For as long as I can remember it’s been Garrett Wall, Aaron Davidson and myself. We’re not your conventional team in the sense of each having their own role. It’s more along the lines of filling the requirement when the need arises. As the old cliche goes, there’s no I in the word team.
We had enjoyed a successful first day up in the mountains and woke that second morning feeling refreshed and casually optimistic. Hunting, or most certainly for that matter guiding, with a couple of skins in the salt allows one a certain amount of adventurous freedom. It’s as if you allow yourself to explore beyond the boundaries of your imagination. That quiet valley no longer seems like a 50/50. It suddenly becomes the hideout of the big one. One’s mind starts agreeing even more so when the local Intel steers one even deeper and further into the hills than before. Hunting under those conditions is what the three of us live for.
It was Garrett’s turn on the gun. Up until this point the Gunwerks 7 mm LRM had not set a foot wrong, or let’s say the shooters had set some pretty high standards. We had meandered along the escarpment for the better part of three hours when the truck finally came to a halt. There had been plenty to look at along the way, including an impressive Mountain Reedbuck, which gave us the slip before we could get onto him. With his flashing white tail he disappeared over the skyline and onto the opposite ridge so I had decided to let him be as my attention was squarely focused on what my fellow professional hunter, Louwrence, had shared with me around the campfire that previous evening.
“I haven’t seen a pig like that for a long time”, he started off. “One of my herdsman tells me he’s been seeing him up at the sweet hills fountain from time to time and he tells me he has handlebars on his head for tusks, but he’s so erratic that I’m not certain that is where his burrow is at.” Louwrence knew he had my attention.
In the guiding world, each area has its “markers”. I’m certain any guide worth his salt in Utah has successfully guided a hunter or two to that magical 200” + class Mule Deer sometime in his career, which intern had earned him the respect of his peers. My team of professional hunter’s function as a close-knit unit, they’re fondly known as the Wolfpack, with nothing being more important than the success of the team as a collective. We share our favorite hunting spots with one another and will never leave a fellow team member hanging when it comes to the bigger picture. Here Louwrence was giving away Intel on a certain trump card. Earning the respect of your peers with a big Kudu is a given, but hunting a huge old wary Warthog boar sits in the same class as a big Vaal Rhebuck.
Once a Warthog goes beyond that ten year mark he becomes an entirely different beast. He’s temperamental, extremely sporadic and overly sensitive to change in his surroundings. He is slow maturing, but he is wise maturing. It may be down to that fact that in many regions he and his kind are considered vermin by the traditional livestock farmer who will persecute him to the brink of his existence which tends to breed a super population. The Jackal has taught us that with some distinction. It’s tough being a farmer on this land, and the Warthog only add to the challenges on a daily basis with the continues assault on the best grazing and fences.
But IF you can find a huge track of land and an understanding farmer, who realizes the value of a Warthog as an integral part of sustainable utilization then you have everything you may desire in Warthog hunting. And that’s where we were. Right in the middle of 52 000 acres. Theory would suggest the rest should be quite simple? Right? Wrong. Let’s not forget we’re talking about Warthog hunting here. There is no given and theory counts for nothing. Trust your gut, keep the wind in your face and move slowly. Glass often and wait. Wait. Wait. And wait some more. He’s patient. And if you want to succeed in hunting him you’d better be patient too. You’re in his back yard and even the birds are on his side.
I grabbed my spotting scope, my trusty Swarovski, and slung it over my shoulder just as Garrett gathered the last of his gear. Aaron would be on camera duty as we started our search for the handle bar pig. Of course we had a one in a million chance of finding him, but that’s hunting. Aren’t us hunters the most optimistic creatures on the planet?
We were at the very top of a large canyon which branched up into smaller valleys, all characterized with streams carved out of the mountains over centuries of weathering and thunderous Karoo summer storms. Lining these streams were thin bands of brush on either side running up into grassland slopes and finally up into large cliffs. Our first valley had produced a small group of Kudu and a weary old Blue Wildebeest bull who scattered out with a few young pigs in hot pursuit.
Our next one would be the one I wanted to spend time at. This is where the sweet hills spring was located and if we were to have any chance then best we start with where the old boar was last spotted. We crested slowly coming to a crawl as not to give away our presence by silhouetting our figures on the skyline. Each settled in and started glassing. After a little while Aaron ran a few tests with the camera and Garrett checked a few ranges and made sure he was on top of the unpredictable breeze.
There were pigs everywhere. I had spent at least a half hour on the spotting scope double checking pigs beyond 500 yards who carried above average sized bodies. The boars were in full rut and the movement in and out of the acacia trees was constant and promising. There was one particular clearing right in the middle of a thicket about 500 yards out that I really liked. The surrounding cover was good and the short bright green grass was at its best after the superb summer rains. Pigs were feeding in and out of the clearing from time to time making the most of the fresh growth.
I had been watching that area closely, certain the big boar would favor it over the clearing higher up on the ridge with less cover. Yet he wasn’t showing himself like the rest of the rut-crazy boars doing the rounds so enthusiastically. With my eyes straining and a sense of doubt setting in I glassed lower down the valley. To my amazement I spotted a couple of pigs literally in the act of “making bacon”. Taking up my spotting scope I could see the sow straining under the weight of the boar, which clearly carried a big body. His head was above the brush line, making it impossible to get a good look at his ivory. He was clearly in deep lust.
The minutes passed and once again we glassed the clearing for what we hoped may be a change in personal, hopefully the handlebar boar. But alas, nothing had changed. I once again turned my attention to our lustful couple deep in the undergrowth. My scope had hardly settled on the pigs when my heart rate spiked, my palms started sweating and I started barking out orders at a rate of knots. It was go time and there was no hiding my emotions. Both these guys had come to know me far too well. I had given up on the poker face strategy a long time ago.
Garrett and Aaron moved with precision and within seconds we were rolling. The new Revic was dialed to 591 yards with a 1-minute hold for wind left to right. The record button flashed red and Garrett touched off his shot. The shot cracked a couple of feet below the pig and the boar looked up and trotted off into deep cover. Garrett had more than missed. He had flunked it like I had never seen him do before. Both Aaron and Garrett are remarkable shots and know their equipment with meticulous precision. This was out of character. I looked at Garrett and I knew I had been too excited. It had excited Garrett over his calm self. I was gutted. This one was on me, but if only they knew what I had seen in my scope.
We sat in silence. The opportunity was lost. Gone for good. There was no need for words. We’re close friends. We each knew no words were going to bring the opportunity back again. I picked up my binoculars and got glassing again. Why? I’m not certain. Every animal in sight had scattered. What I was glassing for I have no idea, but I just glassed. And then there he was again on the edge of the clearing through an acacia. I was certain I was imaging it, but I cautioned Garrett back onto the gun and started explaining to him what I was looking at. Garrett soon found it and then Aaron settled on the precise spot with the camera. “Let’s wait him out”, I whispered to the guys. It’s the rut. He’ll move sooner or later. Even if we have to sit here until night fall, he is worth it. Let’s just wait.
I’m not certain if it was an hour or under an hour, but it felt like a lifetime before he moved. He stepped right into the middle of the clearing and fed up to a sow who had also forgotten about the earlier commotion. Garrett double checked his yardage. He double checked his wind. Discussed the scenarios briefly with Aaron and I and then took a deep breath. As he touched off his shot the pig lunged forward and took off down the hill. It was certainly a hit and it looked solid.
We opted to give the pig 15 minutes and then not having seen any sign of movement we moved in for a follow up. The clearing was not hard to find, but the precise spot of where the pig had stood at the time of the shot proved challenging. There was too much pig activity around. Unless we found blood we would merely be guessing and hoping. I called in Bongo my trusty Jack Russel Terrier.
Within minutes Bongo took off and soon we found the first sign of blood. At places, where one could see the pig had stood there was some decent blood, but where he was on the move the going got tougher. Bongo had altogether disappeared on us like he does in situations like this. He was working the breeze for scent. As a younger dog he would have stuck on the blood, but years of experience had taught him to work the wind. It allows him to eat up the distance between him and his quarry much quicker, so when the scent gets hot he’s running it at full capacity until he can come to a bay. At under a foot and weighing in at 15 pounds he’s a veracious little guy and one who won’t give up without a fight.
The minutes passed and soon we were making headway on the track ourselves. All of us had seen Bongo in action before, we knew we had to keep heading in his direction. Sooner or later his barking would alert us of where to head, and when that barking starts you need to move as fast as your legs could carry you. It was becoming obvious that the boar was hit slightly back from where Garrett would have liked to place his shot. The blood was to “watery”.
Some time had passed and then Bongo started that familiar sound that has saved many a hunter in the past. It’s a magical sound of a dog baying his quarry when the hunters hope of catching up starts fading. It’s the glitter of hope that sees the enthusiasm return. We took of down the valley in the direction of the barking. Then it stopped and Bongo passed us heading in the opposite direction. This was confusing. With disbelief and a sense of doubt I turned to follow him, picking up a blood trail within thirty yards. Bongo was right and the hunt was back on.
With the pig turning so abruptly from his original course he had struck I was certain he was heading to his burrow. When in danger and under pressure a Warthog will always return to his safe place or a burrow of a fellow pig. I asked Aaron to grab the other gun and head up onto the cliffs above the valley the boar was heading into. Sooner or later he should see it either fighting Bongo or breaking cover.
Aaron got into position fairly quickly while we battled away on the track. The blood flow had just about dissipated as the pig was clearly high tailing it up the valley. From time to time we would see Bongo and then he’d disappear. Aaron was updating us all along what he was keeping a birds-eye view on. About 200 yards or so up the valley we approached a small pond which I liked as that would force the track through a narrow band of brush that would allow the best opportunity to locate his trail again.
As we entered the thicket the radio crackled to life. It was Aaron asking us to hold tight. He had spotted a pig ahead of us. A boar had broken cover and was moving with a limp. From 400 yards up and the pig at a full trot, Aaron let him have it. The shot rang out and one could hear by the thud that it was true. We couldn’t see a thing and waited for Aaron to give us the go-ahead. Soon Aaron was in contact directing us to the downed boar. Walking up on it one could see it was not Garrett’s wounded boar, but a pretty nice pig in its own right. Turning over the downed boar explained the limp. The pig had a huge gash on its opposite shoulder from another boar’s tusk. A common sight during the rut.
Aaron felt terrible, but it was a mistake I would have made myself. Not for a minute would I have reacted any differently and truth be told I was so proud of Aaron’s call and shot. Being the hunter is one thing, but being dumped into the deep end and asked to play back-up guide is a much tougher task than it may appear. Making a call under pressure is no easy feat. We gutted Aaron’s boar and pulled him into the shade. We still had a big Warthog on the run.
Aaron had spotted Bongo working a particular fork in the stream ahead of us and wanted us to investigate. He would see Bongo from time to time, but Bongo was not barking, but he was certainly interested in something. We approached the spot with caution, finding Bongo on full alert at the base of a big burrow. The minute he saw us he started barking. I had seen this before. The pig was close to the entrance of the hole and Bongo needed back up. The minute we were there his demeanor changed. He flew into the burrow having a full go at the wounded boar.
The earth below our feet literally shook as Bongo and the Warthog went at it. We were standing right above the chamber that they were fighting in. I cautioned Garrett into a shooting position and alerted Aaron to keep his eyes peeled. These Warthog burrows often have numerous entrances and at times a pig may quite literally slip out of the back door without one realizing it. While Garrett covered the main entrance where the sound was coming from I started blocking any further entrances I could find. Using large rocks and branches we soon had our boar where we wanted him. Bongo was now in full voice below us and the pig had clearly settled in.
With a machete and a spade, we started digging. I had called in a crew to come and assist with the dig, as this was not my first Warthog dig. A few months previously we had a similar scenario. That dig lasted six hours. I knew Bongo wasn’t coming out and he wouldn’t quit until the pig came out, dead or alive.
The first “breakthrough” came after about twenty minutes of digging. We had made it through to a chamber where we had hoped the boar had holed up in. But the moment we broke through there was a large commotion and the pig moved deeper into the web of chambers. Hearing Bongo clearly now we knew we weren’t far. We agreed on the next digging spot and started digging. Progress was slow as we had hit a bank of solid rock, but we were determined to push through. All this time Bongo had not quit barking for a single second. Neither had we seen him for over an hour.
When the second dig broke through we couldn’t have hoped for a better scenario. Our positioning was superb as we could now see the Warthogs snout and the base of ivory tusks catching a glimmer of light from the outside. By positioning a spade to block the hole we had just dug we started working away at the bank above the pig. We needed to work away about a foot for Garrett to get in a finishing head shot at point-blank range. The minute we started working above his head he charged the spade, knocking it right out of the hands of our tracker Spinnage. The force of the hit just about broke his wrist, letting us all know this pig was far from done.
Working it carefully and having two men man the blocking spade we finally edged forward providing Garrett with the shot he needed. As the shot rang out the burrow just about exploded with erupting dust pouring out of every possible crevasse. When the dust had finally settled we cautiously peered down into the dark hole at our feet.
There in front of us lay a special animal. Not only were his tusks long, but they were massive in circumference. The boars body was one of the most impressive I have ever hunted. The hunt itself an epic journey of highs and lows, not to mention the heartache of wondering if we’d ever catch up to him. Garrett may not have started us off on the right foot, like every true hunter out there knows happens from time to time, but he endured to bank a successful follow up that certainly counted.
Contact us today for more information on our Gunwerks Group Hunts and feel free to mail Carl directly on firstname.lastname@example.org with your specific safari requests or quotes. We look forward to hearing from you and sharing a campfire in Africa.