Story and Photos by: Peter Kuskie
No $h!t There I Was...
In July last year, I was hunting on Kendall River Station on the West Coast of Cape York Peninsular with my wife Rebecca and two sons, Cameron and Daniel ages 21 and 18. I live in Brisbane, Australia and for those that may not know, the Kendall River Station is located just about as far north in Australia’s Queensland Province as you can get.
The Kendall River area is one of the most remote and beautiful wilderness areas on the planet. It is a four day drive from our home, the last day’s drive being 10 hours from the closest large town, most of which is on dirt roads. The Station is approximately 800,000 acres of wild country comprised of jungle, big rivers and swamps. The country is teeming with saltwater crocodiles, giant razorback boars and wild cattle. It really is one of the most amazing hunting and fishing destinations on Earth.
The pigs in this area are direct descendants from European Wild Boar which escaped from Captain Cook’s ship, The Endeavour, when it was laid up for repairs in Cooktown in 1770. They are the tuskiest, wildest, most aggressive wild pigs on the planet. Needless to say, Kendall River country is known for its big, rank boars.
The wild cattle that call this bush home are descended from domestic station stock. They range from speary horned red cattle to cattle that have an almost pure brahman blood line. They have been wild for generations. A large scrub bull, as we call them, can weigh over 1000kg and is generally more rank than any wild boar. From the day they are born, these wild bulls are relentlessly hunted by dingoes and crocodiles. On top of that, any cattle that are less wily or slow are caught by bullcatchers or trapped for reintroduction to domestic herds. The ones that remain live in the jungle and the swamps and are renowned as highly intelligent and dangerous game. My family and I love to hunt these beasts with the same passion and respect that follows an African Cape Buffalo hunt.
We had been on the Station three days and were having the family hunting trip of a lifetime. We had shot a number of huge razorback boars, caught some barramundi, a popular fish in the lakes and rivers of northern Austrailia, and my son Cameron had shot an awesome scrub bull. To give some idea of just how tough a scrub bull is to put down, Cameron’s first shot from a 375 H & H Magnum hit the bull in the spine and dropped it to its hind quarters. It took another three rounds from the 375 to the shoulder and five more from a .308 before the beast took its last breath.
The following afternoon we were on our way to a lagoon to do some fishing when my son Daniel saw a massive scrub bull in the distance. Daniel was uncertain whether he wanted to hunt this bull after seeing how hard it was to kill Cameron’s bull the day before. I could see this bull was an awesome trophy and I probably exercised a little too enthusiastic fatherly encouragement. That is hindsight of course, but after some hesitation Daniel and I commenced the stalk on an awesome bull while Rebecca and Cameron remained at the vehicle.
Daniel had a Sako Kodiak 375 H & H and I had our main pig rifle, a Steyr Scout .308 with an Aimpoint H2 red dot sight. It took us 20 minutes to close the distance to about 80 yards where Daniel took the shot. I could see that Daniel hit the bull, but it immediately ran for heavy bush. Daniel took a quick follow up shot before the bull disappeared, but we lost sight of the bull almost immediately.
This is where the story gets interesting. We proceeded in the direction the bull ran for about 500 meters. He was at the gallop the last time we saw him and I fully expected we might only get a glimpse of him disappearing into the scrub. Unfortunately, we couldn’t lay eyes on the bull and worse yet, couldn’t find any sign of a blood trail. I thought we’d lost him.
We decided to walk back to where we’d last seen the bull to search for a blood trail or a track. As we got closer to where the bull had been shot, Daniel left my side and walked down into the creek. The last words I said to him were, “Just look out mate, this beast may still be in here,” and I walked into the long grass.
I had a round in the chamber of my .308 with an open bolt. All I had to do was close the bolt, point and shoot. I had taken no more than 10 steps when I heard a noise to my left. As I turned, I was confronted by a sight that will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life. The bull came smashing out of the scrub at point black range and I knew he had me. He came at me high stepping with his head in the air and his horns towering above me. All I could think was, “I’m dead.” I knew enough about scrub bull and buffalo charges to know exactly what was about to happen to me and that I had virtually no chance of survival. The charge happened so fast; I had no chance to shoot. I remember thinking that I had missed my chance to live. In that instant I felt an incredible sadness for Rebecca and our boys that I was about to die. Then the bull hit me. It was like being hit by a truck. The bull knew exactly how to use his weapons and had no doubt practiced on dingoes and other bulls since the day he was calved.
Forgive me, but my memory of the events is a bit hazy. I remember there was no space in my brain for any emotion or fear or panic, the adrenalin blocked all that out. It was purely fight or die. When the bull hit me, he threw me a few meters and then set to work on me on the ground. I remember being on my back and the bull being above roaring and blowing blood and snot all over me. He wheeled around and I scrambled backwards a meter or so. I remember him standing above me trembling with hatred and violence and I knew right then I was looking my own death square in the eye.
By some miracle, I reached around behind my back and found my gun with my right hand. I don’t remember loading it, but I surely did before swinging it into action. Lying flat on my back, I put the red dot on the middle of the bull’s forehead. I hesitated momentarily, thinking, “I’m only going to get one shot,” and then squeezed the trigger. The shot poleaxed the bull and he dropped flat at my feet.
Breathing hard I laid there for a few seconds, amazed I was still alive. I looked down and could see I had been horned in the guts. My shirt and pants were soaked in blood, and I could see yellow abdominal fat protruding from the wound. A few seconds later, Daniel burst out of the scrub. He had heard my shot and was running to help. Being conscious of just how remote and far from medical assistance I was, I said to him, “Mate I don’t think I’m going to make it out of here.”
Daniel immediately yelled, “Mum!” and ran for the vehicle. For Rebecca, these were some of the worst minutes of her life. She knew something was badly wrong and thought it was Daniel who had been hurt. She couldn’t go to him because she knew the bull might still be on the rampage or we might still be shooting. When he got to the vehicle he said, “The bull is dead, but Dad is badly hurt.”
Meanwhile, with the assistance of our guide, I’d managed to get to my feet. Somehow in the incident, my boot had been flung off. The guide had retrieved it for me and put it back on my foot. Holding my wound, I was able to walk unassisted back to the vehicle.
We were about an hour-and-a-half’s drive in the four-wheel-drive back to camp and I told everyone, as best I could remember, what had happened. I was expecting shock to set in, but luckily it didn’t seem to. We made the trip to camp as quickly as possible and I was soon resting on a camp bed. My Kryptek pants and underclothes were shredded and at that stage I didn’t know why.
In Australia, we have an amazing organization called the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). These people provide medical help to people in remote areas. Our guide was able to ring the Flying Doctor and the very complex arrangements were commenced to get me to a hospital.
There was an airstrip on the station, but unfortunately it wasn’t rated for a nighttime landing and it was already late in the afternoon, so that option was out. On top of that, we were about an eight hour drive over rough tracks to the closest hospital by road and we were unsure if I could survive the trip. Our next though was to use the RFDS chopper to get me to a hospital but that crew was out picking up a patient on an isolated Island in Torres Strait and wasn’t available.
In the end, it was agreed I’d be driven about three hours to the closest airstrip with a night landing rating on an Aboriginal owned station called Marepah. From there, the RFDS plane would fly over 1100 km from Mt Isa and get me to a hospital.
Before leaving on the drive, I was taken to the main homestead on Kendall River Station. People in remote areas are provided with RFDS medical kits which contain pharmaceuticals that can be administered under telephone supervision by a doctor. I heard Ben, the station owner, talking and the doctor say to him, “You’ll have to give him the full dose of antibiotics, and he’s not going to like it!” Wasn’t that the truth! Ben gave me one deep injection to the thigh and another to the butt cheek as he informed me I was the first human he’d ever injected. I told Ben I wouldn’t have nightmares about the bull, they’d be about him looming over me with a giant needle.
The drive to Marepah was about three hours on the worst road I’ve ever been on. Having lived in the outback, I’ve been on some bad ones. There were some washouts we had to drive around that tried to swallow the Toyota. Luckily, the Marepah Station manager had started driving our direction to assist in showing us the way in the dark.
Marepah is a beautiful, immaculate Station. They had a fresh bed made up ready for me and the whole Station crew was waiting to help. They could not have been more concerned for me or interested in what had happened. These are hard men in hard country who work with wild cattle every day. They ride rough horses and catch bulls on quad bikes and bull catchers. As a result, they deal with serious injury all too frequently. The Station manager’s wife was a very experienced bush medic and was able to give me morphine under the direction of the RFDS doctor, and that helped the pain.
Around 11 m., about eight hours after the incident, the flying doctor arrived. My wound was dressed and I was loaded on a stretcher andonto the back of a four-wheel-drive pickup for the drive to the airstrip. After all the wildlife was cleared off the airstrip, I was flown to Coen to refuel and then down to the Cairns Hospital where I was admitted to emergency.
Meanwhile back on the Station, my family was pretty traumatized, particularly Daniel. One of the guides, with whom we have since become good friends, took Daniel back to find the bull. They located it in the dark and took the head. They followed the tracks and tried to work out what had happened. Apparently, there were six-inch deep trenches from the bull’s horns where he was working me over on the ground. They found and recovered the projectile under the skin on the back of the skull. Seeing the bull dead and taking the head and cape was the best trauma therapy Daniel could have had.
I had no way of contacting Rebecca during the flight or after reaching the hospital. She didn’t know any more than that I had been put on the plane. The next morning, she packed our whole vehicle with the boys and at daylight started the 10 hour drive to Cairns.
At the hospital, I had had an MRI and got examined by the surgeon. In the second miracle of the day, it was discovered that the horn had penetrated my abdomen two-and-a-half inches but had missed all of my internal organs. Because it was an animal wound, it couldn’t be stitched, so the wound was thoroughly irrigated and cleaned then covered in a suction dressing. I couldn’t move my shoulder by this stage, but an x-ray revealed no fractures.
Rebecca and the boys got to the hospital that night very tired, but I was glad to see them. I had been sitting or lying down ever since the event but was able to stand when my family arrived. When I stood up out of bed in my hospital gown, Rebecca said, “You’ve got a huge gash on your butt cheek!” That solved the mystery of my shredded Kryptek pants. The bull’s horn had missed my backside by a centimeter. He literally nearly ripped me a new one. By that stage, it was too late to stitch the wound, so it was cleaned and closed with steristrips and I was discharged.
When I got home, I had an MRI on my shoulder that showed all three tendons were torn on my left rotator cuff. I booked in for surgery as soon as possible.
I knew I would be out of action for six months after surgery and I desperately wanted to get back to Kendall River to get the two bull heads and capes. So Rebecca and I drove back for another week of hunting and fishing as soon as possible. I certainly wanted to collect our trophies from that fateful day but I also knew I had to face another bull for my own peace of mind. I felt emotionally unscathed but knew I wouldn’t be sure until I got back on the horse so to speak.
On the follow up hunt, we found a mob of about a dozen scrub bulls grazing on the edge of a patch of jungle. Armed with my new .416 Rigby with an Aimpoint H1 (I wasn’t taking any chances), we stalked into close range. To my surprise, I found it pretty intimidating to make the stalk. My subconscious was screaming at me, “You idiot, don’t you remember how this ends? This hurts!” I took the shot and the bull immediately stepped into the scrub and disappeared. We waited a fairly tense 45 minutes then followed him into the dense scrub. To my relief, we found him dead about 30 meters away.
Two days later I stalked and shot another bull. This time, I felt totally normal, albeit extremely cautious.
Having only one useful arm, my long suffering wife climbed onto the roof of our vehicle and loaded the two frozen bull capes and skulls from the ill-fated hunt into a 270 litre cooler. They are now at the taxidermist waiting a full shoulder mount. I did consider a Euro mount, given the skull has a very impressive bullet hole in the middle of the forehead, but decided on a shoulder mount so that every time I look at him, I will remember the day he brought his horns to a gun fight.