Update on Banteng Hunting in Australia’s Arnhem Land

This month we share an interesting report from subscriber Doug Scottorn on a DIY banteng and buffalo hunt in the Cobourg Peninsula in Nov. This is the first report we’ve had on banteng since 2014. Scottorn has connections with traditional (Aboriginal) owners of areas in Arnhem Land, which allows him to hunt there unguided. Red tape involving firearms and access makes it nearly impossible for international hunters to do a DIY hunt in Arnhem Land, so we took his report as an occasion to check on banteng operations there.

Scottorn’s hunt took place at Araru Point in the northwest of Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, which covers the entire area of the Cobourg Peninsula. The park was the only place to hunt this trophy before the fence along the southeastern border fell into disrepair, allowing banteng to spread to the mainland.

Scottorn says that the hunting on Cobourg is still good. “Banteng are still plentiful on the Cobourg Peninsula. During five days of camping, my hunting partner and I saw large numbers of animals and at least 30 to 40 shootable bull banteng. Many of the old bulls didn’t have very big horns, but we were able to find some great representative trophies. Hunters should be able to be selective. There does not appear to be any culling of animals in the park. We shot four banteng and two buffalo.”

As for buffalo elsewhere, Scottorn says, “In other parts of Arnhem Land you can travel hundreds of kilometers without seeing a shootable buffalo. I recently flew 3,000 kilometers over three weeks and was disappointed with the numbers I saw. The federal government seems to be hell-bent on eradication, including by live export, and just put 2,000 head through the yards outside Darwin for shipment.”

The issue of buffalo culling is a complicated one, involving multiple regulatory bodies (see our 2015 report, Article 3494). Aerial culling seems to have fallen off in recent years, as value of buffalo for meat and live export has increased. Operators we’ve spoken to have not reported any effects from culling in areas they hunt.

Hunting in the park is more regulated than hunting elsewhere in Arnhem Land, as park permits are required for the take of animals. Back in 2014 two operators with areas in Garig Gunak Barlu were slated to receive permits for hunts, but it’s unclear if those operators ever outfitted hunts for international clients. Apparently, some semi-legal or illegal hunting has continued in the park in recent years. Now the area will be managed by two new operations, according to Jailee Kelly, executive officer of the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory.

“Currently there are two safari hunting operators that hold concessions for safari hunting in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, Goodhand and Cooper P/L(Karl Goodhand and Solomon Cooper) and Arnhem Land Coastal Camps (Dwayne Wauchope). Currently neither are permitted to conduct any hunts as we are waiting on both organizations to provide additional information.”

Karl Goodhand of Goodhand Outback Experience (011-61-409-024-989; https://goodhandoutbackexperience.com.au) operates in the Muran area on the mainland to the east of the park. We contacted him for more information on plans for hunting in the park.

Goodhand says that concessions were negotiated recently. “We had meetings in Nov. that will tie up the areas for the next five years between two companies. I am half owner of one at the moment, Goodhand Cooper, but will be selling my share shortly to Solomon Cooper, who is a traditional owner in the area. I helped him set up a legitimate business and build the lodge/camp setup. We secured grant money for the lodge and to buy out my investment, and the company will soon be 100% Aboriginal owned.

“The other operator, Dwayne Wauchope, likely will be mostly focused on fishing, and I don’t know how much marketing he plans to do for international hunting clients.”

As for banteng hunting in Arnhem Land outside the park, two solid bets are operators who hold hunting rights to vast areas in the Murganella floodplains region granted through a land council called the Northern Land Council (NLC). Land councils assist traditional owners (family elders or their appointees) in managing land rights and ensuring that the appropriate owners receive funds from contracts.

The operators with contracts in the Murganella region are Karl Goodhand (Muran area) and Peter Lorman, owner of Tropical Hunting Safaris (011-61-407-607-687; www.tropicalsafaris.com.au), who hunts a large area to the south of the Cobourg Peninsula that he calls “Murganella.” For many years Lorman operated the area for high-volume feral pig hunting, mainly for Australian clients, with most of his dangerous game (buffalo and scrub bull) hunting done in the Mann River area further to the east in Arnhem Land. Most of the banteng hunts in the area have been operated by Graham Williams of Australian Buffalo Hunters (011-610-427-577-435; www.biggameaustralia.com).

The Murganella region is more fertile than the higher terrain on the Cobourg Peninsula, with vast soil deposits renewed by seasonal rains. As a result, the area generally produces bigger trophy banteng than those found in the national park, which makes the area more attractive to trophy hunters.

Graham Williams says that he hunts the area during June, July and Aug. when the landscape is at its driest and the humidity is lower. “I have three banteng hunts booked for 2018 and will probably have six or eight after the shows. We do everything by the book and pay all proper fees. If hunters pay for a four-day banteng or five-day buffalo hunt, we look after you for the whole time and don’t drop clients off after they get their trophies. We hunt banteng during the time when we know camp will be accessible, so clients don’t end up taking unplanned helicopter hunts from an NT cattle station after booking an Arnhem Land hunt. Banteng is $18,500 US for 1×1 and $15,500 for 2×1 hunts. Buffalo is $14,500 1×1 and $9,900 2×1.”

Like Lorman, Williams’ main buffalo area is elsewhere in Arnhem Land. For the past 18 years Williams has operated hunts on land near Bulman controlled by the Aboriginal-owned Gulan Gulan Buffalo Company.

Karl Goodhand also updated us on his operations. He says that he may be expanding his hunt area. He recently had consultation meetings with the Northern Land Council (NLC) for areas adjoining his original area. “I have the lease on my area for another seven years and previously held the lease on another area that closed to hunting for a time due to the death of an elder. The hunting rights for the areas outside the park will be divided between me and Peter Lorman.”

Goodhand reports excellent hunting this past season, with some great trophies including the new world-record banteng for both rifle and bow taken on consecutive hunts. “We had a good, wet year, so the animals were concentrated. Banteng are still fairly contained to the region of the Murganella floodplains, with the odd bull seen farther out but still well inside Arnhem Land.”

There has been a lot of discussion in the past about illegal or “semi-legal” banteng hunting in Arnhem Land. It seems clear that the biggest problems were inside the park, where some operators abused hunting rights and subcontracted hunts to numerous outfitters without paying contract fees. That said, there are no legal differences between banteng and other feral game, except where the park is involved. The main trophy exporter in Australia is occasionally checked by Australian authorities, and they request all outfitters sending banteng to supply a statutory declaration that explains where the animal was shot. This proves that the trophy wasn’t taken on the Cobourg Peninsula, where it would require a national park permit and tag.

Australian outfitters have also disputed whether a contract from a land council is necessary to legally operate in Arnhem Land or whether it is possible for operators with land council contracts to subcontract hunts with other operators. However, a number of reputable outfitters have operated with agreements not directly mediated by bodies like the NLC. Most outfitters (reputable or otherwise) operate through direct contracts, according to Graham Williams.

“If you do a web search or Facebook search of banteng or buffalo, you will find many small Australian operators who have a letter of authority or letter of permission from a traditional landowner. The NLC likes to increase fees and take a cut from all contract monies, so many outfitters and landowners prefer independent deals, and most landowners are happy to take cash from anyone. It should be noted that even outfitters who have deals with land councils often have independent contracts with traditional landowners so that hunting can continue when land council contracts are held up by negotiations.

“The NLC and police do not chase such outfitters, as they have authority to be there and thus are not trespassing. As long as they honor the terms of their contract with traditional owners, which involves paying fees for each animal taken and ensuring that anyone hunting under subcontract does the same, then there is no legal issue. They are not poaching and are not going to court or jail for their hunts. All outfitters must be licensed by the Northern Territory police so they can apply for firearms permits for all clients.”

Williams says smaller operators sell hunts only within Australia, mainly because of international marketing costs, and they don’t offer the level of service of international outfitters. “There should be no trouble exporting a trophy from such an outfit, however,” says Williams. He adds that many traditional owners have little regard for exclusivity in land use contracts, and there have been conflicts over hunting rights in areas.

Our advice is to talk to operators about the nature of their agreement with traditional owners and to watch for red flags. All travelers need an entry permit to visit Arnhem Land, and the NLC issues permits for the Top End (northern Arnhem Land). Clients must have a firearms license even when hunting with a borrowed rifle. Also, most contracts involve a fee for each animal taken, so high-volume cull hunts for buffalo and banteng are likely illegal.

If you hunt buffalo or banteng in northern Australia this coming season, please file a report.