A Bowhunting Adventure – Down Under: Part I

Heavy arrows, strong bows,  massive buffalos

By: Juha Kylmä

Australia: It is far away and the hunter has to drive or fly long distances in order to hunt various game species. Buffalos in North, deer in the east and so on… far from each other.

Seven of the ten most poisonous snakes of the world lives there. One can’t go swimming in whichever river or pond, because huge delta crocodiles, up to 7 – 8 meters may lurk for the foolhardy. Lethal spiders, jellyfish, sharks and other not so nice critters may lay in ambush, in any given bush, grass, puddle or treacherously even in your shoe.

Life size statue of one of the biggest crocodiles killed in Australia. Weight over 2 tons.

Yes, all that is true in principle. The poison amount of a single Taipan is enough to kill a hundred people, or a couple of 13.000-pound African elephants. But, surprisingly the horses, cows, home dogs, kangaroos and such are Australia’s most dangerous animals. Only a couple of people per year die of the snake’s bites. Between 2000 –2010, almost 80 people died in horse accidents, the cows and big kangaroos kill careless car drivers, home dogs may lethally bite and the bees kill about ten people per year. So, hunting amongst those lethal critters is safer than gardening in the home yard.

Bow hunting is a popular, all-year activity in Australia. There are plenty of feral species in the country brought by Captain Cook and others, centuries ago. Pigs, buffalos, wild cattle, camels, donkeys, horses and many others inhabit abundantly around the country. Furthermore, several deer species have been introduced to Australia. Many species, especially pigs, are a threat to the nature. There is broadly the same amount of pigs as the people in the country. The population in 2016 was 24 million and there are more than 23 million pigs in spite of the active culling. There are no trophy fees for feral pigs for understandable reasons.

Grasshopper bush camp

Some hunting destinations are more appealing than others – for one reason or another. One of my own favorites is Australia. The bowhunting is thrilling there, plenty of action and opportunities. In Australia, one does not usually sit and wait, instead the hunter will actively spot and stalk. There are normally various stalking opportunities every day. Still the bowhunter often draws the short straw, as one needs to get so close. However, there will be more kills due to abundant game numbers and shooting possibilities than in most other places.

Artsi, Arttu and I spent the first two nights in Darwin and then we flew to the McArthur River mine. Mick Baker from the Trophy Bowhunts Australia packed us and our equipment to his Land Cruiser.

On our way to camp we grabbed some take away breakfasts from Borroloola, and rumbled the challenging roads, which sometimes disappeared under water or just simply disappeared, towards the Grasshopper bush camp.

Bush camp in Grasshopper

At the camp, we had roomy mosquito net tends on the shore of a beautiful pond. It was better not to go swimming in the pond – there was a crocodile laying on the sandy shore and surprisingly we also found a dead, sun dried shark on the shore.  In the camp, there were all the conveniences, such as electricity, refrigerators, freezers, the kitchen sink, with running water, a shower and a tidy bush camp restroom.

Heavy arrows, strong bows

The first part of our hunt took place in Northern territory, where the water buffalos roam and where also the scrub bulls are abundant. After the buffalo hunt we would drive 1120 miles to Queensland’s Cape York to hunt the wild boar.

When the bows and arrows had been test shot in the Rinehart cube, we were off for the bush, I with the new guide Tyler Chubb and Artsi and Arttu with Mick.

Because I had already shot two buffalos and three scrub bulls on earlier trips to Down Under, my only wish was to bag a big, old buffalo bull with long, worn out horns.

We slalomed among the scrub trees and high, grey termitariums in the Land Cruiser and left the car in the shade of trees which seemed like a good idea because in spite of midwinter the sun shone hotly and the thermometer of the compass showed 91 Fahrenheit or 33 Celsius.

When the shades lengthened, we found the first buffalos. Huge grey animals roamed on wide open grassland towards denser trees. A good bull, with a few buffalo cows and fairly large calves was slowly browsing head down and tail swinging. Its horns spread far and curved backwards but the tips were fairly sharp. The bull was not very old even though it was big and handsome.

The big buffalo bull may weigh over a ton (1000 kg) and its vital area is excellently protected with thick skin and broad, massive ribs which are nearly touching each other. It indeed is necessary to equip with an efficient bow and arrows which are heavier than ordinary ones.

Tyler looked at me as asking what do I want to do? I nodded to sign that I was interested in this individual even though it was not quite like the one I had dreamed of. We began to circle the herd fairly rapidly under the wind to get in front of them.

Evening got dimmer when the clock approached six p.m. Buffalos roamed promisingly toward our hide in a dry streambed. The distance was less than 45 yards, but the bull kept quartering toward us. The herd was heading toward us on a “well beaten” path which crossed through the streambed on our left – just under the wind. I descended onto coarse gravel on my knees. The sharp gravel edges burnt my bare knees when I tried to pull the string back while the bull kept descending to the bed at a distance of less than 20 yards. The buffalo paced with the heavy head down and turned his big round nostrils in our direction. Dry sand and stones blew about when the monster turned and left back to where it came from.

In the camp, we heard Artsi’s story of his thrilling and successful stalk. The heavy arrow had hit where it was aimed and the penetration of his extra heavy FMJ-arrow was good.

Artsi’s nice bull down.

 

Buffalo skull in the bull bar

In the morning of the second hunting day, the alarm clock rang at 5.30. It was still pretty dark, but the pond below the tends took shape through the mosquito net and I heard a strong splash when our crocodile neighbor lunged at a careless victim.

Mick and Tyler were already making coffee and toasting breads for a light breakfast.

This time Arttu was to leave with Tyler whereas I and Artsi were in the company of Mick.

The guide’s trained eyes usually perceived the animals from far away, so far and from so little signs that it was sometimes difficult for us to notice the animal even when it was pointed to us. So, we soon stalked a big buffalo. I remained  monitoring Artsi’s approach further away. Due to the open terrain, the progress was slow and sometimes the guide and the hunter stood behind chubby trunks for long whiles. A rough and really wild looking scrub bull approached to quench his thirst at a sandy pond without a clue of the hiding hunters. I prepared to shoot photos and the possible shot, in case Artsi could not resist the temptation to utilize the offering situation. The, at least 1500-pound ox, which looked like a bison, did not scent us as we were hiding under the wind. It paced relaxedly to a distance of less than twenty yards to drink. Artsi kept in the buffalo plan, so I shot the bull several times with my camera.

The buffalo situation progressed extremely slowly. Artsi was eventually within the bow distance but had to wait for a better angle and situation. There was a small group of other buffalos with the big bull so one had to be wary of the nostrils, eyes and ears of several animals which made the situation really thrilling.

The buffalo group began to move and the big bull circled Mick and got eventually behind Artsi, thus getting the disgusting smell of human to its nostrils. Artsi tried to turn to the shooting position on his knees, but the bull rumbled away flattening down the small trees with the five-foot-wide horns. Even though the finale failed to come true, we were thrilled due to such a special hunting experience.

Arttu and Tyler had soon jumped into a few buffalos and were able to stalk in for a trophy class bull. Their situation developed fast into the advantage of the bowhunter and as a proof of which we saw the skull of the buffalo with wide horns in the bull bar of the Land Cruiser.

 

Over a ton of muscle and bone

We had seen some really exceptionally handsome buffalos in the morning and evening, but the extremely careful and experienced bulls kept the shot angle impossible and distance long.

After the morning walk on the third day, we drove in a holy place of the Aboriginals where Mick had been given the permission to take us.

On the dry and sandy desert, a verdant unbelievably beautiful oasis with sharp red rock walls was found. We paddled in an aluminum jollyboat across the pond and climbed to the deep pond up the stony rapids. The water, warmed by the volcanic soil, rushed hard into the pond forming a handsome waterfall.

All five of us dove into the shower warm water and swam under the waterfall. We climbed on the stones and we let the rushing warm water rub our tired muscles. We discussed how much money would be needed for buying this kind of a place and we end up in the fact that hopefully no one does. 

After the swimming trip and hamburgers, we were in the bush again. This time I with Mick. We followed a sandy riverbed. There was a lot of water in the deep streams and we had to look sometimes for a crossing spot. Suddenly, I was spooked by a buffalo rushing from the water while concentrated on looking for a crossing place. Over a ton of meat and bone flew lightly over the sand bank and disappeared in the bush in a short moment.

To us from the northern hemisphere the sun in the big sky seemed to travel in the wrong direction and it began to approach the horizon, but there was still light enough.

Mick noticed a black figure standing amongst light paperbark trees. My 8,5 X 42 Swarovski proved the black beast was the one I was looking for – old, big, worn out horns with the signs of long life. I secured that the direction of the wind had remained correct with my Bohning Wind Check bottle and the slow approaching began. The buffalo began to walk away and we had to speed up  a little. Fortunately, the country was full of slates over which it was easy to move silently. Mick lowered the massive big game rifle from his shoulder –just in case.

The distance remained too long in spite of our quiet sprints but eventually the buffalo turned and began to approach. The light breeze of the wind was still from the right direction and we were able to creep closer to where our courses would intersect. I nocked the arrow and chose the best shooting lane between the small trees. The situation developed according to my wishes and the massive body approached the spot where I would pull the string back. When the buffalo’s massive head and eyes disappeared behind a tree, I drew my Hoyt Defiant Turbo. Phew, what a huge animal, I thought! Mick whispered: “27 yards.” The arrow sank up to its Bohning Heat Vanes into the thick chest letting out a loud ‘THWAK’, quite as it would have hit to some metal target. The buffalo rushed toward the river, hopefully it would not get to the water. After a moment, the run ended and the bull was swaying before it fell on its side. We patted each other on the shoulder, still extremely excited, repeating the events quietly.

Author with his big bull.

I opened a hole in the hit section in order to study the rib cage anatomy. The end of the broken arrow shaft was seen in the middle of the rib and two blade German Kinetic broadhead had slashed a vertical hole in the bone. It was indeed hard work to cut the thick clayey skin and the knife became quickly blunt. The ribs were about 2,5-inch wide and really massive. There was hardly any space between them. In other words, the arrow needs to penetrate the tough bone shield and travel deep in the chest cavity in order to punch both lungs.

Bullfighting

We saw several buffalos every day – there are over 300 000 of them in the Northern Territory. This part of the trip had fulfilled my dreams and I was now able to follow and photograph Artsi’s and Arttu’s adventures. Both naturally wanted to continue hunting when they were on the hunting grounds of this kind for the first time. Artsi was after another buffalo and he indeed succeeded and he also bagged a big wild boar as a bonus. In turn Arttu wanted to hunt a big scrub bull.

Shortly, I managed to video the really exciting scrub bull hunt of Arttu’s. The local hunters say that the scrub bulls are angrier and more dangerous than the buffalos. They easily set the careless hunter free from their worries and debts.

We found a good scrub bull – evenly brown, massive like a bison. The long and slow stalk began. The bull lay in the shade and there was not sufficient cover to approach the giant. Tyler and Arttu stood behind a fat tree surely for over half an hour waiting for the bull to rise up. As this was not going to happen too soon Tyler lay down on the ground and started to roll slowly sideways. This way he was able to proceed really undetected, the whole body firmly against the ground. After reaching a good spot, he started throwing small sticks to get the bulls attention. Finally, the bull became alert and got up. Fortunately, it started heading toward Arttu. The situation progressed in the best possible way and I saw that Arttu was drawing his bow. The arrow pierced cleanly through the whole chest just above the foreleg. The bull seemed to show no reaction to the hit. He rather wanted to find out who disturbed its rest. Tyler raised the rifle – just in case. Arttu nocked another arrow and shot again. After some exciting and maybe a somewhat scary moments the bull ran 50-60 yards and collapsed.

Arttu and his big boy

After a hot sack shower in the cozy bush camp, we cooked some really massive scrub bull tenderloins. The long heavy back straps were hanging on the branches of the nearby tree and the handsome buffalo skull was boiling on the fires in a 52-gallon barrel.

NEXT: DOWN UNDER ADVENTURES – PART II

 

 

 

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