Text and pictures: Vladimir Donchev
Big game hunt in Australia
The stench of decaying flesh was unbearable, as the 106 inch horns of a recently taken buffalo lay stewing in a camp cauldron. The smell had forced us to carry out the remainder of the cleaning procedure on the outskirts of our camp, close to a small but deep local river. I was sure the smell of the stewing buffalo would attract many of the regions crocodiles out from their deep pools, towards the riverbank.
I decided to take a brief break from the cleaning by walking alongside the river, under the palm trees and lianas that had grown near the edge of the deceptively calm water. I had already witnessed the ability of the saltwater crocs to leap out of the water with the whole length of their armor-clad bodies. My walk was not long – I was looking for a place where I could sit and write down my latest adventures with the famous bow hunter, Archie Nesbitt.
I had decided to join Archie on yet another one of his hunting trips in search of new adventures to showcase in his television series the Ultimate shot. Archie’s goal was to set a new world record for hunting water buffalo with a bow. In order to achieve this goal, we had travelled several thousand kilometers to the picturesque land of Australia. Meeting in Sydney, Archie and I were put up in a comfortable hotel, close to the city’s legendary Opera House. (photos 1-5). Safari Season had organized our hunting expedition and fortunately left a day of sightseeing free for us as well. I decided to pick up an infamous boomerang as a souvenir of my trip to the land down under.
We set out early the next morning for our hunting destination, which was situated on a big peninsula jutting out into the Coral Sea, roughly 600 kilometers from the city of Darwin. This would be our staging ground for taking a world record buffalo – or so we hoped! After touching down in Darwin, we wasted no time in keeping with the schedule that had been set by Sani at Safari Season.
Our first destination was the Adelaide River, where we would board a boat to see the big saltwater crocodiles. To Archie’s chagrin, hunting this kind of reptile was banned – a fact we found surprising, given the information we received from the locals about the overpopulation of crocodiles and their attacks on people and animals. The ban on crocodile hunting turned out to be an elaborate smoke and mirrors scheme, meant to deflect the attention of vexatious overseas environmental and animal rights organizations. It turns out that the Australian government issued licenses to dozens of crocodile farms which were allowed to hunt the crocs and use their hides in leather clothing manufacture. This loop hole helped the government curb over population of crocodiles, but was quite disappointing for foreign hunters wanting to get in on the action. Archie would be forced to hunt the large reptiles only with his camera.
The boat we had embarked on to sail the Adelaide was not big, as it could not hold more than twenty passengers. It’s captain was a true sea wolf, complete with a big moustache. The captain was an adept sailor, steering the small boat through overgrown roots and reeds that had overgrown the riverbank and had encroached on the river itself. Armed only with cameras, Archie and I carefully watched the muddy banks of the Adelaide River, looking for any sign of the saltwater crocodiles that we had come to see. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for us to spot the first crocodile basking in the sunlight. It must have been twelve feet in length (photo 6). The captain steered the boat closer and prepared a piece of meat (photos 7-12).
Hanging the meat from a long pole roughly two yards in length, the Captain attempted to lure the crocodile closer towards us. The giant was not tempted. A smaller croc of two feet emerged from hiding, swimming towards the meat. With an awe-inspiring leap, the animal launched itself above the surface of the water, pushing the entire length of its body out of the river as razor sharp teeth tore into the meat and the pole as well. . Astounded by what we saw, Archie and I got ready for its next leap. (photos 13-28). It was incredible to see how this large animal launched the whole length of its body above the water.
Just as we thought we had had our fill of excitement from these amazing flying crocodiles, the boat began to buzz about an enormous animal that had been nicknamed Bruto. Measuring in at over twenty feet, Bruto was known to be the region’s largest crocodile and was actually half the length of our river boat (photos 29-37)! Bruto’s enormous size prevented him from flying out of the water like his smaller brethren, but his magnificence captivated both Archie and myself, as we drew in closer in search of the perfect photograph.
Archie was so engrossed in catching all the details of the jaw of the monster on camera, that he forgot where he was and got so close to the open mouth, that only 30cm separated him from this deadly attraction. Seeing that Archie attracted the monster’s attention, I told him to watch out. Also taking note of the danger was The Captain, who hastily pulled Archie away from the jaws of the monster. Deceived by the proximity of the object in the lens Archie almost became Bruto’s breakfast, but luck was on our side that day.
The boat trip on the Adelaide ended the photographic safari for Archie, as it was time for the bow hunter to get down to business on the next leg of our adventure, which would take us to the uninhabited northern territories known as the Australian Outback. Our camp consisted of a few tents, a bath and a toilet in a huge tin building with a solar water-heating system. There was also a dining area, encircled with a thick green net, which kept the irritating insects outside. Our host, Greg was a great source of knowledge and he provided us with a thorough crash course in Outback basics. The bad news was that the use of alcohol had been banned in the territories because the indigenous aborigine people had not developed a sufficient ability to process spirits. In an effort to be fair to everyone involved, the Australian government thought it best to outlaw the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The second piece of bad news we received was that we were not going to be able to swim in the picturesque river that quietly meandered past our camp as it was teaming with crocodiles! The good news however was that we were on prime hunting grounds, and our host assured us that he was a hunter who succeeded in 100% of his hunting excursions.
I was craving a good night’s rest in a real bed and fortunately I wouldn’t be disappointed by our camp’s ample amenities. As is often the case on our hunting adventures, I was suddenly awoken by the loud cries of a local bird known as the Cacadu whose brilliant yellow hues inspired me to snap a couple of quick photos (photos 44, 46). I concluded my photo shoot when my model ruffled its feathers and took flight, leaving as unexpectedly as it has arrived. After having a quick morning coffee we piled into a jeep that would lead us deep into the bush. We had hardly travelled two miles into the forest when our guide spotted a big buffalo bull in the distance.
Archie jumped off the jeep, taking cover near a strange, flat termite mound before sneaking towards the unsuspecting animal. Before Archie was able to draw his eight pound Mathews Monster bow, the buffalo became aware of our presence due to a shift in the wind. Spotting Archie near the termite mound, the bull decided not to flee but chose to resist the presence of the hunter, impatiently threatening with its horns. Knowing that the termite mound would offer no protection against a charging bull, Archie chose to scare the creature into a retreat by intentionally misfiring a shot in the bull’s vicinity. Fortunately for all of us, the bull was sufficiently frightened by the loud snap of the bow string which had cause the animal to bolt into the nearby bushes.
“There was no way to take the bull down from that angle. I couldn’t shoot him head on, so I had to try to intimidate him.”
Archie had been examining the termite mound with great interest as he spoke about his encounter with the bull. Greg came closer for an inspection as well, mentioning that most of the termite mounds in the area were made in similar fashion – facing south to north.
I asked Archie if he would have survived an attack from the bull. He silently raised his foot and split the termite-mound into two parts with a sudden strike. The raging bull would have charged right through the fragile termite mound on its way to Archie. I shuddered momentarily realizing what little protection Archie had had against the bull. We were all fortunate to have averted the danger of a massive charging animal.
Hoping to find the runaway buffalo, we decided to walk further into the bush. Once we had reached a small clearing, we spotted an enormous female buffalo resting in the shade of some nearby trees with several other animals. Knowing that many of the world’s buffalo records had been set by taking a female of the species, we felt that we had stumbled upon an opportunity to capture a record of our own. Archie surveyed the terrain. He didn’t feel like crossing the clearing, but he had no choice. The wind was unfavorable. He had to crawl through the clearing. Without any more hesitation, the hunter ducked close to the ground and leaning on his bow started creeping on all fours towards the animals. They were watching the approaching four-legged creature with an apparent interest.
Archie used a few small trees for cover that fortunately lay mid-way between him and the buffalos. Lurking underneath the tree trunks, Archie stood on his knees and drew his bow. Within seconds, an arrow had taken flight and we heard the familiar sound of the arrow meeting flesh as the small herd ran off into the forest. We dashed towards the position of the cow just as she took flight from the shock of being struck. Examining the nearby bush, we quickly ascertained that the shot had been successful, as dark blood marked several of the dry palm leaves around us (photos 50-55)
We waited for half an hour before pursuing the blood trail into the bush. We found the deceased buffalo in a clearing, just outside of the forest we had entered in search of its whereabouts, thankfully moving away from the crocodile infested swamp that lay in the vicinity. The shot had been perfect, striking the buffalo’s heart. We took photos and measured its horns which were 84 inches in length – not bad considering the buffalo we had taken wasn’t even a bull! Despite having taken an amazing trophy, our day of hunting was far from over and we were discussing our options with an eye towards trying something completely different. It was suggested that we should try to follow a herd of buffalo across the open plain which formed what seemed like an endless arid expanse of the Outback. This area apparently saw less than ten inches of rainfall during the rainy season.
On our way to our jeep we noticed an unusual movement under the low palm trees in front of us. I looked hard and saw a big black wild boar, which was slowly moving in the shade. Without a word I jogged Archie and pointed at the animal. He readied his bow and slowly, using the tree trunks for cover, started creeping towards the boar. It stopped at the end of the cutting and the hunter took advantage of this moment and moved even closer behind a tree no farther than 50 feet from the burrowing animal.
Archie drew the heavy bow-string and snuck out from the right side of the trunk. The boar, sensing some unusual movement, lifted its head. It, however, did not have enough time to see what was going on because the arrow had taken flight in mere seconds, hitting the boar square in the ribs. In a desperate last grasp at life, the boar attempted to escape, but collapsed a mere ten yards from where we had first discovered it. We were all elated by the unexpected find of such a wonderful boar. I took a picture of the hunter with his trophy – that might have been the first boar of its kind, killed using a bow on this continent. After this unexpected encounter we got into the jeep and headed for the edge of the bush (photos 57-58). We thought we would see a large field or something like that, but the view that revealed itself in front of us after the last palm trees amazed us. An endless plain of cracked clay soil disappeared far into the horizon veiled by a deceptive mirage like effect that suggested water where surely none could be found.
“There are the buffalos”, the words of our guide took us out of our stupor and we eagerly started staring at the small black dots appearing and disappearing on the horizon (photos 59-61). During the next few hours it took us a lot of effort to stay in the jeep which was bumping over the uneven, hard as a rock soil, cut by enormous cracks (photos 62-64). Despite all of that there were only 100 yards between us and the buffalos which were grazing on scattered yellow grasses of the region. A canal, winding like a snake around the edges of the plain protected the animals from our advance. We tried to find a narrower place where the jeep could cross the muddy waters. Croc trails dotted the bank which made a crossing by foot impossible. After finding a suitable place for us to cross the canal, our guide stepped on the gas, yelling “hang on tight” as he propelled the car forward.
The car started jumping like a grasshopper over the lumps of hard clay. We hit the water like a surfer clutching to a tidal wave, managing to make it to the other side, only to get stuck in the muddy surface of the river bank! As our guides attempted to free the vehicle from its muddy shackles, Archie spotted a perfect water buffalo only 180 yards from where we had forded the river (photos 65-60). Half sunk in muddy water, the buffalo hadn’t decided whether or not to flee from us. Archie raised his bow, attempting to imitate the buffalo. Not fooled by the rouse, the water buffalo quickly fled the scene.
At the end of the day we reached the trees on the horizon and were surprised to find out that behind them spread the endless water tract of the Coral sea. The mangrove trees, growing in the salty water were creating a strange labyrinth with their tall roots in which the waves crashed. Our guides warned us to not even think about stepping into the tempting blue waters as they were home to three of the deadliest kinds of water snakes; enormous salt-water crocodiles and four kinds of man-eating sharks! Our guides further mentioned that the local sea was teeming with paralyzing jellyfish, as if we needed to be further dissuaded from taking a swim!
The next two days that followed were fairly uneventful, each ending with us returning to camp empty handed. While we had failed to claim a new trophy over these two days, a deepening sense of adventure was growing as an “us against nature” feeling had set in. It had dawned on me that the Australian Outback was an unforgiving environment of dried and cracked plains where one could neither swim safely when one encountered water nor enjoy a cold bottle of beer back at camp! Despite these flaws, there was an indescribable beauty to the landscape that I will remember forever.
We decided to start the next day out on foot, hoping to encounter a wild boar or buffalo among the palm trees near our camp (photos 91-96). I was surprised to learn that many of the regions palm trees were older than the oldest trees in the nearby forests. After spending a couple of hours walking along the river bank, we decided to turn back towards our camp, ducking in and creeping amongst the vegetation when we spotted a herd of buffalo in front of us. Archie began creeping, but suddenly burst out into a flurry of movement, striking his back and legs with sharp movements. I suddenly realized what had gotten into Archie when I felt a stinging pain in my left leg. We were under attack by a group of green ants! Aborigines considered them a delicacy as they apparently had a citrus-like flavor.
While insignificant in stature, our enemy was very effective in diverting our attention away from the herd of buffalos (photos 97-101). The commotion had alerted the buffalos to our presence and they quickly fled the scene. With the sun coming down we decided it would be best to return to camp (photos 102-105). We were disheartened after two days of fruitless hunting, but our mood quickly changed when we stumbled upon a beautiful black boar only fifteen yards in front of us. Archie wasted no time in skewering the boar with an arrow, just as three more came into the clearing where we stood. The boar had been attracted by rock-hard red colored fruit that littered the ground. They were so pre-occupied with acquiring their delicious treasure that they failed to take notice of us.
Archie fired another arrow, knocking the second boar over before it rose to run, only to collapse twenty yards from where we stood. We were pleased to have taken two boars unexpectedly ending our hunting drought. It was already quite dark and if we wanted to sleep in the camp instead of the wild we had to return quickly. We used what little light remained in the day to guide us back to the safety of our camp (photos 106-108).
We were full of renewed hope and vigor the next morning at dawn when we decided to return the location of last night’s boar hunt. Once we had reached our destination, we decided to quickly survey the area, spotting a beautiful trophy of a buffalo just yards away from us. Archie began to creep and as he did so, I couldn’t help but remember yesterday’s unfortunate encounter with the green ants. Lady Luck smiled on us today, as we were given this tremendous opportunity to take one of the buffalo that had eluded us the day before. Archie drew his bow, quickly releasing his shot. The creature barely reacted to the arrow piercing its flesh. Time appeared to stop as the buffalo turned to flee, but collapsed to the ground before taking its second step.
We were pleased with having taken our second cow, but we were still hoping to find the ultimate trophy to conclude our hunting adventure in Australia. As the day was still very young, we decided to move towards the near-by plains in search of one last trophy. Could we top the buffalo that we had just taken? We certainly hoped so, but time was running out on us.
Luck appeared to be on our side this day, as we saw a magnificent buffalo immediately upon arriving on the plains. This buffalo had an unusual set of horns that set it aside from the other animals in its herd. Archie jumped out of the jeep with a fluid motion and, together, we started creeping under the cover of the dry grass. (photos 109-121). We managed to come within 80 yards of the buffalo, but it was then that our streak of luck ran out. The buffalo spotted us among the sparse grasses and broke into a run. We followed it, ducking low. The animal stopped its retreat in order to observe us with great interest. We moved closer into range, only to once again set the buffalo into flight. The repetitive nature of this exercise was beginning to frustrate us both, so Archie decided that he was going to take a long distance shot.
Once again, on all fours, the hunter moved as far as the buffalo would allow him to. Archie drew his bow with hesitation, but it was now or never. Just when I expected the shot, the buffalo turned and walked to the right, thus moving closer to the hunter. Archie waited for the best position and shot. The arrow hissed and pierced the flesh 10 inches above the buffalo’s shoulder. For a moment I even thought it went straight through its body.
Frightened by the strike of the arrow, the buffalo jumped and broke into a run. After about a hundred yards it started walking, and a bit later it stopped. Its wheezing cough meant that the arrow had pierced its lungs. The big animal reeled and fell to the ground. I couldn’t believe it – no more than 40 seconds had passed from the time of the shot to the moment the giant animal fell to the ground.
I jumped in excitement and exchanged a vigorous congratulatory handshake with Archie, as we waited for the Professional Hunter to come along with his gun. Once he arrived, we moved closer to this unique trophy specimen. The horns were almost 106 inches long! We were elated because we had not only finally managed to take the trophy that we wanted most, but this achievement also meant that we would no longer have to return to the harsh desert landscape on this adventure.
We were all happy with this successful hunt. I had unique photos enough for several episodes of “Ultimate Shot” and Archie had his trophy, which would probably be written in under number two in the Safari Club record book. “Safari Season” had organized another 100% successful hunting expedition for Archie in his quest for the “Ultimate Shot”.