A Bushpig in the Moonlight, (well almost!)
Above: The maggots on the putrefying gut pile are a favourite with bushpig
Bushpig are normally nocturnal, unlike their diurnal cousin the warthog, and they live in extremely dense cover (hence the name), their body shape is ideal for forcing their way through thickets, and heavy almost impenetrable brush. They’re also a species that’ve in many agricultural areas of southern Africa, become a serious problem animal. They play havoc with sugar cane, pineapples, maize, and cereal crops in general. In areas where valleys have been cultivated but where the higher elevations are forested, and also hold water, bushpig populations have thrived, and the wild populations are certainly under no threat.
In Rhodesia, (and even after the advent of Zimbabwe) virtually all maize and other cereal crop farmers’ had in their full time employ an African bushpig hunter Referred to as a crop guard, and these erstwhile hunters were superb trackers, who armed with a trusty 12ga loaded with SSG, would track the bushpig sounder from the plundered crops, right to their nests in the thickly vegetated kopjes, where the gunning exercise then commenced.
Above: At last light PH Mike Bunge broadcasts yellow-maize across the bait site
A bushpig makes for a fine trophy, they’re exciting and challenging to hunt, and are a worthy species on any safari bucket list. Given the bushpigs nocturnal habits, the two most common ways of hunting them are with the use of hounds during the day, or from a blind or stand at night. This latter method of hunting can either be done using a soft beam with a red or green lens filter, or by the light of a bright full moon. If a ground blind or a high stand is to be used, a bait station is first established by leaving offal from the skinning sheds where positive bushpig sign has been located. Maggots being the main attractant to the bushpig once the offal has putrefied. Dry maize off the cob can also be scattered amongst the offal, or in addition, a cocktail of traditional African opaque beer, sorghum, and yeast fermenting to further enhance the attractiveness of the bait station to the bushpigs. Once the sounder is feeding regularly, the blind or stand is then constructed.
Shooting a bushpig can be fairly easy, or extremely frustrating! Like all pig species, they’re highly intelligent and take their own survival seriously. In areas where there’re leopards, bushpig feature quite high up on the prey list. Although given their preferred habitat and nocturnal habits, the remains of bushpig killed by leopard aren’t often found.
Some years back I was party to attempts by a professional hunter colleague of longstanding, to shoot a bushpig in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. Mike Bunge’s certainly no neophyte when it comes to bushpig hunting. He’s passionate about it. Probably more so than any other sport hunter I’ve known, be they international or local. Since his boyhood in the Eastern Cape’s Stutterheim area, he’s shot a lot of bushpig. Mike was coming to the end of an extremely busy safari season, where he’d been hunting throughout our part of the Eastern Cape. During the earlier stages of his season, he’d set up a bushpig bait station on the one property where he’d been hunting. His intention was to shoot a bushpig boar once done with his hunting safaris – or, and if time allowed, between safaris.
Above: Rodney Miles at left and Mike Bunge put the finishing touches to the stand – Rod’s Jack Russell ‘Mpukane’ (Fly) looks on.
It was during a break between safaris that he’d invited me to join him on his bushpig quest, and I certainly didn’t need any prompting. As a result, I soon found myself spending a few nights sitting high above the ground in freezing weather, my eyes and ears tuned to listening for, or seeing the ghost like forms of bushpig feeding below us and to our front. Mike had made use of some building scaffolding and placed a plank deck high above the ground, it was situated 30m from the bait and surrounded by typical succulent valley scrub and coppiced eucalyptus thickets, and there was also a lot of dry matter lying around.
We’d walk in at 17hr30 from about a 400m away and climb a ladder up onto the deck. I’ve always liked sitting in a blind or on a stand, I find it a great stress reliever, and despite the relative boredom, thoroughly enjoy just listening too, and observing the natural goings on around me, be they bird or animal, until it gets dark, and nocturnal activity takes over. In a nutshell though, hunting from a blind can probably best be likened to four hours of boredom followed by about five minutes of adrenalin charged excitement.
Above: A .300 Winchester Magnum case alongside the leopard track Mike found at the bait station.
During the second day of Mike checking his bait station, he’d found a clearly discernible adult leopard pugmark in the loose soil, which he photographed, and it indicated to me leopard (albeit possibly only a few) are holding their own in the dense riverine along the Kowie River. Judging by the bushpig, bushbuck, baboon and vervet monkey populations in the area, leopard prey certainly isn’t in short supply, so this was a refreshing find from a conservation perspective.
Although bushpig are wary by nature, when approaching bait or moving in the vicinity of it, they are extremely noisy in their passage. The breaking of branches and crashing of dead brush as they force their way through thickets is clearly audible. And exciting. In a bygone era when I was hunting them in cane blocks at Triangle Estates in Rhodesia, it was invariably movement and feeding noise that drew us to them.
Mike was using his trusty Sako 7 x 64mm Brenneke, a rifle he’s hunted with since I met him back in about 1985. It’s currently wearing a Leupold vari iii 3–9x40 scope. He was shooting 160gr Claw Bonded bullets in front of 52gr of S365 powder and CCI primers. The 7x64 Brenneke was developed by Wilhelm Brenneke in 1917 and was used in various Mauser action sporting rifles. It’s virtually identical to the .280 Remington or the 7mm-06 wildcat, although the 7x64mm Brenneke has been around for 97 years! An added advantage is it can use a variety of bullet types in various weights.
Above: The elusive and wary boar can be seen feeding at right in this trail camera photo.
To not digress further, we first heard pig movement off to our left at about 18hr50, and then at about 19hr10, when a mature female and a younger offspring of hers came onto the bait. They were exceedingly nervous and constantly darted back into the thick stuff, before warily reappearing. Although we could hear the boar blowing and crashing around, he wouldn’t show, and eventually, at about 20hr40 the wind swung, forcing us to call it a night.
During the nights ahead, this pattern of events would become routine, we’d hear the boar blowing and moving about but he wouldn’t show, wind eddies, slight though they may have been were carrying our dread human scent to the wily old boar. The sow though, and her half-grown youngster kept coming in to feed. Each time we checked the bait on the following morning the yellow maize had been cleaned up, and periodically we’d find the big boar’s tracks, before they were obliterated by monkey and bird sign.
Above: Mike had wanted the challenge of trying to shoot the wary boar to be done in the light of a full moon
Mike wanted to shoot the boar using the full moon, rather than with artificial light, so after our frustrating nights on the stand (I wasn’t there with him every night), he had little choice but to let things pass until the next full moon phase. Throughout the break, and while still guiding safaris, he continued feeding the bushpig. We’d also placed a trail camera at the bait and it recorded the big boar a number of times, however, his visitations weren’t exactly consistent. At times he was only feeding after midnight. Once or twice he fed with the sow and youngster, before aggressively chasing them away.
With Mike’s safari season finally over, he waited until the moon was right and then returned, more determined than ever to shoot the boar. This time round I didn’t accompany him at all, although he based himself at our home. While staying with us, he could best be described as a man on a ‘mission’. He began to stay out later and later, but the sage old bushpig continued to evade coming onto the bait. Once, the boar approached from behind the stand. From the open pastures where Mike had left his rig. And then, while constantly blowing, noisily bulldozed his way through a 360º circuit around the bait and stand, before eventually wandering off.
Frustrated, Mike then craftily constructed a ground blind off to one side using tractor rear wheel tyres piled on top of each other, and covered with brush. He placed a chair inside this Michelin Man looking rubber blind and used two blocks of wood between the tyres to afford him a narrow horizontal gap through which to shoot. While sitting in this ground blind he heard the boar come in and could vaguely make out the white hair on its face, as it stood in the brush looking towards the bait. Mike wasn’t happy with the shot presentation and restrained himself from attempting it.
With the window of opportunity offered by a full moon not being very long, after a number of nights trying to outwit the boar, other more pressing issues forced Mike to return home. Before departing, he’d promised to return at a later date, change the bait site and try again. All in all, he’d spent a number of weeks trying to shoot this particular boar, and the fact that it didn’t pan out as planned, is what hunting is all about. It’d be rather boring if it was always a success story and I’m sure Mike’s determination as a sport hunter will eventually see him get this particular bushpig boar. And as an Alaskan client of mine once said, ‘Now that I’ve shot it I’ve got my huckleberry’.
Below: Although he's now retired as a PH, the photos below show how passionate Mike is about bushpig hunting.