Hunting With Hogfather

Bushpig-120215As I’ve written before, I like to hunt pigs. The warthog is a classic African animal, and I’ll never pass on a big tusker. I got lucky once on a big giant forest hog, and probably won’t take another…but I still hope that, someday, I’ll have a chance at a red river hog. The hunt in Tunisia for Barbary wild boar was a marvelous experience, and I hope I can do that one again. I suppose, worldwide, all of our wild swine are somewhat under-rated (at least in my estimation) but, in Africa, most under-rated of all is the bushpig, common and widespread but extremely nocturnal and difficult. Most are taken incidentally; targeting a mature boar and hunting him on purpose is unusual, unless, of course, you hunt them with Eardley Rudman, the Hogfather.

Eardley and his brother, Francois, are sons of Arthur and Trinette Rudman. Together with sister Zani they operate Blaauwkrantz Safaris in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, not just a long-standing operation, but, established in 1978, one of South Africa’s pioneer outfitters. I first hunted there in 1985, when the kids were, well, kids! Back then Blaauwkrantz was one of the only places where one could reliably hunt Eastern Cape kudu, equally well-known for Cape grysbok, bushbuck and other local specialties. I visited briefly a few years ago, but I hadn’t really hunted Blaauwkrantz for 30 years. The place is a lot bigger now, and the kids have grown up, with Eardley, Francois, and Zani’s husband, Philip Dixie, doing the PHing.

Blaauwkrantz is still one of the very best places to hunt Eastern Cape kudu, but that’s just one of some 40 huntable species offered on several concessions. Francois and Eardley sort of tag-teamed me for a few days this past July. Eardley and I took one of those beautiful dark Cape bushbuck, and Francois and I took a wonderful kudu, a nice warthog and finished with a lovely impala on the last evening. I was really delighted to see the place again after all these years, but, being an unabashed pig hunter, I have to admit that one of their “hooks” was hunting bushpig with Eardley.

Bushpig-120215The bushpig is an animal that’s sort of “there” in many areas, but rarely seen. In South Africa, baiting is a common technique, as is use of hounds; in Mozambique we often run into them in the daylight on the big floodplains…but it’s impossible to predict where, when or if. Eardley Rudman has a passion for them and, unique in my experience, has attempted to make a science of hunting them seriously. Which is why his family calls him the Hogfather…only half in jest.

The thing is, whether over bait or with dogs, and maybe especially with fleeting daylight sightings, it’s difficult and somewhat random to identify and judge a mature boar. Almost never will you actually see the teeth, and differences in body shape between mature sows and boars are subtle. Except that bushpig males have two wart-like bumps on top of the snout below the eyes, almost certainly representing an ancient bridge between warthogs and the true wild swine. Eardley baits carefully, paying attention to wind and planning for moonlight. Perhaps most importantly, he uses trail cameras, identifying mature boars and paying attention to the times they come in and frequency of repeat customers.

We tried this briefly a few years ago and got, well, a perfect braai-sized pig…but that was before Eardley refined his techniques and earned his title as Hogfather. Today, well, the bushpig is still an under-rated animal and not every client is interested in one. But the system works, with only mature boars taken and averaging a shooting opportunity in just two or three sittings. To me this is dramatic success on vampire-like nocturnal boars, and while I’m not sure I’d trade a bushpig for a fine kudu, I was interested. The challenge: To identify and take a mature bushpig boar in moonlight! Fortunately, you don’t have to trade; we hunted other game in daylight hours, and toward dusk, we headed to a bushpig blind.

On the first night the wind got us. A big-bodied pig came out of the brush almost on cue and headed toward the bait. I could see it clearly in the moonlight and had the crosshairs on it…but there wasn’t time for proper identification, and when the pig suddenly stopped dead I knew we were done. It had caught a swirl of errant wind, and we heard it crashing off for long seconds.

Two nights later, after much trail cam research, a bit more baiting, and with a steady breeze, we sat at a different bait. This one was in a tight valley with more moonshadow. The brushline was closer to the bait, so there would be less warning, but the wind was perfect.

Boddington and Eardley Rudman with a bushpig boar, not only with good tusks but showing a lot of color. Although plentiful and widespread, bushpigs are nocturnal and difficult to hunt on purpose. Rudman has made a science of hunting them and achieves exceptional success.
Boddington and Eardley Rudman with a bushpig boar, not only with good tusks but showing a lot of color. Although plentiful and widespread, bushpigs are nocturnal and difficult to hunt on purpose. Rudman has made a science of hunting them and achieves exceptional success.

The rifle, a Jarrett Ridge Walker in .300 Winchester Magnum, was set on sticks; the Leupold VX6 2-12X was turned down for maximum light gathering. We’d been sitting less than an hour, in that inky time just after full dark with the rising moon still low. I wasn’t sleeping, honest, but I neither saw nor heard the pigs come in. Fortunately, Eardley did, and he nudged me gently. I sat up to the scope and could see two dim forms. Eardley whispered, “The one on the right, in front, take him when you can.” Both looked big, and both looked exactly the same size. Later Eardley told me he could see the “bumps” on the boar and was sure. How he could tell in that light—and be sure—is beyond me, but, after all, he’s the Hogfather.

So I didn’t question him. I couldn’t see the crosshairs against the dark animal, but I could see the Firedot. I put it on what appeared to be the center of the shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The pig was down on the spot, its mate long gone. We waited a few seconds, then advanced to the bait, me wondering if I’d shot the right one, and if it was really a big boar. I had and it was, a fine mature boar with good teeth and exceptional color. I’d go on the Blaauwkrantz “Bushking” board for taking “the ghost in the darkness”…of course with Hogfather!–Craig Boddington

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