The Savage Smile of the Warthog: Welcome to South Africa

By Randy Wakeman

I've has the good fortune to travel quite a bit with muzzleloading in mind, but never to South Africa. South Africa is a fabulous venue for muzzleloading, and it is not what you might think. Certainly it was not like what I had been led to believe.

The game is diverse and plentiful; the professional hunters are a cut above what you might expect of outfitters in general, and the cost of an African plains game hunt is less than you might pay for a single-species stateside hunt. The opportunity presented itself to hunt with one of South Africa's premier professional hunters, Karel Haefele of Ke Monati Safaris, and I immediately began preparations.

Choosing a muzzleloader for the bush was easy: the Savage 10ML-II. The no hassle approach of no cleaning, no corrosive propellants, and no obstruction of vision made the Savage a "no-brainer" choice. Ideal for a hunter such as me with scant few extra brain cells to squander. But with what specific powder-bullet combination to use?

Heading out on safari required a fresh look at projectiles. Vihtavuori N120 has long been my favorite 10ML-II powder with 300 grain bullets. The 300 grain .458 Barnes Original Spitzer Soft Point (MMP Orange .458-50 sabot) is one of the most accurate long range bullets I've found, shooting inside 1-1/8 inches @ 220 yards if I flinch just right. That bullet has become popular enough that Barnes can't seem to keep them in stock.

Anybody who wants some of these bullets this year may wish to consider ordering them directly with Barnes. If there is such as thing as a "favorite" sabot, the MMP Orange .458-50 qualifies. It appears to be the most forgiving sabot made today. I attribute that, in part, to the relatively thin petals. As in many gasketing applications, the thinner the gasket the better.

Using flat base bullets of .458 diameter yields a greater bearing surface at the base of the bullet, spreading sabot base stress over a larger area and inflicting far less stress than a .44 caliber or .40 caliber bullet with a smaller base. I generally don't care for boat tail bullets in sabots for similar reasons. It is not that they cannot be made to shoot accurately; of course they can. They are less forgiving, though.

Vihtavuori N120 has the lowest heat of explosion of any Savage compatible powder I've found; that is also "forgiving" in all the right ways. The velocities have always been both excellent and consistent, although Viht. N110 remains a better choice for 240-250 grain bullets.

So why not use the Barnes Original SSP for African plains game? Well, I believe it is an outstanding choice. On a pronghorn hunt last year I told my guide if I could make it to the side of an old rusty windmill without being busted I'd whack what was judged to be "shooter." I did, leaned against part of the rusty windmill and let her go at somewhere around 185 yards: an intentional honey-hole shot. It was a complete pass-through, and flipped the buck pronghorn like a rag doll.

The guide commented that he had, "never seen knockdown like that before." Well, the pronghorn was down, and down for a very long time. Nevertheless, he got back up and moved off at a lot less than "speed-goat" speed in the opposite direction from whence he came. I sped up his demise, firing a second shot at 287 laser-verified yards. That was the last step that pronghorn ever took.

The Barnes Original has been a supremely accurate bullet for me, but it is also an extremely tough bullet with a .032 in. thick jacket. For breaking bones and the "double shoulder shot," as well as giving you the ability to take a raking shot, it is excellent. At closer ranges and higher terminal velocities, it hardly matters as fellow Savage enthusiasts Art Seaman and Dwight Scifries, among many others, can attest. I shot a boar earlier this year over dogs (okay, between them) at perhaps 8 yards. Zero steps, with various crimson boar vitals strewn up the leaf-covered hill. For expansion, you need about 1600 fps terminal velocity with the Originals, something the Savage 10ML-II easily provides.

The new Barnes XPB .451", 275 grain bullet has been shown to expand to 140% or more of its original diameter at 1400 fps. It has also been shown to out-penetrate 300 grain conventional bullets with virtually complete weight retention. It has no velocity limitation out of a muzzleloader I'm aware of. With a Barnes-published BC of .215, it out-flies most any 250 grain .45 projectile that there is, with less recoil at the same velocity than 300 grain projectiles and with penetration and weight retention no 300-350 grain lead or cup and core bullet can approach.

There are some 30 species of game are in the area that we could potentially hunt in S. Africa. These range from relatively light, thin-skinned antelope to warthogs, greater kudu, waterbok, eland, gemsbok, blue wildebeest and zebra. It seemed to me that the Barnes 275 XPB married to a MMP HPH-12 sabot would be as close to an all-purpose combination as could be hoped for.

Range work had been with ambient temperatures approaching 90 degrees F. and high humidity. 59 grains of N120 pushing the 275 gr. XPB clocked 2290 fps with 3/4 MOA or better 100 yard 3-shot groups. This is far more accuracy than can be used in the field, and more than I could really hope for a "year-round, all purpose" loading. It may be the best muzzleloading combination that there is, at least in my rifles.

That's the load, and that's what was going to S. Africa. For the record, the Barnes XPB 275 was originally developed for the .460 S&W revolver cartridge, and due to its machined cannelures it loads incredibly easily due to reduced bearing surface.

South Africa is an amazing place. The broad spectrum of game that you can see in any one day, from steenbok to giraffe and from springhare to waterbok, makes for quite a spectacle. Rangefinders proved to be quite worthless stalking the bush in this particular area. You generally have just a moment to assess your fleeting look at an animal and to decide to take him or not.

The warthog population was doing well, particularly in grassy areas where the sophisticated swine could feed and also be near the waterholes sprinkled through this area, which is close to the Limpopo River and Botswana just across it. We were at Serengeti Safari Lodge in Limpopo Province, South Africa (23*29.098S x 027*16.381E). The camp is about 80km west of Lephalale, right on the Botswana border (Limpopo River). Last game count showed nearly 2000 head of game in about a 7,000 hectare area of very thick bushveldt.

The guides seemed to like it when warthog were in an area, as a good warthog population usually indicated good populations of other bushveldt game as well. Warthogs look vicious, but rather than continually aggressive fighters they often use their speed to avoid predators, such as hyenas, by diving into their hole. They normally back into burrows, so quick escape (or a quick snout-snapping fest) is achievable for them. Warthogs have been clocked at over 30 miles an hour, making them rather speedy wild pigs. When cornered, though, their tusks are used for more than just show. We could tell that there were hyenas in the area by the presence of their excrement, which is snow white from all the calcium they take in from grinding bones.

Warthogs in the wild can go from 100 pounds or so to over 320 pounds, living to a surprising eighteen years of age. We had the chance to eat what we were hunting, and warthog is very good meat . . . though gemsbok is likely the "caviar" of the bush.

With dry weather, comfortably cool nights, and warm days we just couldn't have asked for more pleasant days in which to hunt. The seasons are reversed from the States south of the equator, of course, so cool evenings were the extent of the "African Winter" we endured, or more correctly, enjoyed.

The accommodations that were billed as "modest," were anything but by most hunting camp standards. Aside from professional hunters Karel and Pierre, the ranch where we stayed has private thatched-roof villas, great food, and a friendly staff. If this is roughing it, I need to do a lot more of it! The sun did rip up my face a bit, you cannot be careless where you walk or what you grab, but that's the extent of it. Though you might be regaled with stories about the ferocity of the bush, you'll note that professional hunters wear short pants and don't bleed much.

One of the most enjoyable moments of the entire safari was in a grassy, moist area thick with medium-sized warthogs. The warthogs were busy shoveling up the ground with their snouts, feeding and causing quite a racket. Their noses may be terrific, but their eyes are not the best. This is despite the warthog being active in the daytime, unlike most wild swine that are nocturnal.

Anyway, with the wind in our faces, Pierre and I could just watch the warthogs do their thing. If they heard a snap or odd noise, their heads would pop up in a heartbeat, looking straight at us. As long as we were motionless, we couldn't be seen, and they promptly went back to their little wart-hoggy feeding frenzy. I guess that is what you get when you have eyes on the sides of your head? In any case, it was hilarious standing in the S. African sun watching warthogs 20 yards away in all of their gleeful gluttony.

The Savage 10ML-II caused quite a fuss among the local trackers. It didn't seem possible to them that you could shoot a bullet smaller then the bore diameter, and there seems to be no direct translation of "smokeless inline muzzleloading" into Africanus. Even after the requisite pre-hunt sighting in of the rifle, at the end of the day the guides wondered why I wasn't "fussing" with my muzzleloader.

"Are you sure it is going to go bang tomorrow?" they asked. "Some of this stuff bites back, you know."

"Savages always go bang," was my cherubic reply.

Out in the bush, you really don't see much of a moving warthog. You'll often spot the top of the back, but you don't always have a chance to see the majority of the animal, much less judge him. If, at some distance, you see a lot of tusk . . . well, you know that you have a shooter. It took a while, but one warthog clearly stood out from the others. Pierre got more excited than I believe I did, mumbling "that is a lot of choppers, a whole lot of choppers."

Pierre was right, so I decided to take him. There was no time to have much discussion, it was either get the cross-hairs on him or the opportunity is gone for good. The warthog was moving briskly, and I gave it an instinctive half a warthog length lead as I swung the Savage past the shoulder. A crack from the 10ML-II, and the warthog had taken its very last step, instantly anchored to the bushvelt for good at what was later laser-verified at 179 yards. My understanding is that while both male and female warthogs have large ivory tusks, the male has four large warts on its face. This female has only two, making it the far more delicate, svelte and glamorous creature, as you can see.

Warthog trophy. Photo by Randy Wakeman

She was a grand old girl, her swine-bearing years long behind her. Her ivories were large, particularly so for a female, and in remarkably good condition. I appreciate a lady that can floss, even if it is flossing with bark and roots. That was the first shot on game I ever took in Africa, and it was a hunt to remember, warts and all. If you've never hunted South Africa, all I can say is that you are really missing something. I sure was.

We hunted with Karel Haefele ([email protected]) and his team of KeMonati Safaris. I can tell you right now that you just cannot do better in S. Africa than to hunt with these folks.

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Copyright 2007 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.