I have been lucky in my choice of profession, and I have guided wingshooting adventures on three continents and in 14 countries. Each of those trips has resulted in experiences and memories that are unique and fondly recalled. One destination in particular that stands out is Africa.
While Africa is primarily recognized for its big-game hunting, the country offers a rich smorgasbord of wingshooting that is a close match for South America in volume and variety of species. At press time, the lifting of Covid restrictions finally has reopened Africa’s incredible bird hunting opportunities to the rest of the world.
I first visited Africa while filming the television series Wingshooting the World with Chris Batha, which allowed me to experience once-in-a-lifetime opportunities around the globe. Because I have traveled extensively, I often am asked what my favorite destination is; and though this is a difficult question to answer, I would have to say that South Africa is near the top of the list.
Because South Africa is situated in the Southern Hemisphere, wingshooting season there is the opposite of what it is in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a real bonus if you have deep pockets and can shoot different seasons in different countries in different hemispheres.
As you would expect in such a large country, there are many large rural farms in the breadbasket of South Africa. The best wingshooting starts at the end of February after the sunflowers are drilled and runs through May. The middle of this period offers the best opportunities for high-volume shooting, and hunters should plan to stay awhile—after all, it’s a long trip to get there.
My most recent visit to South Africa was with six serious and eager shooters who joined me while filming an episode of Wingshooting the World. We enjoyed 10 days in South Africa and Botswana, and it was an unforgettable experience.
At the time, it took about as long to fly from the US to South Africa as it did to fly to South America. Now the trip is even shorter, as there are direct flights to Johannesburg—a much easier trek than the old “refuel in Dakar, Senegal,” adventure. That said, if you have time and want a really great trip, fly to England, spend time in London visiting various gunmakers and shooting grounds, and then take a night flight from London to Johannesburg.
When we arrived in South Africa, we were greeted by our host and outfitter, Mark Haldane, his wife and their staff. Their hospitality was superb, and they had comfortable accommodations and excellent food.
The sky was full of guinea fowl that were high, fast and challenging.
After an excellent field lunch, we moved to arable fields that had been freshly harvested, and we were placed along the edges in light cover. I grew up shooting British wood pigeons, and the African red-eyed dove is a similar species and is decoyed in the same manner. We waited on bucket seats with bottles of water close by, and it wasn’t long before large flocks of red-eyed doves descended on the fields. The large flocks were evasive in flight—jinking, curling and diving—so choosing the timing of shots was essential. They flared upon detecting any movement, so we had to be stock-still until ready to shoot in order to avoid waving our guns around like we were conducting an orchestra.
Our second day consisted of a half-day shooting at a mixed bag of birds—including francolin, rock pigeons and guinea fowl—which varied in size and flight patterns and made for challenging shots.
On the third and fourth days we spent mornings hunting Natal francolin over pointing dogs followed by something that should be on every wingshooter’s wish list: driven guinea fowl. The Guns were positioned in a line on the edge of a cover crop abutting a background of tall pine trees. This arrangement was similar to the lines formed for British driven-game shooting. We had been warned that the big birds were jittery and that we would have to keep quiet and still.
On the first afternoon, after what seemed like ages but was probably only minutes, the guinea fowl burst from the woods like pheasants in British driven shooting; but they were so high and fast that only one Gun managed to get off a shot. Our guide, needless to say, was not impressed, and he didn’t hide his disappointment after all the hard work that had been put in by the beaters.
Undaunted, he reorganized the beaters, and the Guns reformed a line determined to do better. The second attempt was a sensational experience, as the sky was full of guinea fowl that were high, fast and challenging. And the Guns acquitted themselves brilliantly.
This fantastic day was topped off with some sensational shooting on ducks that were called and decoyed into range against the warm orange glow of the setting sun.
August is a good month for both fishing and game viewing. Chobe Safari Lodge and Water Lily Lodge, both in Kasane, Botswana, offer fantastic opportunities to catch your breath and get close and personal with both plains and dangerous game. This is a fantastic experience—being driven into the bush in a Land Rover with a guide who carries a rifle . . . just in case.
Mark Haldane’s Bird Hunters Africa prides itself on offering the discerning wingshooter a variety of the finest bird shooting in Southern Africa. Possible pursuits include walked-up hunting for grey-winged partridge, francolin and spurfowl over pointing dogs; driven guinea fowl; decoyed ducks and geese; and hot-barreled dove and pigeon shooting. The possibilities make for an adventure of a lifetime and a “bespoke bird shooting safari” tailored to the individual’s desires. (Some shooters will choose to add hunting for plains game; however, this needs to be planned well in advance.)
Such a smorgasbord of exotic experiences offers wingshooters plenty to check off their bucket lists.
For more information, contact Bird Hunters Africa.
Chris Batha’s most recent book, The Instinctive Shot, can be ordered by visiting chrisbatha.com, which includes schedules of shoots and clinics with the author.