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Shooting Upland Guinea Fowl in South Africa
Timothy van Heerden

It all started in the taxidermy shop of my good friend, Frank Gentry. Always curious to see what big trophies the area has produced lately and for a fine cup of coffee, I arrived there at mid-morning.

Frank was in conversation with Theuns Duvenhage, a landowner from Nieu-Bethesda. Nieu-Bethesda is an artistic village forty miles North of Graaff-Reinet, high up in the Sneeuberg mountain range. The world famous Owl house of Helen Martins is situated here, and because of its high altitude, it is known for its very cold winters. On entering Frank's office, I overheard Frank telling Theuns: "speak to him about your problem".

I have never been formally introduced to Theuns before, yet when we exchanged names, I immediately knew who he was. Theuns farms on more than twelve and a half acres North West of Nieu-Bethesda. His main farming activity being Merino sheep for wool. He also has a few head of cattle and he plants 5 acres of maize, he grinds into meal for additional feed to his lambing ewes.

Additionally to his farming, Theuns also have the very sought after Vaal(Grey) Rhebuck (Pelea caprioles) on his property. Being involved in the hunting industry myself, knowing who has and where to find the "Vaaletjies" as they are affectionately known, is a tremendous advantage. After exchanging the customary where's, what's and how's, Theuns told me of the headaches the guineafowl are causing on his property. Being very close to ripen, his maize fields are daily being raided by two resident flocks. He politely asked me to come shoot them.

While being a very enthusiastic bird shooter myself, (bird shooters being rare in our area and own a working bird dog!) I immediately took up the challenge to go and 'address' these crop raiders with all might. It wasn't too chilly for a Tuesday morning in late April, when one of my very selectively chosen bird shooting friends, Chris, accompanied me to the unknown shooting fields of Theuns's farm, Driefontein.

My Toyota Hilux 4x4 was packed and ready to leave at 06:30. Armed with food for the day, Chivu my Weimaraner, three shotguns and ammo, we started our treacherous 50-mile drive, most of on a badly maintained gravel road, towards Driefontein. On arrival, we were greeted by the highland chill and with hot coffee and rusks in Theuns's living room. After conferring on tactics, the lie of the land and the borders, Chris and I set of to one of the maize fields. Our first goal was to locate the position of the guineafowl.

The Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris) are large terrestrial gamebirds weighing around 5 pounds and are found throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Its black body is totally covered with small white dots. It has a blue neck, a red cap and a horn-like helmet. When not breeding, they gather in large flocks. Here, the flocks average between sixty and a hundred birds. If disturbed the whole flock will rise, fly for between fifty and four hundred yards, usually down wind, and start running.

I shoot an AYA, s/s in 12ga. Choked half and full, my bag limit is often reached. No. 5 shot works good for me. Our strategy shooting guineafowl is to locate them and to get as close as possible without being seen. Then you fire two shots over them and to this surprise, they will take off in all directions. Spread out, guineafowl often sit. They are not tight sitters, yet you will come within shooting range. We found the birds in a streamlet between a mountain slope and the maize fields. Out of the blue, two hadeda ibises rised to our left, uttering their deafening "ha-ha-hahaha" cry. It startled the flock. Sixty birds took off in flight, meeting up with a second flock three hundred yards downstream.

On hitting the ground, the combined flock started running downstream, becoming only a speck of black before vanishing four hundred yards further. Walking through the area where the birds initially sat, Chivu flushed two birds where upon Chris shot both. We decided to head back to the vehicle. We drove on the main gravel road, parallel to the stream, for about one 
and a half miles before turning right at a gate. The two-track road led us towards the streamlet again. Our aim was to get in front of the flock, intercepting the birds before they disappear over the boundary fence. Trying to find our way through a tangle of brush and Poplar trees that grow in the streamlet, I saw a couple of guineafowl foraging in the undergrowth not twenty yards in front of me.

I crept forward, firing a shot to the left of the birds. In a clutter of wings, more than a hundred birds rose ahead of us. They flew in all directions. Some of the birds slipped over 
the boundary fence, but most of the flock flew towards the mountains, spreading out and going down in eighteen-inch high vegetation. Most of the birds started running for the mountains, but it was of little concern to me. With the number of birds that rose, I was certain that there was enough birds sitting in the area, just waiting to be flushed. As guineafowl are no tight sitters, the birds flushed soon after being pointed.The first flush took me rather by surprise. Flying over my left shoulder, I took it with my second shot. Another bird flushed immediately after my shots, but having spent cases in my gun, I was unable to take it.

Chivu was working to my right, when suddenly he froze to a classic point. The bird flushed straight away from me and fell to my first shot. As the dead bird landed in a puff of feathers, another bird flushed close by. The full choke slammed it hard and the bird was dead before it hit the ground. Three hundred yards to my left, Chris was having a ball. He had a couple of high flyers. The birds flew downwind and over him. He got his bag with 
ease. Meanwhile, I was closing in on the mountain slope. I saw a few birds running above a rocky ridge and I decided to make my way towards them. When I got on top of the ridge, I could see the birds running about fifty yards to my right. On reaching the edge of the ridge they took to flight, disappearing below my line of sight.

While working on the edge of the ridge, Chivu froze to a point. His head was pointing below the ridge. When I reached the dog a bird flushed, flying down and away from me. I mounted my gun and missed twice. Chivu looked at me in disbelieve and then watched the bird flying off in the distant. I slowly started walking down the ridge towards where Chris was standing. 
Halfway there, Chivu pointed and immediately two birds flushed. I downed both with a perfect double.We ended the day with a barbeque in a dried up gully, reviewing our latest guineafowl success.

In conclusion we were both convinced that we have access to another great upland guineafowl venue. And rest assured, we will be back for more!

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