South Africa: 2014
Not for the Faint-Hearted – Hunting Bushpig in the Eastern Cape
By Kim Gattone
It was a calm, cool morning, wet with dew, the low-lying fog quickly evaporating in the rising sun.
These are perfect conditions for scent dogs and, sure enough, the strike dog Blue, was already “giving tongue” from the back of the truck before his feet ever hit the ground!
Blue is an older, three-legged bluetick hound; he’d lost that leg in a close encounter with a bushpig, and is a better dog on three legs than many are on four! Blue, leased to a houndsman, bayed the pigs in their nest. Unfortunately, the pigs “broke their nerve” quickly and scattered rather than holding up.
The first best chance at a bushpig is right there when the dogs strike the nest, but I was not right there, and so the pack was released and the organized chaos was on! This is where the relentless hounds pursue the bushpig until it tires of the flight and turns to fight.
Second-best chance at the a bushpig comes if one is fleet of foot and determined – then one might be able to intercept the fleeing quarry and dispatch them in a clearing as they cross ahead of the dogs. Now this is only possible if the gunner can stay or get ahead of the chase. At this stage of the day, having a middle linebacker from the NFL to break trail through the thorn and brush, running uphill, would come in handy! The third best chance for the gunner – and the one that usually ends the hunt – is to be close enough to the spot the pigs choose fight over flight and “bay up.” This is where the real danger to the dogs is, and time is of the essence.
There is a code of ethics that every bushpig hunter must accept and agree to going into the hunt. Houndsmen have the right to take the pig with their shotgun if the dogs are in danger of getting killed by the vicious pig, whether the hunter has arrived or not. I agree with this code and have great respect for the hounds and the specialized technique that goes into training them.
In another life, not so long ago, I confess to being a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I had a good, long career as a distance runner, and 13 years as a high-altitude mountaineer. My base level of fitness now is not what it was “back in the day,” but it is still above average. I mention this because this hunt was physically and mentally demanding. Crashing nonstop through the thorn and scrub for over two miles at a run with a shotgun, and trying to keep close to the chase so as to not endanger the dogs with an unnecessary delay once the pig was held up, was no simple task. Many a PH has lamented the lack of condition of their clients, at times having to go to great lengths to compensate for it. In this case, if you cannot pursue the chase, you cannot expect to close in in time for the kill, so if you want to run with the “big dogs,” you had better be fit!
Let me back up for a moment. I flew from Joburg to Port Elizabeth over the Indian Ocean, above the white sandy shoreline. I was excited to visit a new province of South Africa and would be spending the next three days with my PH Gary Phillips, owner and operator of Gary Phillips Hunting Safaris. Gary is the sixth generation of a family devoted to wildlife and farming in the Eastern Cape. He has over 20 years’ experience in the hunting industry, with access to over two million acres of private concessions over lush coastal bushveld, semi-arid Karoo, and the mountainous savanna. The noticeably diverse landscape was emerald-green during my visit.
Just an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth is Gary’s exclusive lodge, Assegai Bush Game Reserve – a lovely five-star camp nestled in the lush coastal bushveld, where I was greeted by camp manager Carla who lavished me with her exquisite meals and warm hospitality for the next three days.
Gary and I intended to hunt both caracal and bushpig with hounds, but after two days’ effort hunting caracal, we never cut scent. On my third day, with the arrival of Paul Mills and his enthusiastic hounds, a change of fate took place. Paul’s hounds are used exclusively for hunting bushpigs.
Bushpig hunting with hounds is an Eastern Cape tradition that has gained legendary status over the years. Bushpigs are one of the hardest trophies to take in South Africa. It is a physically demanding hunt that requires an all-out effort, and certainly is not for the faint-hearted. The pigs are fast and powerful, with upper canines that form small tusks with razor-sharp edges that make them an animal to fear. When cornered they become aggressive beyond description and potentially dangerous.
Charging through the brush we came upon the bayed bushpig, and the only description that comes to mind is complete mayhem: My PH and the houndsman trying to maintain order in a world gone wild, hounds barking and clamoring about, and my quarry, a bushpig almost as exhausted as me, fighting with everything he possessed – for certain he understood that his life depended on it.
The houndsman stepped aside and with no more than 25 feet separating me from the pig, I shouldered the Winchester 12-gauge, shooting twice the 00 buckshot into him. In my book, when shooting something that dangerous, it’s worth shooting twice to finish the fight! A rush of adrenaline coursed through my veins!
Over the last seven years it has been my good fortune to hunt in Africa. I have one of those dream jobs – as the advertising sales manager for the African Hunting Gazette, my job is sweet. I’ve had a number of wonderful safaris hunting plains game species with both rifle and bow. As weapons go, I am most familiar with, and found of, the smoothbore shotgun. Shooting birds over dogs is one of my passions. As for dogs, I love them. So when this opportunity came for me to use both a shotgun and dogs in the Eastern Cape, needless to say, I was pretty excited. This wasn’t birds over pointers with one ounce of #6 shot, but 00 bush shot for a very large and ferocious bushpig surrounded by baying hounds in thick brush!
As quick as I was afoot and with my two shots, the pig had still scored some licks before he succumbed to my shotgun, and several dogs took wounds. Their owner and lifelong houndsman, Paul Mills of Bunker Hill Hounds, turned his truck bed into a surgery center and stitched up four hounds on site. I am a tenderhearted dog lover of the highest order and these gladiators of the canine world won my admiration. They are remarkable in their uncomplaining courageous service facing a formidable and deadly opponent, and they are the heroes of this story, deserving every accolade we can bestow!
The controversy of hunting with hounds will range on long after my story has ended. I understand both sides of the argument. I am a huntress and a conservationist, an animal lover and a meat eater. Whether you agree with hunting with hounds or not, it is a timeless argument. Hunting with hounds is an ancient, efficient, and long-practiced art. For centuries, man and his faithful dog, be it purebred or cur, have hunted multiple species on multiple continents. Wild boar, red stag, African lion, mountain lion, bushpig, bear and wolves; duck, geese, partridge, pheasant and grouse – and on it goes, great and small, all have been successfully brought to bag with the help of our courageous canine companions. So here’s to Blue, the three-legged strike dog, and his pack of baying brothers! Long live the hunt, and long live the hound!
Kim Gattone, Advertising Sales Manager for “African Hunting Gazette,” makes her home in beautiful southwest Montana and enjoys writing about her adventures to share them with others.
20.3RSABushpigGattone 1380 words
Pull-out “In my book, when shooting something that dangerous, it’s worth shooting twice to finish the fight!