Buffalo Thompson

| April 07, 2005

Monte Thompson and his Browning with super guide David Gold and their trophy. Run a tape measure along those horns and it will read 1011/2 inches.

In a famous scene in the movie “Crocodile Dundee,” our laid-back hero ambles up to a huge and potentially lethal water buffalo in remote, wild, way-out-of-nowhere northern Australia.
Casually he comes face to face with the great beast, touches his finger to its forehead and gently draws his fingertip down the length of its nose. The bamboozled buffalo slumps comfortably to sleep at his feet.

Monty Thompson didn’t do that. He used a .375 H & H Browning at 110 yards. And that’s only because he left his .416 Winchester back at camp.

“I hit him with a shoulder shot, maybe a lung shot I thought,” says Thompson of the 2,400-pound wild bull. “He moved, then he turned and came at us. I was ready to shoot again. You don’t want to give them a second chance; they’re dangerous when they’re mad at you.”

Thompson, 65, who pilots a new Pete 379 long nose with a reefer for Jim Palmer Trucking out of Missoula, Mont., made Australia the first step in his plan to hunt some of the world’s biggest, meanest game. “I like the idea of one big deal every year or so instead of a lot of little weekend hunts.”

Except for those once-a-year journeys, Thompson doesn’t hunt much. He hauls beer and groceries, and sometimes frozen loads, across the north and west of the lower 48. Thompson has been driving since he left the service in 1972. It was in the Army and Air Force that Thompson started driving and working with trucks and diesels.

“I was in the infantry in the army, then I went into the air force, and I was a heavy equipment operator. We had to haul our own dozers on a flatbed, and mostly I drove the flatbed,” says the Wisconsin native who called Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., home for 30 years before moving to Missoula four years ago. It became home when he was stationed there after a hitch in Vietnam. He was posted to Alaska but came back to Michigan when he cashed out of the Air Force. For the past four years at Palmer, he has called Big Sky country home.

“I love it here. I love the scenery, and I like what I do,” Thompson says. “These Jim Palmer folks are good people. I’d say they’re one of the two best outfits I ever worked for; I haven’t work for better. I don’t want to change. It’d take a crowbar to pry me out of here.”
But before Thompson could begin his odyssey down under, he had to face a fear that had a firm grip on his throat. He had to fly half way around the world.

“I did one tour in Vietnam, one year and one day. It was supposed to be only 365 days, but somebody goofed off,” Thompson says. “I was just a heavy equipment operator, but I volunteered to go up on flights that dropped flares. I was supposed to go up one flight, but I had a bad feeling about it and so I got somebody else to take my place, and he got someone to take his place. That sort of thing happened all the time. But that plane had only dropped one or two of the 360 flares it had on board when it got hit and went down. I’ve been terrified of flying ever since.

“When it came time to go to Australia and live out a dream, I said ‘It’s time to get over this.’ I took a couple of Valium and headed for the airport. I wasn’t sure what would happen.”
Thompson slept most of the way to Sydney, Australia, and never needed another Valium, despite several more flights. But he was tested again after he flew into Darwin in the remote far north of Australia – Crocodile Dundee country – on a big commercial jet.

At Darwin airport he saw a lot of big U.S. Air Force planes on the ground and felt a tug of his Air Force years. But he still had to fly half an hour to Melville Island, a barely-inhabited jewel, 65 miles long and 45 miles wide, 16 miles off the north coast of the Australian mainland in the Timor Sea.

“I was packed into a little six seater. We got to the runway and sat there ready to take off, and a little red light comes up on the dashboard,” Thompson says. “We started to roll, and I was thinking he was going to go for it and he’s going to ignore that little light, and that didn’t feel too good. But he took the plane back to the terminal. Then we got on another one. It was smaller, and one of the passengers was in the co-pilot’s seat. I figured if I wasn’t scared on that flight, I’d be over my fear of flying.”

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