Three Legs and a Barrel of Fury
From time to time we get asked to “help out”. This normally involves doing something that no one else wants to due to risk or other factors. This was one of those times.
A good friend who farms nearby in one of our prime pig hunting areas called me at just after 9pm on a Friday night.
We were just settling in for the night in anticipation of a 3am start as we would be hunting an area between the cane lands and forestry belt in the Bongwana area of Southern Kwa-Zulu Natal. As I heard him start to speak I knew there was something amiss. Pete was due to hunt with us in the morning, but he was slightly out of breath and there was something else in his voice,” Ian, Ollie’s wounded a Pig”.
My initial response was probably not what he wanted to hear, but,”Oh Shit” about summed up my feelings at the time. I immediately got that tingle through my body and my senses snapped to attention in anticipation of the battle I knew would be in our future. If the pig survived through the night, tomorrow at first light we would be going out to put him out of his misery.
Ollie had been sitting at the elevated stand built above a bait we had constructed some time back. There had been regular opportunities to shoot pigs on the stand with several sounders coming in to eat what we left for them, before moving on to forage. During the Maize growing season these pigs become a menace and flatten large areas of standing maize each night to eat the cobs they pull off. With the price of maize climbing each year the damage that used to be acceptable simply is no longer and pigs have become public enemy number 1.
The other aspect that has come into play is that Bushpig are spreading and extending their range each and every year. I read something written by an American Houndsman, he said “there are two kinds of place in the world, where the pigs are, and where the pigs are going to be”. While he was referring to the feral pigs in the US, our bushpigs here in Africa are no different in their quest to colonise the continent. If there is food and shelter, they breed, spread, colonise and start to cause destruction wherever they go. Modern agriculture and specifically Cane, Maize and Forestry practices have given the pigs all they will ever need to be able to sustain their spread. Basically, the pigs are here to stay, and I am going to hunt them for as long as my hounds and I have breath in our lungs.
I got up at 3am, looked outside and found my worst fears had come to pass. It had rained all night and was still drizzling. When I had spoken to Pete the previous evening he had been following what he described as good blood spoor with a flashlight in the thick brush.
Watching him tell the story you could see that it had taken a lot of courage to go after a wounded pig in the thick stuff not knowing what lay in wait. Having had Hilton regale him with tales of pigs tearing his hair and skin free from his skull the week before, he had just cause to be very, very cautious.
The 25mm of rain was a problem, firstly it washed away any blood spoor or tracks that would have been visible, and secondly it kills scent. All but the coldest of noses would simply not stand a chance. With my mind going 10 to the dozen we loaded up the hounds and headed off to the site about 36km away. I knew that under these circumstances Chase, the big Bluetick x Bloodhound, would be my number one. If he couldn’t get the scent then there was no scent. Fudge, a beautiful big Red Tick male, would have been my first choice to back him up, but he was out with a lame hind leg.
It would have to be split, a hard baying hound with a good nose, but young at heart and possibly too brave for his own good. If they got into it in the thick stuff he would have the balls to back Chase up and hold the pig at bay.
When we arrived it was as wet as it had ever been. I got out of the vehicle just before first light. At that time of day that the Zulu’s called “The time of the Horns”, that 20 minutes between dark and first light when the Impis of warriors would circle around on both sides of the enemy and enclose them while they slept. Like the horns of the bull they would close the enemy in and then force their foe into the embrace of waiting steel and taught muscle to be smashed into oblivion. Perhaps it was the English blood in my veins that brought about an ominous chill at the thought of thousands of Zulus on the run in those times of old. But I digress.
We could just make out the stand in the early light and the feeding spot, but tracks and blood were no more. Now it was up to Chase to show us what he was made of and find scent where we knew there should be none. I asked Pete to show me where he had followed the blood. I walked back to the bakkie and called chase in to me. On a leash I let him down. His whole demeanour had changed, he knew what was coming and couldn’t wait to show us one more time why he is probably one of the top pig hounds in the country, why every person that hunts on his howling voice always remembers him.
While I had been looking at the area and deciding on the best approach, each of the hounds had been fitted with a tracking collar, this modern technology ensures that if we cant follow the pursuit visually we can at least get an idea of where it is going, this area is rugged to say the least.
Chase started to gulp down blasts of cold moist air as his sensory glands sorted through the millions of scent particles. He suddenly changed course, and came back on his spoor, took off on a tangent and started to pull and doubled up the pulse of his sniffing. His whole body started to quiver, you could be forgiven for thinking that he had chuckling to himself at the thought of the chase to come, as his whole body was a pulsing mass. And then, he had it. With the first of many bawling calls, I slipped the leash and he was off. That amazing confidence in his nose, I knew we would have a pig in the salt soon.
I gave a few quick instructions to the crew, told Amos to follow close with the rest of the pack and with split on a lead took off through the thick stuff. Having rained all night it wasn’t 10 m into the bush and I was soaked through. I was glad for the cold water to keep me cool but the weight of the clothes I wore would limit my endurance.
Split was running well next to me, as Chase gave a series of good long howls I slipped him from his leash and sent him after Chase. Chase was making good time and I had to keep going at a steady run to stay with him. The pig had taken a line straight away from the hide. We had not deviated much from the line and it had gone straight up and down the rolling terrain for about 1km before I heard Chases voice change and knew we were close.
Having had a chance to question Ollie, we assumed that the pig was not mortally wounded having concluded that it had been hit through the jaw as it looked up at him. My guess was that it had heard his final preparations for the shot and look up at him at the last moment making his uncorrected aim for its brain end up hitting it through the nose or jaw as it lifted its head.
The danger factor here was that this pig would still be strong without any blood loss and highly pissed off with the pain in its head. Chase and I would have to be sharp as this pig would come on at the slightest provocation.
We closed on a patch of coppice gum, I knew the pig was in there, it had chosen the best place to make a stand. The thick coppice was Gum re-growth with zero visibility and very little light penetration. I looked up at the sky and saw it was brighter but still very damn dark in the grand scheme of things. I silently cursed my own impatience, had I give it another half hour the odds would swing in my favour in the thick stuff; but Chase and Split were already in there and would not hesitate to hold that pig if they found it and got it to bay. Right boys, time to man up and go sort out the pig.
As I hit the first line of coppice the dogs got to the boar about 200m ahead. I plunged through the brush with new determination, there was no way I was letting the dogs get hurt through me wasting time. My .303 held tightly in my hands. I had chambered a round but not closed the bolt as I went into the coppice. It was easy to fall here and I was not going to have an AD on my watch.
I could hear the pig now, the dogs had it bayed and the commotion was insane. The pig making a series of, Kgomp, Kgomp, Kgomp, grunts; and gnashing its teeth together. Each of its lower tusks razor sharp and easily capable of putting an end to either of my hounds or I.
I was 5 m away from them, the light still not good enough to make out what was going on but I knew my hounds were holding him, one on either side with Chase commanding the situation. I crouched down to get below the leaf line and could see the legs of the pig and the dogs going back and forth. The pig, making lightning quick dashes at the dogs, trying desperately to get a tusk into a hound. He knew if he could just nail one of the dogs his ticket out of there was booked.
As I moved in I was now less than 3 m from the pig. I was careful to come in down wind so that I would not bump the pig with my scent or have it come for me. The dogs were doing well and had it held. All hell was breaking loose and the pig had cleared a circle in the brush with its dashes that I quickly realised was the death zone for anyone who got caught in it. The dogs were a whirling blur in the pre dawn light and there was no clear shot. At this stage I must tell you that even with the commotion of the hounds all you can hear is that pigs tusks clashing against each other.
It was clear to me that this pig was highly motivated, the level of aggression and maddening gnashing were something out of this world. With the pre dawn cool the odds were stacked in his favour, I needed to end this before one of my hounds paid the price.
Time seemed to stand still, with no more than 2 minutes having passed since I entered the bush. My chest heaving with the exertion of having plunged through the unruly tangle of bush and slash piles, the battle was now.
Adrenalin pumping but still with the moment, my every sense focused on the pig.
Standing dead still I waited, for the moment. That split second where you know the dogs are safe and that the pig is there for the taking. Chase went in, at the top of his lungs, as he withdrew Split was there with an equally deafening howling bawl, the pig went left then right and then as the dogs cleared back to my side in anticipation of the next rushing charge, I stepped into the circle and with my gun 2 feet from the pigs head, I fired.
The crash of the old war horse boomed across the valley and the 150gr soft tip exploded in the pigs head. Its brain turned off its legs tucked up and instantly it was on the ground. The hounds went mad and grabbed the pig as it gave its last few kicks.
It was over…
With a sigh of relief at having ended this pigs ordeal we pulled the hounds off and I called the crew in to help pull the pig out the bush.
As it lay there steaming in the dawn I saw something that I could never have expected. The old pig had three legs. A well healed stump of a hind leg was all that was left after a poachers snare had taken the rest. My admiration for this old bugger grew right then. With a shot through the head and on three legs this pig had put up one hell of a fight. Going out with his boots on. His aggression was warranted.
With my dogs safe and the pigs suffering over. It was a good start to the day.
Hot coffee and an egg sandwich, a drink for Chase and Split, and we took the scent again. The rest of the sounder was still out there and we had the day ahead of us…