While it’s big game that often captures hunters’ attention, Africa is a continent rich in game birds and bird-shooting opportunities. A wonderful variety of game birds include three types of guinea fowl, many kinds of spur-fowl, francolin, doves, pigeons and the incredible sand grouse, as well as seasonal quail, ducks and geese. Successful shooting often requires a variety of shooting techniques be employed; from driven birds, to walk-up flushing action to high-altitude pass shooting, all of which provide a sporting challenge for even the most skilled gunners.
A classic bird-shooting safari celebrates the many riches of Africa’s greatest natural resource in time-honored style. An exclusive tented camp pitched in the heart of game country shares bush and plains with herds of elephant, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, and giraffe. As with any hunting safari, a bird safari is defined as much by the surroundings as by the shooting. You are there for the wildness and for the sights and sounds of Africa. In a given day you shoot often, and if you shoot well you have plenty of meat to feed your party and camp staff. The sheer variety of species and techniques is a big part of the fun.
On safari the day starts early. At first light a waterhole attracts a sky full of doves twisting, swerving and darting from all directions. After a couple of frantic hours the swarms of birds begin to dissipate, but the end of the dove flight only signals more action is on the way. Eyes turn skyward to look and listen for the approach of sand grouse. The timbre of the sand grouses’ distinctive call may seem as delicate as the tinkle of wine glasses, but it’s as much a sound of Africa as the deep resonating roar of a lion or the maniacal giggle of a hyena. You can almost set your watch by the first sounds of their arrival—just about 9 o’clock each morning.
A good sand grouse shoot does not last long—maybe an hour—but it provides a spectacle of flight that is long remembered. Squadrons of these hardy dry-country birds fly from as far away as 50 miles to water each day. Turning and diving with the precision of a school of baitfish dodging a barracuda, flocks of sand grouse approach a waterhole on cupped wings before dropping like stones to the water’s edge to quench their thirst.
The remainder of the morning and the afternoon, after lunch, is spent searching throughout grassy savannas for Africa’s many widespread upland game bird species. Rated at the top of the list is the helmeted guinea fowl. Bony casques provide the “helmet” at the top of their heads and contribute to their distinctive look. Sporting a white-speckled, midnight blue plumage, these fast running, fast flying birds can weigh up to three pounds.
Few shoots offer more excitement than witnessing driven guineas and spur fowl, pressured by a phalanx of native beaters, launching themselves from grassy cover in a rush of wings. Lots of game viewing and photography round out each day’s adventure. Later, around the campfire the birds you shot can be enjoyed again and maybe even more so when grilled over an open fire as bacon-wrapped beer bites.
Is halfway around the world a long way to go for a few birds, you ask? Where else can you go to run down vulturine guinea fowl, yellow-neck spur fowl and crested francolin, shoot waves of sand grouse in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, and hunt doves next to herds of wildebeest and zebra. Fact is, you can’t do these things in South Dakota, Texas, Argentina or even Scotland or New Zealand. Is Africa a long way to go for a few birds? When you go, it will seem awfully short.