On our last day at his Elcho Island area we finally saw the “really big buffalo” Greg Pennicott had been telling us about. He was living in some thick forest not far from camp, not out on the open floodplains like a lot of the buffalo in that area, so we’d seen his tracks along the road, and both Greg and guide Mark Daddow had seen him—but we hadn’t. At least not until we were done, which is sort of the way these things work, right? Hunting partner Jason Morton and I both had our buffalo—and then there he was, standing alongside the road, 500 yards from camp.
At first glance he was just another buffalo—in that area you see enough that you learn how to judge them, but you also see so many that you get somewhere between jaded and confused. This was just another big bull, lots of curl to his horn, and I didn’t tumble that this was one of the bulls we’d been looking for until Greg asked, “So, how big is that bull?”
So I took a closer look. He was with several cows, but he towered over them, so no ground shrinkage from lack of body size. Figure 10 inches for ear length, and you could put the ears against the horns nearly four times—but not quite. So give him 38 inches on horn length. All the bulls in that that area have 17-inch bases, but the extra-large ones are 18 or better. So that was the range, minimum 110, probably a bit over 112. Wow!
The South Pacific water buffalo go into our book at 80 inches based on simple measurement of length of each horn plus circumference of each base. Depending on where you are, anything in the 90s is a really good bull, 101 3/8 is “gold medal,”
and anything over 110 is spectacular. That will not, by the way, get you into the Top 10. In that measurement methodology, length quickly overpowers circumference and, over the years, there have been some really long water buffalo taken. The world record is a shocking 157, but it goes down quickly. Of 755 entries, only the top 40 are above 112, and you get below 103 before you get out of the top 100. So, by statistical definition a water buffalo anywhere in the 100s is awesome, and above 110 just plain huge.
We watched this bull until he tired of the game and drifted off with his cows, and then we drove away. How often does that happen? You’re all done, and then you see the big one. Sometimes you can take it—if the quota is available and you can afford it—but most of the time such things get chalked up as just one of “the big ones that got away.” This time it was a little easier. Depending on what you like, this magnificent bull that we walked away from was no bigger than the buffalo that we’d taken—which is saying quite a lot.
Jason Morton, of CZ USA, had never hunted in Australia or taken a water buffalo. He was playing with a hunting (vice tactical) version of a .338 Lapua, so we were hoping to get him a big buffalo—maybe at a bit of range out on Pennicott’s wide-open floodplains. Me, well, I just like buffalo, and I’m kind of equal opportunity. I would be unlikely to have another water buffalo mounted, so I was hoping for a “cull” bull, with wo
rn-down horns or a broken tip. The buffalo on that floodplain have pretty soft living, good grass and few rocks, so while I was pretty sure we’d find a big one for Jason, I knew looking for a genuine cull for me would be a lot more difficult.
That big floodplain is funny. Greg and Mark hunt it all season and know it well, but they also know that the buffalo situation can change every day. Sometimes you see the same bulls over and over…and sometimes you see a good bull and never see him again. The floodplain is huge, several hundred thousand acres, but only a tiny percentage of a six-million-acre hunting area. So every time you pass a really good bull looking for a better one there’s a risk…and sometimes it pays off. Water buffalo aren’t easy to judge—length depends more on curve than spread, and circumference also isn’t easy—but that first day we hit the jackpot, glassing a half-dozen awesome bulls that we figured were somewhere north of 100 inches.
We walked away from every single one of them. We accepted the risk, and it paid off. The second morning, a half-hour from camp, we were glassing a fine bull when Greg said, “Better look at that one,” pointing out a bull nearly lost in mirage. Yes, this one was distinctive, a cut above. Of course he was on the wrong side of a channel that couldn’t be crossed, so we backtracked. Two hours later we found him again and Jason made a lovely shot at long range. This bull was everything we’d hoped for—and easily bigger than anything we’d seen.
Although I wasn’t really looking for a trophy bull I have to admit we looked around for the “camp bull.” We couldn’t find him, so I don’t know what I might have done if we had. Instead we found exactly what I had hoped for: A massive old bull, perfect on one side, broken off 10 inches on the other. On the one hand, I succeeded: He was a nasty old bull that, chances are, nobody but me would have wanted. On the other hand, I failed miserably: Even with the broken horn he makes “gold medal” with a couple inches to spare. Pretty good place to hunt buffalo!– Craig Boddington