There’s an emerging trend in African hunting circles that is seeing dedicated wingshooting safaris rising in popularity. As all who’ve hunted or visited Africa know, it is home to an astounding variety of bird life, including game birds, but they’ve largely been ignored as hunters pursued their big-game aspirations. That’s changed in recent years, and current trends are seeing an increasing number of safaris where bird shooting is the primary objective.
Safari Club International (SCI), recognizing this trend, created a new awards program just a short time ago, dedicated solely to wingshooting. The Game Birds of the World Platform was developed to bring increased attention to the array of bird-hunting opportunities around the world. Seven distinct classifications were established specifically in recognition of African wingshooting:
Four species of quail were identified, including the common quail. It has a wide range, stretching from West Africa to the Red Sea down to South Africa, wherever suitable grassland habitat is found. The blue quail is a nomadic, uncommon species found across sub-Saharan Africa, though it’s rare south of Zambia and Mozambique. The Harlequin quail is very similar in appearance to the common quail, and their range largely overlaps, although the Harlequin doesn’t extend as far north or west across the continent. SCI lumps all buttonquail together, although there are actually three distinct species. To qualify for the African Quail Award, a hunter must shoot two of the four recognized species.
Partridge, Francolin and Spurfowl
SCI identifies eight species in their program, including Coqui, greywing, Orange River and crested partridge, red-wing and Shelley’s francolin, and the red-billed and red-necked spurfowl. These birds are all somewhat similar in appearance, resembling the Hungarian, or grey, partridge familiar to North American and European hunters. These eight species represent only about 20% of the partridge and francolin found across Africa, but are the most common in those countries and regions where the vast majority of recreational hunting occurs. A hunter is required to take at least six of these species to qualify for SCI’s awards program.
Few African birds are as recognizable or iconic as the guineafowl. A somewhat unusual appearance belies a crafty mind, however, and these birds that would rather run than fly are notoriously challenging to hunt. The three species identified in SCI’s program include the helmeted guineafowl common throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, the crested species found in scattered regions in west, east and southern Africa, and the distinctive vulturine guineafowl of east Africa. Qualifying hunters must shoot two of these species.
Doves and Pigeons
They don’t quite compete with Argentinian numbers, but African doves and pigeons can be found in significant numbers in nearly every country with hunting. Unlike in South America, there is a wide diversity of species available, and the new SCI program recognizes 12 of them. These include the blue-spotted, Cape turtle, cinnamon, emerald-spotted, laughing, mourning, Namaqua, olive pigeon (aka Kameron/Cameron), red-eyed and tambourine doves, along with the green pigeon and the rock dove, the common pigeon of North America. Most can be found in east and southern Africa. SCI requires that a hunter take nine of these species to qualify for their awards program.
Sandgrouse are the most-revered of Africa’s gamebirds, having been referenced in much of the classic African hunting literature. They are fast-flying birds similar to a pigeon, although they’re dressed in natural browns as are typical partridge. The SCI program includes four species – the Burchell’s, the double-banded, the Namaqua and the yellow-throated. All are found in southern Africa, with Namibia and Botswana the recognized epicenters. To qualify for the sandgrouse award, three of these species must be collected.
There are more than two-dozen duck species present across Africa, though SCI has selected only 12 as part of their program, focusing on those found in southern countries. These include the African black, the Cape shoveller, the Cape teal, the fulvous whistling duck, the Hottentot teal, the comb (knob-billed) duck, the red-billed and yellow-billed teal, the South African shelduck, the southern pochard, the white-backed duck and the white-faced duck. Qualification for the awards program requires that a hunter take a minimum of nine of these species.
The program classifies three goose species, including the Egyptian goose, the spur-winged goose (the largest goose in the world) and the pygmy goose, which is actually a duck despite its name. All are widely distributed across much of East and southern Africa. To qualify for the African Geese award, all three species must be taken.
Birds to be submitted for consideration in the program are not measured as is required with big game animals. Rather, SCI requires that a field photograph showing the distinguishing characteristics of each bird be submitted. To protect the ethical considerations of the program, SCI further stipulates that:
- Each species must have been hunted by a legal method within the country where it is harvested;
- That each species must have a known population status;
- That birds be harvested during a specified hunting season for the species; and
- That the species be recognized as either an upland game bird or waterfowl species by the SCI Game Birds Committee.
It is not clear from their program promotional material, but the wording in SCI’s online description of the awards program suggests that birds beyond those specifically listed on the awards submission form would be accepted provided they meet the four criteria identified above.
For many years hunters have been shooting birds as an add-on to their big-game hunts, a relaxing diversion when they have an afternoon off or are looking for a little variety for the stewpot. It wasn’t really until the 1980s that we saw any outfitters catering specifically to wingshooters, and that effort met with largely mixed results. In recent years, however, we’ve seen a resurgence in both the interest in bird hunting and the number of outfitters offering dedicated wingshooting safaris. Hunters seeking a truly mixed-bag hunt that includes birds are advised to check out the promises their prospective outfitter makes. Having birds on the landscape and a shotgun or two in camp doesn’t equate to a professional wingshooting safari outfitter. Those outfitters with a dedicated bird program know how to hunt birds, have all the gear required, including decoys for many of the species, and run quality dogs, usually pointers for the upland species and retrievers for waterfowl hunts. It pays to check references if you’re serious about spending a few days, or an entire safari, focusing on bird hunting.
What separates African wingshooting from that offered around most of the rest of the world, is Africa herself. There remains to this day broad expanses of relatively untouched habitat, even in developed areas, and the diversity of bird and big game present is one of the great attractions. Where else will you see an English pointer lock up on a reedbuck ram hiding in the grass as I did on a greywing partridge hunt in South Africa’s Stormberg Mountains? Or watch giraffes, kudu, springbok and a host of other large mammals come in to a waterhole as you wait for the next flight of sandgrouse, as I experienced in Namibia?
When you get the Africa bug, as so many sportsmen have, you look for any excuse to go back. For those who’ve already checked the boxes for the big game they want, or for those who are avid wingshooters seeking a new destination, a dedicated African bird hunting safari may be just the answer.