The alarm Clock kicked in at 6.30am, my P.H., Gavin, had intimated the previous night we would need to be up early, to travel a little further North to improve our chances. Trophy Warthog was the goal.
Soon off the tarmac road, we hit the gravel track. That said, Gavin barely adjusted his speed to accommodate the familiar, hole- ridden track. An hour and a half after leaving the comfort of the lodge, we found ourselves near to Grahamstown, (Once famous for being a British garrison at the time of the Boer Wars), sparking off some light hearted banter with the fiercely proud Afrikaner P.H. and his English guest. The landscape had now notably changed, a much more rugged and hilly landscape than the area surrounding Nduna Lodge. This was more akin to something out of a Hollywood Spaghetti Western, a dry, rugged, arid, cacti ridden area. Negotiating an old track that crossed a (thankfully) dry riverbed, we arrived at the farmhouse, a small green oasis in the dry environment already described. From high above it would have no doubt looked like a green pea thrown into the middle of a large sandpit.
After exchanging the usual introductions and pleasantries with the concession owner, myself, the two P.H.’s Gavin and JP, along with two trackers, headed out in search of a trophy “Pumba”.
The approach had obviously been well thought out. We were high on a plateau, looking down into a valley shaped a bit like a “soup bowl”. In the distance we had glassed a few kudu, mainly cows but what looked like at least one young bull in tow.
After glassing a few other animals we got our first look at “Pumba”. Deep down the valley, at the foot of the dry river bed, we could make out the distinctive shape and gait of two, maybe three warthogs heading our way. From our position we would need to get a little lower and less exposed to the skyline. Off we set, no need to go at a fast pace, the warthogs were steadily heading our way. One hundred then two hundred yards covered, the guide and P.H. stooped low, constantly monitoring the warthogs every movement, pausing only when the warthogs did likewise.
Tension was now starting to build. Clearly we could see the outline of at least one big warthog amongst the three but still too far to make a clear judgement if this was to be the one. All our concentration was honed into the hogs out front, still some five hundred yards or so distant and now starting to drift away from the river bed. You could sense the guides were now a touch anxious. If there ever was an opportunity, then it was possibly about to slip away, we needed to close faster. Should one of the three warthogs be suitable, their shift of direction would push them out in the open, making the approach far more difficult, if not impossible without being spotted. It was at this point that the most extraordinary set of events started to unfold.
Ever the consummate professional guide, Gavin casually pointed out warthog holes along the river bank, quietly whispering descriptions of the same. This, I suppose, typical of one who is so familiar with such a scene but is conscious that his guests from far flung places, find such small details of great interest. Almost parallel with us, below one of these holes, I caught out the corner of my eye, something had started too move!!! Turning my head for a clearer view, I could make out the unmistakable shape of a large warthog. I am only talking seconds here but the fact that we continued to forge on, I felt sure the lads had seen the warthog and deemed it was not what we were there for. I can’t say why, but possibly simply due to the warthog’s size and proximity, I felt inclined to give Gavin’s sleeve a quick pull.
Turning to acknowledge me, Gavin obviously now caught sight of the warthog and was likewise now desperately trying to catch the attention, without movement or noise, of the tracker, a little way in front and still oblivious to the presence of the warthog. However as with all seasoned hunters, his sixth sense kicked in telling him that something was up. There was no fuss or sudden movement. The lead guide sensed we had pulled up. Instinctively he knew from our stance that we were “weighing up” quarry.
Before us was a huge trophy warthog and luck, for now, was on our side. “Pumba” was still going about his business unaware of our presence. However, he did not get to be so big by being careless and I felt his own sixth sense was now kicking in, as he moved slowly behind the nearest bush and froze. Incredibly, we could clearly make out he was looking up at our ridge. Frozen still, we did not dare move a muscle. Stalemate!! One wrong move by hunter or hunted, could spell disaster for either.
By now I was in position on the sticks but not at point of aim. Any movement, even the few inches to bring the rifle to ready, was just too risky. In reality we are probably only talking seconds, but time seemed to stand still. The next few seconds would be decisive. The hog moved ever so slightly forward and this placed his fore end behind the thickest part of the bush. That was the break we needed and those few tentative steps, his decision too move three or four feet forward was enough for me to swing the rifle into position. I was now cheek against stock, eye against scope.
Ironically, the warthog’s instinct to move slightly forward seeking thicker shelter was one which in the majority of cases would have been the wise move. However, it had now all but sealed his fate. The thick thorn shielding not only him from me but me from him, gave me the vital few seconds needed to ready the rifle. Very slowly this huge dark shape started to move forward. Carefully I picked out the thick well muscled shoulder of this magnificent creature in my scope. Gavin provided the hushed confirmation he was good and slowly I squeezed the trigger. The dull solid thud was instantly recognisable as the sound of the shot going home good, he surged forward at what to me was surprisingly fast pace but the .270 bullet had found its mark and after running fifteen yards, he fell. As the dust settled, the legs gave a last twitch and so ended my first warthog hunt in South Africa, a truly astonishing animal, born of a truly astonishing place.