Birds in the Bushveld
By Gary Lewis
South Africa has more big game and antelope species than perhaps anywhere else on earth. That's what has made it a must-see for hunters from all over the world. But an increasing number of people take a shotgun instead of a rifle when they book a trip to this country, whether they're headed to the southern cape or into the northern bushveld.
I hunted with Wighardt Van der Gryp in July of this year. South of Johannesburg, in the Free State, we stayed in a bed and breakfast near Frankfort. Plains game species like springbok, blesbok and black wildebeest were plentiful, but the bird hunting was fantastic. We borrowed four 12-gauge guns, Italian made side-by-sides and over/unders, and set up in the maize fields to ambush the waterfowl between their roosts on the islands and feeding areas in the corn.
We each started with two boxes of No. 4 lead shot and stood 30 yards apart to watch for the birds hurtling over the corn stubble and irrigation ditches.
They came fast in the morning light, sometimes low over the corn to flare at the beat of the guns or high above. Yellow-billed ducks, red-billed ducks, cape teal, red-billed teal, knob-nosed ducks and white-faced ducks and Egyptian geese. The ducks came in waves of two to twelve birds, while the geese flew in smaller groups.
Between flocks of waterfowl, we counted blacksmith's plover, terns and ibis. A barn owl and a gray heron passed close by overhead.
In South Africa, it's uncommon for a hunter to use decoys for waterfowl. Pass and jump-shooting are the favorite techniques.
After two hours, the frost on the corn stalks was gone. We gathered up our take, which represented a pitiful return for the number of empty shells on the ground. We had coffee with the landowner and headed north into Limpopo province to hunt the bushveld.
For the bird hunter, South Africa has a lot to offer. Besides abundant waterfowl, there are plenty of upland options. In the open prairies and up north, we saw guinea fowl, Swanson's, cape, crested and natal francolin, partridge, Cape turtledove, ringneck dove, and rock pigeon.
In camp, hunters may be treated to some of their daily bag. The cook will prepare the birds in a stew or a pie, or marinate and grill the meat over a charcoal fire. The natives, who are very fond of eating fowl, are given the surplus bag.
For this outfitter, most bird hunts are in conjunction with big game hunts, but he does offer bird-only hunts. Bird hunting is charged at a daily rate of $300 per hunter. Cost of license is included. Bring a shotgun or rent one at $50 per day. Bring ammunition or buy it from the outfitter. Lead shot is okay for all species. Bring No. 3s or No. 4s for waterfowl, No. 6s for guinea and No. 7-1/2 shot for smaller birds.
For the upland hunts, Wighardt employs a pointer and a handler at an additional $120 per day. South Africans like their dogs and their bird hunting. If a larger party requires more pointers, they are easy to come by.
The bed and breakfast where we stayed on the first two nights is home to a pride of lions that stalk the fence lines and roar for their breakfast at dawn. Accommodations are clean and private. Meals are served with wine and candlelight.
The lodge up north is a two-story building with a thatched roof. Two rooms are equipped for paraplegics. Accommodations include ten rooms to sleep a maximum of 21 guests. Camp and kitchen is clean. Laundry is done every day.
Vehicles and blinds (called hides) are equipped to handle the special needs of people in wheelchairs.
A light breakfast of cereal is served to the hunters before dawn. Hunters return after the morning hunt for a brunch. Sandwiches, biltong, snacks and cold drinks are kept in the truck box to tide the appetite through the day. The evening meal is the main event with wine and native game on the platter.
Best times for birds are June, July and August. July is normally the best month for waterfowl. For francolin and guineas, hunting is legal between March and September. Dove and rock pigeons are hunted in sunflower fields from April, until the harvest in June.
Bring a gun or borrow a shotgun from the outfitter. If bringing one, contact the outfitter to coordinate gun control paperwork. Make sure to bring a double-barrel or pump gun. South Africa discourages semi-autos. For the airline, bring a locking hard-side case. An aluminum case, with at least two locking points, is preferred.
South Africa allows hunters to bring 80 rounds of ammunition. Pack the ammo in a locking case inside of checked luggage.