Jim is out on one of his favorite small game hunts, and the one that first brought him to South Africa with an airgun in 2020
Having spent much of my life living abroad, many places have been “home”, but one that has been a constant for me is South Africa. I try to get back every year to hunt, and regardless of whether my primary objective is airgun hunting, big game hunting, or even fishing, I bring along an air rifle. The reason is that no matter what else is on the agenda, I’ll make time to do a Guinea fowl hunt! This is an incredible game bird, and for many years I loved taking them on the wing with my shotgun. But then a friend suggested I bring an air rifle along to use during downtime on a plains game hunt. I took him up on it, and although I bagged a lot of bigger game such as kudu and bushbuck, it was stalking this incredibly wary and smart bird that stands out in my memory.
What makes Guinea fowl a superb airgun quarry? It’s the challenge. I mentioned in a previous article that the wild turkey and its domesticated cousin are nothing alike. This is equally true with respect to Guinea fowl. Like turkeys, Guineas have very sharp eyesight, excellent hearing, and they are exceedingly skittish. Now add to this that they often travel in large flocks, which means there are many eyes on watch, and you start to understand the difficulty in getting close to them. The other great thing about Guineas is that they are widespread and abundant, so (once you are in Africa) finding hunt-able populations is not difficult. As with many of my favorite game species, it’s the combination of availability and challenge in a beautiful setting that makes a true trophy hunt.
I have taken Guinea fowl with both spring piston and precharged pneumatic guns, and have used .22, .25, and .30 calibers. All can be effective, requiring only that you match your shots to the capabilities of the gun. My favorite field gun over the years has been a .25 caliber shooting in the 40 fpe range, though the .30’s have impressed me over the last couple trips. Obviously accuracy is king, but once you have the power and sub MOA groups locked in, a variety of guns will work. I’ve hunted many high end rifles on the trail of Guineas, but have probably taken the most with the relatively inexpensive yet workmanlike Benjamin Marauder .25. This gun is accurate, an honest 40 fpe, quiet, multishot, and both the rifle and magazines are very reliable. A fine hunting rig, and the fact I keep one in the gun safe at my in-laws house was predicated on how well the gun has worked for me in the field.
There are a few ways to hunt Guinea fowl; typically the best times are at daybreak or dusk though you may stumble on a covey at any time. These birds are creatures of habit, frequently following the same paths off the roost to their feeding grounds. In the early and late hours, I like to ambush them on their way to feed. I’ll use natural materials or my leafy camo poncho to build a blind, which is effective because these birds are very sensitive to motion. The better you stay covered up the better your results will be. At one of my friend’s properties large flocks move across the pastures to the feedlots to peck at the spillage. I’ve built a blind from hay bales that works well, except the sheep keep closing in and grazing on my blind as I try to hunt. Probably need to rethink that one. I’ve also used a ghillie suit, and while not as effective in covering movement, works well if the hunter can stay still.
Another tactic is to stalk and glass the veldt; when birds are located the hunter works out an approach and goes mobile. This is without a doubt the hardest method, because with so many birds moving around the chances of you and a member of the flock stumbling into one another is high. Many times I’ve seen a bird at 75 yards, carefully planned my approach, and within a few steps kick up birds I hadn’t seen feeding between us! But when you can pull this one off, the satisfaction is great and you know you’ve hunted well. Listening for the Guineas vocalizations can be a useful tactic. As they spread out to feed, they will track the other flock member’s locations by calling. This chatter will help the Hunter not only keep track of his intended prey, but also any other bird that might be accidentally pushed. For every minute of slow walking, spend 2-3 minutes standing still looking and listening. Once a bird is located and you start to close, keep in the shadows, don’t skyline yourself, and don’t make sudden movements on the approach.
Shot placement on Guineas if Similar to other large birds; the head is an excellent target regardless of how the bird is oriented, but this can be difficult as the head always seems to be in motion. When the bird is facing away the base of the neck is an effective placement, without quite so much movement as the head. Chest shots can be used when the bird is broadside or facing the Hunter. I think body shots are better reserved for the larger and more powerful .30 caliber guns, and I typically refrain from body shots in thicker brush. Guineas are fast runners, and a body shot bird may streak away before dropping, which in a pasture doesn’t matter but may lead to an unrecoverable quarry in rougher terrain with denser vegetation.
Why hunt Guinea fowl? There is an element of pest control in some areas, they wreak havoc on my mother in-laws garden and landscaping down near Capetown for instance. However the type of hunting described in this article is not pest control. It is hunting for sport and for the table, which is a valid reason in my books. Guinea fowl can be roasted, grilled or prepared like any other game bird, but my mother in-law makes a wickedly good stew which is my favorite.
Having the opportunity to travel over so much of our planet has been one of the high points of my life, and I’m especially enamored with South Africa for many reasons. The people, the culture, the history, and the wildlife are all special. And for me the Guinea fowl is one of the most representative species of the region; challenging to hunt, plentiful with healthy populations, just the right size for a powerful airgun, not to mention excellent table fare. I have hunted rabbit and squirrels in many parts of the world, but when the game is Guinea fowl you know that you are well and truly in Africa!