I’ve yet to meet the person who’d argue warthogs are easy on the eye, with large prehistoric warts protruding from their heads, huge ivory tusks and an almost hairless body. You could ask “What was the Creator thinking?” when he moulded Phacochoerus aethiopicus. Certainly unique in appearance, for any pig hunter travelling to Africa the mere mention of warthogs would be enough to flick their switch. I was no different.
Having spent a lifetime drooling over magazine articles and seeing the odd head mount at shows or in taxidermists’ workshops, my desire to bag a warthog was ever-growing. The sheer size of the ivory was motivation enough but the real longing lay in their uniqueness - I had to have one.
I’d seen plenty of warthogs as we moved from one area to another in Zimbabwe during my quest for kudus and eland bulls. Some had been okay, so I thought, but Matt my professional hunter felt sure we’d encounter larger hogs at the Bubye Valley Conservancy so I held off as we left the Mashura ranch mid-morning, driving the three hours to Bubye.
The African professional hunter’s knowledge of the animals and birdlife in his area is invaluable and Matt’s grasp of the Bubye layout was astounding. We’d be chatting away when he’d drop in something along the lines of: “We’ll probably see a waterbuck or nyala here,” and sure enough one would appear almost on cue.
Approaching another waterhole searching for warthog sign I was watching a troop of vervet monkeys hard at play when I was bought back to reality with Matt exclaiming: “Look at that huge impala ram.” Needing no more encouragement than Matt’s obvious excitement, I called him to pull up.
Leaving the comfort of the vehicle I began a stalk towards the impala using the sparsely wooded area as cover. The ram had slowed to a walk then stopped about 120m from me and looked back at the vehicle which had disturbed his afternoon drink. It was a magnificent animal with long and heavy horns, beautiful tan coat and stark white underbelly. Its head was turned to the left casually looking towards the now stationary vehicle, unaware the impending danger was closing in.
We managed to narrow the gap, unnoticed, to about 25m as I raised my Savage rifle and admired my prey through the lens of the Leupold VX III, gently tripping the trigger of the .338 RUM. The silence of the bush was shattered as the 210gr Barnes TSX exploded into the ram at the intersection of its white and tan hair, passing straight through its body and ploughing into the distant backdrop, kicking up dust as it landed. The ram staggered and collapsed almost where it stood.
As we approached the ram its horns seemed to grow and grow and Matt was ecstatic, assuring me he hadn’t seen an impala that size in years. He dashed back to the vehicle for a tape measure, the horns registered at 25" and, with the obligatory photo session over, we loaded the animal into the truck.
With the impala safely in the hands of the skinners we resumed our warthog mission. Prolific in numbers, we constantly came across them but nothing Matt deemed a trophy. As we travelled around the hunting zone, Matt educated me in the habits of the warthog which apparently are capable of going without water for two to three months yet, when it’s available, they’ll drink regularly. Living in matriarchal groups, boars will come to the sows to mate but generally live a solitary life. Using aardvark burrows or digging their own cover, they back into the hollow and present those awesome tusks as protection from potential adversaries.
There were countless dugouts where a hog had spent the night but no boar bearing tusks that warranted me firing a shot and this lesson in warthogs was only firing my imagination and enhancing my dreams of shooting what was proving an elusive prey. The Zimbabwean bush was turning into a steep but rewarding learning centre.
In early afternoon with the sun high overhead, a person may be forgiven for thinking any self-respecting warthog would be lying in the shade enjoying a siesta. Not so. Jabulani, our chief tracker, tapped gently on the roof of the truck which Matt immediately brought to a halt, engulfing us in a cloud of dust. He jabbered to Jabulani in local dialect then quietly slipped out of the cab, signalling me to do likewise. Matt stepped to my side of the vehicle and without speaking, gently pointed with shooting sticks in the direction of the meagre cover provided by the stunted scrub to our left.
Hunched over, we began stalking forward for some 200m to where a single boar was muzzling the earth and with binoculars up glassing him, Matt shook his head indicating this one was ‘not a taker’. Jabulani whispered while pointing to the boar’s right-hand rear. A couple of hundred metres beyond, in the middle of an open plain, another solitary boar was hungrily scouring the earth.
We stealthily crept past the first boar through sparse cover, stealing as many metres as possible when Matt stopped and once again raised his binoculars, immediately indicating me to ready myself. He continued to glass the animal in an attempt to view both tusks while I steadied the rifle in the ‘V’ of the shooting sticks in preparation for Matt’s order to shoot.
The old hog was unaware of our presence about 150m away and, except for the low scrub we were hiding in, the open terrain was making it almost impossible to close the gap between him and us without detection. He cut a path from our right to left, maintaining his bearings without turning his head to allow Matt a view of the second tusk. I was having trouble maintaining a sight picture while resting on shooting sticks so eventually relaxed to watch the warthog go about his business. After about 10 minutes he turned to face us in all his splendour and Matt signalled to take him.
Refocusing my sight picture on the hog’s shoulder I gently squeezed the trigger of my Savage 116 FLSK 338 Remington Ultra Mag, a well-placed missile in the form of a Barnes 210gr TSX striking its shoulder dead centre as the warthog never so much as blinked, dropping instantly to his dose of copper. Jabulani turned to me, grabbing my hand and shaking it: “Goot shoot, goot shoot,” he exclaimed in broken English as we walked across the plain to where my warthog had breathed his last. As Jabulani raised the head of the hog Matt claimed the tusks to be 13-14" long. I was ecstatic as my enduring dream of shooting a warthog had come true.
The following day my mate Lloyd Heintzberger took a huge 16½" monster warthog, Bruce and Markus, another couple of my travelling companions managing to fill their quota too, each taking fine specimens.
Markus proved a trophy is in the eye of the beholder after spending the best part of a day sitting in a hide overlooking a waterhole until an ageing warthog wandered in for a drink. This one was so advanced it would stagger 10 or 15 paces then take a break before resuming its struggle to the water. Not large in body, it had a huge tusk protruding from its right jaw, the left tusk having been broken off a couple of inches from the jaw line.
Markus was mesmerised by the animal and decided it was the trophy he’d take home and having watched it come in for water and now on the edge of the bush 100m away, took aim and ended the misery of old age for this seasoned campaigner. Steve Miller, another member of our party, took another old hog with well-brushed and worn tusks, shot on the run through some difficult country with his 308, thus ensuring our warthog set was complete.
Fulfilling the dream of hunting in Africa will go down as a major highlight of my life, all five members of our party just ordinary blokes - no millionaires or magical formulas - just a bunch of mates who hunted the dream.