Many years ago I accompanied a man that was to become my boss on his first buffalo hunt. He was not as fit as he should have been nor as the circumstances demanded, a situation worsened by his choice of foot wear – knee high leather boots. I probably also pushed him harder than I should have and the upshot was that he lost two toenails during the course of the hunt.
They say revenge is a dish best eaten cold and it was some years later, when he actually was my boss, that he orchestrated the occasion. He invited me to “shoot some pigeons” as he put it. Not being a wing shooter nor even owning a shotgun, initially, I politely declined. He was insistent. It would be fun. I would meet some interesting and influential people. He was my boss after all and I soon relented and agreed.
I should have smelt a rat when he sent his driver to fetch me from the airport. I definitely did so when we arrived at a set of gates manned by a policeman. My worst fears were realized when, at the second set of gates, there were more police and a TV camera crew beneath a large banner proclaiming, “Rothman’s International Sporting Clay Pigeon Championship.” Yes, I had been entered into a team consisting of my boss – a good shot – Imran Khan, the Pakistan cricket captain – a very good shot – and George Moreton – then reputed to be the best clay pigeon shottist in Britain.
We were the first team to shoot in front of a full grandstand and I watched in horror as, at the first station, a round black disk rolled fast across the ground from left to right while, simultaneously, another sailed overhead from behind like a frisbee.
When it was my turn to shoot the borrowed shotgun my boss had lent me, I froze like a cobra confronted by a mongoose. Everyone waited and then waited some more until the marker kindly nudged me and whispered, “Ye’re supposed to call “Pull” Gov.”
I missed every “rabbit” as I learned the rolled disk was called and hit only two of the five frisbees. I was beyond embarrassment. I was a hot, sweaty mess and, if I could have crawled off and hidden myself away in a car boot, I would have done so.
I was reminded of all these sensations on a recent shoot for Barbary wild boar in Tunisia last year where, after five days of the shooting, I managed to miss eight pigs in a row and shoot only one small boar as it committed suicide by running diagonally at me down the rough, dirt track along which our ten guns had been positioned.
Tunisia, at 163,610 square kilometers, is a relatively small country and, with a population of some 10,4 million almost exclusively Muslim citizens, is the most northerly country in Africa. Its neighbors are Algeria to the west, Libya to the south east and the Mediterranean to the north and east. The country, once described as the breadbasket of Roman Empire, has a rich history and was home to the ancient city of Carthage.
When I was there in October 2010, it was still a dictatorship in all but name and its leader, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, had presided over the country since 1987 and a systematic diminution in press freedom and an increasing lack of judicial independence. Having said this, its people enjoyed a GDP of $3,850.00 per person, the highest in North Africa. Tunisia was ranked by the World Economic Forum as the most competitive economy in Africa and the 40 th in the world compared to South Africa which was recently ranked as 54 out of 167 countries studied.
On arrival in Tunis I was surprised at how small the capital was – less than 1 million inhabitants with few high rise buildings – and initially irritated by the three and a half hours it took to clear the shotguns – rifles are prohibited – of our ten man group, as it meant we arrived at our hotel at Ain Daham, in the far north west of the country close to the Algerian border, at 03h30 the following morning. No joke after 39 hours of non-stop travel.
The Royal Rihana Hotel where we stayed specializes in visiting shooting groups and our food and accommodation was simple but perfectly adequate even if, by the end of the week, I was finding it increasingly difficult to look another hard boiled egg and tin of sardines in the eye. At 1,100 euros per person, however, for full board and lodging for the week, as well as the cost of the shoot and your first pig, I thought the costs were more than reasonable as was the flight from Durban via Dubai to Tunis on Emirates Airlines.
During our stay in October, the days were warm to hot with the temperature at times reaching 35°C, while the nights were cool and, sometimes, I pulled a blanket over my feet. An avid pig shooter from Luxembourg, who has hunted the hills and mountains in the region every year for the last fifteen or so, rates it as one of the best such destinations and believes that October is the best time to shoot.
I use the term, “shoot” and not, “hunt” as, in reality, this was a culling exercise. The Barbary wild boars, one of five pig species in Africa along with warthog, bushpig, red river hog and giant forest hog, descend from the thickly forested hills and mountains at night to plunder the farmers’ crops in the valleys below. Instead of shooting them themselves, overseas groups are brought in to take care of the task and pay for the privilege. The beaters are paid 20 dinar (roughly R100) per pig shot and 10 dinar (roughly R50) per pig shot at but missed and the government license fee amounts to 120 dinar (roughly R600) per pig shot.
Despite the late arrival at our hotel after a 200 kilometre bus drive, we were up at 05h00 to go shooting and met our local PH, Monsef Soudi, 24 beaters and equal number of dogs on a mountainside not far from the town.
I was like a fish out of water. I didn’t know whether to, “shoot, xxxx, or wind my watch” as I stood amongst the cork and zen oak trees and erica arborea shrubs on a steep hillside with Rolf Baldus, my German friend, to my right at the bottom of the hill next to a trickling rivulet and Pete Kennedy, my South African friend, to my left. The beaters calls of “Ahuh, ahuh, ahuh!” were becoming ever louder interspersed with occasional blasts from their Berber bazookas – short, metal pipes with a spring loaded pin used to fire shotgun shells. I could also hear the excited yelping, yowling and barking of the mixed collection of mongrels whose past parentage included fox terriers, beagles, Labradors, africanids and other mixed blood lines. Involuntarily, my pulse rate rose and excitement suffused my body.
Suddenly, I picked up a yellowy tan streak blasting through the rich green shrubbery covering the chalky white soil of the hillside – a Barbary red fox! Like a tracer bullet, slow at first and then a faster and faster it screamed across the two metre wide shooting lane to my right. I was at least a metre behind it as I fired my borrowed Browning Fusion, semi-auto, 12 guage shotgun loaded with three Brenneke slugs. Before I could recover, a second and then a third fox followed at warp speed. All I can say is that I progressively missed by lesser distances. In fact, I am reasonably sure that, if there had been another seven or eight, I may have hit the last one.
Then the dogs were on me, dashing in and out of the scrub at my feet. The instructions from Monsef that morning had been crystal, “Do not shoot the dogs!!” The brush around me was alive with hurrying and scurrying dogs. Hidden bodies brushed bushes. Calloused paws scuffed pebbles. And then, unannounced, out of nowhere, a bulky, grey brown body erupted from the screening shrubs behind me and to my right pursued by a comet tail of streaking, multicolored hounds. Another miss!
Slowly the forest settled down. My pulse returned to normal. The butterflies in my chest stop flapping and my knees regained a consistency other than rubber. How exciting was that!
Our party, of whom eight were Germans and two South Africans, consisted of three retired lawyers, two retired civil servants, a mechanical engineer, a cell phone shop owner, a teacher, a combine harvester driver and a surgeon. And it was the latter, Rudolph Hertzerberger, who showed how things should be done by shooting four pigs with seven shots in the morning’s second drive. Rudo had a red dot sight made by Doktor mounted on his semi-auto and, over the course of the week, established himself as our top gun by shooting six of the 21 pigs we killed. In total, we saw 81 pigs, fired 76 slugs and missed 36 pigs over the five days. The average for a week’s shooting is between twenty and 30 pigs.
But it was the tall, trim, Hans Siege, who stole the show the next morning. After an early start and a 45 kilometre drive south to Jendouba, the ten of us were spread out at 100 metre intervals in a rough “U” at the top of a wide valley with a new team of beaters and dogs working from left to right. The solitary boar roared over the hillside slope to my left pursued by a streak of dogs and, for a while, looked as if it was heading straight for me. Fortunately, it gradually altered course to my right and, as it crested the hill and braced itself to leap up the steep embankment above the rough dirt track on which we were deployed, Hans shot it with his over and under at a distance of about five paces.
We stood in awe next to the massive “Keiler”, as my German friends called the boar and Peter Werner summarized the feelings of everyone when he said, “You can spend your whole life shooting wild pigs and, if you shoot only two such pigs, you can count yourself very lucky!” It was a monster and, although we did not have a scale, the experienced Germans agreed that it would weigh somewhere between 120 and 130 kilograms.
Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game states that, ” The Wild Boar is a robustly built animal; it carries a coarse coat of black mixed with grey, brown and white hairs, often with a woolly under fur … the tushes, or tusks, are well developed in the males; both the upper and lower tushes curving outwards and projecting from the mouth.” The Rowland Ward minimum for the longest tush is 6 7/8 inches.
It goes on to add, “No animal is more destructive to crops and, in cultivated areas, they cause considerable damage … Wild Boar display great intelligence, and few animals show greater courage and determination when molested. Their sense of smell is acute, their eye sight and hearing moderate … Height at the shoulder of a boar, about 33 inches; weight about 68 kilograms; a large boar may reach 91 kilograms.”
The shooting was not all beer and skittles. On day three we drove for nearly two hours to Key where our beaters were mainly young boys with a total of four dogs between them. The local guide positioned the team poorly and, after shooting eight pigs on our first day and six the next, we shot only two mediocre pigs – a boar and sow – shot by Peter Werner and Peter Kennedy, respectively.
I say “mediocre pigs” but, in reality, all pigs ranked the same in the sense that this was a culling exercise and not a hunt, at least not in the sense I understand it. The idea, in fact the requirement, was that all pigs – big and small, fat and tall, male and female – must be shot.
At the end of the shoot, I am pleased to say that no dogs or people were shot although five dogs suffered minor flesh wounds from the pigs.
The region hosts some 30 shooting parties per annum and, on average, some 600 pigs are shot each year. Speaking to out PH, in his opinion, overall pig numbers are increasing and, to support his claim, on one drive, Rolf Baldus counted a sounder of 18 piglets.
So, the key question. Would I go back? Let me think about that for a moment. OK, I’ve thought about it. No. This is not for me. I am a walk and stalk, rifle hunter. It is what I enjoy most and what I want to do. Having said that, would I recommend the shoot? Definitely. It was a wonderful experience and it provided both much needed income to rural areas while simultaneously helping the local farmers. It was exciting and reasonably strenuous as a fair amount of walking was involved – both uphill and down dale – to the various drives, while the evenings were full of fun as we got to know our German colleagues and learnt a little about Tunisia.
And you might call it poetic justice but my old worn hunting boots were not up to the terrain and I lost two of my toe nails – a first for me!