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Sometimes it takes a village – Archery Bushpig hunt in South Africa

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November 3, 2016

by: Bill Lukaskiewicz, Bowtech Pro Staff

My professional hunter Christiaan DuPlooy and I spent a more than 35 hours over the course of about a week in a blind at night hunting bushpig in 2014.We passed on two females and one young male on Day 1 – and never saw another. Challenging, sure, but challenging doesn’t even begin to describe the most thrilling hunt of my life – an archery bushpig hunt in South Africa. But I was determined and made plans to return to South Africa with one animal in mind.

male-arrivesIn May 2016, Africa Sport Hunting Safaris (my outfitter) Professional Hunter Chris Lordan began the painstaking preparation of establishing a bait site and a trail camera, in search of the perfect bushpig. Bushpigs are rarely seen because they are nocturnal and inhabit mostly inaccessible, thick, rocky, terrain. At last! The camera gathered a few photos of a female and a young piglet over the next two months. Then finally in early July, just two weeks before we were set to fly, he sent me the first photo of the female, the piglet and big adult male at the bait. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

To prepare, I replicated the hunting conditions: practicing at night, shooting from a chair inside my garage, about 21 yards out and uphill to a 3-D coyote target. I even used a red lens flashlight to illuminate the target.

My 415-grain Easton Axis arrow from my 70-pound Bowtech RPM 360 consistently hit the spot. I was ready.

We arrived at the lodge on July 21, 2016, and Christiaan DuPlooy, Chris Lordan, and I looked at trailcam photos and noticed in every photo the male came to the bait directly facing the blind, which only offered a hard quartering to shot, and always came in zero illumination, 2 hours prior to moonrise.

Given the weight of my arrows and the speed generated by my bow, we agreed that I would take that shot.

Around 2 p.m., it was time to go.bait-1

We arrived at the blind and freshened the bait, a homemade blend of corn, yeast, water, pumpkins and beer. We placed a log across the back of the bait to force the pigs to come around it and give us a broadside shot. We checked the red light positioned over the bait and I confirmed 21 yards from the blind to the bait.

I rehearsed the shot sequence inside the blind and in my head – pigs on the bait, turn up the light slowly, tap on the leg when I could see good enough to shoot, Christiaan identifies the male, I confirm, turn up the light on my sight pin, draw and make the shot.

Easy, right?

We sat in total darkness in the African bush. At 6:46 p.m., like clockwork, we heard the pigs coming down the rocky hill toward the bait like a freight train. My heart raced. I heard the “click” of the light switch and slowly the light came on and there was the female and a little piglet just off the back of the bait. Christiaan strained to see through his binoculars then whispered, “The male is in the back. He’s coming.” My hands started to tremble as I turned on the light on my sight pin. I was about to hook up my release when the female plowed through and threw the log out of the way with her snout as if it was a twig. She walked right in and started feeding head on.

bait-light-cameraWhere is the male? Just seven minutes later, the male appeared and Christiaan whispered, “That’s him.” With the log moved, he also fed head on as he had for the last several days. For what seemed like an eternity (only six minutes actually), he stood head on. But, the little one kept moving around, which seemed to irritate him so he moved just slightly, exposing the front of his shoulder. Christiaan leaned over and whispered, “I think that’s all we’re gonna get.” I replied, “OK, here we go.” I drew and … I couldn’t see the outline of my peep. There was no ambient light. I strained, moved my head around and I thought to myself, “There’s no way I’m taking a chance,” so I let down. “I need some light on my peep,” I whispered. Christiaan took off his watch, which had the old style glow background for a light. He shined it over my peep sight, pressing the light button as I whispered, “Closer. Closer. Closer. Stop.” The pin settled on the front edge of his shoulder and I let it go. Thwack!

It hit him hard. I caught my breath and we listened. “He’s walking. I think he just laid down,” Christiaan said. We shook hands, tried to calm down, and talked through he shot a few times. Christiaan said it looked “a bit back.” Ugh, really? I thought it was right on the point of the shoulder, but lots of adrenaline and the extreme angle may have me a bit confused. We waited 30 minutes and went to see if there was any blood at the bait. We got 10 steps outside the blind and we could hear low, labored breathing, like a growling sound. “Damn! We got only one lung,” I thought.

We backed out and waited another 30 more minutes, and headed to the bait again and heard nothing. He’s dead. We found some blood at the bait and decided to call our tracker and start the search. Time was of the essence as other predators like leopards and jackals would get him.

About 25 yards into the track, we found a pool of blood where he had laid down. And found the top half of my arrow just a bit from that. It had blood to the nock end of the label, both good signs. We walked a little farther and something ran. We bumped him. My heart sank. “It’s over,” I thought. We followed his tracks to where he crossed the dirt road and Christiaan looked at me and said, “We need to call for a dog.” “He’s gone, isn’t he?” I replied. “No, he’s hurt bad, but we need a dog to stop him now.” I stuck the arrow shaft in the ground to mark the spot and we began walking back to the truck. My spirit was crushed.

It’s now about 8:45 p.m., I’m sitting on the tailgate of the truck, dejected, watching the moon peek over the mountain and Christiaan says, “Rian (PH and concession owner) is on his way with a dog. When we get him stopped, it’s way too thick and too dangerous for a bow shot, so leave the bow. He handed me his .375 rifle. “Stay right behind the dog handler, no matter what. The spotlight will come on, clear the dog and make the shot,” Christiaan added. Rian arrived with a dog handler and a German Shorthair named Jessica. Here we go. My heart rate just increased tenfold.

Round in the chamber, safety on, walking toward the blood at the bait: dog, handler, Rian, Christiaan, Silas (our tracker), a second tracker and me. The dog picks up the scent and we’re off! Brisk pace, walking, walking fast, then jogging, then running down the hill. We passed the arrow shaft I left in the dirt and headed into the thick bush. The dog stops, we stop. The dog walks, we walk. He lost the scent. Nothing. Silence.

I looked at Christiaan and he pointed at the dog who is now running again, “Go, go, go!” Running again, I am about 15 yards behind the dog handler when he yells in Afrikaans, “There he goes!” All the spotlights came on and begin scanning the bush? Are you kidding me? We bumped him again! Everyone around me yelled in Afrikaans; it’s chaos. I look at Christiaan and he says, “We need another dog.” He yells to Rian, they talk quickly and Christiaan says, “Rian is getting two more dogs. We need to stop him and one dog won’t do it. We need to wait here for the dogs. Bill, we’ll get him, my friend. We’ll get him.” I thought, there’s just no way, but I trust Christiaan.

We waited in silence for another 30 minutes, when Christiaan’s phone rang and it was Rian, who said he had two more dogs and another handler, Sakki. They new crew started back at the bait. It wasn’t five minutes when Lucas ( a mixed breed) one of the new dogs, came flying by us followed closely by Arrow (a Jack Russel Terrier), Jessica (the German Shorthair), Sakkie, and Rian.

“Go! Go! Go, Bill!” Christiaan yelled. Off we go, running full-speed through the bush and then stop. Sakki listens intently as I try and catch my breath. He points deeper into the bush and runs with me close behind. This goes on for a while; how long? I don’t know. I was just trying to keep up and stay focused so I would be in position to make this shot. Suddenly, the dogs erupt, barking and howling…but so far away! Sakki yells something in Afrikaans and points; everyone is running and yelling in Afrikaans. I look to Christiaan, who says, “The dogs have him. We’re going to the truck!”

resized

“Go, go, go!” Running again, I am about 15 yards behind the dog handler when he yells in Afrikaans, “There he goes!”

I have no idea what’s happening really. Yelling, running, all I know is that I need to stay with Sakki. We arrive back at the truck and we all pile in the back, and we’re flying through the bush as if we’re leading the Dakar Rally. Ducking branches, holding on to the truck and the rifle. “When we get there, you need to be first off the truck!” Christiaan tells me. We drove for several minutes as fast as I have ever gone and in the dark! Brakes! Stopped! “Off the truck, Bill! Get off the truck!”

I handed the rifle to Christiaan, jumped over the side and in one motion, I grabbed the rifle while I was grabbed on the left shoulder by Rian who laid a spotlight on my right shoulder and pushed me toward the sound of the dogs. It was like a military operation. “There he is!” someone yelled in Afrikaans. Rian shined the spotlight on a large thicket of African bush. I strained to see through all the dust, but in the light, there he was. Rian pushed me to the left to clear the dogs, who were going absolutely crazy. “Take the shot! The dogs are clear!”

It was so hard to do anything – yelling, dark, dust, barking, breathing, sweating. I leveled the rifle, crosshairs on his shoulder, pulled the trigger and cycled the bolt. “Far back. Can you see him?”  Rian said. Rian pushed me to the left, around to the other side. “OK, I got him” I said and squeezed the trigger, cycled the bolt. He swayed. “Again!” I squeezed the trigger, he dropped. Breathe. Rifle on safe.  Relief.  I bent over, hands on my knees. It took three people to drag him out of the thicket. We flipped him over and there was the arrow entrance hole, just three inches behind the point of the shoulder.

Four and a half hours, at night, in Africa, three dogs, two dog handlers, two trackers, two Professional Hunters, one hunter, one bow and a rifle. The most challenging and exciting hunt I have ever experienced. I look at my watch and it’s 11 p.m. and we’re headed back to the lodge. What a day! Sometimes it takes a village. And this time, it did.

And I am forever thankful for it.