Last July Jim Conrad and I set off for an eight-day trip to Australia to hunt the Outback. The outfitters name was Karl Goodhand, owner of Goodhand Outback Experience. Karl has been hunting the Outback since he was a small boy and made his name in the Northern Territories of Australia as one of the stars of a reality TV show called Outback Hunters, a TV program similar to our Swamp People TV series. The species on our hunting menu were Rusa Deer, Australian Banteng, Asian Buffalo, Scrub bull and a bunch of other feral critters such as pigs, donkeys, horses and Dingos.
We booked our flights with Steve Turner of Travel with Guns departing from Los Angeles straight through to Brisbane where we cleared customs and checked our rifles through Darwin. Australia’s critters are big and tough and close targets so it’s a perfect place for big bores. I brought my .470 NE and a .375 H&H and eleven pounds of ammo (the airlines did weigh the ammo). Jim brought his .375 H&H and his .300 Win Mag. From Brisbane, we switched planes and flew another four hours to Darwin where we were met by Karl. Going through Brisbane was a flat out mistake. Customs agents in Brisbane are not gun friendly and went out of their way to make things difficult—particularly on the out bound flight. I would recommend going through Sydney for anyone interested in hunting Australia.
Karl picked us up at the airport and drove us to his parent’s lodge a couple of hours east on the Arnhem Highway. Karl’s father and mother own a resort called the Wildman’s Wilderness Lodge (wildmanwildernesslodge.com.au) which is located at the edge of the Kakadu National Park tucked in the Mary River wetlands areas (see map). When we got there, I was pleasantly surprised because this lodge was not a hunting lodge but rather a first-class tourist resort with nice cabins, bungalows, a full-service restaurant and bar, pool and air strip. There weren’t vary many planes flying in and heaps of Wallabies and Cockatoos made the air strip their play yard. Hundreds of tourists come each year to tour the Outback to see the Billabong crocodiles, painted rocks and lots of different birds. Karl’s Mom and Dad were hosting the whole time and they were very friendly and hospitable. If you just wanted to visit Australia for an Outback nature tour and forget about the hunting this would still be a fabulous trip.
After arriving at the resort and unpacking our stuff, we took a short drive out to a cashew farm owned by Karl’s friend to site in our guns. The guns were fine and on our way back to the lodge Karl pulled off to this same friend’s ranch to hunt Rusa Deer. Karl knew there were a couple nice shooters on this ranch and we spotted both of them feeding together out in the alfalfa. Karl and I crept up to within 200 yards of the pair and I took one down with my .375. The other deer boogied off but was still in the neighborhood and Jim and Karl went after him but ultimately the deer outsmarted them and got away.
After the evening hunt, we came back to the lodge and ate dinner at their restaurant which included fried crocodile and kangaroo appetizers and a famous local fish entry called Barramundi which was splendid. The next morning Jim and I both woke up at 4:00 am to get ready to go hunt Banteng. We found out very quickly that nothing happens in Australia until after 10:00 am. Breakfast isn’t served until 7:00 am and people don’t even roll into the joint until half past 8:00. We ate breakfast and then sat around counting Wallabies on the air strip waiting to head out for Banteng. This waiting around stuff drove Jim and I crazy–like most American hunters, we are accustomed to waking up before the crack of dawn only to find out no one in Australia starts hunting until after the crack of noon. It took us the entire 8 days to get used to sleeping in.
Around 10:00 am we boarded a chopper owned by Karl’s friend Norm, the same fellow who owned the cashew farm and the game ranch to take a ninety-minute flight out to the Cobourg Peninsula to hunt Australian Banteng. Banteng, or Bali cattle were introduced to the Cobourg Peninsula in Australia back in the mid 1800’s by European settlers. Later, when the settlers abandoned the area they let the Banteng loose to run wild. Over the years, the feral population has thrived and the Cobourg Peninsula is the only place in the world where they can be legally hunted. Karl operates one of the two Banteng concessions right outside the Cobourg National Park where the Banteng crisscross in and out of the park. The chopper set us down after we spotted some herds of Banteng. The terrain was flat and dry. There was plenty of bush, small trees and palms scattered all over the place and grasslands as well. There were also miles of dried up mud flats which had been pocked by deep cow tracks making walking extremely dangerous. We went on numerous stocks but we couldn’t get on any mature bulls and after three hours walking in the blistering heat we got back in the chopper to find a shooter bull.
Norm the chopper pilot, was a wild man zig zagging and swinging that chopper all over the place. While I was having a ball Jim was more concerned about his failing constitution and started turning green. We finally spotted a shooter bull grazing just outside the edge of some thick bush. Norm whipped the chopper around and put it down a few hundred yards away down wind of the bull. The only thing separating us from the bull was about 500 yards of ankle busting dried up mud flats and some thick bush. I grabbed my .470 and we made our way to the bull. Sneaking through the trees and bush we spotted him and the sticks came out at about 80 yards. I aimed high on his shoulder and let a round go. The bull hunched up and tried to make a run but the bullet placement was lethal and he fell over stone cold dead 10 yards from impact. The autopsy showed that the bullet dropped from my aim point at the shoulder down through his heart just near the elbow of his front leg. With time pressing on us we took some quick photos and got back in the chopper to find Jim’s Banteng.
Jim was a little worn out so he took the driven hunt option which I will explain. First we had to find the game from the chopper. It didn’t take long for Norm and Karl to find a nice bull with cows and calves milling about in the thick bush. Norm put us down in a clearing and then took off to find the heard and use the chopper to drive them into us – hence the term “driven hunt”. This is a perfectly normal hunting strategy in Aussie land akin to “mustering cattle” and neither of us had any objection as it was getting late and we were tired. As Norm was whirling about herding the Banteng over to us, I was standing behind Karl and Jim videoing the action. Then, out of the bush came the cows and calves and the shooter bull running full steam right at us. Jim fired a .375 round right into his shoulder dropped him within 20 yards of us. After the photo shoot, we had to start thinking about getting back to the lodge before we ran out of daylight. Because of the added weight from the Banteng and the need to gas up, what followed was the craziest chopper ride we had ever been on. Although I think it was quite tame for Aussie standards, Norm took Jim and I on a five-minute hell bent trip about 20 to 50 feet off the ground at max speed over to a fuel drop we had left on the way in. I thought it was like an “E” ticket at Disneyland but Jim got sick and tossed his cookies. Norm went back to pick up the trophies, meat and Karl and then picked us up to haul us back to the Wildman Lodge. When Norm saw Jim’s condition he remarked, “sorry mate, if I knew you were going to get sick I would have gone a little easier on the chopper!”
The next morning, we packed up our gear into Karl’s pick up and headed out on a six-hour drive to the buffalo concession. Half of it south bound on the paved Stuart Highway (HWY 1) and then the other half on a dirt road south west to a 750,000-acre cattle ranch in Wombungi Station. It turned out that the cattle ranch was also owned by Norm, our crazy, but very competent helicopter pilot. Before we took the turn onto the dirt road we stopped in a village called Pine Creek at a quaint Outback Tavern called the Lazy Lizard Caravan Park to get gas and a bite to eat. This tavern was decorated in old Outback tradition—kind of like an old Arizona saloon complete with a player-piano, wagon relics and other old west décor but with Aboriginal painted Asian Buffalo skulls instead of Native American Indian painted Buffalo skulls. It also had a small reptile house that had many snakes and lizards to view. Moving on, we pulled into buffalo camp just before dusk and had enough time to get settled into Karl’s Outback Camp. Jim and I shared a steel framed bunk house with mesh side panels and canvas roof. The mess hall and bar were similarly constructed and Karl always made sure we had a blazing campfire to shoot the breeze after dinner. We got a good night sleep and began our hunt for Asian Buffalo. Like the Banteng, the Asian Buffalo were also introduced as a food source by settlers in the Northern Territories of Australia by back in the mid 1800’s. The buffalo adapted extremely well to their new environment and over population has become a problem. The Auzzies have programs currently in place to cull and capture buffalo for food export for the Malaysian Market and of course hunting is promoted as well. Jim shot his first Buffalo on the second day killing a nice trophy animal that scored around 96. After skinning Jim’s buffalo, we were back on the trails and we spotted a great big buff sleeping under a tree. We put a stock on him and got within 30 yards of him. The buffalo stood up and squared off on us holding his ground. The shot I had was a little difficult because that buffalo was facing us straight on and not moving. His huge sweeping horns made it very difficult to get a lethal shot off. We didn’t want to spook him off so we slowly side stepped over enough where I could get a small angle on him. I aimed at the crease between his front shoulder and his neck and dropped him with one shot. He had a very impressive rack and Karl scored him at 110 points. After seeing my buffalo Jim was a little disappointed with his and asked Karl to find him a bigger one. Karl didn’t think this would be possible but agreed to try. The next couple of days we didn’t have much success finding Jim’s monster bull but we had a lot of fun culling feral donkeys, pigs and we even dispatched a couple of dingoes. There are thousands of these destructive species on the ranch and Norm demanded that we help reduce the populations of these invasive species (we were only too glad to lend a hand). With a couple days left to hunt we were still in search of Jim’s monster buffalo when I spotted a nice heard. Karl slammed the breaks and barked at Jim to get his rifle. The heard busted us and the cows, calves and young males stampeded out of there but the big heard bull hesitated for a few seconds. Jim followed Karl to the sticks and got a shot off and made a hit as the bull turned to run. The bull ran off and it looked like Jim might lose his bull. From my perspective it looked like Jim shot the bull in the butt. We wasted no time tracking him and lucky for Jim that butt shot started slowing the bull down until the bull couldn’t run any longer. The bull laid down about 400 yards from where Jim first shot him. Jim quickly put the wounded animal out of his misery and Karl scored him at 112 points! That son of a gun Jim said he was going to get bigger bull than me and he did! The only problem with Jim’s buffalo is he killed him deep into the bush where we had no truck access. We had to skin and butcher that 2000-pound beast and carry him out of the bush back to the truck which wasn’t much fun but fortunately, Karl did most of the heavy lifting.
The last day of the hunt we decided to go for another wild Australian bovine–the scrub bull. These are feral cattle derived from English Hartford stock first brought into Australia back in the 1800’s. Settler’s also brought other breeds of cattle but the ones we were looking for were the red and white Hartford variety subsisting way out in the bush. These animals are pests and the cattle ranchers do not want them breeding with their prized Brahman cattle.
To get to the game we had to get Norm to take us on another helicopter ride deep into the bush were there was no vehicular access. Karl spotted a lone bull feeding in the bush and Norm set the chopper down far enough away as not to startle him. We crept up on him and got about 50 yards away. The bull was oblivious to us while grazing behind a tree. We waited about five minutes until the bull cleared the tree and I let him have it with the 470. He bucked and ran a bit and then fell over quite dead. This scrubby turned out to be a huge specimen and I was pleased with the results. We took pictures and shook hands but there was no time to waste as Jim had to get his scrubby. With the chopper laden with four guys and my scrub bull trophy and a load of meat, Norm had a little difficulty gaining lift. It took some doing to get the air under our blades but once we got some altitude we were on our way again. Karl found another nice Scrub bull and Jim’s Scrub hunt went pretty much like mine with success. With Jim’s trophy added to the chopper we had even more trouble getting airborne but Norm flies a chopper as effortlessly as most of us drive our cars and he eventually figured out the wind and got us back to camp in one piece.
To recap, in a lot of ways this was truly an adventurous hunt. Australia is a very interesting county and is kind of a throwback to an older era. Unlike the country side of New Zealand with its perfect picturesque scenery and immaculately groomed landscape, the Australian Outback is like the old rustic wild west and the Florida swamp lands rolled into one. Karl Goodhand, worked extremely hard to make sure everything went smoothly. There were virtually no surprises from the moment he met us at the airport in Darwin to the day he dropped us off at the airport. The camp was clean and the facilities were well built. The cook and staff were very friendly and food was great and the game was bountiful. Karl was always looking for the biggest trophy to hunt and there were no unforeseen “extras” or nickel and dime charges. The chopper was included in the hunt cost and we used it quite a bit. Karl basically ran the whole operation and between him, the cook and a couple of other camp hands they took care of the accommodations, meals, laundry, transportation, trophy prep and anything else you could think of to our satisfaction and all the while they seemed like they enjoyed the hunt as much as we did. One of the best things about the hunt is we really got to use our big bore rifles. I was happy I brought my 470-double rifle and for the first time I got to use it a lot—and not just for the big game but on the cull animals as well. Unlike Africa–where, for me, the double is a specialty rifle for use on certain big 5 dangerous game animals–in Australia I used my double as my primary weapon for most game and I was hunting with it every day. We brought 80 rounds of ammo each and used just about all of it! Lastly, the trophy prep was great and we got our trophies back to the US in about 3 months. There are dozens of Auzzie outfitters and it can be a difficult decision on who to hunt with but after hunting with Karl I wouldn’t bother with any of the other guys. For more information please contact Karl at Karl Goodhand firstname.lastname@example.org. Karl is also a member of SCI international and exhibits at the national convention.
Josh Zigman serves as the Vice President of the San Diego Chapter of Safari Club International
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