Flashback Friday – Warts and All

safarimagMA1998Editor’s Note: On Fridays, we reach way back in the Safari Magazine archives and dust off a story from the past. This week we tag along on a hunt in South Africa and a hunter’s admiration for the warthog, an animal the author describes as “ugly as sin and tough as nails”.  This article originally appeared in March/April 1998 issue of Safari Magazine.

We were back in the bushveld blind. It was mid-afternoon, a welcome, sleepy, in-between time of the day. It was Bushman country. Nearby were the 2,000-year-old rock paintings of those early hunters and I thought of that Bushman saying, “There is someone dreaming us.” These were days of sweet dreams, followed by nights bright with the Southern Cross and the Milky Way, a thick river of stars, flowing overhead.

Awie Kemp, my professional hunter, and I had been up since 5:30 a.m. The morning’s frost had long since gone away and we were now in our shirt sleeves. We had been at another blind shortly after dawn and returned to camp at midday. Just before noon, this flatlander gave his lungs a workout by taking a run at the Northern Transvaal’s 4,500-foot elevation. As much as anything, I wanted the experience of making tracks in the dusty, red clay among great, round elephant spoor, the dainty handprints of vervet monkeys and baboons and the sharper prints of the many split-hoofed animals that roam the area. Whatever gain came from the run, however, was quickly lost by eating the South African equivalent of a lumberjack’s lunch.

hogheavenwarthog2huntforever021214Our blinds were boxes on stilts. Very clever, these South Africans, and something very practical and comforting when visited by a couple dozen Cape buffaloes, four white rhinos and an elephant at 10 yards or less. I’m not a believer in luck; I prefer to think in terms of blessing. However, it did not escape my thought that we were sitting again in the same blind where on the first day of the hunt I had shot a magnificent greater kudu bull with gracefully spiraled, 53-inch horns. Africans say a kudu can always see the tips of its horns because if you look from the tip down the center of the spiral, you will see its eye. When I saw that kudu’s eye, I feared the fat lady might be warming up, even humming a tune – a sign that, after shooting such a splendid animal, if the hunt was not over at least it was not going to get any better.

The exercise, the lunch and the sun’s gentle heat combined to relax even the few unambitious flies that shared our blind and drowsy mood. It appeared that Kemp was using the occasion to take a long look at the undersides of his eyelids. Not to worry, the big animals were not expected to make their appearance until close to sundown.

hogheavenwarthogs1huntforever021214This is not to say there was no activity at the blind. Feeding in front of us, within 25 yards or less, close to a dozen kudu cows, calves and a few young bulls were milling about. A few impala were in the area and, of course, warthogs. In fact, there were always warthogs, sometimes as many as 18 at a time. They are the clowns of the veld, scooting about with rumps in the air, propelling themselves with their hind legs while “walking” on their front knees or “elbows.” If warthogs were not around within a half hour after entering the blind, the wind was wrong. They offer more than diversion and comic relief until the larger game shows. Other animals rely upon the hogs’ keen noses to tell them that the coast is clear and it is safe to join the party. They grunt, squeal, play and tussle with each other.

For most people, “unglamorous” is too flattering an adjective for a warthog. “Uglier than sin” is the more usual description. You might say that warthog males are double ugly because they have two pairs of warts, or twice as many as the females. Their color is basic battleship gray with some variation, depending upon whether they have been powdering themselves in red or yellow clay burrows that the ant bears dig.

Then there is the matter of the porker’s pokers. First impressions of a warthog are deceiving. It appears to have two prominent ivory tusks, while in reality it has four teeth, or two sets of two-part tusks. Each set consists of an upper and lower tooth, which fit together with precision to make a single, formidable weapon. The result is that while the top choppers get your initial attention, it is the lower set that deserves real respect. The smaller bottom tusk is honed, rip-razor sharp from constant contact with the larger top, somewhat as a pair of scissors is sharpened or a blade is stropped.

Gemrich's greater kudu's horns measured 55" around the spiral.
Gemrich’s greater kudu’s horns measured 55″ around the spiral.

I had not come to Africa with any special desire to hunt warthogs, but I had a growing respect for the jaunty pigs. However, I thought it was all over in the warthog department when I shot a tough, old sow with a fine 10 1/2-inch ivory handlebar moustache that would have made a turn-of-the-century Englishman envious. I did not want to appear piggish and did not expect to try for another one. So while warthogs were in sight, they were out of mind.

Sitting in a blind in South Africa is like fishing in the ocean: You never know what will appear. In this instance, we were “fishing” for blue wildebeest, the “poor man’s buffalo,” with that unforgettable rocking-horse lope. If they showed, it would not be until much later. No sooner had I written off the next hour or two when there appeared on the scene with great gusto a warthog with such a sense of drama, disposition and dimensions that even a novice like me could tell it was an exceptional animal, sporting special ivory.

Its redoubtable dentition made Captain Hook’s prosthesis look as harmless as a hangnail. Its top warts were 5-6 inches long. If that were not ugly enough, a nasty display of temper completed the picture of one ornery critter. Fiercely tossing its head from side to side like a skilled swordsman with ivory sabers flashing, the testy tusker scattered the other animals like chaff before the wind. It came into the feed whole hog. Dominating the area, it went from being bully-on-the-block to the sun around which all the other would-be diners orbited with watchful eye, feeding at their peril. It even kept the kudu bulls at bay.

To confirm my reading that this was no ordinary pig, I tapped Kemp, who is a master measurer for Safari Club International. Wide awake and fully alert, he gave an unqualified thumbs-up. With a proper sense of history, Kemp turned on the silent, unforgiving eye of the video to record the triumph, tragedy or the transgressions of the moment.

The author's bow-killed boar weighed 176 pounds and had 13 1/2" ivory per side.
The author’s bow-killed boar weighed 176 pounds and had 13 1/2″ ivory per side.

The warted warrior was so busy protecting its turf, I feared it would never settle down sufficiently to present a shot. The hogs are most adept at jumping the string. Shooting traditional equipment, I needed it not only to present a proper angle, but to get down on its front knees so I would have every advantage available to counteract the pig’s lightning-fast reaction time. At length it began to eat with the same enthusiasm and determination it exhibited in all other endeavors. The shot demanded that special kind of split concentration that is necessary whenever there is more than one animal present.

The arrow flew toward the mark and, at the hard bite of steel, the boar took off, hooves churning dust, scrambling up a rocky hillside.

We exited the blind and took up the trail, for in this part of Africa there is no waiting the customary half hour after a hit. The local inhabitants, namely hyena, jackal, leopard, caracal, serval and other lesser cats, are not good Samaritans. They have a considerable fondness for the unattended and seldom leave leftovers. Heart shot, first blood appeared at less than six yards. In less than 80 yards we found the veteran of so many fights that it was blind in one eye. It weighed 176 pounds, but its tusks provided a ready set of handles for dragging it back to the blind. The ivory measured 13 1/2 inches on a side, making it of such size to merit a gold medal from the South African Professional Hunters Association, a number six ranking in the SCI archery records and number 58 overall in SCI’s combined gun and bow records. That did it for the “warts.” The “…and all” included a gemsbok and two impala to go with the kudu. At that point, I was ready to lead the fat lady in song.

It should be noted, however, that shooting a warthog is one thing. Getting it into your home is a different matter. Pigs are not the kind of trophies wives are fond of seeing on their living room walls (or any other location, for that matter). I recall a friend who wanted to hang a Russian boar’s head mount in his home. His wife said he could put it in their bedroom where, in her words, “it would match the rest of the decor.” That gives me an idea for starters because I suspect my wife can say the same.–Alfred J. Gemrich

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