Dad's .404 Jeffrey
Tobias Turner tells of taking his dad for a 60th birthday buffalo hunt. Some birthday with dad harvesting injured feet and a cracker Weatherby eyebrow.
My father John started me down the hunting path over 30 years ago and he’s still a great hunting partner. Some years ago he turned 60 and although he’s never one to make a fuss about his birthday - usually a bottle of Jameson’s does him, this was a big one so my brother and I decided that we needed to really spoil him. So we gave him a CZ .404 Jeffery.
Now in 2018, I was finally able to organise a trip away with my old man and a couple of mates, Mick and Bingo, to the Northern Territory. Dad had already taken his big safari rifle on a hunt after sambar but the trophy stag slipped the noose.
Now he was more than ready to ‘blood’ the rifle and I’d hoped this trip was going to be different. We drove for a few days to meet up with the elder of the community and we were then introduced to the Traditional Owners (TO). We saw at least four buffalo on the way to camp that anyone would be happy to hunt as well as numerous brumbies and donkeys.
Our guide and TO, Ross, had told us about some of the sacred parts of the property and the stories behind them; their connection to the land was marvellous. The brumbies and donkeys were not to be killed here. Never mind; we were there to take home a trophy buff.
The land was dry, grey and flat but interspersed with vibrant greens, oranges, reds, beautiful waterholes, abundant birdlife and one of the most picturesque little rivers I’ve seen. Despite being ‘winter’ up there, the temperatures were still well into the 30’s and a dip in the river was very tempting, but for the crocs, which we regularly sighted. We did find some shallow rapids later on in the trip and took to the water then however this was before we found the croc slide on the bank just a bit further down the river.
Dad had neglected to mention to us that he was suffering pain in one of his feet. We were oblivious because he chose to suffer in stoic silence until, when repeatedly prompted, he finally admitted the injury to us. Accordingly, we told him how sorry we didn’t feel for him and to hurry up and load his rifle. Given that Bingo and Dad were the only ones that hadn’t killed a buffalo, they were both going to be given first pick at a bull.
The buffalo were spread far and wide, there being a random scattering of waterholes which sometimes held buffalo, but mostly we travelled by vehicle until animals were spotted. We would then back out and conduct a stalk on foot. We found the older bulls mostly solo rather than in a mob. We were all deer hunters and used to spotting and stalking animals, however this was a different game again. After our first day I was very thankful I had my 15x Vortex binoculars, with which
we were able to search long distances and make an assessment on bulls, a useful attribute that worked well the more we hunted.
Quite often we’d just about get within comfortable shooting range but not have any further cover. We’d then have to step out in to the open and… ‘boof, boof’…the sound of their hooves hitting dirt as they jumped to take off. Trying to catch up with them after that was pointless as they covered a lot of ground quickly.
We were plagued by swirling hot winds on some days. Our scent certainly seemed to get their attention more than seeing us and usually resulted in another retreat through the bush, inexplicably hiding their bulk in the bush.
Nonetheless, it was great fun stalking them. Dad never complained about every busted stalk as each was another lesson in the book. The only time he did complain was about his near new boots that began to fall apart. Thankfully he had another pair with him and the old ones were given a ceremonial funeral worthy of their ‘quality’. Still, I was anxious to get him a trophy bull because he’d missed out on our last trip and we only had a limited time here.
Once we came upon a large mob of buffalo, made up of young bulls and cows with a few calves as well. We watched them for a while in case there was a big bull on the fringes and each time we moved, we seemed to find more buff hiding in a dusty depression or in the shade. Once we became flanked by them without realising it and a few cows detected that something was wrong. This sparked a stampede and we stood there (very close to a climbable tree) and watched as over 50 buffalo of all sizes ran past us. There were more buffalo there then we gave credit for, but still no decent bulls.
On day four, we changed tactics somewhat. We identified that in certain terrain we saw solo bulls more than elsewhere. My plan for this day would be a quiet approach to these areas and then glass ahead, perhaps walk for a bit and repeat. By the afternoon we had stalked in on one good bull and seen other smaller ones. The bull we stalked was laying down and we got within shooting range he stood up for us to properly assess. It was a close call but I felt we could do better and left this bull to walk off relatively undisturbed.
We’d been out to large grass flats which obviously held substantial amount of water at one point. Our TO had told us that the bull catchers used to come out to this area but after seeing nothing there that qualified, we decided to head back to camp to wash the dust out of our eyes. I was driving and employed the same technique on the drive back. Stop, glass, repeat. That’s when we all saw it…the bull that we thought would make the cut.
We could tell from a distance that this one was a shooter and taking my time to double check with the binos, I confirmed with Dad that he was definitely worth a hunt. A stalk plan was devised. Dad and I started moving in, with Mick hanging back to film the stalk. Bingo would stay back at the vehicle with Ross for when we needed vehicular support.
Constantly checking the wind, we didn’t take our eyes off the bull and he seemed unaware for the most part. To get close enough we had to cover about 100 metres of [pretty open ground, which fortunately had some scattered concealment. A last, large termite nest alowed us to calm our nerves and make sure everything was ready to go. I don’t think this break did much to calm the old man’s nerves.
Dad double-checked his big rifle was ready and with the safety on we crept forward aiming to get to a dead tree which would double as a rest. I had my .338 Rem. Ultra Mag with me just as a back-up, so I was also being mindful of my final position in relation to Dad should I be required to shoot.
Inching forward towards the tree, there was little between us and the bull now and we knew eventually he would notice us. We were both charged with adrenaline now and possibly moving faster than we should have. The result was the bull noticed us and became alerted. He stared intently at us and sniffed the breeze trying to pick up on us being a friend or foe.
The old man made it to the tree and settled behind the 404J, I took a rest on my knee to his side and lined up on the bull through my scope. I said to Dad “Do you want me to back you up if he runs?”. “Yep” came the short reply and then as if we’d asked the bull to do so, he turned broadside and stepped forward. That was all the cue that Dad needed, and next
came the sound of his shot.
I watched through my scope as the bull contorted his body as if being bent in the middle. He leapt forward and I watched as his legs collapsed with his body still in forward motion. A back up shot was not necessary but I kept my scope on him just in case. It was a very positive one-shot kill.
The next thing I heard was “Ah, it got me!” I looked at Dad to see him holding his face but I couldn’t see what the problem was. I thought he’d been stung by a wasp or hit by something but then when he took his hand away from his eye I saw the trademark curved signature of a ‘Weatherby eyebrow’. It appeared the 404J had claimed two victims on that day and his scope had been responsible.
The bull was still, expired. We took a minute to compose ourselves, wipe the blood from dad’s eye and begin walking over. Mick and Bingo made their way over to us and we all congratulated Dad on a great hunt. Despite Dad’s forehead throbbing in pain, he was still able to smile and appreciate what he had finally achieved. I believe he had also found a new respect for his rifle.
Dad did his best to get down next to his trophy despite the pain in his foot and bad knees. The scope had certainly done a good job in cutting him all the way through to bone. It was also at this point that we discovered from Mick that as a camera man he made a very good upholsterer…apparently accidentally stopping the recording of Dad’s hunt well before the shot. “You had one job Mick.” (cue eyeroll)
We took the horns and meat as we could effectively take with us. The elder and TO would give as much meat as we could back to their local community. We had some refrigeration in camp which had just enough room for us to keep a few of the cheeks and we later enjoyed some buff cheek stew, expertly prepared by Bingo.
Back at camp we cleaned up Dad’s buff skull so we could transport it home. The old man certainly had himself a set of horns to be proud of. I couldn’t help but feel deeply satisfied to finally provide dad with this opportunity and most of all, privileged to have him along this journey…all 30 years of it. I look forward to our next hunting venture.