Australia: a beautiful and rugged land where the terrain is tough and the animals are dangerous. Depending on your reference, six or seven of the world’s deadliest snakes slither there, and it’s home to one of the deadliest spiders on earth. Seventeen-foot crocs are in the billabongs, 20-foot great white sharks swim its ocean, and massive one-ton water buffaloes stomp around the swamps and brush of the Northern Territory.
All in all, Australia is an adventurer’s paradise, but a bit underrated as a hunting destination even though there are several great opportunities available in the “land down under.” In the northern part of the continent there are very healthy populations of water buffalo and banteng and scrub bulls around the vast swamps and flood plains are only accessible during the dry season. Feral goats and boar are found in several places throughout the country, and farther south are a number of deer species.
While discussing different hunting methods, I was delighted to hear that Hunt Australia caters to bow hunters and has a very high success rate on above average bulls. There is something about being on ground level, up close and personal with an animal that can easily send his aggressor to the Promised Land. To me that epitomizes adventure bow hunting. As hunting legend Dr. Bob Speegle of Texas once said, “You don’t have to be crazy to do what I do, but it sure does help.”
Both males and females grow long, triangular horns, with females having less mass. The horn configurations fall into two categories. There are “lunars,” whose horns semi-circle backward after extending from the skull, and then there are “sweepers,” whose horns generally grow straight out and curve up at the tips. In my opinion, sweepers make a more impressive trophy, as they stretch several feet from tip to tip. Lunars are more common where we were hunting, and I would have been content taking a quality representative of either style.
Seldom does a hunting adventure go exactly as planned, and the better you are at taking problems in stride, the more enjoyable your trip will be. Such was the case when I found myself at the Gove Airport in the Northern Territory, missing a bag that contained the majority of my hunting gear, clothes and arrow tube. Standing at the baggage claim, it looked as if I were going to be doing more sightseeing than bow hunting. My coffin-sized double bow case arrived along with what little I had in carry-on luggage. Due to weight restrictions and room, I opted to pack my arrows in a separate duffle bag; in retrospect, that was not the best idea. Being informed by an airport worker that a crucial piece of equipment was in Los Angeles while you are standing in Australia is quite a kick to the gut.
There are only a few flights in and out each day to the Gove airport, and according to airport personnel, my bag would be arriving within two days. The hunt was scheduled for five days, so to say I was discouraged was an understatement. I talked it over with my guide, Pete Harding, who had met me at the airport, and he said I could borrow an extra .375 H&H they had in camp. He assured me that we would come back to the airport to retrieve the bag once it arrived. This worked out great, as camp was only about ninety minutes from the airport. It would have been better to shoot a bull with a rifle than take the chance on my bags not arriving and not get one at all. We loaded up what little gear I had into Pete’s Land Cruiser and headed to camp.
The following morning some of the most beautiful birds in the world graciously let me know a new day was upon us. After breakfast, Pete unveiled the .375 bolt gun that I would be using in the event my bag did not arrive and a big buffalo was spotted.
We set out in the Land Cruiser and immediately started seeing buffalo. Young bulls, cows and calves were generally in groups, but the old bulls preferred being alone. There were dozens of decent bulls in the area, but we were specifically looking for one near or over the 100-inch mark. We drove along dirt roads throughout the day, seeing a variety of wildlife. Just before dark we spotted a large bull with super heavy bases and one broomed tip. Pete suggested I shoot this old guy as he was nearing the triple-digit mark. He spotted us, but did not seem too alarmed and slowly began grazing away.
We followed the bull on foot and I took an offhand shot from 75 yards, hitting him behind the shoulder. He bucked violently and ran a short distance as I poured out two more shots, connecting with both. After the third shot, the bull stopped and turned to face Pete and me. We were now only about 50 yards away with nothing between us but air, opportunity and a few small termite mounds. Pete said, “Shoot him again!” I fired another round, hitting the bull high in the shoulder. I put the last shot low in his chest, which fortunately took out his heart. The bull went down and the ordeal was over without a charge. He was a massive beast with a fresh coat of mud. His bases were an impressive 18 4/8″ but the broomed horn had more missing than we originally thought. He was still a great trophy, scoring 95 SCI, and I was proud to have taken him.
Over the next few days we rode around the concession taking photos, met with local Aboriginals and hunted for some of the many herds of feral boar inhabiting the area. We were able to find a few groups and I took three hogs with the .375. I still had no arrows or hunting gear to my name.
The evening before the last day of the hunt, word came that my duffle bag had arrived at the airport. We drove into town and collected the bag, getting back to camp after dark. With the aid of the Land Cruiser’s headlights I took a few practice shots and found that the huge 960-grain Grizzly Stik Safari arrows and Ashby broadheads by Alaska Bowhunting Supply were still hitting exactly where they were back home in Alabama. Pete told me that in a five-day hunt, they average roughly seven stalks and three draws before they get a shot on a bull. We had one day remaining.
The hunted started earlier than usual the next morning to maximize stalk opportunities and we planned to hunt an area where Pete was confident a large bull was living. We were about a half-mile away when through the fog a massive sweeper slowly crossed the road 200 yards beyond us. Pete locked up the breaks on the Land Cruiser and said, “That’s him! We’ve got to kill this bull!”
The bull paid us little mind as he fed through the brush. At the time, we had three things in our favor: good wind, fog and a lone bull. We slowly exited the cruiser and in single file inched our way closer to the unsuspecting miniature tank. As buffalo graze, they close their eyes in order to avoid seeds and sharp stalks of grass poking them. We took advantage of this and moved as stealthily as possible while he ate. Every once in a while he would lift his huge horns and look around, but never picked us up.
The closest we could get was 35 yards. I was shaking and my heart was pounding worse than it ever had on any other animal before, and rightly so. I remember thinking, “Get hold of yourself. This is no time to lose composure!” A misplaced shot at this distance could be the difference in life or death. Pete clicked the safety off his rifle as I slowly drew back the 73-pound Mathews Z7 Magnum. The bull’s vitals covered every pin in my sight but I managed to pick a spot low in his chest. As most animals do, as soon as I got to full draw, he stepped behind a tree, so I waited anxiously. The seconds turned to cold molasses before the bull finally walked forward. I released the arrow, burying it past the fletching, and he immediately spun 180 degrees to fight whatever had just bit him. We saw that the shot was perfect and the arrow completely passed through his body. Finding nothing to fight, the bull turned and ran about 50 yards through the brush before collapsing. It is a real testament to the killing power of the bow and arrow. He scored 97 6/8 SCI.–Cameron Mitchell