Adventures in Oz

Wild Hogs in AustraliaThe early morning mist drifted through the paperbark swamp giving their twisted trunks a hint of surreal menace. Incessant and raucous calls of the cockatoos echoed through the foliage as Ted and I stalked slowly and quietly, working our way along the reedbeds of Ferris swamp in search of wild hogs. "This sure isn’t anything like Kansas, Toto" I thought to myself as I moved along . I was right, it was actually the wildest of outback areas in Australia, the Holroyd river basin on the Cape York Peninsula. We were hunting with crossbows for wild boar and scrub bulls with Greg Harrold of Far Out Safaris within a few miles of the continents most northerly point. Each day we would see hundreds of the long legged feral hogs that inhabit this dry, dusty environment. Occasionally big boars would be among them, and we were now stalking in search of them through my favorite hunting ground on the largest swamp for miles. Dark shadows would occasionally flit through the mist, sows and piglets busy with their early morning rituals, but these weren’t our target. We were hoping to catch up with one of the long tusked boars that inhabit these remote wetlands.

We both saw the boar at the same instant as he ambled towards us along the reedbed in search of female companionship. There was no doubt that this was a shooter and our reaction was instant as we quickly stepped back and knelt in a position where a shot would be possible as it passed between the swamp and us.

The boar took his time, but soon enough he was entering "the danger zone" of my Excalibur Exomag crossbow. It seemed that he’d made a very grave mistake, then with a flick of his tail the bristly warrior stepped back into the reeds and was gone. We’d played this game before, you know, "the agony of defeat" game, and I was about to throw in the towel when the reeds shook and the out he popped right in front of us. He climbed over a fallen tree, paused to scratch his nether portions in a most piglike way on a log, and continued past us. At 20 yards he paused for an instant, just long enough for me to put the twenty yard mark in my scope on his vitals and slap the trigger. I saw a white flash as the arrow sped towards the boar, then with a thump it disappeared into his side. There was no doubt in my mind that the hit would do it’s job as he sprinted a few steps then stopped to see what had disturbed his mornings outing. Within seconds he knew something was wrong, but instead of running away towards the refuge of the swamp, he decided to head back the way he had come. Normally this would not be a problem, but we happened to be kneeling directly in his path! His gait became less steady by the step, but as he covered the few yards that separated us images of those razor sharp tusks and the damage they could cause flashed into my mind! I didn’t want to recock my crossbow fearing that if he saw movement it could trigger a serious problem, so for insurance I did something I’ve never done before, I went for my belt knife. Just when it looked like hand to fang combat was on the agenda the old swampmonster stalled a few yards away at the last log that separated us, and tipped over.

 My friend Ted turned to me with eyes like saucers and spewed forth a torrent of expletives that only an Aussie outdoor writer could muster. The general meaning was something like "Wow, that sure was exciting. Let’s not do it again, ok?" I couldn’t have agreed more fully, but as our Australian adventure went, it was just one of many amazing experiences.

BirdTed Mitchell and I met through a mutual acquaintance several years ago. He’s an outdoor writer of some reknown in Australia and I’m a manufacturer of crossbows, so we had plenty of common ground to share and the love of hunting made the thousands of miles between us seem like yards. Ted asked my wife Kath and I to visit him downunder and join him for a hunt several years ago, but we finally made the time when his buddy Greg Harrold made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. Greg was eager that we join him at his camp in Northern Queensland to hunt for boar, scrub bulls, and generally get to experience the outback in a first hand way. Quick as you could say "phone Quantas" we were on our way!

The 1500 mile drive to Greg’s camp from Ted’s house near Brisbane was tough. On the map on my desk Australia appears fairly small, but after three hard days drive to cross one small corner of it, my mind has finally accepted the harsh reality. It’s one BIG place! The last few hundred kilometers were some of the roughest roads I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive on…this trip is not for the faint of heart! We were glad to finally make it to our new home in the outback and meet Greg.

Gregs operation is generally a one man show. If you hunt with him you’ll have 100% of his attention the whole time to make your hunt successful and comfortable, and his skills as a woodsman are on par with the famous Mick Dundee. We became friends immediately as only people who share a great common bond with the outdoors can. Accomodations are a bit Spartan in his camp, but a cooling shower, great food, and comfortable beds awaited us every night after returning from the hunt. It quickly became our home and after a few days in camp I was thinking of asking Greg for a job!

The first order of business was to establish the dos and don’ts of outback living. We’ve all heard the horror stories about snakes, spiders and crocodiles from the likes of Steve Irwin on TV.  Kath was pleased to hear that poisonous spiders and snakes were very seldom encountered, good news indeed! Crocs were another matter, and Greg read us the riot act in crocodile etiquette. He explained that they could easily be lying in wait for pigs in ANY perminent water source, and to simply assume if water was present there was danger. Every evening over a can of the finest amber liquid I’ve ever tasted another round of croc stories circulated from our Aussie friends, who took great pleasure in making sure that each was a little more shocking than the last. Good entertainment , and great incentive to be aware or their lurking presence. Strangely enough however, whenever outback hunters got together to compare war wounds, it was pigs that had inflicted the scars they compared. Up rolled the sleeves and trouser legs and long, white slash marks from the boars sharp tusks were the topic of conversation. Another good lesson, don’t take these tough Australian porkers for granted!

Every day after a big breakfast we headed out in Greg’s Bull Catcher (a four wheel drive Toyota designed for bush travel) in search of boars or bulls, bouncing through the sparse forests of Eucalyptus from water source to water source, scattering Wallabeys and Emus as we went. Most hunting was done in the heat of the day when temperatures sometimes topped 100o F and the game was concentrated around the infrequent billibongs and swamps. Because of these extreme conditions special concerns dealing with the heat and its affects on the human body were in order. Every time we left the vehicle we carried a quart or so of cold water each to overcome dehydration, and by the end of the frequent but brief forays into the sun we’d invariably drain our canteens. Remember, I’m from Canada. I’ve never hunted in conditions even remotely like this, so the idea of wearing light boots or sandals, short pants, and a T shirt for hunting was, well, foreign to me. By the end of the first days hunting in the punishing Northern Australian sun, I couldn’t imagine dressing any other way. Kath and I made quite the sight stalking across the outback with our shockingly white legs flashing in the sun, but it wasn’t a beauty contest and within a few days the legs became a little less frightening.

Because from instant to instant we were unaware whether bulls or boars were on the agenda, we couldn’t switch arrow and broadhead types for the very different requirements of the two animals. Kath and I chose to go to a lightweight, fast, and flat shooting arrow with a tough 3 blade head. This would be perfect for the extremely fast reaction times of the pigs but we were not sure about using such a lightweight combination for the scrub bulls, which can weigh a ton. We had the opportunity to test the lethality of this projectile soon enough!

Scrub BullAbout the third day of our adventure Greg took Kath, Ted, and I to his real honeyhole, a swamp so remote that his visits to locate game there were extremely infrequent. As an added attraction it was far from any other water. We parked the bullcatcher a quarter mile from the swamp and the four of us quietly filed towards the water from the downwind side. This muddy swamp was an oasis in the parched Australian bush. As we approached a small pack of Dingoes moved through the tall grass that surrounded the water. Behind them we could see wild horses (brumbies), scrub cattle, and of course, pigs. Ted tried to call in the Dingoes for Kath but when they responded one mistimed move from Kath sent them on their way. She said she was relieved, they looked too much like our pet dog to shoot! Next to the brushy verge surrounding the swamp stood a good bull with it’s head lowered into the harsh grass and reeds busily feeding. This was too good to be true and I asked Kath if she was up for a stalk. She was concerned as scrubbers can be very unpredictable and dangerous but Greg was there with his 45-70 so she said "sure" and we were on our way. The wind was good and the footing quiet, so progress was very quick as long as the bull kept eating, but whenever his head rose to chew yet another clump of grass we had to immediately freeze in mid stride. Kath went the last few yards on her own, clearing a shot through the brush at only about 15 yards from the unsuspecting bull. The bull was quartering slightly away, so she put the Exomags crosshair on the seam behind his front leg and sent the arrow on it’s way with a flick of the trigger. On impact the lightweight shaft was buried to the fletching into the bulls russet chest and he barreled off across the swamp at full speed, but before he’d gone more than 50 yards he staggered and fell. Greg was beside himself! He said that these scrub bulls can soak up several shots from magnum rifles without slowing and he was amazed at the speed with which the Exomag had done its work. I was very proud of Kath, up till that she’d been unsure of whether she would face one of these bovine monsters with a crossbow, but she handled it like a pro! Kath? She was beside herself and to this day I think she looks at all cattle differently. It worries me a bit though when we drive by a farm and she comments "that one sure has nice horns"!

Soon enough it was time to click our heels together three times and say "there’s no place like home". We had a truly great time with Far Out Safaris, and in the time we were there I shot two scrub bulls with my crossbow, one of which was truly magnificent. Kath shot the bull mentioned previously, and we each Excaliburized several boars. It was truly a great adventure and my only regret is that it was over far too soon. Kath and I brought back few souvenirs from this trip, but the ones we did bring we will cherish. We brought back the knowledge of good friends in the land down under. We brought back a hundred warm memories to get us through the cold Canadian nights to come. Most of all, however, we brought back the certainty that one day we will return to the land down under and hunt with our friends Ted and Greg in the wild outback of Queensland.