Warthog and Warthog Hunting

by Peter Ruddle

The Warthog, or Warzenschweine as they are called in German, got its name from the protruding facial warts on the head. From birth, you can identify a male from a female by the number of warts: a male has two pairs and the females only a single pair. Warthogs have small ears and large flat foreheads that culminate with a flat pig-like snout. The boars are often double the weight of a sow and grow heavier and longer tusks. These modified upward protruding canine teeth (tusks) grow from both jaws, with the larger set growing from the upper jaw. These teeth are razor sharp from the constant meshing of the upper and lower jaws, making the warthog a dangerous adversary. The warthogs can do serious damage with their tusks, and are far from the cuddly cute friendly soft toys depicted in Disney animated movies.

Historical Distribution of the Warthog

Warthogs are widely distributed across the savanna regions of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding the jungle areas, from West Africa to East Africa and down Southern Africa. According to recent findings, there are two separate warthog species, the Common Warthog and the Desert Warthog. These two species are further divided into a total of six subspecies.

The Common Warthog, Phacochaerus africanus is subdivided into four subspecies, namely:

  •   Central African Warthog, Phacochaerus africanus massaicus found in Tanzania and Kenya.
  •   Eritrean Warthog, Phacochaerus africanus aeliani comes from Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia.
  •   Northern Warthog, Phacochaerus africanus africanus from Ethiopia and Mauritania
  •   Southern Warthog, Phacochaerus africanus sundevallii found in Southern Africa.

The Desert Warthog, Phacochaerus aethiopicus subspecies are:

  •   Cape Warthog, Phacochaerus aethiopicus aethiopicus an extinct species from the Cape Province of South Africa.
  •   Somali Warthog, Phacochaerus aethiopicus delamerei from the desert regions of Kenya and Somalia.

Where to Hunt the Warthog

Warthogs are widely distributed throughout Africa. Their distribution range continues to increase in countries like South Africa and Namibia, where they are protected and provided with permanent drinking water and high-quality food, often in the form of commercially grown crops like maize (corn). By contrast, elsewhere in Africa land-use change (habitat loss) causes a decline in warthog numbers. However, the warthog remains a species of least concern according to the IUCN.

The hunting record books make no differentiation between the species, and have a single listing for all kinds of warthog. Warthogs may be hunted in Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, ChadEswatini (formerly Swaziland), Ethiopia, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
a hunter stalking a warthog

How to Hunt Warthog

Rifle Hunting

For many European hunters, pig hunting, be it from traditional high seat or a driven hunt, is an irresistible attraction. Warthogs are normally hunted “spot and stalk” style, unless ambushed at a waterhole. The latter method is often considered ethically questionable as far as rifle hunting is concerned, but is totally acceptable for bowhunting.  

Warthogs require high-quality (nutritious) food and will often be found grazing on short green grass near a water source of emerging fresh green grass after a burn. They are never far from water and due to their size, will disappear in the long grass where they sometimes hang out on a windy day. When spotted from a distance and you can see the “ivory” (as tusks are referred to in professional slang, although they are of course not true ivory), you know that it would be worthwhile approaching the animal to check out the tusks. The tusks are used as digging tools to find roots and tubers to eat and there is often distinct wear on these modified teeth. You will even be able to see if the hog is a lefty or right-handed by the side it favours to use their tusks. Tusks tips may also be broken especially in rocky areas so choose your trophy carefully. Broken and worn tusks actually give your trophy character and this makes each warthog individually recognisable.    

Warthogs have poor eyesight and a good sense of smell. Due to their poor eyesight, they can be relatively easily approached but will run away if altered by other animals, bird alarm calls and sometimes for no reason at all if startled by a sudden gust of wind for instance. They are best approached from downwind and often you can get very close. If they detect any movement, they raise their heads and give you that WTF look as if they cannot believe what they are seeing. They then give a short grunt before taking off. Many times in these situations, they run a short distance, stop, turn around as if still in disbelief of what they just saw, giving you a second chance to take a shot. 

a warthog taken with a bow

Bowhunting

Warthogs and mud go hand in hand. Where there is water and where there is mud, you will find warthogs. Most warthogs are hunted from permanent blinds built overlooking the water where landowners often supplementary feed their animals. During the harsher winter months, warthogs are attracted to the feeding sites and in summer on hot days, they will come for their daily drink and probably enjoy a mud wallow as well.

Warthogs are not shy when approaching water and will just trot straight to the water’s edge to start drinking. Often they stop to have a brief look around so wait until they start to drink before attempting a shot. If they are suspicious that they may be a hunter in the blind, they are quite likely to jump the string so give them time to start drinking and relax.

Warthogs can be easily patterned. Some animals will drink in the late morning to midday whilst others like some big boars only drink at last light. If needs be, a temporary blind can also be built over a waterhole and within 20 – 30 minutes of any disturbance, the first hogs are likely to start arriving. They are not concerned about the human scent on the ground at a waterhole, only that of human scent which is carried in the wind. So relax, take your time and you will be successful.

Warthog Habits

Warthogs have close family ties and you will often see the previous year’s daughter still hanging around with her mother even when she has a new litter of piglets. A sow may produce between 2 – 8 piglets in one litter but mortality is high and often only one survives to adulthood. The common causes of death in piglets is drowning in their burrows during heavy rainfall, suffocation when burrows collapse, and predation. But what kills most warthog piglets is starvation, when there is insufficient high-quality nourishment from the vegetation upon which they feed.  

The boars only join the sounder during the mating season. Otherwise in most cases they move around independently of any female company and sometimes in small bachelor groups. However, they quite often feed in the same vicinity and it may look like they are part of a sounder.

Whilst out and about hunting ensure that you do not walk past the entrance of any active warthog holes. Warthogs often make use of unused aardvark burrows in which they sleep at night and give birth to their young. When entering a burrow an adult warthog will reverse into the hole ensuring that the sharp end, the end with the tusks, is ready to charge out of the hole and defend itself in the event of any danger. Several trackers and hunters have been wounded and in some instances even received broken legs when these hogs come bursting out their holes in an attempt to escape.

Crawling into a hole to retrieve a wounded warthog has also led to many interesting campfire adventure stories being told. One such story ended up with the PH wedged in the hole holding onto the warthog’s tusks for dear life. These holes are often infested with fleas and tampans, a type of flat, soft, leathery-skinned tick that transmits swine fever. This disease does not affect either humans or warthogs, but is deadly to domestic pigs and once infected the farmers are required to cull their whole herd and disinfect their pigsty. Swine fever can easily be transmitted if a domestic pig feeds on raw or undercooked infected warthog meat. In South Africa warthogs harvested in certain areas may not be transported across the veterinary redline, in order to prevent the potential spread of swine fever.     

In some crop growing farming areas, warthogs have become a problem just like their close cousins, bushpigs. In these areas, they are treated as vermin and shot on sight. They are diurnal animals, sleeping in old burrows and sometimes even just building grass nests in the reedbeds. On full moon nights and early nightfall, you may still encounter a warthog travelling to get to its favoured sleeping place. 

The Best Season for Warthog Hunting

Warthogs are difficult to find during the summer season when the grass is long. The best hunting months are the drier winter months and spring when it may be hot and dry before the arrival of the rains. Warthogs enjoy a good drink combined with a wallow that helps them to rid and relieve themselves of itching and biting parasites, like fleas and ticks.

They are not drought resistant and unfortunately succumb to lack of water very easily, as compared to most other African game species. However, choose the driest (April – September) and hottest time (September – October) to hunt warthogs in Southern Africa.

Warthog Trophy Quality

As usual, genetics, habitat and food quality play an important role in determining trophy quality. Also, a general rule-of-thumb is that the best trophy quality warthogs are hunted away from rocky areas on sandy soils where their tusks are not worn or less likely to get broken while digging for underground food sources.

The tusks are measured on the outside curve from the tip to the root. At least two inches (+ 5cms) is found within the jaw. The benchmark for a good tusk length depends on the area and will range from 6 inches and up. A great trophy size tusk is anything over 10 inches. In some instances in South Africa, warthog trophy prices are proportionately adjusted and range according to the length of the tusks.  

a big trophy warthog

Qualifying Measurements

The qualifying measurements for the record books are:

Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Rifle Min. Record Measuring Method Minimum Record Measuring Method
30” 47″ 49  10/16″ 12 13″ 24″ 5

Warthog Breeding Projects

Not many warthog breeding facilities exist but a few warthogs are held in captivity. These warthogs are released and sold for trophy hunting from time to time and unfortunately accepted into the SCI record book and recognised as a hunted trophy. Recently, one such animal bred in captivity and released for hunting was taken by a hunter and now stands to become the new world record once being officially measured.

Warthogs and Fences

It is very difficult and expensive to build a pig proof fence that will contain or keep unwanted warthogs out of an area. When fences are electrified, warthogs are known to run at the fence, start squealing before they hit the electric fence and go right through the wire. If unsuccessful, they may repeat the exercise until they make it to the other side.

Pig proof fences are normally too expensive to build over long distances and the standard game fence, electrified or not, will not stop a hog that is determined to escape. They often seek out a weak point, perhaps where another animal like a porcupine has dug under the fence, and take the same route. When driving along these miles and miles of game fences you will see all sorts of efforts made to stop warthogs from burrowing under fences. Rocks, metal stakes, old tyres and all sorts of things are used to stop the warthog movement. In some instance</s, other bigger animals like bushbuck and even lions will use these creeps to escape. When a lion escapes this can become a nightmare for the owner as they will be held liable for any damages and be required to pay compensation. Needless to say, for this very reason warthogs may not be tolerated by some game breeders and landowners.

Warthog Hunting Tips

  •         Check out all known mud wallows when searching for a trophy pig. Likewise, if you find a good size trophy in an area and come across a freshly used warthog burrow, nest or sleeping area, make a mental note to check this spot at dawn or dusk.
  •       If you take a frontal headshot at a warthog, draw an imaginary cross from the eyes to the warts. This position will be high on the forehead so be careful not to shoot too low otherwise you may have a wounded pig on the loose.
  •         It is often worthwhile to take your midday break overlooking a waterhole as a good size hog may just come to take his daily ablution and have a quiet drink.  

Warthog Venison

Warthogs make fantastic mounts either as a shoulder mount or just a European (skull) mount on a shield but best of all warthog is recognised as one of the finest bushmeat in Africa. Unlike pork, which once cooked is white meat, this meat is a much darker grey, and extremely lean. Unlike pork rind, warthog skin is inedible. 

To get the best out of warthog meat there is nothing better than a well-matured tender marinated young warthog slow-cooked on a spit. This will feed at least 30 people and one satisfied hunter. 

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