Varmints

Let’s start this discussion by attempting to define what is a “Varmint”

Any animal that occurs in such numbers at a given location to cause, or is perceived to cause, such damage to livestock, crops, or the natural environment that the land owner of the area where such animals occurs considers it an agricultural pest and so wishes to reduce the numbers drastically to limit or eliminate the damage or perceived damage the animals cause that he is quite prepared to allow hunters to shoot the animals for free or at very nominal cost.

In considering this definition it must be noted that in essence it is the land owner or farmer who decides weather or not any particular animal is a varmint or not. To illustrate this an example is given: A farmer whose only income is derived from row crops for maize (corn) in the Free State may very well regard guinea fowl as pests, but does not mind black-backed jackal on his property at all. He may very well welcome shot gunners with trained dogs to come and, for free, reduce the maize-eating guinea fowl population on his farm. Yet his immediate neighbor may be a sheep farmer who wants any and all black-backed jackal in the area shot, but he may regard guinea fowl as harmless animals. This individual may regard the guinea fowl as a natural resource, and ask a stiff daily rate from shot gunners who wish to bring their trained dogs for some wing shooting on his property. But he will welcome any varminter to come and try his hand at nighttime calling for black-backed jackal! for free, and he will most likely provide the vehicle and drive it himself!

To get to say what types and numbers of varmints can be shot here in South Africa will require some understanding of our geography and the agricultural practices in the different areas. South Africa may be much smaller that the USA, it is roughly the size of Texas, but it sure is big enough to have a number of quite different biomes. Naturally, in these quite different biomes different farming practices were and are attempted. The indigenous animals, and in many cases exotics from abroad and from other areas in South Africa, in each biome affects the farmers and their efforts at making a living in different manners. What all this boils down to is really saying that an animal that is normally regarded as a serious agricultural pest, and which farmers want eradicated in one area, may very well be regarded as a relatively harmless or a valued asset in another area. These areas can be many hundreds of miles apart, or can be, as in the example given above, on adjacent farms.

I will now give a short list of animals that are typically regarded as “agricultural pests” and which can often be shot at low cost. These same animals would be regarded as “game” in other areas where the land owner would charge high prices to allow hunters to shoot them. It is merely a matter of knowing the right farmers and getting there to do a lot of free shooting or even hunting.

Primates Porcine & Other Rodents Canids Birds
Baboon Bush pig Porcupine Lynx & smaller cats Guinea fowl
Vervet monkey Warthog Springhare Black-backed & side-striped jackal Spur winged goose
  Hyrax Ground squirrels Cape fox & jackal Egyptian goose
  Rabbits & Hares   Mongooses Rock pigeon
  Antelope   Leopard Pied crow

It may be well to note at this point that I use the words “shoot varmints” as opposed to “hunt varmints.” I will not even begin to attempt to be rigorous about these terms, I simply feel that the term “hunting” should be used where a single, or just a few [bag limit] of animals is sought out in a most ethical manner. Where a varminter sets out to shoot a large number of animals in a most cost effective and time effective manner, it can IMHO not be regarded as “hunting”. Certain aspects of true hunting may be employed in the search, stalking or approaching of the quarry, but it remains shooting as opposed to hunting.

The hunting methods used for these vary widely: Some methods are regarded as “unsporting” by the hunting fraternity, but the farmers just love the shooter to kill as many as possible, and are generally not concerned about the ethics or sporting nature of killing the varmints that he regards as pests. Yet it is my personal belief that the varmint shooter should still at all times adhere to a code of ethics and have respect for the life he is about to end. Do not squeeze the trigger unless you are quite sure that the shot will result in the instant killing of the varmint you are shooting at.

A good example is where a duck hunter would never dream of shooting a sitting duck or goose, yet where the farmers suffer serious losses due to game birds’ feeding on his crops the shooting by a varminter at eg. spur winged geese sitting in cultivated fields or at the water’s edge with a centre fire rifle is regarded as OK. A springhare is strictly nocturnal and can really only be hunted at night with a spotlight. Some, like baboon, vervet monkey, hyrax, ground squirrels, and even the bigger birds would more often than not be shot at long distance in daytime. Bush pig are ambushed at bait or at their normal feeding points in cultivated crops at night. Another very popular manner to control bush pig numbers on a farm is by using a pack of trained hounds during the day to run down the pigs. They can also be, very challenging and rewarding, still hunted early in the morning and at dusk. Rock pigeons are typically shot in flight with a shotgun at the sunflower fields where they come to feed. Without any doubt the rock pigeon is the varmint of which the highest number are shot daily in sunflower season. As many 100 to 200, or even more, birds falling to a single shot gunner in a days outing is nothing strange. On the other hand, if you so choose you may experience many days of challenging and ethical hunting to get a single bush pig by walk-‘n-stalk methods. At another venue you may get the adrenalin rush of a lifetime by running after the pack of trained hounds in hot pursuit of bush pigs. Many of the canids are best hunted by night time calling, using mouth or electronic calls to duplicate either their own sounds or that of their natural prey, and the use of a shooting light. South Africa has a lot of very varied varminting to offer. The choice of hunting type and method is really yours!

Andrew McLaren Safaris would love to welcome you on a varminting, plains game hunting and wingshooting safari, in which you do a bit of everything. On such a safari you could one day hunt plains game by ethical walk-in-search for and stalk to within shooting distance. The next day you can satisfy any mass killing desire by shooting as many varmints as you can! One day you may be using a shotgun over a trained pointer in a most ethical hunting manner, and the same night you may be shooting the same birds with a spotlight as a numbers reducing exercise. One activity would be called ‘sport hunting’, the other is ‘sport (?) shooting’. So despite the big difference in perceived ethics of the kill, both methods achieve a reduction in the crop damage caused by the natural game birds that are considered as varmints on that particular property.