A Hunt Down Under:
The Other Buffalo and a New Rifle Caliber

By Roberto Salema

In the quest for adventure it is common for hunters to seek different game, new places, unusual caliber and rifles to transmute the time and money invested into dear memories. After some African safaris where, together with my son and long time hunting companion, we enjoyed new places and diverse game, the time was ripe for a trip to Australia to hunt what is called the "other" buffalo, water, or Asian buffalo.

There is some controversy about the scientific classification of these animals. Some consider that the species Bubalus bubalis comprise two sub-species, the river type and the swamp type, both of which are encountered in Australia. Water or Asian buffalo were brought to Australia from Timor during the 19th century for labor and meat when settlements were established in the northern part of the country.

These settlements were eventually abandoned and little more than half a hundred buffalo were set free. Without large predators able to bring down an adult buffalo, these now feral animals spread across the Northern Territory floodplains to a point they become a nuisance, destroying wetlands habitat even though intensely hunted for hides and meat.

During the last quarter of the 20th Century, the damage they caused was considered an environmental disaster due to wallows, trails, excrement and habitat disturbance that led to the channeling of floodwaters, influx of seawater with progressive loss of local flora and greatly diminished fauna. Further problems were caused by the removal of plant species used as food by the buffalo. They were also found to carry diseases, namely tuberculosis and brucellosis, creating a need to confine them to avoid the contamination of domestic cattle.

Beginning in 1979 and lasting some two decades, a massive shooting program took place to reduce the buffalo population and restore habitat. However, they were not totally eliminated and some buffalo remain and can be hunted. There are also small herds remaining from which the aborigines profit, as in the famous Kakadu National Park.

Anyone who has been on safari in Africa and wants to hunt in Australia needs understand that there are some major differences that should be understood in advance.

Do not expect a "safari" type experience. No native trackers, gun bearers, cooks and helpers will be there. Neither will there be a daily laundry, nor will exquisite and varied meals be offered.

To be specific, one can expect a hunt in Australia, more along the lines of most North American hunts. Camps will be serviceable, with no frills, offering what is needed but no more. The hunters (clients) and the Professional Hunter (P.H.) must integrate into a hunting party. You will receive guidance and instructions from the P.H., but you are expected to share the demands of the hunt, including after taking the trophy. It is certainly different from an African safari, but what is lost in comfort is gained in companionship.

We had very warm hunting weather that, in general, did not differ much from a hunt in Africa. We left camp at dawn, driving in a 4x4 until buffalo spoor was spotted. We would then walk, following the tracks and stopping now and then to carefully glass the area, trying to spot the buffalo at distance. This procedure is repeated until animals are seen and glassed to evaluate prospective trophies. The hunters will rest during mid-day to avoid the high heat, as the animals do, and hunt in the evening until it is too dark to shoot.

Buffalo have good eyesight, a good sense of smell, and good hearing. This makes it a challenge to stalk within a reasonable shooting distance.

Water buffalo have been used for centuries in Asia as a working animal, and they are easily domesticated. However, even when domesticated they remain unpredictable. Many American G-Is found this out in Vietnam when approaching villages were buffalo calmly wandered among humans. The approach of different people sometimes unleashed a nasty reaction.

The wild Australian buffalo are more unpredictable and should be treated with caution. They are very large, some weighing nearly a ton, and have very thick hides covered with mud. They require an adequate rifle, usually .375 H&H caliber or greater.

We were fortunate to hunt with Graham Williams, a very knowledgeable P.H. who was also a fine person. (Graham Williams - Australian Buffalo Hunters, www-biggameaustralia.com) In addition, he is a gun enthusiast and brought to camp several of his own rifles, mostly bolt actions, but also a fine English double-barreled rifle. He was gracious enough to lend them to us. What a pleasure to handle them and, on top of all that, to hunt with them!

More remarkable, Graham has developed a proprietary cartridge, a wildcat he appropriately named the ".435 P.H. Express," which we used to take a buffalo trophy. It is based on 375 H&H brass necked-up to accept a .435" diameter bullet. Incidentally, this is the same bullet diameter as the old .425 Westley Richards caliber of African fame. He opted for a long neck of 0.44" to get a good hold on the long bullets he selected. The 450 grain bullets were custom made for him by Woodleigh, the well known and respected Australian bullet maker.

This bullet has a sectional density of 0.339. This is a high value to ensure good penetration, and it is superior to the 410 grain bullet normally used in the old .425 W.R. Graham opted for a very sharp and minimal shoulder and blew out the case body, leaving only a slight taper to maximize powder capacity. His aim was to get a caliber that would stand between the .416 Remington Magnum and the .458 Lott. Based on the performance we saw, Graham has achieved exactly that.

He said that using American Hodgdon powder the muzzle velocity was near 2300 fps, producing more than 5000 ft. lbs. of energy at the muzzle. This is a very respectable energy value, capable of taking the largest and the most dangerous animals anywhere in the world.

Rifles in .375 H&H can easily be converted to the .435 P.H. wildcat, and .375 brass is easily fire-formed to create .435 cases. In rifles weighting about 9 pounds, such as the safari model CZ, recoil is stout but manageable by hunters accustomed to shooting big bore safari type rifles.

On Water Buffalo the .435 P.H. Express showed its authority and exhibited straight and deep penetration. This new cartridge certainly deserves consideration for use on large, dangerous game!

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