders, we slowly walked roughly 50 metres. “Pig!”, I said, and with that Nick was into action. A large boar made good his escape, but his followers were just slowly making their way in front of us. Nick raised the 9.3, ”Boom!” and a small sow crumpled, smashed through the shoulders. Another shot and another pig but by now the mob had dispersed. Pete and I watched as Nick pursued the stragglers into the thick palms and grass for another shot, and then a bigger-sized sow lay still on the dry sun bleached soil.
Congratulations all round, Nick was grinning widely, “That was unreal, what an experience, I’m hooked”, Pete and I knew exactly where Nick was coming from. I took a few photos for Nick and with that we collected the fallen pigs to take back to the locals. Like all game taken nothing is wasted, plenty of mouths to feed up here. Happy and weary, it was nothing short of a fantastic adventure for us all. Bring on next year!