African Wing-Shooting

'Battle Of Guinea' by Jason van Aarde

Take one guinea fowl and look at the size of its brain...it is about the size of the nail on your little finger. Now take the average flock size of two hundred and put all there little brains together and you have the equivalent brain power of Sun Tsu.

African Wing-Shooting
Jason van Aarde Reprimanding A Guinea Fowl

Suddenly, Scruffy, my German wire-haired pointer, stiffens her entire body and looks intensely into the field of corn. She can hear the beaters on the other side of the corn, she knows the hunt has begun and knows the birds will be on their way. Scruffy is a veteran of hundreds of guinea fowl shoots and I have stopped counting how many of these birds she has retrieved. I am certain she enjoys hunting them more than anybody in the hunting field today. She has almost stop breathing and is looking to my left into the corn, knowing that is were the birds are. I wave over the client next to me, pointing to the spot and then move off a bit down the corn to give him some space and a better shooting lane in the hope that they fly our way.

The beaters are half way through the corn and I can hear their shouts intensifying. They have seen glimpses of the birds here and there and their excitement begins to rise, yet there are no signs of birds. They must still be there, Scruffy has not moved and through many years of hunting together I have learnt to trust her instinct. It is a waiting game now and you can feel the tension picking up. Every gun in the lane is looking straight ahead knowing the first bird will take to the sky in any moment. This is the most important moment of a guinea shoot, as for now if a beater or even a gun makes the wrong move, most of the birds will fly back over the beaters and the shoot as a whole will be unsuccessful. The worst is I can not do anything about it, it is now a complete team event.

Suddenly there is shouting from inside of the corn, one of the beaters screams on top of his voice and I know the first bird is in the air! He is just making sure it goes the right way.

I am too close to the field to see where it is but realise the bird is closer to the opposite side of the gun line, everybody down that side is looking in the same general direction hoping the bird will fly their way. I strain my eyes and there in the distance is a black speck, gaining height with every second, flapping it's wings as fast as it can. The guinea is now set on a path with the wind from behind that will take him right over the guns. The third gun from the end of the line is the lucky person and is shouldering his gun. It is a high shot and every body, 15 beaters, 8 guns and 3 Professional Hunters are mesmerised by the same scene, looking, waiting, hoping and again hardly breathing. While the bird rises, everything seems to move in slow motion.

It was a perfect shot and the bird crumples, with the sound of the shot following a couple of seconds later...and then all hell breaks loose. The sky is filled with guineas, small flocks of five to twenty birds flying in every possible direction with the beaters shouting a war cry every time a bird folded. Guns are loaded in record time, cartridges are dropped in the excitement, as more of the flock approaches. The sound resembles that of a Second World War documentary. THE BATTLE HAS BEGUN.

African Wing-Shooting
African Guinea Fowl Shooting

Scruffy is on the other side of the line, running with a guinea fowl in her mouth to a beater who has just stepped out of the corn. He hardly had the bird in his hand before she is off again, this time through the fences behind the gun line to a spot were she has seen a bird go down. She can't find it immediately and I see she is getting agitated, she knows there are birds falling. I'm watching her when suddenly she starts running in a straight line, following the wounded bird's scent and increases speed, she knows a guinea fowl's capability to run. At full tilt she make a 180 degree turn in mid-stride and dives into a bush. On the other side out pops a guinea fowl, running for all he is worth. Scruffy is even more spectacular coming out the bush hot on his heels, closing the gap with impressive speed. She is on him and the bird takes a leap into the air. Scruffy makes an impressive jump and catches him two feet up as he tries for a last escape.

By the time she reaches us, the initial shoot is over and everybody is picking up birds. We are all moving as fast as we can to get onto the birds again before they re-group as this is when they sit tight. I walk over to my assistant Professional Hunter, Willie Vermaak, to ask him if he saw were most of the birds went. He indicates to the same field I hoped for, I wave the clients over, give them a quick review of where we are going and what the next strategy will be. It is a group that has hunted guinea fowl with me before and everybody falls in line in no time.

Initially we walk quickly, trying to get onto the birds, putting pressure on them with the hope that they would sit. Between each client is a beater, a step or two behind the gun line and Scruffy thirty yards in front of the line searching for birds. The entire area is now completely saturated with guinea scent and I can see she is battling to pick up individual birds. I don't expect her to point guineas under these circumstances, flushing them will do, this is not a gun dog trail, it's the real deal and I see the guns closest to her have their full attention on her.

We still have to go at least another seventy paces before we will get to were most of the birds landed but I can see Scruffy is now on something as she is concentrating on a small patch of thatch grass zigzagging through it. The three guns closest to her obviously have now noted it as well, as they are now walking straight to her, closing the distance between them. It is never good to break the line but once you have hunted guineas most people just can not help it.

The closest gun was just about to enter the patch of grass when out came a guinea, giving him such a fright that he was hardly able to shoulder his gun as he shot, missing by far. He is still so shocked that he is not even trying to take a second shot, but is blankly staring at the bird. Before he gathered his senses the guns on either side of him shoot almost simultaneously and the bird crumples. The feathers were still hanging in the air when Scruffy gives the bird to the gun that took the first shot. I am smiling to myself, as I think that Scruffy must have felt bad for him and decided to give him the bird.

The gentleman he is, he opens his gun and takes the bird from Scruffy and thanks her before she took off looking for more birds. While he looks to the beater to his right who is now running to him to get the bird, another bird takes off under the beater's feet right between them, flying straight away from the gun line in the direction we are walking. The client is now in a complete mess not knowing what to do first, close the gun, drop the bird or wait for the beater to get to him! But instead he decided to hang on to the bird with his left hand while he close his gun holding it by the pistol grip and at the same time pushing the barrels down onto his left arm that is still holding the first guinea. As soon as the gun snaps shut and he has his barrels resting on his arm and lined up on the bird he took the shot, this time killing the bird. As the bird hit the ground a cheer rose up from all in the line as everybody was watching the scene.

It was another hour before we gave up on the birds for the day to have our lunch in the field. Only after the two other Professional Hunters finished helping me serve all the clients, did we walk over to the beaters. When halfway there we could hear them talking about all the happenings of the day and days before. It was then that I realise why I enjoy hunting these birds so much, as every day bring something new and gives a gun every possible shot, wing-shooting can offer, in the same shoot.

African Wing-Shooting
The End Of A Guinea Fowl Shoot

Jason van Aarde

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