Top End, top location
Hunting the Northern Territory is like nowhere else, says John Dunn
When hunters talk about game in the Northern Territory, buffaloes and pigs are the species which generally come to the fore and given the amount of attention they’ve traditionally received in the shooting press that’s probably not surprising. Add the big factor to the mix and you could be forgiven for thinking they’re the only game the Territory has to offer a travelling hunter, which isn’t the case. For those with an eye for diversity there’s a great deal more on offer so let’s start with the obvious and work our way down the list.
These are the largest game animals in Australia which makes them an attractive proposition for a lot of hunters. They’re common in many places and their numbers seem to be increasing, especially in some of the more remote areas they inhabit which means there are plenty of opportunities to hunt them and while there are usually costs involved, anyone who really wants to take a trophy buffalo can generally find a way to make it happen.
I love hunting buffalo and since I first aerially culled and ground hunted them in 1986 I’ve chased them through swamps, on dry dusty flatlands, along watercourses and in rocky hill country. Numbers may vary according to the time of day and vagaries of season but there aren’t many places the big bovines won’t live provided they have access to adequate feed and water – and they’re happy to travel for both.
Every now and then someone will claim hunting buffaloes is a bit like shooting cattle in a paddock and it can be, as meat hunters who routinely shoot their animals from the seat of a truck well know. Trophy hunters can do the same thing in some areas if they want to but that isn’t hunting, it’s shooting and there’s a world of difference between the two. Using a vehicle to cover ground and find animals is one thing, using a vehicle as a shooting platform another.
To hunt buffaloes you have to jump out and walk and that’s generally a game-changer in terms of being easy – some will run away from an approaching hunter and a short stalk can become a long walk in fairly quick order. Others will run towards a hunter perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps with the intent of expressing a certain level of discontent at the hunter’s intrusion into their personal space and the latter seems to be especially true of herd bulls with cows and calves to defend.
Don’t be conned by their seemingly placid nature – if a buffalo decides to have a piece of you for whatever reason there’s a pretty good chance it will press home the point. It doesn’t happen all the time but often enough to keep savvy hunters on their toes and that’s what makes buffalo hunting so interesting – you’re out there with intent and you never quite know what’s likely to happen.
Like buffaloes, scrub bulls tend to be under-rated as a big game animal. Where they’ve been hunted hard, most will disappear at the first sight of humans or vehicles and when they decide to cover ground they really do – they’re big animals with long legs and a turn of speed that would make a racehorse envious. Others seem to object to being looked over or chased and may decide to come and ask you what your intentions really are, especially if you’re on foot as you should be. Either way they need to be treated with a great deal of respect. Not all scrub bulls carry big sets of horns but regardless of size they know how to use them. Bulls do fight and over the years I’ve seen them carrying some fairly horrific injuries which would undoubtedly stop a lesser animal.
They’re tough in more ways than one so are a good reason to ensure an adequate calibre with premium bullets like the dependable Outer Edge copper offerings is used and properly placed to reduce the possibility of unwanted dramas. Not everyone wants a scrub bull in their trophy room but they’re part of the Australian hunting collection and even if you only ever target them once, the experience is one you won’t forget.
For a long time these were the premium big game animal in the Top End, mostly due to the remoteness of the Cobourg Peninsula where legal access was essentially limited to guided hunts. A guided banteng outing still isn’t cheap but the money you spend should set you up with a trophy that’ll hold its own in any display room around the world. Bantengs are big, beautiful animals which demand and are mostly afforded a great deal of respect. They’ve a reputation for being aggressive and though I’ve never seen that in them I’ve no doubt it could be the case.
They’re a wonderful animal to hunt. Where they live is remote and sparsely inhabited, country as old as time itself and for the most part untouched except by the traditional owners who’ve lived there and cared for the land from time immemorial. It’s a special place to be treated with respect as do the bantengs which call it home. I’ve been fortunate to hunt bantengs on the Cobourg twice and will return the first chance I have.
The Top End is home to some large pigs which can be hunted in a number of ways. Using dogs is a traditional and popular hunting technique but I’d suggest bow and rifle hunters probably account for the largest number by deliberately targeting specific areas of habitat, opportunistically when hunting other game or by drawing pigs to specific locations with the use of bait stations.
I’ve always enjoyed hunting pigs over bait stations as when properly set up and maintained they encourage animals to congregate in accessible areas where they can either be culled or selectively hunted for the biggest and best boars. Unfortunately biggest and best aren’t always complementary, something I learned to appreciate when I was guiding for Hunt Australia in the Top End years ago.
We shot a lot of really big pigs but didn’t take a lot of really big tusks, the best set I ever saw coming from a rather scrawny animal most hunters would have passed over in favour of something larger. He was shot by an Austrian client over a bait station when he wandered in early one morning and it wasn’t until we put the binoculars on him we realised just how good he was. His extracted tusks were thick and long with extensive grind lengths which put the final score a long way into double figures and if memory serves he was a record of some sort for several years. Personally I’ve never shot a really big set of tusks in the Top End but always try and one of these days might just be lucky.
These are a species landholders seem to either love or loathe. They’re big and tough and hunting them will take you into some of the more arid areas which is an adventure in itself. The trophy is their skull which is rather impressive when properly cleaned up and the teeth are amazing and while I’ve only ever shot one bull, I’ve never felt the need to go back for another.
Ducks and geese
I don’t shoot ducks or geese but there’s plenty of opportunity there for those who do. Hunting the Top End is a rewarding experience which few people will only do once. It’s a place of opportunity and for those with a sense of adventure there’s no better destination.