The first day of the hunt was an exciting one. We spotted several buffalo as well as a few scrub bulls and wild donkeys. We passed on all the buffalo because both Barry and Kim had seen larger bulls during their pre-scouting trips. This initial trip into hunting country gave us a feel for what was to come – Rough four wheeling for two hours or so, following by 5 to 6 hours of walking and spotting. We generally walked 10 to 14 miles per day.
On the second day of the hunt we had a little excitement. After fording the Milton River we came upon a small group of wild hogs. They were all walking in single file, into the wind, and oblivious to our presence. Bill and I were able to run right up to the last hog in the line when she whirled and gave a grunt that stopped the whole procession. We launched our first volley of arrows hitting two of them. Bill’s arrow completely penetrated one boar and hit a small piglet running with the group. This piglet took great exception to an arrow in its side and began to squeal with a volume the likes of which were disproportionate to its size. This squealing had a very unsettling affect on the rest of the group. Bottom line is that they started charging Bill and me. In unison, we both looked for a tree to climb and discovered that there were none! Barry and Kim were observing all this through binoculars at several hundred yards distant. Although I’ve certainly seen larger hogs in my day, I don’t remember any being more determined. We were both equipped with very heavy arrows made for the buffalo hunt and they became very useful at this point. Bill turned one boar with a well placed shot which left the sow that was coming directly at me. My choice was to run or shoot and I decided on the latter. Thank God I actually hit her where I was aiming. The 860-grain “Grizzlystik” tipped with a 190 grain Grizzly head entered the hog right between the eyes and exited behind her ear. With their numbers greatly reduced that rest of the group decided to run off which pleased us greatly.
This whole fiasco made for a real confidence booster regarding our equipment. Bill was shooting an 80-pound Black Widow and I was carrying my trusty old 80-pound Stotler longbow. Both of us carried arrows made for this trip by Bob Burton of Whispering Wind arrows. Bob had made some Purple Heart shafts for Bill’s previous trip for Cape Buffalo in Africa. Since they worked well on that trip (nice buff and giraffe), Bill ordered more for this hunt. Bob could not find additional purple heart shafts for me so he came up with an option of resin impregnated Poplar shafts that produced a finished arrow weight of 1140 grains. In addition to these arrows, I was field testing some new heavy carbon shafts called the Grizzlystick from Alaska Bowhunting Supply. I really liked the advantage of the heavier wood arrows, but the Grizzlysticks are almost indestructible, which means a lot on a trip where you can’t run downtown to get more arrows. I’ve purposely hit a granite bolder with a Grizzlystick and had it recoil 20 yards in the opposite direction. In fact, I’ve broken three Judos on one of the arrows I’m still shooting. True to form, the one I shot through the hog’s head is still in my quiver. No matter what shaft I use, the business end always carries the 190-grain Grizzly broadhead when I hunting dangerous game. This one inch wide, three inch long head has served me well over the years.
While Barry and Bill continued to pursue one large bull they saw the second day of the hunt, Kim and I struck out for some new territory that was not previously hunted. The chance to hunt truly virgin territory really appealed to me. From the topo maps for the area, Kim found a long string of small ponds all connected and that eventually drained into the Milton River. From the map, it was apparent that we could walk over twenty miles from the first pond to the river. We drove (if you could call it that) as far as the terrain would allow and logged in the waypoint on our GPS’s. Then we struck out on foot towards the coordinates pulled from the map. Once we reached the water holes we started seeing buffalo in large numbers. One impressive bull was traveling with over 20 cows and calves, which made the ensuing stalk even more difficult. With so many eyes and noses covering his backside, this bull simply grazed with impunity. Finally the inevitable happened when we spooked an unseen cow and the whole herd bolted in a thunder of hooves and a billowing cloud of dust. Back to the string of water holes, we parted some of the dense vegetation to reveal a large group of buffaloes all circling a small pond. While I was busy looking for a trophy in the bunch, Kim stabbed me in the ribs and whispered that the herd bull was in the water ten yards below me. Sure enough the entire herd was watch His Nibs take a bath. All I could see was his nose and horns above the water. Slowly nocking an arrow, I figured all I had to do was wait for the King to walk out of his tub and I would smack him. After a mere 5 seconds, one of the cows grunted in alarm and this peaceful scene erupted into utter chaos. The bull dog-paddled to the opposite side and lunged onto the bank. Standing completely broadside he stared right at me with his nose held high and on full alert. I could see Kim’s 500 Jeffery come to bare and heard Kim whisper “take him”. The distance (around 30 yards) was a bit more than I had hoped for and the fact that he was on full alert, looking right through me made me uncomfortable with the shot. Years of disappoint has taught me never to take a shot that I was not completely comfortable with. Hence, I passed on the shot and was immediately second-guessing the wisdom of what I had just done. I could tell that Kim was disappointed as well.
We had been hunting hard for four days and this was the best opportunity to date. It was with a heavy heart that we finally returned to camp well after dark. Two gins and tonics helped a lot as Bill and I compared the day’s excitement. Bill and Barry had spotted the big bull they were looking for but it had given them the slip after a long hot pursuit. After one of Sonia’s great meals and several glasses of fine Australian Cabernet, I was prepared for a good nights rest and whatever tomorrow might bring.
On the fifth day of the hunt, Kim and I decided to retrace the route of the previous day and continue on into uncharted territory. We did stop on the way to make a stalk on a group of wild donkeys. This heard was more curious than spooked at our presence, which probably attests that we were the first humans they have ever seen. This was their undoing, because I smacked the biggest jack right through both lungs. We watched him fall within sight. The Grizzlystick had struck again. Once we got close for the photo session, I was surprised at the size of these donkeys. The one I shot was in very good flesh and not a tic on him. I was soon to discover that this was true for the water buffalo as well.
As we continued our hunt I knew the donkey had been a real confidence builder. I was now determined to find a good bull and put him down. I’ve found that this feeling happens to me a lot in the field. Sometimes it takes several days of hunting to get into sync with nature and the correct frame of mind for what had to be done. I was now hunting with more intensity. Kim was in the lead weaving his way through heavy palm fronds and low brush. I was scanning the country to my right when I turned to see Kim frozen at mid stride. He was looking right at me with his index finger pointed to our left. As he slowly brought the big Jeffery to his shoulder; my eyes shifted to the direction that the half-inch bore was pointed. There taking a nap in the mud was a fine water buffalo.
He was only 20 yards below me and looking at Kim which gave me an opportunity to nock one of my 1140-grain woodies. I remember thinking- “If he would only stand up”. As if on command the bull slowly came to his feet, still looking directly at Kim. Then I was thinking- “ Just turn a little, so you will be quartering away”. Again, he obliged. It was like my friend Monty Browning likes to say- All the pegs were dropping in the right holes. The only thing left to fill the final hole was for the buff to move his front leg forward to expose a chance at the heart. I could tell he was about to bolt, but I forced myself to wait. Finally he turned his big head in the directly of his exit. In doing so, he made one step with his front leg- Time to drop the hammer! I was already aimed and at half draw when he moved that leg, so it only took an instant to come to full draw and release. As luck would have it, the arrow hit exactly where I was looking. I could hear the metallic click which is the tell tale sign of hitting bone.
When the bull exited the small mud hole he had only one inch of white crown dip visible below the fletching, which meant the arrow had penetrated 22 inches (it’s a good thing to know exactly how long your arrows’ crown dip extends and the distance from the nock to the end of your fletching). It was all over in a split second and now it was time to be silent and wait. I was determined to wait a full 30 minutes. At the end of 12 minutes we heard the bellowing of an animal in distress. After four long bellows, all was silent. I continued to wait out the full 30 minutes before taking up the blood trail. Kim was in the lead with the Jeffery extended. After walking exactly 63 paces, I saw Kim drop to one knee and on full alert. Through the thick brush I could see the head of a buffalo on the ground looking at his back trail. Kim motioned for me to move slowly to the left while he stayed in position for a shot if necessary. Kim wisely had me move to see if the buffalo would move his head to follow my motion, indicating he was still alive.
Thankfully, he stone dead! It’s hard to express my feeling at that moment. During the caping process we did a little autopsy and discovered that the arrow had completing blown through a rib (which was sizable) and pierced the top end of the heart.
Somehow the trip back to the vehicle was not as grueling as I had imagined and back at camp, it was cigars around with scotch substituted for the gin and tonics. Cathy and I spent the next day fishing for Baramundi, which is a great sport fish similar to our bass. These fish get up to 30 pounds in these relatively small ponds. We were successful with the Baramundi and also saw fresh water crocodiles and five-foot sharks all in the same pools. We were 80 kilometers from the coast, so that is some indication how high the water gets during the wet season. That evening Bill and Barry were late of the cocktail hour so that was determined to be a good sign. When they finally arrived, Bill announced that he had finally hit the big bull they had been chasing all week. He felt the arrows’ entry angle was a bit back but a lethal hit. They tracked the bull for over six miles in four hours. Each time they jumped bull it would run again. Not wanting to loose the bull or make it suffer, Bill asked Barry to bring it down with a rifle. This was a very ethical gesture on his part because unlike Africa there is no wounding policy in Australia; you simply carry on with the hunt. Anyhow, Barry hit the bull four times with a 404 and it still refused to stop. When it was too dark to continue the track, they had returned to camp. The next morning the whole camp went out to help pick up the spore. It was hard tracking with very little blood. We were starting to get that sick feeling of loosing a fine trophy when Barry gave a shout. He had found the bull dead, approximately 2 miles from where they left the track the evening before. The Purple Heart shaft was still in him and it had penetrated deep. The arrows’ entry was right behind the shoulder, but our speculation was that bull was angled a little towards Bill when the arrow hit. Regardless, it was a happy ending and we were all grateful that we didn’t give up on this magnificent bull.
The whole experience was something I will never forget and will be forever grateful to Barry, Kim and Sonia for showing us the wonders of Australia’s Top End. Now if I can just sleep for the rest of this flight it might make it more tolerable.