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  • Writer's pictureKev Thomas Writes

A PH's Warthog Memories & Musings

Above: In typical fashion a fully mature warthog boar beats a hasty retreat after being disturbed near water.

Most sport hunters on a first time African safari will invariably shoot a warthog. If they don’t, I believe it would be a lost opportunity because warthog are surely one of Africa’s most iconic plains game species. More often than not when a warthog gets shot it’s quite early in the safari. Warthog and the humble impala are the perfect introductory species on an African plains game hunt, and even on a dangerous game hunt. PHs often like to start a safari on those two species because it gives them an opportunity early in the safari to observe how a client handles himself, and his skill at arms when out hunting. Important too, the first one or two days of hunting allow a client to acclimatise and get over travel lag, so it makes sense to hunt a few smaller species during this period.

There is definitely something special about this comical, warty, Disney celluloid feted African bush character that attracts sport hunters. Particularly so the Spaniards who are seemingly totally obsessed with shooting facocheros. However, and despite Disneyland’s every effort to humanise warthogs, we as sport hunters should avoid that kind of sentimentality. After all, warthog are merely another animal species that needs regulating. And particularly so because they are such prolific breeders. Without any of the larger predators on most South African game ranches, droughts, severe winters, and floods aside, the rifle is the only effective warthog regulator.

Above: Warthog make regular use of rubbing posts which are normally found fairly close to waterholes and mud baths.

One of my early warthog memories stems from 49 years ago in the Zambezi Valley. I was hunting rations for my game scouts and the rising cloud of dust from two mature males jousting way out on the floodplain, had attracted me to them. They were so focused on each other I got really close, and using a convenient termite mound as a rest rolled one with my trusty .243 Winchester (it’s a great warthog calibre using 90 or 100 grain bullets).

During the late 1970s just prior to Zimbabwe independence I literally culled hundreds of warthogs in the country’s southeast. It was during this cull that I had ample opportunity to observe first hand a fair amount about warthog behaviour. Although the area still had a fairly healthy leopard population, hyena had been eradicated due to the threat they posed to livestock. The warthog were strictly diurnal and without lingering disappeared underground into their warrens shortly after sunset.

Most of my culling was obviously walk and stalk. You can’t effectively cull warthog on a continuous basis from a vehicle. They are quick learners and when hearing the approach of a vehicle, disappear into the bush long before you see them. Taking only one tracker with me we would shoot as many as we could in a given area, and then bring the vehicle forward and drive round loading them. The carcasses ultimately finding their way via the abattoir into the Triangle Estate butchery.

Above: Warthog use waterholes daily, such as the one in the photo; they also mud bath as a means of cooling and for external parasitic protection. The dry mud is later rubbed off against a rubbing post, removing any trapped ticks etc with it.

Throughout my professional hunting career, I have never experienced any aggressive attack behaviour towards a human by an inadvertently wounded warthog boar or sow. When wounded they have invariably tried to make it back to the security of an underground warren. However, at very close quarters a wounded old boar or sow will scythe viciously from side to side using their head, and if a person gets too close it will probably result in a nasty slashing, particularly so from the lower tusks. However, this defensive behaviour is not a determined ‘charge or attack’ in the true sense.

During the extremely hot months warthog like lying up in the shade of donga (dry erosion washes) overhangs, and in amongst the tangled root systems protruding out from the donga sidewalls. Walking quietly along the top of the dongas during the midday heat while peering into the shady areas is a good way to hunt them. Although if they are feeding and the wind is right, it isn’t difficult to get within comfortable rifle range.

Warthog are tough creatures. Often, if a warthog is on the receiving end of a well-placed bullet, it’ll take off in a determined ‘warthog dash’ moving at the fastest speed they are capable of. And although literally running dead while crashing into and bouncing off tree stumps and scrub, after about 70m or more it will suddenly expire. ‘Bleeding like a stuck pig’ is an apt description for this dash because their death run flight path is normally saturated with blood splattered in all directions on surrounding low hanging brush and on the ground, making it easy to follow.

Once, on a Zimbabwe safari on the BVC (Bubye Valley Conservancy) I had a Croatian client, use a quick offhand reflex shot to slip a .375 H&H Rhino 380gr solid shank bullet into a fleeing warthog boar at about 15m that had crossed our front at high speed in long grass (we were actually stalking a waterbuck). The hog was well hit in the lungs and in acknowledgement of the shot put a huge surge of Olympian effort into its dying ‘dash’.

In the follow-up we spooked him twice. Still alive but leaking blood badly. As we watched without opportunity for a shot, he once more accelerated away through the long grass, only to suddenly collapse dead after colliding heavily with, and then bouncing off a large tree. He had gone about 180m from where first shot.

Above: A Croatian client with his warthog trophy, killed with a quick offhand reflex shot in waist high grass as it ran across our front – and then continued running despite a killing shot!

Over the years there have been some really bizarre incidents with regards warthog hunting and I’ll relate one of them here. A number of years back a good friend and PH colleague of mine, Doug Snow, was guiding a Spaniard during mid-winter when the Eastern Cape can become extremely cold and particularly so during the early morning.

Like most Spaniard’s the client was warthog obsessed and aside from wanting to cull female warthogs he also wanted a good trophy. One morning they were sat on the side of a hill glassing a valley below them. The habitat was open grassland with islands of extremely dense thickets. Typically South African Eastern Cape. While conscientiously glassing, Doug and his trusty tracker Koki suddenly picked up the glint of warthog ivory fairly far off in an opening on the edge of a thicket. After careful observation they ascertained it was a large old warthog boar lying outside his warren enjoying the early morning winter sun. Excitedly they drew the Spaniard’s attention to it and then plotted the stalk. It wasn’t going to be easy and the shot would have to be from about 250m due to the open terrain they had to cross.

Without further ado the excited trio set off Indian file. PH Doug up front with the shooting sticks, followed by the Spaniard and then the tracker. After a bit of meandering downhill through scattered thickets they eventually arrived at a lower elevation. Directly opposite them was the sleeping warthog. They couldn’t get any closer for fear of compromise, so after ranging their trophy at about 250m the Spaniard was confident he could kill the warthog. Rather than the shooting sticks they settled on a handy termite mound, with the tracker’s folded jacket on top of the mound.

After the Spaniard had gently squeezed the shot off the intrepid group of hunters were ecstatic to observe a puff of grey clay dust come away from the hog’s shoulder. The shot had gone true and the warthog didn’t know what had hit it. In acknowledgement of the well-placed bullet it had merely jerked once. Adrenalin charged excitement is never too far beneath the surface when hunting. The three hunters shook hands, slapped each other on the back, and then set off towards the luckless warthog lying in the dust alongside its warren. En route, Snow and his tracker kept excitedly remarking on how big the tusks were.

When they eventually arrived at the dead warthog, they all looked down and marvelled at the huge unbroken tusks. It was an extremely old warthog and the PH and tracker quickly noticed how tight the skin was across the body. Plus, it had a translucent look about it. More worryingly there wasn’t any blood to be seen, although the client’s 30-06 bullet hole was right where it should have been. The bullet entry hole best described as neatly ‘drilled’.

With the Spaniard still lingering in the background and not really comprehending what the problem was, tracker Koki bent down and gave the one tusk a tug and it slid free without any resistance. It soon became obvious to Doug and the tracker that the old warthog had probably died weeks before due to the severe cold. It had then become naturally mummified by the dry Eastern Cape winter air. The dehydrated carcass lying outside the warren untouched by anything until the Spanish client put a bullet into it.

While the client was fiddling with his daypack PH Snow and his tracker quickly picked up the mummified hog between them and took off back up the mountainside to the truck. Once there they forcibly rearranged the hog’s stiff limbs and got it into a photogenic position for the post-hunt photographs, and only then did they explain to the client what had happened. He soon saw the funny side and after being told he could keep the superb set of tusks and shoot another trophy facochero he quite happily carried on hunting. PH Doug Snow wasn’t so lucky. He’s still trying to live the story down and each time in the telling around a campfire it becomes more outrageous.

Above: Warthog are an excellent introductory species for junior hunters to hone their stalking and hunting skills.

On a more serious note I’m a great admirer of the warthog as an animal with tremendous personality traits such as their headlong dash towards a burrow, tails strait up like antennae, and then a quick whip around at the burrow entrance, followed by a backwards scramble out of sight. Without the comical warthog around, Africa’s wilderness would be lacking something integral to it. Not to mention their value as a prey species for predators, and the fact they are a fun and challenging animal to hunt. Not to mention the excellent table fare a young warthog provides.

Above: Short duration combination management/trophy hunts are becoming increasingly popular in South Africa. Here a hunter from the US is shown with his afternoon’s cull in the Eastern Cape. Culling game on commercial game ranches is an integral part of wildlife management, and involving paying sport hunters to assist with the task, is merely part of the overall scientific management plan.

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