an African bushpig

Bushpig Hunting in South Africa

Many hunters, especially European hunters cannot resist the opportunity to hunt Bushpigs (Potamochoerus larvatus), the African equivalent of a European or Russian Boar. It is always an exciting hunt and gives you a gratifying sense of achievement when you manage to outwit one of these cunning beasts, similar to the feeling of a successful Leopard hunt when taken over bait.   

Historical Bushpig Distribution

Bushpigs are found along the West Coast of Africa, Congo Basin and southwards from the swamplands of Somalia down the East Coast of Africa as far as the Western Cape. They do not inhabit the dry south western desert, arid and semi-arid areas of Southern Africa. 

buspig on a game trail camera
Bushpig on a trail camera

Where to Hunt Bushpigs

Bushpigs’ preferred habitat is natural forests, swamps, thick bush, reedbeds and riverine areas which are often combined with access to agricultural crops like corn (maize), vegetables, sugar cane and water. As South Africa’s agricultural footprint increased, so has the Bushpig population, making the country the most popular destination to hunt Bushpig in Africa.

In South Africa, Bushpigs can be hunted in the Limpopo Basin (Limpopo Province) as far west as the North West Province, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Provinces, the central and eastern parts of the Western Cape Province. They now also occur naturally in the Free State Province and have become a menace to crop farmers.

They can also be hunted in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and the Caprivi in Namibia. In most instances they are hunted as a trophy of opportunity and in a few instances baited.

Hunting permits and licenses are readily available in all these countries and no CITES permits are required.

How to Hunt Bushpig

Being a nocturnal animal, Bushpigs are normally hunted at night but may also be found during the day and hunted as a trophy of opportunity.

1. Night Hunting   

In South Africa Bushpigs are treated as vermin and may be hunted at night with the use of an artificial light. The common way of hunting Bushpig is to set up a bait site using fermented corn, corn porridge, kitchen slop, rotten fruit, meat and vegetables. Being omnivores, they will dig for roots, eat bulbs, tubers and enjoy to feast off maggots in a rotting carcass.

A bushpig trophy with a nigh-scope equipped rifle
A night vision or thermal scope and/or a lamp are essential equipment for night hunting.

Night hunting is conducted in numerous different ways, from driving around fields with a spotlight to stalking the pigs while in the sugar cane fields on a moonlit night. The latter being the most difficult way to hunt Bushpig. Bushpigs are noisy feeders so easy to locate but have a good sense of smell and hearing making for a difficult approach. Approaching Bushpig on foot can be very dangerous and they have been known to attack when cornered.

Read also: A Few Thoughts on Hunting with Night Sights

Baiting is the most successful way of lure Bushpigs out of the thickets where they rest up during the day. They are mostly nocturnal; and have very poor eyesight, often looking like they are just about blinded by sunlight when encountered during the day.

Some professional hunters dig a small hole in a clearing and cover the bait they are using with some heavy rocks to prevent porcupines from getting to the bait. Others use automatic feeders which are activated by a timer that spreads the corn seeds around the feeder.  

A blind or an elevated stand is then set up approximately 40 – 50 yards downwind of the prevailing evening breeze. Once the pigs are feeding regularly, it is the time to enter the blind and get set for the hunt. Photos or videos from camera traps are often used to ensure that there is a suitable boar in the sounder to hunt and not just females with young. These camera traps also give you a good indication of what time these Bushpig are coming in to feed, so you do not need to sit in the blind all night.

2. Daytime Hunting   

Hunting Bushpigs during the day is more of a hunt of opportunity. You may just bump a pig or have one come for a drink if you are sitting in a blind bow hunting. They often sleep very soundly, sometimes snoring so keep an eye open when hunting in thickets or long grass.

A
A bushpig “nest”.

Unlike Wild Boar hunting in Europe, driven hunts are not as common in Africa. However, there is no reason why this should not bring the same result. The problem is often many other unwanted animals are also going to be disturbed during this process. It may not be a problem if the animals are antelopes, but a sudden and unexpected encounter with a Leopard, Buffalo or Black Rhino is not something a good PH would willingly subscribe to!

Read also: Wild Boar Hunting in Europe

In Mozambique, a common practise in the Sand Forest areas is to set the patches of long grass alight or just have a few people walk through the area beating the long grass with a stick while shouting and whistling. If there is a Bushpig in the grass, its nerve will eventually break and it will take off at the speed of knots heading for the forest. That’s when it’s time to get lead in the air. Running shots are difficult if it is something you have not tried before or had the opportunity to practise but no matter what the result, its great fun.

3. Bow Hunting

The best bow hunting option is over bait at night so you need to be set up with night sites. If you have scentlock clothing this would be a good option otherwise it is recommended you shoot from an elevated platform above the bait so that your scent is carried away over the feeding Bushpigs.

Bushpig hunting with a bow
A bushpig hunt is typically a short-range hunt, perfectly suitable for bowhunters

Always be on the lookout when sitting in a blind at a waterhole, you may just be surprised by an uncharacterised visit from a thirsty Bushpig or one coming in to take a mud bath.

4. Hunting with Hounds

Another hunting option offered by some outfitters in South Africa, is hunting Bushpigs with hounds. Hunting with dogs is the most successful way of shooting a Bushpig. This obviously requires a certain degree of fitness as you are required to keep up with the dogs once they are onto a pig.

The dogs will bay the pig and you need to dispatch the Bushpig as soon as possible otherwise the dog handler runs the risk of his dogs being attacked and injured by an angry Bushpig. 

A hound in a pickup
Hunting with hounds is a great way of bushpig hunting, especially for those who prefer to be active in their pursuit of game.

Habits

Bushpigs are gregarious animals with a life expectancy of about 20 years. They are often found in small groups called ‘Sounders. The average group size is 5-7. The boars weigh between 46-82kg (100-180lbs) and are much larger than the sows. They sleep during the day in dense cover and emerge at night to feed. They grunt softly while feeding and have a long, resonant growl for an alarm call.

Best Season to Hunt Bushpig

The drier the better, late winter or early spring (August – October) before the rains when food is in short supply and the ground is hard to dig. However, once if it rains during your hunt and you are hunting over bait this is likely to affect your success as the Bushpigs will be able to smell the underground foods sources and dig these out with some ease and mostly likely not return to your bait pile.       

Trophy Quality

The majority of Bushpig hunted do not make the record book for their looks or their tusks. Each pig has its own unique colouring and look, some with big warts and others with ragged ears. Unfortunately due to their lifestyle of rooting amongst the rocks, most break their tusks which affects the trophy quality. 

Bushpig tusks
Tusks are the main trophy part of a bushpig

The world record Bushpig trophy had a tusk over 117/8 inches long. These freaks of nature occur every now and then as is the case with Hippos as well, when the bottom and top tusks do not locate one above the other in the jaw. With this dental abnormality the tusks do not wear away upon each and continue growing, sometimes right through the skull.

The qualifying measurements for the record books are:

Record Book Minimum Record Measuring Method
Safari Club International 12 235/16 12
Rowland Ward 51/2 117/8 5

Breeding Projects

Bushpigs do not form part of the game ranching breeding projects established in South Africa and Namibia. Some are raised as pets when found at a young age but become very aggressive when reaching adulthood.   

Fences

This is one animal that cannot be contained by a high fence or an electric fence and is truly a free range animal even if hunted on a fenced game ranch.

Read also: The Evolution of High Fences in South Africa

Threats

Habitat destruction in some areas, deforestation are affecting Bushpig numbers in some areas. However, due to their high reproductive potential their numbers often bounce back especially where food is abundant.

Although heavily hunted in South Africa due to the damage they cause to crops, their numbers and range distribution are on the increase. They also are fairly prone to snaring as they use regular pathways in and out of the thickets making an easy target for poachers.  

They also may carry swine fever in certain areas which is deadly to domestic pigs but not to man. All trophies imported into the USA must be exported in a separate crate to the USA in line with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) swine import regulations.

In a few areas Bushpigs have now crossed with escaped domestic pigs (feral pigs) and Russian Boars that were introduced to South Africa and escaped from captivity.

Hunting Tips

Make sure to dress warm and spray yourself with insect repellent otherwise you could become a warm meal for the mosquitos. As the pigs approach you often hear them flapping their ears to chase away the annoying mosquitos.

Bushpig kill zones
Anatomy of porcines, including bushpigs, differs from antelope and deer, and you have to bear it in mind when deciding on the aiming point.

Time your hunt with the full moon which will not only help with your night vision but this is also when the Bushpigs are most active.

Use a red lamp as this will allow you a little extra time to aim when you switch on the light. General rule of thumb is to shoot the biggest pig you can see as there is no time to judge trophy quality.   

Venison

Unfortunately, the meat from all animals hunted in Africa may not be exported due to veterinary regulations. However, if you have the opportunity to try a well prepared Bushpig roast you will go a long way to find better tasting venison.

by Peter Ruddle

We’re indebted to Clive Curtis, the best bushpig hunter in South Africa and probably the whole world, for the images that illustrate this story. If you want to know more about bushpig hunting, there’s nothing better than Clive’s video series. Check them out, and once you’re ready, 

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