Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
That's a big fella! You don't want to get on the wrong end of those horns

Hunting scrub bulls on the Normanby River

During my first few days on Battle Camp Station, an hour out of Cooktown on the Normanby River, I’d been a bit fussy, passing up a number of bulls while we scouted and explored. I’d also blown a couple of chances when I did want to pull the trigger.

I could have had a beauty on the first afternoon. Link, one of the dogs, led us along the Normanby’s overgrown, sandy banks into the breeze as we followed pig and bull sign. 

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
A trophy scrub bull. These wild animals are destructive, potentially dangerous and unwanted on Cape stations

Suddenly Link was onto something. We stalked slowly, peering into the dark shadows. My mind said pigs but as I looked low a movement higher up caught my eye and I found myself staring face to face with a sharp-horned scrub bull behind the biggest tree in the darkest shadow there was. Smart bugger.

In the moment I wasted wondering whether he was a shooter, the scrubber turned and crashed away through the bush.

“That was a good bull,” my guide, Blake, said with a grin. Blake’s outfit is Cape York Bush Adventures.

It was great watching the dog work. He stayed close to Blake, sniffing the air, indicating potential targets. When he did, it was up to me and Blake to do the rest.

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
Blake from Cape York Bush Adventures shows off a typical wild boar taken on Battle Camp Station

“If we put up a pig that runs away, I can send the dog out to bail it,” Blake said. “When we get in close enough I can call him off and you can shoot.”

In this thick country, that would be a good option. Still, it didn’t work for bulls and my search continued.

I got onto a huge fella next day, stalking in very close but having so much fun with the camera that I didn’t bother with the rifle. He never knew I was there despite me mooing at him a few times so I could get a head-up photo of him.

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
Battle Camp Station fronts the Normanby River outside Cooktown, Far North Queensland, and is excellent hunting country

We had a few more encounters but also spent time exploring more widely on Battle Camp Station, stalking lagoons, sight-seeing in the buggy and enjoying being out. 

During lunch on the third day Gundolbii, the nephew of the property’s Traditional Owner and part of Blake’s guiding crew, came into camp with news of the best trophy bull of the lot, which he’d spotted a few kays away at Battle Creek. We piled into the Cruiser and headed off.

Crossing the dry creek bed on foot, we closed in on where Gundolbii had seen the bull. Following Gundolbii is an experience. He moves quietly and easily through the bush, barefoot and comfortable, always apparently knowing exactly where he is no matter how thick and dark the bush is. He loves his fishing and bow hunting.

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
A brumby mare wades through a lagoon on Battle Camp Station

Slowly, slowly we edged past a clump of rubber vines, looking the other way, to where we expected to see the bull. The sneaky bugger burst out from the far side of the vines and ran off; he’d hidden in there and watched us pass.

As the sun set, Blake and I were moving along a fence line by the river, looking back into the timber for bulls. Huge termite mounds in pale grey or reddy brown could have been scrubbers in the vanishing light. 

I was peering into the distance when a nearby silhouette stole my attention. A big bull with decent horns. Only 30 metres away. Watching us.

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
Mick used Hornady’s DGS ammunition in 9.3×62 with perfect results. That’s a Zeiss 1-4x scope mounted on a Sauer 100 rifle

A couple of steps backward cleared the view of bushes between us. I chambered a round as I assessed the shot, shouldered the rifle and aimed just left of centre of the quartering animal’s chest. Then fired.

The bull lurched, hit hard by the 9.3mm Interlock. Cycling the action, I could see I’d broken his shoulder but he hadn’t fallen so I shot again, this time side-on and into his chest. He staggered, then his head arched back and I knew he was about to drop. 

In a moment he collapsed on his side, heaved a last breath and expired.

When we butchered him, we found the first shot was a fatal one, having smashed the leg bone, gone into the chest and hit the heart and a lung. 

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
Bulls rub trees too, but on a much grander scale than deer!

I was stoked. My first scrub bull and a good one at that with black hide and white horns with black tips. Two good shots. A clean kill.

Peter, who is Blake’s father as well as the camp cook, was waiting for us on our return. Pete is into his traditional skills. He tans his own leather using traditional methods, and makes long bows using Melville Island bloodwood and his own arrows from whiteberry bush (aka white currant bush). 

Happy with myself, I opened a beer, settled in and tried to soak up a bit of Pete’s knowledge.

He and Blake are a good pair for this guiding business. Blake is filling his head with more and more knowledge of bush tucker and native plants. He’d spotted a black orchid growing in a gum tree on my first day, one he hadn’t seen before, and became quite excited. 

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
A black cockatoo perched high in the dawn light

During our stalks he’d often stop to point out bush foods and useful plants, making the hunts even more of an adventure.

On top of this, I’d seen and heard so much out here. One evening a pack a dingoes put up an incredible concert of howling, just out of sight 100 metres away. We’d seen taipans and night tiger snakes, all kinds of birdlife, and heard the splashes of freshwater crocs diving into the river.

There are saltwater crocs here, too, but I wasn’t lucky enough to see one.

Barramundi fishing is on the menu of these hunts. We cast a line many times. Gundolbii landed a 60cm one. 

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
Gundolbii fishes for barramundi in the Normanby

I’ve never been much of a fisher and didn’t improve my reputation, landing just one undersize barra that managed to swim past my hook and get caught by the belly!

But for all this, I hadn’t got a pig yet.

In the morning we left the dogs behind and stalked the river relying purely on our own skills. We wound our way through the thick growth, picking the best line by following game trails most of the way.

I led between the high banks of a dry channel. Glancing up, I saw an unusual blackness: the top of a sleeping pig’s head, between a stump and some fallen bark as if he’d made his own lean-to.

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
A relic from earlier days on Battle Camp Station

I snapped the rifle to my shoulder, closing the bolt on the way. The pig’s ear flicked as I did. By the time I had a sight picture, its head was up and he looked straight at us. 

I had time to register the red dot of the reticle resting on that head and suddenly there was only a spray of sand in my view and the pig was gone. So close!

“This is fun,” I whispered to Blake, who smiled back. The tension kept every nerve on edge. I love this kind of hunting.

And if I failed now, there was still the spotlighting option. Or bringing the dogs back into it. Or setting up an ambush on a lagoon. Or … well, Blake’s guiding style allowed flexibility. 

Scrub bull hunting with Cape York Bush Adventures
Link walks past a sandy pig bed. There is no shortage of pigs here

The next days promised to be a ball. Meanwhile, I calmed my heart and slowly, quietly stalked on up the Normanby River.

Contact Cape York Bush Adventures if you’re keen to do a hunt like this.




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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.