By Douglas Tate
The familiar routine of uncasing guns and unloading dogs from the pickup is reassuring to nerves frayed by the long flight from Atlanta to South Africa. Advancing uphill behind four English pointers soon lifts spirits. The exertion warms us in the chill mountain air. Then comes a flush like a burst water main as partridge become aware of the creeping danger. A couple of shots echo to the distant horizon, and a brace of birds drops to the scrub. Like red grouse or bobwhite quail, gray-winged partridge belong to the aristocracy of gamebirds. They rise fast and high and are regarded as South Africa’s finest sporting bird, offering classic shooting in a pristine environment.
Gray-winged partridge are not the only gamebirds offered by Wingshoot Africa. Volume dove and pigeon shooters can be accommodated, as can those looking to collect exotic species like the colorful francolin. Wildfowl such as yellow-billed ducks and spur-winged geese are on the menu, and there are even “fisants,” which are a kind of spur fowl. Though the company is based in Free State Province, guides and guests travel throughout South Africa and beyond to maximize bird hunting opportunities. Accommodations vary from farms, to hunting lodges to classic country hotels, with regional food and wine often part of the package. Transfer between hunting destinations is by safari vehicle and typically takes less than a day.
Wingshoot Africa is the project of Jason van Aarde and his wife, Mihandra. Seattle resident Richard Lichtenberg is the outfitter’s US representative. According to Lichtenberg: “My job is to answer questions from US hunters about what to expect, give info on gun permits and so on. We really enjoyed our trips to the various parks with Jason. He knows all the birds, his bush craft is excellent for tracks, etcetera. The trip we made to Etosha was magic. He does such a great job on his driven guineas—my favorites.”
Guinea fowl are a specialty of Wingshoot Africa. “They are probably the most sought after of our gamebird species,” according to van Aarde. Guineas are notoriously hard to herd, but Jason has developed his own method of bringing them to bag using dozens of beaters to scour cornfields and drive them over hidden guns. For my most memorable drive, a vast maize patch on a plateau was driven, with the Guns spread out in a curving line in a meadow below. When the first few birds appeared within range, it was hard to tell who was most surprised—the hunters or the hunted. Initially, only a few were right on top of us, then a bunch of a dozen or so crossed over, and eventually they came as a dense mass followed by a few stranglers. It was hot-barreled action at a fraction of what one might pay for a day of high pheasants in Scotland.
Should you decide to go, take your own gun, as van Aarde has a limited selection available but finds that most serious wingshooters do best with guns that fit. If you have doubts, give Lichtenberg a ping. Direct flights are available but, if you decide to go via Europe, Lichtenberg can tell you which airlines and hubs to bypass, to avoid gun travel troubles.