For the sheer abundance and variety of birds, you can’t beat southern Africa. An old hand’s wingshooting primer for greenhorns
The most popular time for bird hunting in southern Africa is May through to September, sometimes extending into October for sandgrouse. Each country and province or region has its own regulations and seasons, so your outfitter can help coordinate your trip accordingly.
DOVES & PIGEONS
They don’t quite compare with the numbers you’ll find in Argentina, but there are still astounding populations of doves and pigeons in southern Africa. Approximately 12 different species are available, though not all are found everywhere. The most common are the doves (Cape turtle, laughing, red-eyed and Namaqua), along with rock pigeons. They’re considered agricultural pests, most often hunted in or near cultivated fields. While it’s unlikely you’ll have a 1,000-bird day on par with Argentina, a 300- to 400-bird shoot is doable, and that’s more than enough for most of us.
Few African birds are as recognizable as the iconic guineafowl. Their somewhat unusual appearance belies a crafty mind—think equal parts wild turkey and pheasant, featuring the best and most challenging attributes of each. Found everywhere across southern Africa, the helmeted guineafowl can be pursued by either walk-up or driven hunting. Driven hunts typically involve up to a dozen beaters walking in line across landscapes known to hold guineas, pushing the birds towards waiting shooters (I’ve seen flocks ranging from two or three birds to as many as 80 or more). Once the birds realize what’s up, they flush in a cacophony of squawks and flapping wings. They’re deceptively fast fliers, and tough to anchor, so you never end up with as many in the bag as you’d think. As a bonus, they’re terrific on the table.
PARTRIDGE, FRANCOLIN, SPURFOWL & QUAIL
These four bird groups are all somewhat similar in appearance to North America’s Hungarian partridge and quail, with at least one or more found nearly everywhere across southern Africa. They’re often hunted with pointing or flushing dogs. The most iconic is the grey-winged partridge, held in esteem comparable to Great Britain’s red grouse. Greywings are most commonly found in montane grassland habitats above 5,000 feet in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, where they’re hunted with wide-ranging pointing dogs. You must be in good shape to handle the many kilometres of up-and-down terrain you’ll encounter while pursuing them.
Southern Africa is blessed with a diversity of duck species, with yellow-billed ducks, red-billed teal, Cape shovelers and southern pochards the most common. They’re typically hunted over small impoundments using floating decoys, much as we do here in Canada. And just like at home, you can expect a well-trained retriever to collect your downed birds.
Geese, meanwhile, are generally hunted in agricultural fields over decoys, again similar to how we hunt the big birds here at home. Beautiful Egyptian geese, with their dark brown eye patch and brown breast patch, are by far the most common. Spur-winged geese, the largest goose species in the world, are also frequently encountered. As their name suggests, these huge, mostly black birds have a dangerous-looking spur pointing forward from the crook of their wings. You’d swear you can feel the earth shake when one of these giants hits the ground.
Think of sandgrouse as a cross between a pigeon and a grouse. They’re among the most revered of Africa’s gamebirds, having been referenced in much of the classic African hunting literature. Four species are found in southern Africa, with Namibia and Botswana as the recognized epicentres. Invariably, sandgrouse are hunted over the watering holes they visit during their rigorous daily schedule—it’s not unheard of for them to fly 50 kilometres or more to find water. Since they fly erratically and are difficult to hit on the wing, sandgrouse are among the most prized and rewarding African game birds.