African Guinea Fowl Hunt
Of all the birds on the Eastern Cape, Guinea fowl are the one that I think of as the symbol of South Africa, big flocks are seen just about everywhere as you travel through the Cape. They are a large and striking bird, with a grayish blue body with white polka dots covering their plumage. They have a tear drop shaped body that is the size of a goose, yet more or less look like giant mutant quail as they move along in large flocks frequently consisting of 50 or more birds scratching for food. The male has a helmet of cartilage on its bright blue head with a red mustache like appendage on either side of the beak.
Guinea fowl are a game bird, and we hunted them for the table. There are essentially two ways to do this; you can spot and stalk them or set up an ambush. With both of these approaches it feels more like a big game spot and stalk than a typical bird hunt. Neither way is easy, these birds are wary, and with so many in the flock there are always eyes on the lookout for danger. An analogy that American hunters will understand, it’s like trying to sneak up on a big flock of turkeys…. Not an easy stalk.
On a typical Guinea fowl hunt I arose early one morning before sunrise, collected the Marauder and my daypack and headed off to shoot a couple birds for an upcoming brai (cookout). I had spotted a pasture where the birds often came to feed in the mornings and at dusk, and my plan was to get there first, sit in a clump of bush, then take my shot when they were in range. But as I was making my way to the pasture, enough daylight had arrived that I could see the fowl (and hear them) already in the field. So I slipped back into the bush and started stalking around behind their position. The only problem was that the flock was strung out with some in the bush and some in the field; I need to be quiet because if I stumbled on one bird the entire covey would flush. And I moved slowly listening for their location and grouping calls.
Trying not to impale myself on the needle like protrusions of the ubiquitous thorn bush, I moved as slowly and quietly as possible. The sound of birds clicking and clucking was floating towards me from a direction I’d not anticipated, so I dropped to my knee in a dense bush and waited.
After a few minutes the first birds became visible under and behind the low branches of the brush. Finally one stepped out looking straight towards me and I squeezed the trigger watching the bird crumple in front of me. The shot had taken the bird right at the base of the neck The sound of the shot was quiet enough (thanks to the shrouded barrel) that the birds only hesitated for a moment and I thought I’d get another chance. But then one stumbled onto me and let out the alarm, and I had probably forty or fifty birds exploding from every direction. One bird ran in front of me in high gear, but with enough time to snap the gun up and get off a broadside shot. The bird ran about ten yards further before dropping. With two birds in the bag and the rest of the flock headed for parts unknown I headed back to meet up with the others with the intention of returning in the late afternoon to set up an ambush when the fowl came in for their evening feed before roosting.
That afternoon found me sitting in a blind Rob and I had built out of bales of hay, looking out over one of the pastures. Andrew and I had been there a while when we saw two big flocks at either opposite side of the field running and sparring for positions in their society. Then as if on cue a group broke off and ran at a brisk trot in single line formation directly towards us. I whispered, buckle down mate, they’re charging; to which we both started laughing and almost gave our hide away. To our right was a feeder the sheep were eating out of and we held fire allowing the birds to start feeding on the spilled grain. As we waited more birds came in, and we each picked a fully mature male to shoot, we’d both decided we were going to take a trophy Guinea Fowl, meaning one with a large helmut and moustache and bright collors along with a large body. I took the first shot and hit my bird broad side, at which he ran twenty yards and toppled over. The other birds trotted off, but the one Andrew had picked was running at an angle that he could shoot on. At the muffled crack of his rifle the running bird went down, got up and ran a few yards before dropping for good. We could have stayed and shot a couple more, but these two with the ones from the morning suited our needs so we sat and glassed the animal life until dark and headed back.
The guinea fowl is a big and tenacious bird that we’ve shot with shotguns and rimfires as well as airguns in the past; but the Marauders (.177 and .22) provided the power to effectively and efficiently produce clean kills. In the weeks I was in South Africa I harvested a lot of Guinea fowl and this rifle worked like a charm in both calibers. If I had my choice I’d stick with the .22 because while both guns did the job, their trajectory and accuracy were very similar, and all else being equal, I always tend to gravitate to the larger caliber. Between the accuracy, power, low report, reliability and 10 shot fire power it was as Andrew said, the best gun we’d ever used on our hunts together.