By Aaron Neilson, Worldwide Adventures, January 2015
When people think of international buffalo hunting, they most often theink of Africa's black death, the cape buffalo. However, there’s another buffalo that can be every bit as fun, exciting, adventurous, and even dangerous. It’s the Asiatic Water buffalo of Australia’s Northern Territory, and if it’s yet to be in your sights, you are missing out.
Arriving in Arnhem Land in June 2013 for my 6-day buffalo hunt, I was a little surprised by the heat and humidity. This Colorado boy likes living at 8,600' where those sort of things are non-existent, so a quick adjustment on the 2 1/2-hour drive to camp was very much in order. Having been friends with Matt Graham of Hunt Australia for several years, I knew what to expect from the get go. Camp was basic but very accommodating, and the food was plentiful. Frankly, I never get too concerned about those sort of things, but in this case it was nice to have a few creature comforts, including an on demand cool shower.
Having hunted buffalo in Africa many times, I was really looking forward to chasing another species of bovine. Chasing some of the world’s potentially dangerous game is always high on my list, and the bulls of Australia are definitely no exception! Matt assured me that we would be covered up in action, and his prediction most certainly did not fall short. From day one, action was frequent and downtime was scarce. It was a buffalo hunter’s paradise and one that I was very fortunate to get to experience. For its places like Arnhem Land, Australia makes a hunter’s heart feel whole.
Knowing we were filming for my television show “Wild Sheep Foundation’s World of Sports Afield” on the Sportsman Channel, I told Matt that I really wanted to hunt the bulls that often frequented the wide open flood plains. Not that the surrounding forest isn’t full of animals, it certainly is, but the wide open plains are quite picturesque, a videographer’s dream! Right off the bat we were spotting buffalo mingling in and out of the flooded landscape. It quickly became evident that simply finding the right bull was going to be more of the issue rather than finding one at all.
By late afternoon we had passed on several bulls, but Matt finally located what he thought to be a suitable trophy. Working quickly back toward the forest, the bull was heading for what he thought to be the safety of the woods. However, he was unaware of the fact that hunter, guide, and cameraman were hustling to cut him off. No sooner did we get set up than he was trotting up through the sparse trees in front of us. After a little whistle he slammed on the brakes, and I let him have it with my .416 Ruger, pushing 400 grain Hornady Dangerous Game series projectiles at roughly 2,600 fps. A quick follow-up with a solid and my first Australian buff was down and out. Man, was that exciting, and I could not wait to do it again!
My wait wouldn’t be long as the next morning we were again looking over the flood plains that so frequently held massive buffalo bulls. In fact, we owed our new perch to Dave Unger, a fellow buffalo hunter from Alberta, Canada. He had spotted a great bull in the same location the day before and had kindly passed him on to us. He had already taken a trophy bull and was only looking for that “diamond in the rough,” so we gladly took his advice and hoped to find the bull he had seen the day before. As we approached the location Dave had suggested, sure enough there the bull was. About 1,000 yards out in the flood plain stood what appeared to be an exceptional trophy bull. I was game, but I quickly realized why Matt and his guides are not always overly eager to hunt the plains. According to Matt the mud could get deep and getting the trophy out was a real chore. However all of that changed as soon as I agreed to carry the trophy out myself.
It wasn’t long before we were bearing down on the bull as he lay fat and happy in his cool bed. As I approached to within about 80 yards, the bull finally realized our presence and sprang to his feet. However it was a little too late. With a solid rest atop my Bog Pod shooting sticks, I again fired the .416 Ruger. He staggered to the right, and I quickly took another one just before he piled up where he stood. He most certainly was a magnificent trophy. Getting him out was quite the struggle, but it was worth every grunt and groan.
By now we were exhausted and had our two trophy bulls, but I was having so much fun I simply wanted more. Matt told me of an old warrior he knew of that often lay alone at the tip of a nearby peninsula. According to him, the bull was long since past his prime. He was a management bull of sorts, but if I was so inclined, he was mine. We needed to find him first, but my response was obviously a resounding, “Yes!” This time, however, I traded Matt my .416 Ruger for his Verney-Carron .450NE double rifle. I generally shoot a V-C .577NE double, so the .450 felt light as a feather, but it fit me perfectly. Our plan was simple, if the bull was in his usual spot, Matt would stay behind while my cameraman and I approached as close as we dared. Frankly, I was not holding my breath as to his whereabouts, but going to check it out was certainly worth a shot.
We approached the end of the peninsula, and sure enough there he lay. The heat of the midday’s sun was scorching us all, and our hopeful prize was no different. He had found a cozy little mud hole and had engulfed himself in it, an obvious attempt to gain some relief from the overwhelming heat. Conveniently, he was facing the opposite direction and the wind was gusting roughly 20 mph, allowing for a quiet, unseen approach. Wanting an up close and personal experience with the double, I closed the distance to roughly 10 yards. Double rifles are meant for “in your face” opportunities, and I got exactly what I had bargained for. I made my presence known, and he whipped his head quickly in my direction. Instantly he was on his feet just as the first barrel let him have it. Stumbling as he was, I hit him with the second barrel and dropped him in his tracks. My adrenalin meter went straight through the roof! He certainly was an old bull, and a greater hunt would have been hard to come by.
Would I do it again? You bet I would! Perhaps next time I’ll give the Hoyt Carbon Spyder a go. I’m confident Matt has the bulls to provide plenty of opportunities. It’s always a pleasure when the hunt exceeds your expectations as was certainly the case with my Australian buffalo hunt.