By Peter Ruddle
South Africa is the modern-day sportsman bird-shooting destination of choice. True, most hunters think about South Africa only in terms of kudu, sable, and other big-game animals, but the country is truly blessed with exceptional wild game bird populations. You just cannot beat the challenge of a bird hunter looking for the opportunity to shoot wild sporting birds in their natural habitat.
This may not be a high volume dove hunt in Argentina or a goose hunt in North America but you will be amazed at the quantities and varieties of wild birds that South Africa has to offer. Starting with the world’s largest bird, the ostrich, there are more than fifty gamebird species, about twenty of which are shot as fair game on a regular basis. These birds include guineafowl, various species of francolin (old-world partridge) and spurfowl (previously referred to as francolin), eight species of doves and pigeons, three of sandgrouse, three of quail, countless duck species as well as the Egyptian and spurwing geese.
This blog is dedicated to pigeon and dove shooting in South Africa. Other types of wingshooting, including driven bird hunts, walk-up upland bird shooting, and waterfowling, will be covered in later parts of the series; subscribe for updates or follow us on social media if you don’t want to miss them.
ABOUT DOVES AND PIGEONS
Southern Africa has eleven recorded dove species of which six are hunted (the other five are not gregarious and for the most part are forest-dwelling birds). The huntable species are laughing dove, African mourning dove, Cape turtle dove, red-eyed dove and the least hunted of all, the Namaqua dove. The sixth species is now referred to as a rock dove and not to be confused with speckled pigeons (rock pigeons). Rock doves are known to most bird hunters as feral pigeons and are often referred to as flying rats in the cities where they have become problem animals.
The best places to hunt doves is nearby a feedlot, dairy farm or any other farm that grain feeds their livestock. Some of the dove species also make their way to recently harvested agricultural grain fields. Doves are water-dependent species and are found along river courses during the day in search of water to quench their thirst. Although not flying in flocks, large numbers of doves can be found congregating to drink at waterholes in the semi-arid desert regions of the country. The same is true for Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Of the four pigeon species occurring in South Africa, bird hunters only target the speckled pigeon (formerly called rock pigeon). The Afrikaans name for this bird is “Kransduif” (cliff dove) which best describes its preferred habitat. These birds roost and breed on mountainous rocky ledges, cliffs, gorges and manmade structures. Although using houses, barns, workshops, warehouses and other suburban and urban buildings, they fly out to feed on adjacent lands and fields, unlike their feral cousins.
These birds are known for their agility and speed. Their flight line is fast and straight until the first shot is fired then you can expect some acrobatic manoeuvres, ducking and diving, twisting and turning sometimes a few feet off the ground making for some very challenging shooting.
Let us see what outfitter Tim van Heerden from Karoo Wingshooting has to say about shooting “Rockies”:
Bloemfontein, in the Free State province, is considered the “pigeon capital” of South Africa. This entertaining hot-barrelled action will test the abilities of the most respected guns. Many international sportsmen have referred to Rockies as the “most challenging gamebird in the world”. It is here, in the sunflower fields that the seasoned wingshooter’s shooting talents will be tested to the limit, while novice shooters will have ample opportunities to hone their shotgun skills and improve their shooting ability.
Millions of pigeons and doves commute, twice daily, between the city and the ripening sunflower fields in the surrounding district. It is here where sportsmen ambush these humbling game birds under their flight paths, first the incoming flight to the fields and thereafter the outgoing flight from the fields back to their roosts. Pigeon shooting is called hot barrel action because a gun can fire over a thousand rounds on a good day! Pigeons may be shot throughout the year, but the best time is from March to the beginning of June.
A typical day will commence with an early morning wake-up call. After a quick cup of coffee, rusks (biscotti) and toast we will depart for the morning’s shoot. After placing the blinds, shooting will commence sunrise until roughly 10 am. Snacks and beverages will be offered during the shoot. Back at the lodge, you will be entertained to a hearty brunch, and some time to relax fatigued shoulders. Around noon we will depart to shoot the afternoon flight. The day’s shoot will conclude with a photo session of the day’s bag. Dinner will be served at 7.30 pm and the day’s excitement will be relived around a comfortable fireplace until bedtime.
A typical dove and pigeon shoot takes place over a minimum of 2 days of shooting. International guests can combine this shoot with some of our other shooting and touristic options. The best shooting is from March to May in our main area. Low volume shoots can be arranged throughout most of our other shooting concessions.
The season range from our mid-summer through mid-winter, so please inquire about the best type of clothing for your shoot when booking! Real Tree, Max4 and Sniper camo is highly recommended. Dark khaki works great too. Light khaki and light colored clothing is to be avoided at all costs. A shooting jacket that can hold ample ammunition will be an advantage. Sunblock, a shooting cap, eye and ear protection complete the list of gear necessary for an enjoyable shoot.
GUNS AND AMMO
Shotguns: 12 or 20 gauge over/under shotguns are recommended. All outfitters have shotguns for hire. Ammunition: The best-shot size is No.7 ½ and will be supplied/arranged by the outfitter for visiting sportsmen and women. This combination has found to be ideal for pigeon and dove shoots in our areas.
CONSERVATION & SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Pigeons and doves are considered agricultural pests as they consume and squander a vast percentage of the annual national sunflower crop. The damage the estimated 7 million pigeons just around Bloemfontein cause annually is quantified in eight-digit figures, something unimaginable to the uninformed public. By adding value in terms of concession fees paid to landowners and curbing the population increase to some extent, shooting lessens some of the impact these birds have on sunflower yields. Additionally, excess shot birds are a protein supplement to farm labourers, but more importantly to the impoverished local communities in the district. Many a time, these locals will gather at a distance from shooting guns and be more than willing to help to pick up shot birds. For them sharing in the spoils of the day is the only fresh protein their families will receive and is looked upon as a godsend.