Vancouver Bull Hunting In Hawaii

March 19, 2012

This is my friend, Bruce, with a real bruiser of a Vancouver Bull he just shot down in Hawaii.  I know what you’re probably thinking.  “A cow?  Really?  What the hell kind of hunt is this?”

If it’s not what you’re thinking (or close), then you either already know about Hawaii’s wild cattle, or you’ve got a serious case of incuriousity.  When I first heard about hunting cattle on the Big Island, I know I was a little skeptical.  But the more I heard about it, the more intrigued I became.  I may never actually make it over there to hunt these things myself, but I’d sure like to.  From accounts by Bruce and a couple of other guys with whom I’ve shared emails, it’s about as “real” as a hunt gets.

First of all, the hunt itself is not a picnic… at least if you’re doing it on public land.  The Vancouver bulls live way back in the jungle.  This is no walk in the hardwood bottoms or along some western ridge.  It’s a hike that often requires the judicious use of a machete, extreme endurance, and a will to get where  you’re going.  If you’re lucky, once you get close, you’ll be able to use the cattle and hog trails to move a little easier.  Of course, if you’re using their trails you’d better be careful.  These cattle are truly wild, and I’ve heard they can be as rank as any Cape buffalo.  Being charged by a pissed off bull (or cow, for that matter) on a trail in this dense cover would make for a pretty singular experience.

And, of course, should you find and kill one of these beasts… what then?  Look at the size of that thing in the picture.  But even the calves are hefty.

The truth is, most of the hunters who kill one of these cattle only take a limited amount of the meat.  For one thing, it’s simple practicality.  This isn’t the frozen, Rocky Mountains here.  It’s a tropical jungle.  You can’t leave meat hanging in a tree overnight, and expect it to be any good the next day.  Depending on the time of year and how far back in the bush you are, you may be fortunate to get as much as you can carry back to the ice chest before it spoils.

Then why hunt them?  If you only take a portion of the meat, seldom recover the hide, and often don’t even want the trophy, what’s the point in killing these animals?

It’s a fair question, and one that crossed my mind when I first heard about hunting Vancouver bulls.  I won’t say that I eat everything I kill, but if I kill something edible I tend to want to utilize it.  It seemed wasteful to me to shoot a 3/4 ton animal, and then only recover as much meat as you can pack on your back in a single trip.  Even with two hunters toting a share, that leaves a lot of meat on the ground.  But the truth is that this hunt isn’t really about the meat.  It’s about removing non-native, invasive species and protecting a fragile (and already heavily damaged) ecosystem.

Cattle were introduced to the Hawaiian islands in the late 1700s by Captain George Vancouver as a gift to King Kamehameha I.  The first group was quickly killed and eaten, or died from various illnesses.  Vancouver gave the king another small group, and urged that he protect them until they could become established.  Kamehameha issued a “kapu”, a royal decree, to protect the herd.  Under that protection, the herd grew like crazy until the kapu was finally lifted around 1830.  By that time, the cattle were razing farm fields, destroying native habitat, and killing or injuring people.

Hunting was established to bring the herd under control.  This eliminated a big part of the herd, but many animals moved into the jungle and have survived there just fine.  Because the damage was much less visible, hunting efforts dwindled.  A few  years back, Hawaiian environmental and conservation organizations saw that the remaining cattle were causing big problems in the native forest ecosystem (a system that originally evolved without any large mammals at all) and initiated new hunting opportunities.  The hunts were supposed to run only a limited time, but as of yet, they have been extended.  Apparently there aren’t enough people willing to do what it takes to hunt and kill these animals in sufficient numbers.

On the bull hunts, Bruce tells me that they often encounter wild  hogs, another non-native, destructive species, which are also fair game.  In fact, wild pigs are a pretty widespread problem in Hawaii, and hog hunting is not just a great sport, but it’s generally encouraged as a means of reducing damage to native plants.  Bruce said that when his neighbors found out that he hunts, many of them started calling on him to protect their landscaping and gardens from the porcine invaders.

Travelling to Hawaii with guns is not a simple matter, so stateside hunters who are interested in this experience really need to do their homework.  The best thing is to have a friend in the islands who already owns guns… or you can go with archery equipment.  I don’t know of anyone who has hunted the Vancouver bulls with bow and arrow, but it should make for a pretty exciting experience.

I’m feeling a strong need to call my travel agent!


12 Responses to “Vancouver Bull Hunting In Hawaii”

  1. Bruce Cherry on March 20th, 2012 11:08

    Some of my hunting friends are disturbed by the waste of meat on these bull hunts. If I’m solo, I can only carry out about 40 pounds of boned meat. When 2 or 3 of us go in, it’s 100 to 120 pounds. But look carefully at the photo. It appears that the trees in the background have been burned or defoliated. The reality is that this once was virgin, native rain forest with thick stands of giant ferns, orchids, ohia trees, koa trees, and all sorts of exotic plants. The cattle have ravaged the rainforest and have eaten almost everything, most nobably stripping the bark from the emerging koa and ohia trees. When I hike in, as soon as I cross the Wailuku River and get to where the cattle are, it opens up and what was 20 yard visibility max on the way in becomes 100-400 yard visibility. It looks like a forest fire has destroyed almost everything. Elsewhere on the Big Island, the wild cattle are eradicated by helicopter shooting. Where I go, the giant koa and ohia trees create such a thick canopy that aerial eradication is impossible. And the hike in is so tough that virtually nobody goes back there. I have never seen a soul and I’ve been hunting back there 12 times [6 bulls]. No true sportsman wants to waste the meat of the animal he takes, but this hunt is really eradication with delicious [a bit tough, but not at all gamey] meat as a bonus. I feel very fortunate at my age [almost 64] to be able to do this without going to Africa. These bulls are very, very wary, like forest elk, and they have nasty dispositions. My longest shot has been 50 yards and a few have been in the 25 yard range. It takes a stout bullet and a heavy rifle to do the job. So far, I’ve used a 45/70, a 30-06, a 7mm Rem Mag, a 300 Win Mag, and a .458 Win Mag [that rifle weighs 12 pounds, too heavy to carry in]. I’m going to transition to a lightweight 300 Weatherby and 220 grain slugs. I need a bullet that will stay together and offer max penetration. The bull in the photo offered a nice side shot but the bullet didn’t pass thru and the bull went 50 yards and kneeled down behing a dead koa tree. I waited 15 minutes, followed up a faint blood trail, and then he stood up 20 yards away. He raised his head skyward and bellowed and I quickly aimed between the eyes but the bullet went thru his mouth, dropping him. That was with a 300 Win Mag and 200 grain Nosler Partitions. I need something more powerful than that so hopefully the 300 Weatherby with the heavy bullets will do the job. By the way, Phillip, if you plan to hunt these things with a bow, count me out. It’s spooky enough with a rifle. There is no communication at all with the outside world back there. No cell phone, no SPOT [Hawaii doesn’t have the satellites]. I carry an EPIRB, but that’s it. You’re completely on your own. Aloha for now.

  2. Phillip on March 20th, 2012 13:01

    Mahalo for the info, Bruce, and for sharing your photo. Good stuff.

    Have you tried the Barnes TSX for penetration? I would think that an animal like this is made-to-order for the copper bullets. Of course that’s gonna be a pricey proposition with the .300 Weatherby.

    I bet the .325wsm would be a good match too, although if I were to daydream, I can totally see doing that hunt with a .375H&H double rifle. Somehow, that just sounds perfect.

  3. Bruce Cherry on March 20th, 2012 16:52

    I used the Barnes X bullet in the same .300 Win Mag but the penetration was not as good as the FailSafe, which I had available back then. The FailSafe would pass right through. Can’t get the old FailSafe anymore. I never got a full pass-thru with the X bullet. On smaller bulls the Nosler Partition would pass thru, but not on this monster. The problem with the really big bulls is that it is a long way to the vitals and if you hit the shoulder bone, which is massive, you’ve got a real mess on your hands. Evan Bouret, a friend of mine on Kauai, was with a group that shot a huge bull with a 30/30 and they were lucky to get out of that ordeal alive. It took several more shots to put him down and during that time, he attacked the hunters. I’m a firm believer in using the heaviest rifle you can handle. Recoil isn’t an issue because the adrenalin level is so high and there is so much at stake that I’ve never felt the recoil, even with the .458. Sighting in is another matter, though. I hate that.

  4. Bruce Cherry on March 20th, 2012 16:57

    Another real quick comment on bullets: I used the Nosler Ballistic Tip on a hog hunt at Laupahoehoe because that was the only ammo I had available—I reload everything, but I was using a 30/06 and that’s all I had at the time. Got a nice broadside shot at a large boar. He ran 50 yards and dropped. When I gutted him, I saw that the bullet had penetrated only about 4 inches and exploded on the outside of the lung. Had the bullet struck the cartilage shield or the shoulder bone, he would have escaped, possibly to die later. I can’t overstate the importance of penetration when hunting these thick, tough animals.

    Is the TSX a tougher bullet than the old X bullet?

  5. Phillip on March 20th, 2012 17:21

    Heya, Bruce. I believe the TSX is a much better bullet than the original X. And if you handload it, that lets you maximize its potential.

    For comparison, I almost never had a Nosler Partition pass all the way through a big animal, including elk and big hogs (although I think that was actually the intended performance for that bullet). On the other hand, I’ve never recovered a TSX, with the exception of one a friend shot quartering away at over 250 yards. Most of my shooting with that bullet was either my 30-06 or the .325. I’ve also used the Barnes XPB in my .44 with similar good performance.

    I remember Evan writing about shooting that bull with the 30-30. Pretty harrowing stuff. I don’t think I’d have tried it. I love my 30-30, but it has its limitations.

  6. Bruce Cherry on March 25th, 2012 12:29


    You suggested the Barnes TSX for penetration. I loaded the .300 WBY with a 220 grain Sierra, a conventional soft point. I thought about your suggestion last night and couldn’t sleep so I got up really early this AM, pulled all the bullets from the .300 WBY cases, adjusted the powder volume, and then stuck in 200 grain Barnes X bullets that I had lying around. Feel much better now. Will be going back out after another bull in about 3 weeks. Will keep you posted re: how well they work. I need a bullet that will stay together and penetrate, ideally expand and pass thru both sides..


  7. Hog Blog Friends In the Field – Hawaiian Hogs : Hog Blog on April 11th, 2012 06:50

    […] heard about my friend, Bruce, a couple of weeks back when I wrote about hunting the Vancouver bulls in Hawaii.  Well, Bruce drops me a line from time to time, usually including some photos or video of his […]

  8. shotgunner on April 11th, 2012 18:28

    is this private property or public land hunting?

  9. Phillip on April 11th, 2012 20:31

    Scott, pretty sure Bruce and those guys are hunting on public land. I know there are private outfits who run hunts for bulls over there, but I’m not sure if they have private land or take clients on public ground.

  10. Bruce Cherry on April 17th, 2012 10:09

    This is all on public land. You need a hunting license and now a cattle permit—nonres license is about $110 for everything all year, including birds, and the cattle permit is free. A guided hunt on private land is about $2200 for 2 days.

  11. Rob on April 21st, 2012 17:04

    I am a new hunter on the Big Island and am interested in the feral cattle, but the hunting regs I read say they are off limits. These regulations are probably outdated (1999) so I’m wondering if I can still get a cattle tag?

  12. Phillip on April 23rd, 2012 04:13

    Rob, I can’t be a ton of help here. Your best bet would be to contact the Hawaii DNR directly and get details there.