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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... (Become a subscriber for more)



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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