While cleaning up my archives, I found this article written about three years ago for one of the hunting magazines, and realized I never submitted it! This was from the hunt where I had Kip and a couple AOA friends along with me to the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Better late than never, right!?!
I’d been in South Africa for a few days hunting plains game with a collection of new air rifles, when my friend, professional hunter, and outfitter Rob Dell asked if I’d like to take a couple of management warthogs off his farm. Well I had to think about that, for maybe a fraction of a second. Heck yeah I did! The only problem was that I’d been using tamer mid bore guns geared towards the thinner skinned and smaller bodied antelope we’d been hunting, rather than the semi bullet proof hides of these African tuskers. The 100-125 fpe guns in .303 and .357 calibers used for the springbok and duiker would be marginal on warthogs, even for head shots, as the skull of these prehistoric looking pigs is all bullet deflecting curves and reinforced masses of bone.
But I’d brought a couple of my airgunning buddies along on this trip, and one of the guys (Kip Perow from Airguns of Arizona) had XP Airguns Ranger in .45 caliber that was producing a massive (for an airgun) 590 fpe, propelling a 345 grain bullet at 850 fps. This is not a small gun, however it is lighter than I thought it would be, and is dressed in a nicely executed laminate thumbhole stock. The configuration that Kip opted for used a 30″ barrel and a 285 cc air reservoir. To propel the heavy hollow-point bullets (made by Robert Vogel of mrhollowpoint.com) the gun takes a fill pressure of 4200 psi, and provides two shots per fill with a 4 inch drop in POI at 100 yards. When using this rifle the shooter typically carries a small 4500 psi buddy bottle in their daypack that allows the gun to be topped of 3-4 times in the field. It took a bit of begging, but eventually Kip loosened his grip on the Ranger long enough for me to get it out the door and on to the truck. Gaining temporary control of the gun, Rob and I drove out to an area of the ranch called the wagon wheel where one thing hit home immediately, there were a lot of pigs on the property!
Of the multitude of game species to be hunted in the Eastern Cape, warthog have always been one of my favorites. These animals are plentiful, provide opportunities for still hunting or from a blind, and are one of the prototypical African game animals. I love watching a big boar, tusk gleaming in the sun, trotting along with tail up in the air. What I hadn’t realized is that they are not indigenous to this region of SA, but were introduced in the 1970’s. Like the feral hogs in the states, warthogs are prolific breeders, and it didn’t take long for them to become one of the most common animals on the veld
Driving down a washboard road, we spotted a warthog about 200 yards out grazing. However the wind was all wrong for a stalk from where we stood, so we drove a couple hundred yards further down the road and jumped out to work our way along a brushline into the breeze. We moved in using the trees and thorn bushes for cover, peeking out from around the clumps of brush occasionally to check the pigs location. The 10-15 mph wind moved our scent away from the boars sensitive nose and covered any extraneous sound as we slow stalked in. We eventually were able to move inside of 50 yards, though it took about 25 minutes to cover the 150 yards.
Rob set up the shooting sticks in the shadow of an umbrella tree, which allowed me to mount the gun and get a solid rest. I like to shoot from a sitting or kneeling position when possible, but this type of hunting often requires standing shots from sticks, so it’s good to practice the technique before the trip. The rifle had been cocked as I’d moved onto the sticks, and dropping the crosshairs on the warthogs shoulder and taking a couple quick breaths, I squeezed the trigger. With a muffled crack followed by the immediate thud of the 325 grain bullet impacting the pigs shoulder, he dropped on the spot.
For the next warthog I tried a different approach, ambush! The region had been experiencing some pretty dry weather, but there were a few dams and waterholes spread about the 10,000 acre property. One in particular, was getting hit on a regular basis, as proven out by the copious amounts of fresh spore. This spot could be seen from a dirt road running parallel to the four wire stock fence, and you could drive by and spot a warthog or two wallowing, but stop the car and they were gone in a flash of tusk and upright tails.
My solution was to get out early and set up a ground blind. I found a spot on the side of a hill overlooking the waterhole, and started construction with a thorn bush growing by a rock that offered an overlook of the surrounding country. Rob then had our tracker use his machete to cut down additional branches from nearby elephant thorns and build me into a circular hide about 3 feet high with a diameter of approximately 4 feet. I was hidden, but if I shifted my position it was followed be a jab from a 2 inch spike! This was one hide that I was not going to fall asleep in, as to do so put me at risk of being skewed like a shrimp at a BBQ!
I was walled in a bit after daybreak and given a radio so I could let camp know when I wanted to be dug out, then left to wait. I propped the gun up on my Gorilla shooting sticks, and sat very still, glassing the area for signs of approaching pigs. No matter what or where you hunt in Africa, a quality set of binoculars is a must. I have been using the Hawke Frontier 10×42 for the last year, and absolutely swear by them. These are moderately priced binos with optical quality far superior than you have a right to expect for the price. And thus equipped I was able to pick up two warthogs making their way towards me, from a very long ways off. Just about that time, a motion right behind me almost had me jumping through the thorns, and as I turned found myself looking directly into the face of a goat! This is a working ranch, and I had to allow that the livestock needs to drink as well. But right now with warthogs on the way? I sat and watched the small flock come in to drink, and after allowing them a few minutes to fill up started tossing rocks in an effort to encourage their immediate departure.
About 5 minutes later, a pig slid over the lip of the dam and cautiously approached the water, settled in, and started to drink. He was about 65 yards from my prickly blind and unaware of my presence. I slowly lined up the shot, with the crosshair right behind the shoulder. And just as my finger was starting the squeeze, a second pig rolled over the embankment. A quick appraisal confirmed these two animals were a mirror image in every respect, so I stayed with my initial target and adjusted the crosshairs to cover the first boar. I applied pressure to the trigger and the gun barked, and it does have a bark!
Watching through the scope, I saw the medium sized pig drop in his tracks, landing about 4 feet out in the middle of some very nasty looking water. He then jumped up, took about five paces, and went down for good. I crawled out of my little elephant thorn corral, scratched up and looking like I’d been thrown into a burlap bag with an angry bobcat, and made my way down to the muddy shore and out through the muck. When I could reach a hind leg, I grabbed it and pulled the young boar back to shore and radioed for the guys to join me.
Using an airgun to hunt warthogs requires the right guns and ammo to be selected. I have worked with the guys at Hounslow Safaris on the Eastern Cape to develop airgun hunting in South Africa for almost a decade. Based on this experience we have given a lot of thought to the right guns for the game we shoot. I think that warthogs require a minimum of .357 caliber (though bigger is preferable) shooting heavy solid lead or hollowpoint bullets, at a minimum of 350 fpe. There is no doubt that smaller calibers and lower powered guns can kill a warthog, but these are tough animals, and the tolerance for less than perfect shot placement decreases dramatically if one doesn’t use enough gun.
I feel that by using an airgun, the challenge is amplified and the experience that comes from leveling the playing field further increases the sense of accomplishment. At the same time, this method of take only makes sense if the proper equipment, the shooters skill level, and the appropriate shot selection are brought into the mix. If you cannot or do not want to get in close, an airgun is probably not the right tool for you. However, if you want the excitement and challenge of getting up close and personal, I can’t recommend this approach highly enough. We’re putting together a hunt next fall, and will have several big bore airguns available. If you’d like to give it a go, drop my buddies over at Hounslow an email!