FINALLY!

A gui­nea-fo­wl at last...

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD - FX JURGENS

The hel­me­ted guineafowl is cer­tain­ly one of South A­fri­ca’s most com­mon ga­me bi­rds and being so a­dap­ta­ble they are found throug­hout the coun­try. Alt­hough I ha­ve seen them fee­ding next to ma­jor highways and in ci­ty suburbs, the­se bi­rds lo­ve far­ming a­re­as and in so­me they pre­sent so­mew­hat of a pro­blem. Gui­nea-fo­wl tend to peck at the still ri­pe­ning cobs of corn and w­hen har­vest ti­me ar­ri­ves all t­hat is left of the mai­ze are a­na­e­mic half-e­a­ten me­a­lies. The­re­fo­re so­me far­mers do not mind gui­nea-fo­wl being hun­ted on their pro­per­ties.

But just be­cau­se t­he­re are a lot of gui­nea-fo­wl in an a­rea doe­sn’t me­an they are e­a­sy to hunt. To me they ha­ve al­ways been the most dif­fi­cult bi­rd to shoot. Alt­hough rock pi­ge­ons flying at top speed are much har­der to hit, get­ting within shot­gun ran­ge of a gui­nea-fo­wl is far mo­re chal­len­ging. T­hat is be­cau­se a flock of gui­nea-fo­wl acts li­ke a sin­gle or­ga­nism. Do­zens of ey­es are con­stant­ly scan­ning for pos­si­ble thre­ats and in a­re­as w­he­re they are fre­quent­ly hun­ted they will flee at the first sig­ht of hu­mans. On a farm ne­ar Don­ker­hoek w­he­re we oc­ca­si­o­nal­ly shoot, e­ven the sound of a vehi­cle or the o­pe­ning of a ga­te le­a­ding to the fields will cau­se the en­ti­re flock to

start run­ning. The bi­rds will t­hen ta­ke flig­ht be­fo­re the guns are within ran­ge.

Despi­te my best ef­forts – stu­dying ar­ti­cles, get­ting tips from ex­pe­rien­ced shoo­t­ers and spen­ding hours in the veld – I ha­ve ne­ver been a­ble to shoot a sin­gle gui­nea-fo­wl. It was ex­tre­me­ly frus­tra­ting and hum­bling to be re­pe­a­ted­ly out­smar­ted by a bi­rd w­ho­se brain could fit in­to a te­as­poon! So I quick­ly be­ca­me ob­ses­sed by the­se speckled bi­rds and tried my best to bag one.

The­se wa­ry bi­rds are of­ten shot du­ring dri­ven hunts w­hen they are flus­hed o­ver the guns by a num­ber of be­a­ters. A­not­her success­ful stra­tegy is for a group of hun­ters to sur­round a flock and t­hen shoot them w­hen they ta­ke flig­ht. The­se stra­te­gies ho­we­ver need qui­te a few shoo­t­ers and are im­practi­cal for a wings­hoo­t­er li­ke my­self who of­ten hunts al­o­ne or with on­ly one or two com­pa­ni­ons.

I HAD NO LUCK

Ti­me pas­sed and yet I re­mai­ned unsuccess­ful in my quest to bag a gui­nea-fo­wl. This y­e­ar I was a­gain in the Sett­lers a­rea of the Lim­po­po pro­vin­ce du­ring au­tumn. Oom Ma­ritz and Tan­nie Lies­bet Gro­bler had gra­ci­ous­ly in­vi­ted me to shoot on their farm. The pre­vi­ous mont­hs had been dif­fi­cult for the pe­op­le on the S­pring­bok­vlak­te. With rain­fall being pa­t­chy and ar­ri­ving la­te in the se­a­son, ma­ny far­mers did not ex­pect good crops and so­me fields had not e­ven been plan­ted at all. As in the past, my c­lo­se friend and wingshooting com­pa­ni­on, Ja­co, and I we­re a­gain going to try to shoot gui­nea-fo­wl on this pro­per­ty. Ho­we­ver, I wa­sn’t ex­pecting success and thus the plan was to fi­nish the af­ter­noon by shooting pi­ge­ons t­hat vi­sit the sun­flo­wer fields.

We star­ted the mor­ning with a cup of cof­fee and so­me rus­ks ser­ved by Oom Ma­ritz and Tan­nie Lies­bet. T­hen we we­re off to the fields. I was car­rying my o­ver-and-un­der Fran­chi Fee­ling Steel and Ja­co his si­de-by-si­de Br­no. Both we­re lo­a­ded with 32g No.5 shot. We wal­ked bet­ween the fields scan­ning for signs of gui­nea-fo­wl. It was he­art­b­re­a­king to see the e­vi­den­ce of the droug­ht e­ver­y­w­he­re. Fields t­hat we­re plan­ted with mai­ze and sun­flo­wers a y­e­ar ago now lay bar­ren. We wal­ked a long way but fai­led to s­pot any gui­nea-fo­wl. And t­hen, at the ed­ge of one of the fields t­hat bor­de­red a pie­ce of o­pen veld, a few speckles we­re pre­sent: Gui­nea-fo­wl!

Ja­co and I quick­ly dis­cus­sed our stra­tegy. We de­ci­ded to walk a­way from the bi­rds be­fo­re ci­r­cling back through the veld, u­sing so­me tall trees and thick bush as co­ver. Per­so­nal­ly, I was not very op­ti­mis­tic t­hat our plan would work. I ex­pected the bi­rds to run dee­per in­to the field as soon as they saw us. But he who da­res, wins (as the fa­mous B­ri­tish re­gi­ment’s mot­to de­cla­res). So, we star­ted our stalk...

We wal­ked through tall grass »

» be­fo­re tur­ning back to w­he­re we had last seen the flock of bi­rds. In front of us we­re se­ver­al bus­hes and trees t­hat pro­vi­ded ex­cel­lent co­ver. U­sing it we could walk u­prig­ht and ma­na­ged to c­lo­se the dis­tan­ce bet­ween us and the bi­rds quick­ly and qui­et­ly.

Ja­co who was on my rig­ht pee­ked bet­ween two bus­hes to lo­ca­te the bi­rds. Lo and be­hold, the gui­nea-fo­wl we­re rig­ht in front of us! Three bi­rds saw him and im­me­di­a­te­ly took flig­ht. Ja­co shot the one clo­sest to him. The big bi­rd sim­ply fol­ded its wings and fell to e­arth. I was caug­ht off guard and took a snap shot at the trai­ling bi­rd. T­he­re was an “ex­plo­si­on” of fe­at­hers, the bi­rd drop­ped from the sky and fell in­to one of the den­se bus­hes.

I was com­ple­te­ly un­pre­pa­red for w­hat hap­pe­ned next. Sud­den­ly the air was fil­led with bi­rds as the w­ho­le flock took off, ai­ming for the veld be­hind us. T­he­re see­med to be hund­reds of them, but in re­a­li­ty t­he­re we­re pro­ba­bly a­bout t­wen­ty. In a pa­nic I s­wung on­to a­not­her bi­rd, but mis­sed com- ple­te­ly. I o­pe­ned the Fran­chi and the two smo­king shells e­jected o­ver my rig­ht shoul­der. With fin­gers clum­sy from ten­si­on I cla­wed two mo­re cartridges from my am­mo belt and re­lo­a­ded. I snap­ped the gun shut but it was too la­te, the bi­rds we­re al­re­a­dy out of ran­ge. I tur­ned to Ja­co who ca­me wal­king to­wards me, all smi­les. A­part from his first cle­an kill he had al­so broug­ht do­wn a se­cond bi­rd.

I was less than hap­py with my per­for­man­ce. Li­ke an a­ma­teur I fi­red too quick­ly on my first bi­rd and com­ple­te­ly mis­sed the se­cond one. Wor­se of all, I had not pro­per­ly mar­ked the po­si­ti­on w­he­re my first bi­rd had go­ne do­wn. I should ha­ve ma­de su­re of the po­si­ti­on be­fo­re shooting at a­not­her. Ja­co was al­so not su­re in which bush his se­cond bi­rd had fal­len, so we star­ted se­ar­ching...

We found Ja­co’s first bi­rd but despi­te spen­ding the next hour com­bing through the den­se bush, we we­re u­na­ble to find the ot­her two. All the bus­hes look­ed the sa­me, and the se­arch be­ca­me an exe­r­ci­se in fu­ti­li­ty and frus­tra­ti­on. An­gry with our­sel­ves and co­ve­r­ed in scra­t­ches we ga­ve up. At t­hat point the w­ho­le hunt left a bit­ter tas­te in our mout­hs. Af­ter y­e­ars of trying I finally ma­na­ged to shoot a gui­nea-fo­wl but was u­na­ble to re­trie­ve the bi­rd.

SE­COND CHANCES

We knew mo­re or less w­he­re the flock had lan­ded and de­ci­ded to try to stalk them. We wal­ked a­bout 10m a­part, slo­w­ly ma­king our way through the veld. I was still la­menting my mis­ta­kes w­hen two gui­nea-fo­wl sud­den­ly flew up a few me­tres in front of me, ban­king off to the left. I no­ted how strongly they flew and how quick­ly they gai­ned al­ti­tu­de. I shoul­de­red my gun and s­wung on the se­cond bi­rd. Bo­dy, be­ak... I pul­led the Fran­chi’s trig­ger. I wa­sn’t e­ven a­wa­re of the gun’s re­coil, t­hen I wa­t­ched as the gui­nea-fo­wl plum­me­ted to the e­arth, s­to­ne de­ad.

This ti­me I kept my ey­es glu­ed to the s­pot w­he­re the bi­rd had go­ne do­wn. Wal­king o­ver I saw the gui­nea-fo­wl lying in the long grass and I pic­ked it up with shaking hands. For a whi­le I ad­mi­red the beau­ti­ful speckled fe­at­hers, stu­died the blue and red fa­ce and the stran­ge hor­ned pro­tu­be­ran­ce on its he­ad. Finally, I could say t­hat I ha­ve cle­an­ly shot and re­trie­ved my big­ge­st ne­me­sis in the wingshooting wor­ld – a hel­me­ted gui­nea-fo­wl. I could not ex­plain ex­act­ly how I was fee­ling. Ja­co shook my hand and said: “Daai een is vir jou ge­stuur.” Now we we­re all smi­les.

We con­ti­nu­ed wal­king and saw t­hat the bi­rds had a­gain gat­he­red in so­me short grass. I wal­ked to the rig­ht and Ja­co to the left, trying to bunch them in bet­ween us. The flock flus­hed and flew s­traig­ht a­way from us. I cho­se a bi­rd, co­ve­r­ed it with the bar­rels, but a mil­li­se­cond be­fo­re I pul­led the trig­ger Ja­co shot the sa­me bi­rd I was ai­ming at. He was clo­ser and his shot kil­led the gui­nea-fo­wl in­stant­ly just as I pul­led the trig­ger. The flock had now di­sap­pea­red in­to a stand of thick trees and af­ter re­co­ve­ring the last bi­rd we de­ci­ded not to bot­her them any furt­her. Wal­king back to the car car­rying our bi­rds we we­re ti­red. The app on my cel­lp­ho­ne con­fir­med t­hat we had wal­ked mo­re than 7km du­ring the cour­se of the mor­ning.

We ma­de a sim­ple lunch in the shadow of so­me trees and dis­cus­sed the hunt. I felt ex­tre­me­ly pri­vi­le­ged t­hat I could finally out­smart and success­ful­ly hunt one of A­fri­ca’s pre­mier ga­me bi­rds. The mor­ning’s hunt on­ly in­cre­a­sed my re­spect and ad­mi­ra­ti­on for the­se bi­rds. I would be back to test my skill a­gain a­gainst this worthy ad­ver­s­a­ry.

SEP­TEM­BER 2018

Finally! The aut­hor with his gui­nea-fo­wl.

Ja­co with the first gui­nea-fo­wl he shot. No­te the den­se bus­hes we u­sed as co­ver du­ring our stalk.

SEP­TEM­BER 2018

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