The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Monday, September 28, 2015

Vacations from Vacations

End of part one


We are always reminded that Ortega y Gasset also equates hunting as "the vital vacation from the human condition," and then I would like to humbly propose that that being true, then bird hunting is a pleasurable and relaxing vacation from such "vital vacation."

So, with such thought in mind I made sure that I booked at least one day of bird hunting, or bird shooting if you are more insular, right in the middle of my all too short week on safari (by the way, I am not sure if the term continues to apply as I was not really traveling during the hunt.)

On Wednesday, 15th July, Richard drove me at some ungodly early hour to a rendezvous at a certain crossroad with Chrisjan Swart who guides for wingshotting & criter calling. While Richard provided me with a basket full of shotshell boxes, Anna made sure that I had a basket full of breakfast, including tea, rusks and biltong.

Chrisjan took us to a farm close to small town of Settlers that had several man made lakes to supply water to several center irrigation pivots. On arrival we met Mexican hunter Luiz and his family with their Spanish guide Antônio and started setting up the rotating geese decoy (that later in the morning would be repurposed to be a rotating pigeon decoy) and selecting a suitable place among the reeds that surrounded the lake.

As the first waterfowl were begining to fly Chrisjan let me in a comfortable bucket with a Spanish 12 gauge side-by-side shotgun, several boxes of AAA (about T size at .20" diameter) 36 grams (1 1/4 ounces) heavy game loads, my breakfast basket a some words of warning: "Be aware of the hippos."

We are always reminded that the hippopotamus is an ill-humored (must be because they fart through their mouths), territorial and aggressive animals, infamous for being responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal. Hippos also can run at over 20 miles per hour (while I can't) and I doubt that AAA shot would even penetrate their skin that over two inches tick and from which the famous kiboko or seekoei sjambok is carved. 

Oh well, life needs spice!

I heard some hippos complaining (or farting, who knows?), but never saw one, and by the time the sun was up it was clear that the Egyptian geese were not flying over the lakes, but over some nearby fields, and we relocated. And during the next couple hours we shot at them, shot at then, and...shot at them as they continued to fly away. I guess armour plating and altitude would be the best excuses for such a deplorable display of wingshooting skills.

But a poor soul can only take so much punishment from heavy game loads, and by mid morning we relocated again to try our luck at pigeons and doves. This was clearly a strange morning as the majority of the pigeons and doves were either on vacation or strike as by 11:00 AM I had used a good part of a box of NOBELSPORT 28 grams (1 ounce) 71/2's to bring down exactly two doves.

And then, in the next half hour I shot and retrieved fourteen doves and rock pigeons or speckled pigeons (Columba guinea) with their beautiful red patched eyes. Had I suddenly relearned how to shoot?

We broke for a field lunch which included cold meets, wild game pates and a fantastic Spanish tortilla brought by Antônio (this is the same dish as the Italian frittata, a thick potato omelette that my grandmother used to make and that my wife makes to perfection.) A cold beer provided the perfect pairing for the meal.

After lunch we drove a short distance for afternoon with bird dogs, which included a brace of English pointers and another of German shorthairs. We started to follow the dogs in the knee high grass and not a minute into this hunt a pair of Swainson's francolin took off and I brought them down with a right and a left barrel! A true double on over dogs is the ne plus ultra of shotgunning, and if I remember correctly this was my seventh true double.

As far as I am concerned the hunt could have ended right there, but it didn't. I shot another francolin just before we dived into the thorns and briar, and I was really happy that I had brought my chaps. Every single bush was intended in drawing my blood. We had no luck with birds in the heavy cover, but instead flushed a duiker and a pair of steenboks.

if Biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, then guineafowl combines cross-country running and shotgun shooting. We found a big flock of helmeted guineafowl on the thorny savanna, and the four dogs had a terrible time holding them in the short grass, so we had to run (and I hate running!)

Guineafowls, dogs and hunters started to disperse in all directions in absolutely frantic action. Lots of birds were running, then suddenly part of the flock would take to wing, guns would blaze away and eventually the odd bird would crash. For well over an hour, maybe close to two, we had to combine endurance and speed to track and then flush the polka-dotted grey chickens until they eventually took us on a big circle back to the bakkies.

And while Chrisjan arranged the day's bag for the photo shoot I stripped my chaps and savoured another cold beer to replenish the essential salts, minerals and fluids that I had lost during the mad hunt for these birds that easily out run the fastest pheasant that you may have crossed paths with.

After posing for photos and saying goodbyes Luiz and Antônio departed to avoid driving during night, and Chrisjan took me back to a brush strip formed by two center pivot fields to wait the Egyptian geese evening flights. The decoys were set and we set on our buckets waiting for some distracted bird to come within shotgun range.

While we waited, dusk started to prevail over the departing day and a nice male bushbuck came out of nowhere to feed in the luxurious crop of the pivot behind us. And when the geese came within range and the shotgun barrage started Mr. Bushbuck didn't pay any attention to it. This reminded me of several times when shooting skeet at the Southern Michigan Gun Club and the whitetail were grazing or browsing in plain site and probably under a shower of No. 8 pellets, and they just didn't mind us.

Either the birds were flying lower (most likely) or our shooting improved (least likely) or both, but the truth is that Chrisjan and I brought down three of the most beautiful geese that I ever had the pleasure to hold. They crashed across the field and the dogs made great retrieves.


Coronation of part two

We waited until full dark for spur-winged geese, but they never showed up, and after a long day we collected the gear and headed towards the rendezvous with Richard, at the same crossroad. On the way out of the field we saw some Cape foxes going about whatever business foxes do at night (probably hunting for the same birds we did, but with greater success and a lot less noise).

To say that I had a fantastic day a field would be an understatement. One could point out that the morning was a bust, but the afternoon and evening more than made out for that. The dichotomy just serves to remember us that we were hunting and not shooting, and that the birds will be where they want to be and they will do their best to avoid us, as they do with any other predators.

In the short story "Fathers and Sons" Hemingway says that "When you have shot one bird flying you have shot all birds flying.They are all different and they fly in different ways but the sensation is the same and the last one is as good as the first." The day afield with Chrisjan more than validates Hemingway's observation and I pray to continue to be able to enjoy the sensation.

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