In early February JC called me to ask if I was interested in going on a Game Management Hunt in the Northern Territory. He provided me with costs and the details to pass onto any interested parties. The deal included all meals, drinks and beers at night; good quality accommodation for four people per room with dual shower and toilet; and clothes washing facilities. The only additional costs were airfare, vehicle hire/fuel and trophy bulls if desired.
JC explained it was essentially a cull hunt, with a past average of nine Buffalo for each hunter. The main target was cows and some poor bloodline bulls. Trophy bulls could be taken at extra cost to be negotiated at the time with the guide.
With a recently purchased Ruger No.1H in the British classic .450/400 Nitro Express 3”, I was definitely in! Within days the numbers were in, including Ben who I hunt Sambar with annually. Initially Ben was planning to use his 358 Win with 275gr Woodleigh PPSNs, but had an excuse to purchase something a tad bigger, a Ruger No.1H in .450/400 3”.
Searching the airline websites, I found a special deal to Darwin through Qantas and notified JC of the flight number, who subsequently informed all the others in the group. Pre-approval to travel with firearms and ammunition was easily obtained from Qantas. The 5kg limit restricted me to eighty rounds of ammunition.
In early July, four weeks prior to our departure JC convened a meeting with all parties to discussed various aspects of the hunt. Ben & I met a decent group of guys all very keen to get up to the Territory. Safari Firearms was well represented, a good bunch of guys too.
Thursday 5 August came around so quickly, I travelled up to Picton to collect Ben then to Mascot. At 17:00 we all met at the designated rendezvous point in Terminal 3. Then proceeded to check-in, in groups of four to minimise excess luggage,... I still got stung!
Sleeping most of the way, we finally touched down in Darwin at 23:45 local time. Collecting firearms was a breeze without any hindrance. JC and I collected the mini-bus and mini-van while the others got organised. From there we drove in convoy from Darwin airport to the station on the far side of Katherine, arriving at 5:45am.
The Outfitters greeted us with a freshly brewed coffee and proceeded to cook us a full breakfast on the BBQ. During breakfast we were briefed on the rules of engagement for the Game Management Hunt; only selected Buffalo were to be culled along with any donkeys, brumbies and dingos. Pigs were reserved for American and European clients and strictly off limits. Trophy Buffalo could be taken at a cost of $2,000 - $5,500 and Scrub Bulls $450.
Following breakfast we rested for two hours, then geared up and headed out to the range to check our respective rifles. There was a wide array of calibres on this trip with a 9.3x74mmR, three 375 H&H, two 450/400 Nitro Express 3”, two 416 Rigby, a 416 Remington Mag, a 416 Weatherby Mag, a 458 Winchester Mag, and a 500 Nitro Express. Woodleigh projectiles featured prominently. With all rifles on the money at 100m, we headed back to camp for a light lunch prior to the afternoon’s hunt.
Following lunch, Ben, John and I boarded our hunting chariot and headed east. Ben and I had our respective Ruger No.1H 450/400s; mine scoped and Ben’s was fitted with a NECG peep sight. John has a CZ550 Safari in 416 Rigby with a Nikon Monarch scope. Observing a number of Buffalo we bounced along the edge of a wetland system. Our guide, a kiwi, loved talking Super 14s rugby and the pending All Blacks – Wallabies match on Saturday. Suddenly he spotted a Donkey at ~100m and Ben was only too happy to take the shot. The Donkey turn and ran, but was dropped on the run through trees with a 400gr Woodleigh RNSN. The guide, amazed, ranged the animal at 181m! The animal was hit in the spine and finished with a coup de grâce.
Continuing along the creek we encountered a number of cull animals; lining up the shoulders in the crosshairs I thumped a young bull in the shoulders with a 400gr RNSN. Staggering, I followed the initial shot with a 400gr Hydro in the rear quarters putting the animal down. The other animals ran upstream with Ben, John and the guide in pursuit. I studied the expired animal, noting the Woodleigh Hydro had travelled full length exiting from the neck. I heard a number of shots, Ben had dropped a cow.
With the meat collected (and a 400gr RNSN), we proceeded along the creek to find a number of cows. The larger of the Cows was selected and received two 400gr Barnes TSXs from John’s 416 Rigby before I took a running shot with the 450/400. The 400gr Hydro punched through a small ant hill striking the animal in the left shoulder, dropping her, exiting the beast in the process. A final shot was taken with the 416 Rigby to be sure.
We came across an old gaunt looking Scrub Bull with no horns. The guide asked Ben to drill it, which he did with a 400gr Woodleigh FMJ to the scone,... thump!
Heading back to camp, we engaged another herd. I was instructed to shoot a cow which took five 400gr RNSNs in the kill zone to put her down. John dropped a young cow with a couple of 400gr RNSNs from his 416. The jeep strained its way back with six back legs and back straps.
On the first night most of us were amazed at the number of rounds used to put some of these beasts down. This was a cull hunt and we all were instructed to keep shooting until the animal was on the ground. Last year, JC put seven 570gr projectiles from his 500 Nitro into a large cow during a 2km chase on foot. Whereas John has hunted Cape Buffalo in Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa with the same 416 Rigby rifle with the same loads and stated these beasts seem harder to kill, but luckily not aggressive.
The cumulative total after the first afternoon was; 19 Buffalo, 1 Scrub Bull and 10 Donkeys.
Saturday morning following an early breakfast we headed out again. Going a bit further than the previous day, we can across a large cow with a calf and another cow. The guide asked John to cull the smaller cow and Ben was backing him up. The 416 roared three times with two solid hits putting the animal down. As John and Ben advanced to the expired animal, the large cow commenced a charge. That was an entertaining sight I failed to record on camera! One of those “had to be there” moments.
We followed the fence line noticing all the damage, when we came across a few cows and young bulls behaving badly. The guide said get into those bastards. I initiated the engagement on a large cow with a duo of 400gr Hydros, then head shot a young bull with a 400gr RNSN. What a magnificent experience that was; three big bores bellowing away with five Buffalo being dropped. John and Ben had a couple of cows and a young bull between them. I opted to take the Cow’s horns as a token trophy. Both 400gr Hydros exited the animal effortlessly.
After taking the meat back to the station’s shed and cool room, we enjoyed a lunch in the cool of the AC then headed south looking for more fence wreckers. I was glad I packed the Ridgeline Sable mesh gear. After driving for a while, we pulled up and walked over to a dam. Seven porkers got up and waddled off into the long grass. That was hard to take!
Suddenly a bull came charging towards us, with the instruction to engage Ben connected with a 400gr RNSN which seemed to do nothing, then was thumped by one of my 400gr Hydros with Ben giving him a duo of 400gr FMJs for good measure. In all the excitement the herd presented itself from the scrub and the guide instructed us not to shoot the three large bulls on the left, but to get stuck into the other dozen animals. Again, I concentrated on the larger cow to the right which ran hard out into the open. The first 400gr Hydro dropped her, but got up and continued running further out then stopped. Winding the scope up to 6x, resting on a tree, I carefully placed the crosshairs 3/4 up her shoulder and touched off, down she went. The shot was just on 200m. Then I lined up a smaller cow in the herd and fired dropping her and the 400gr Hydro exited also killing the calf that was standing behind. Another small cow was brought down by another two 400gr Hydros. Ben and John had dropped three other animals from the heard, with eight cull Buffalo down in total.
Returning to camp Saturday evening we met up with the other guys to share experiences and view trophy bulls that were harvested. Young Matt scored a huge Scrub Bull with his 458 Win Mag. Some of the Safari boys harvest some impressive Buffalo bulls.
The cumulative total on the second day was; 54 Buffalo, 3 Scrub Bulls and 19 Donkeys.
Sunday we travelled to the northern area of the property. This was where all the big trophy animals were suppose to be. And we weren’t disappointed. There were some big bulls seen and plenty of Buffalo as a whole. It was like being on Safari.
Our Kiwi host was on a high following Australia’s loss to New Zealand 22:10. And there were the obligatory trans-Tasman digs, “See that Buffalo, he runs like an Australian forward, hahahaha”
Eventually we came across three cows near a spring fed creek. All three of us debussed and I waited for Ben or John to commence the fire. The cow on the left ran and I instinctive shouldered the Ruger and fired. She dropped, then got up and faced me. The second Hydro went into her head dropping her on the spot. Ben and John had opened up on the other two animals, resulting in both on the ground.
Both 400gr Hydros worked very well on my Cow; the first hit was in the rear left quarters which exited out the front of the brisket, second hit was in the head which exited then re-entered the back punching through the scapula travelling along the spine exiting just left of the freckle. Very impressive penetration.
With the midday sun beating down on us, there were a number of waterholes we had to pass up due to Cane Toad infestation. Eventually we found a clean spring fed stream to have lunch followed by a snooze in the shade.
Continuing on we observed a number of trophy bulls, one monster was quoted as being worth $8,000 to the station. Then we came across a dozen donkeys; they don’t like 400gr RNSNs. I quickly connected with two black & grey animals, John dropped a grey at distance and Ben ended up getting a brown donkey.
Heading back we disturbed a couple of boars from their cover. One boar was travelling the same direction and soon got rather pissed with our presence charging the jeep, twice!
After sunset we encountered another dozen donkeys. Ben and John each took an animal with ease, with the remainder departing rather hastily. On the way out we observed three Scrub bulls.
Returning to camp Sunday evening we rendezvoused around the fire and tank which was cleaning up the heads. JC had a beautiful Scrub Bull head and skin and more of the Safari lads had harvested a couple of fine trophy Buffalo bulls.
The cumulative total was now; 75 Buffalo, 6 Scrub Bulls and 25 Donkeys
Monday was a half day, so we ventured to the south eastern corner of the property after fence wreckers. We saw a couple of huge Scrub bulls loitering near the boundary.
After two hours of fixing fences and heat our patience was wearing a tad. We sensed the guide was getting frustrated too with the first two Buffalo seen being issued death warrants. Ben and John were suffering in the heat, being a bit slow off the mark. The two bulls were on the move and subsequently shot in quick sequence each receiving a 400gr Hydro from the Ruger, which dropped them initially. Both animals required additional treatment with a second Hydro each. All four Hydro projectiles exited.
Approximately, an hour later we stopped for a break near a billabong where we observed the local bird life while enjoying a cuppa and some caramel slice.
John spotted a decent Buffalo bull in some high timber. The guide glassed the bull with his Leicas and noticed a broken tip. The guide gave John and Ben the go ahead to harvest the bull. However, this bull was very wary and continually evaded John and Ben. The guide and I joined the stalk tracking the bull down to the creek. Retrieving the jeep, the guide collected us then negotiated the creek. On the other side, Ben spotted the bull. John and the guide stalked in with Ben and I following ~75m behind.
The Bull was hit three times in the left side by John’s 416 Rigby in the following sequence; 400gr Woodleigh RNSN, 400gr Barnes TSX and 400gr Woodleigh FMJ,... AND was still going! By this time I had closed the distance and assisted John, who was reloading his 416 magazine, by placing a single 400gr Hydro from the 450/400 3” strategically placed in the derrière. The shot put the beast down, with a final coup de grâce shot from the 416 Rigby. The 400gr Woodleigh Hydro travelled the full length of the bull pulling up under the hide in the lower neck. It came out like a pimple. The 400gr Barnes TSX was also recovered just back from the right shoulder.
Heading in the direction towards camp we encountered a half dozen Brumbies. With the instruction to get stuck into them the first, a brown stallion, succumbed to a 400gr RNSN from the 450/400. With that now ever familiar “chic-ching” of the case ejecting, the Ruger was quickly reloaded, shouldered and fired dropping another stallion. Ben had also opened up with his 450/400, dropping a grey stallion with a single 400gr RNSN. Guide was keen to pursue the remaining animals, so we had to forgo any photos. The other brumbies melted into the bush not to be seen again.
As we neared the final waterway crossing, the jeep was challenged by a Buffalo cow. Ben promptly hit the cow with a quick trio of 400gr FMJs from his Ruger No.1H.
Returning to camp Monday afternoon the entire group all looked as equally stuffed as the next guy, but it was a sense of accomplishment. The remainder of the day was spent boiling out and cleaning heads for packaging.
The final total for the weekend was; 89 Buffalo, 6 Scrub Bulls, 25 Donkeys and 3 Brumbies.
Tuesday morning was leisurely. Following copious amounts of coffee and some breakfast, the trophies and luggage were packed into the mini-van with the group convoy departing the station around 10am.
On the way back to Darwin, we called into Adelaide River for lunch at the 303 Bar and said g’day to Charlie. Arriving in Darwin, we called into TNT freight to ship the trophies back, then into town for a bit of sightseeing and a superb seafood meal washed down with some cleansing ales.
With the trip almost over, bleary eyed, we boarded the Qantas flight back to Sydney, departing at 01:45. I woke 30min out of Sydney and the flight landing at 06:30 local time. It was back to reality.
I had a fantastic time and met some terrific guys. We are already thinking of the next northern outback adventure.