Kala­hari Bush­men and sand­grouse

Africa is a mecca for big game hunt­ing but Robert Sturza­ker dis­cov­ered there is also plenty on of­fer for game bird en­thu­si­asts.

Field and Game - - BIRDS IN AFRICA -

The wind and threat­en­ing sky had caught up to us on our last night. Set­ting up in day­light re­vealed some large cu­mu­lus clouds in the dis­tance, but as sun­set ap­proached, the clouds were all around us and the wind had whipped up.

The shoot­ing had been good and a num­ber of sand­grouse and doves lay next to the 20-litre drum, a com­bi­na­tion bush seat and holdall. With 10 shells left I de­cided to take on the chal­lenge of the birds scream­ing by with the wind be­hind them. In the end they beat me, 10 shots and not a feather, even though I was lead­ing them by 3–4 m in the end.

My com­pan­ion Ka­muru, a San bush­man, be­gan to look bored. Like most of the lo­cals, he has a great sense of hu­mour and loves a joke, whether it is on him or some­one else. But he grew som­bre at my demon­stra­tion and in the end, we pulled the pin and scur­ried off to safety be­fore the storm re­ally took hold.

A cold beer at the ve­hi­cles and a quick re­count of the party’s suc­cesses and fail­ures pre­ceded our ner­vous trip back to camp. It is not of­ten you have a cold beer in the Kala­hari Desert as the light­ning crack­les around you and the topic of con­ver­sa­tion is, not what great shots you pulled off, rather ‘Is that cloud head­ing our way?’ and ‘Are we go­ing to make it back be­fore we get wet?’

Af­ter sev­eral days of 40-de­gree heat, the cooler con­di­tions were a sur­prise and we all felt the cold, even though it prob­a­bly wasn’t re­ally what passes for cold back home (Mel­bourne).

Typ­i­cally, morn­ing shoots were un­der clear blue skies and in short sleeves with wa­ter bot­tles handy. A leisurely cooked break­fast is the way to start the day, as the sand­grouse do not ar­rive un­til 9 am or so. In the Kala­hari, it is im­por­tant to stay hy­drated and the sand­grouse drink once a day. There is plenty of scrub around to hide in so se­ri­ous cam­ou­flage cloth­ing is op­tional.

The scrub is in many cases a va­ri­ety of aca­cia and some of these come armed >>

>> with thorns 30 mm long, and they are as sharp as they look. Care­ful nav­i­ga­tion of the aca­cia thorns is im­per­a­tive be­cause a di­rect ap­proach meets painful re­sis­tance. Shot size 6, 7 or 8 does the job and my trusty Beretta is choked ¼ and ½, which is a good com­bi­na­tion.

The wait can some­times be dis­con­cert­ing but the odd dove keeps you com­pany and is a bit of a chal­lenge in the scrub. Then the tiny birds ap­pear high in the dis­tance and make their way to­wards the wa­ter, of­ten a splash only 75 mm to 100 mm deep. Four or five at a time, they swoop in and as they get closer, they morph into the sandy cov­ered birds of your dreams. Gun to shoul­der, head on stock, swing through and down they come (at least some of them do!).

The num­ber and fre­quency of birds in­creases and the guns run hot. There are five in our party and I am wit­ness to some good shoot­ing. At one stage ten­sions mount be­tween Tony and my­self as we claim the same bird — later the guides ex­plain we both shot at the same bird at the same time and nei­ther of us heard the other’s shot.

Af­ter a while, Ka­muru dis­ap­pears to re­turn some time later with two hand­fuls of birds. His track­ing skills and his abil­ity to mark the fall of a dozen birds be­fore he picks up are re­mark­able. Of­ten he will wan­der off to re­trieve a bird I doubt I shot only to re­turn with it and a hand­ful more. When I seek clar­i­fi­ca­tion as to whether I shot the bird I thought I missed, he says, “It was dead on the ground”.

One bird I folded just above the scrub came to the ground with a fi­nal­ity that seemed con­clu­sive to me. When Ka­muru re­turned from one of his pick-up trips, I ad­vised that, “There is a dead bird over there be­hind the green bush”. He headed off and re­turned 10 min­utes later with a bird, but from a di­rec­tion about 90 de­grees from where “my bird” went down. I ob­vi­ously looked con­fused and he ap­proached with a big grin ex­plain­ing he had tracked it in the sand for 150 m or so to where he emerged from the scrub. Tracked it in the sand — go fig­ure.

Track­ing is a highly prized skill and a source of some pride. Ka­muru would keep go­ing out af­ter a rare fail­ure un­til he had a con­clu­sion. Ei­ther he had the bird or he found where it took off again. There was much hi­lar­ity and com­pet­i­tive blus­ter­ing among the track­ers, whether it was to do with their abil­ity to spot birds, “Eh man, are you asleep over there?”, or their abil­ity to track, “That’s my bird, man”, or the skills of their clients (thank­fully in their lo­cal di­alect). This com­pet­i­tive­ness reached its peak on one cold morn­ing when birds were hard to come by and one of the track­ers swiped my bird and cooked it for his clients.

Af­ter a few days it be­came clear to me that Ka­muru was try­ing to pick up all the birds I brought to ground and was suc­ceed­ing. This in the thick scrub and in sandy soil was a feat of track­ing that as­tounded me. Even with my two dogs and a cou­ple of hours to wan­der around, I would have thought an 85 per cent re­cov­ery rate was do­ing well, but by keep­ing track of pro­ceed­ings and by ask­ing more ques­tions I es­ti­mate that Ka­muru picked up 97 per cent or bet­ter of the birds I shot.

By the time it is 10.30–11 am the heat is mak­ing it­self felt and it is time to re­turn to camp where cool drinks are at hand, the frag­ile Wi-fi can be ne­go­ti­ated and a hearty lunch pre­cedes a siesta. Siesta is not al­ways rest­ful. I was doz­ing over a cross­word when a mon­goose scur­ried up next to me and stood on his hind legs to sur­vey the scene. By the time he ro­tated to me I was wide awake and it is a moot point whose eyes were wider. He quickly de­cided that at 100 kg I was too big to drag back to his bur­row and he headed off at high speed. John looked up from his ve­randa to find a jackal in­spect­ing him with as much cu­rios­ity as he was in­spect­ing it. I can’t vouch for the pre­cise dif­fer­ence in weight in that case but John was in the lead and the jackal, af­ter some thought, came to the same con­clu­sion as the mon­goose. The af­ter­noon ex­pe­di­tion sets out at 3.30 pm while it is still mighty hot. Some af­ter­noons we go for a game drive fea­tur­ing jack­als, jack rab­bits, blue and black wilde­beest, oryx, kudu, leop­ard tor­toise, im­pala,

wa­ter­buck, steen­bok, os­trich, warthog, ze­bra, white rhino (he had been rolling in white dust so he re­ally was white), and the heav­i­est bird that can fly, the kori bus­tard.

The kori bus­tard is like an Aus­tralian bus­tard but where the Aus­tralian ver­sion tops out at 14.5 kg, a big bird, the Kori can reach 20 kg! But they have no dif­fi­culty get­ting off the ground.

Af­ter­noon shoots fea­ture doves, the odd burchell or dou­ble banded sand­grouse and they come in low. Care has to be taken to en­sure safety as the bird whis­tle in be­low scrub height and from all di­rec­tions. A few pel­lets come from the sky, but none di­rectly at me and I re­turn the good man­ners.

The fu­ri­ous shoot­ing gives rise to much hi­lar­ity and by the time dark­ness falls and a cold beer is cracked open, ev­ery­one has had some great shoot­ing and a good laugh.

A cool drive home and a quick shower in our cab­ins and it is time for sun­down­ers. The bar and bar­be­cue area is pop­u­lated by the time I ar­rive and there are new peo­ple to meet and sto­ries to tell. Plat­ters of dove or sand­grouse breast wrapped in ba­con and grilled are passed around and a few icy cold beers are con­sumed. There is a friendly ri­valry be­tween Africans and Aus­tralians over cricket and rugby, nei­ther a game US clients would un­der­stand, and we are get­ting along very well when din­ner is an­nounced. Oryx steak tonight; they are the an­te­lope with the long straight horns, and they eat very well.

Next morn­ing finds us set­ting up around a mag­nif­i­cent lake set in lime­stone, with ducks (out of sea­son), guinea fowl (ditto) and doves fly­ing around. This is a large wa­ter­hole and gives us a clear view in each di­rec­tion. The sand­grouse can be spot­ted a long way off and in some large mobs of 20 or 30 birds. Some of this shoot­ing is di­rectly over­head on some very high birds, which gives rise to some very good shots. Broth­ers Nick and Si­mon can be seen com­pet­ing for birds on the other side of the lake and they are in form. Not many of the two and four bird groups get through un­scathed, and when on the odd oc­ca­sion they do it is clearly the ‘other’ brother’s fault, judg­ing by the shouts.

Tony and John are bring­ing down some high birds as well and even I get a few. But there is an­other chal­lenge here — the wa­ter. Ka­muru strips off his long pants (he thinks it is cold!) and wades in. Then he starts hop­ping and jump­ing as some­thing is bit­ing him, and from his re­ac­tions, ‘it’ is giv­ing him a good nip. He seems be­wil­dered when he re­turns and next time he leaves his boots on. This is very amus­ing be­cause all it does is al­low ‘it’ to get in the boots and have a good go be­cause Ka­muru can’t dis­lodge ‘it’. I have a photo of the great tracker in ac­tion in the deeper wa­ter col­lect­ing birds one handed. The other hand is firmly guard­ing the fam­ily jewels!

Like all wing shoot­ing, it is the chal­lenge of dif­fer­ent places of­fer­ing dif­fer­ent chal­lenges that keeps it fresh. Tony and I took our guns with us and for my­self it was a real treat to use my 50-year-old Beretta SO4, a light, fast-mov­ing shot­gun, on these birds. A 20-gauge would be a great gauge to use on these birds as well but you would have to en­sure that suf­fi­cient am­mu­ni­tion was avail­able be­cause ac­cess to am­mu­ni­tion in Botswana can be prob­lem­atic.

Tak­ing your own firearm re­quires prepa­ra­tion and pa­tience. While the pa­per­work and process get­ting into and out of Aus­tralia is straight­for­ward and works well, the good folk at Qan­tas al­ways seem sur­prised when you ap­pear at the counter with a firearm and have to re­sort to their man­u­als, which are of­ten not up to date. It is im­por­tant to make sure your book­ing has been ad­justed to note the car­riage of a firearm. Im­port­ing a firearm into South Africa re­quires cer­ti­fied copies of pa­per­work to be mailed to South Africa to ar­rive 35 days prior to ar­rival. The same pa­per­work is re­quired for Botswana although un­cer­ti­fied copies can be emailed. In both cases, we were met at the air­port by agents or our guides to help us through. The en­try and exit in South Africa were not a prob­lem but when we reached Botswana our pa­per­work, which had been sent a month pre­vi­ously, had been “lost”. From a locked drawer, no less. It was very help­ful to have our guides on hand.

Our trip fin­ished with an ex­pe­di­tion to the Oka­vango River in north­ern Botswana to fish the ‘cat­fish run’. The cat­fish run up the Oka­vango River chas­ing small bait fish in and out of the pa­pyrus at the river’s edge and flush them into the river for the tiger­fish, a colour­ful preda­tor with a fe­ro­cious mouth full of nee­dle-sharp fangs.

Shar­ing the river with many crocs, hip­pos and won­der­ful birdlife was a suit­able end to our ad­ven­ture. Although for mine, shar­ing the fish­ing with a 4.5 m croc who caught and gulped down four or five cat­fish with no con­cern for us what­so­ever, was some­thing I could live with­out. We had great fun with the birds and the fish. Wan­der­ing around the African bush with a gun or fish­ing rod in hand is a real treat.

The kori bus­tard is like an Aus­tralian bus­tard but where the Aus­tralian ver­sion tops out at 14.5 kg, a big bird, the Kori can reach 20 kg! But they have no dif­fi­culty get­ting off the ground.

Robert Sturza­ker and guide Ka­maru

Luarette with her first tiger­fish

Burchels and one Na­maqua Sand­grouse

The Africa crew

Aca­cia Spikes

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.