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Hunting terrestrial game birds – hunting methods

30 September 2016


Reasons for the control of numbers

www.leopard.tvTerrestrial game birds are normally hunted recreationally but it can also contribute to the conservation of game birds. As in most animal populations, the number of birds also fluctuates regularly in response to those environmental conditions which affect breeding success and the ecological capacity of an area for terrestrial game birds. The common annual pattern is a sudden, large increase in bird numbers immediately after the breeding season and a gradual decrease during the dry season as the birds die. This happens because the seasonal breeding surplus is usually greater than the long-term ecological capacity of the area for game birds. The deaths are mainly due to food shortages in the dry season that decrease the physical condition of the birds. A weak physical condition causes greater susceptibility to diseases, severe cold and predation.

Should the annual mortality of the seasonal breeding surplus not occur before the onset of the dry season, there will be greater competition for the limited food resources in that season. This increases stress in the entire population and causes greater mortalities than what would have occurred if the seasonal surplus had been removed before the dry season. At the end of the dry season the surviving birds will then enter the breeding season in a poor physical condition and their breeding success will be impaired.

It is best to harvest the surplus of terrestrial game birds as early as possible in the hunting season. This will create an artificial, sudden population decrease before any pressure can be placed on the food resources that will be available during the dry season. The result of early harvesting is that a larger proportion of the breeding component of the population will survive the dry season and they will start the next breeding season in a good physical condition with a better breeding capacity. Regular, judicious harvesting of a population in the late rainy or early dry season ensures that the population remains young and viable and has an optimal breeding success. This creates sustainable production in the next year.

The underutilization of a game bird population can therefore be as detrimental as its overutilization. Prohibiting the hunting of game birds on a wildlife ranch in fear that these birds will be affected adversely is therefore unfounded. Moreover, it deprives the wildlife rancher of a potential source of income and recreation and may have the opposite effect than was intended. When the game bird populations on a wildlife ranch do not increase as expected or when they remain static, the problem usually lies in less than favourable habitat conditions.




When and how to hunt

When hunting, it is wise to remove the entire surplus that would normally die naturally during each dry season. This surplus will vary annually depending on environmental conditions, such as the amount of rainfall received. This why regular game bird counts are important. At all times, the population should not be overutilized so that its breeding component should remain unaffected. Following a good breeding season up to 25 per cent of a spurfowl or francolin population may be harvested before the dry season which follows. However, each covey should never be reduced to fewer than three birds so as to leave a breeding core for the following season. In contrast to the partridges, spurfowl and francolins which usually raise a smaller mean brood, the guineafowl will raise a brood one of eight to ten chicks. Therefore, some 40 to 50 per cent of a guineafowl population can be harvested annually in years of high production. The harvesting rate must, however, be determined annually based on a current season´s breeding success.

www.leopard.tvGame birds are hunted mainly during the autumn and winter at a time when there is little or no breeding activity because hunting them during the breeding season has many detrimental consequences. Game birds should also never be disturbed near their breeding or roosting sites. The practice of some hunters to shoot guineafowl at roosting trees will cause them to leave that wildlife ranch permanently. National norms and standards for wingshooting in South Africa have been developed by game bird associations and they should be applied strictly.

Many South Africans have hunted game birds for the pot with a .22 rifle at some or other time. However, hunting them with a shotgun, with or without bird dogs, has created a whole new dimension of recreational hunting. Many staunch antelope hunters later become avid game bird hunters.



Behavioural patterns of the hunter and the terrestrial game bird


All the terrestrial game birds of South Africa have adopted one behavioural escape pattern or another and it is important to know this when hunting them. They usually initially try to hide before flying up suddenly when danger gets too close. This behaviour has given rise to the current forms of terrestrial game bird hunting. Basically all game birds should be hunted with a shotgun in flight. Although this may sound ineffective to the layman, it has proved to be the most effective way of hunting large numbers of game birds. The hunting techniques vary depending on the terrain, the type of bird and its behaviour.

Walk-up hunting is most common in South Africa. The hunter walks through the area where it is suspected that the game birds occur, and the birds that fly up in front of the hunter are shot at. The success of this method is increased when bird dogs are used to locate the birds. Most spurfowls and francolins are hunted in this way but it is only successful to hunt guineafowl when in a dense grass cover which causes the birds to seek shelter in the grass rather than to run away.

During drive hunts, the birds are flushed by beaters towards a row of hunters who then shoot at the birds as they fly up and over them. This is a popular way in which to hunt game birds in Europe where hunting has become largely artificial because the birds are bred in captivity and are then released from cages to fly over the hunters, but this method is mainly limited to the hunting of guineafowl populations that form large natural flocks in South Africa.

www.leopard.tvSurround hunts were developed in KwaZulu-Natal for guineafowl hunting. It requires a sound knowledge of the terrain and the habits of the birds and a large number of hunters. Basically, a flock in dense grass is surrounded by the hunters, after which the hunters take turns to move into the circle while approaching from one side to flush the birds and shoot at them. When it is being done correctly, it is the most effective method to hunt a large number of guineafowl in a short time, but it requires the hunters to shoot only at birds on the wing so as to avoid hitting each other.

Trapping hunts were developed in the northern parts of South Africa when the hunting party is small and the guineafowl flocks are dispersed widely. A flock is at first located with a vehicle and is then flushed deliberately. The flight direction and landing spot of the flock are noted carefully, and a few hunters are then positioned behind the flock. The rest of the hunters move to a position in front of the flock, and the two groups of hunters move towards each other so as to trap the guineafowl between them. The guineafowl hide in the grass and fly up individually when as a hunter gets too close to it. Bird dogs work well in trapping hunts, especially in open bushveld. However, it requires great discipline and care on the part of the hunters to avoid hitting each other.

www.leopard.tvDuring ambush hunts the hunters hide in natural or artificial shelters, and the birds are shot at when they fly over them en route to their roosts, feeding or drinking places. This requires a basic knowledge of the flight routes being used and is used especially to hunt sandgrouse. Decoys may be used to attract the birds to a specific area. Such decoys are advertised in hunting magazines, wingshooting and general wildlife magazines and their use is discussed by Viljoen (2005) in the references below.



Brooke, R K 1987. A history of the use of indigenous game birds in South Africa. South African Journal of Wildlife Research Supplement 1: 2 - 4.

Potgieter, L 1987. The efficiency of the shotgun as firearm. South African Journal of Wildlife Research Supplement 1: 91 - 95.

Van der Westhuizen, R (Ed.). 2002. Wingshooting: game bird shooting in Africa. Pretoria: SA Wingshooters’ Association, pages 1 - 128.

Viljoen, P J 2005. AGRED’s gamebirds of South Africa: field identification and management. Houghton: African Gamebird Research, Education and Development Trust.

article by Prof J du P Bothma




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