The remnants of Britain’s colonial presence are everywhere to be found in Egypt, from its architecture to its infrastructure. Not so apparent though are the traditional sports and activities the Brits left behind that have endured to the present day.The British introduced duck hunting to Egypt in the 1930s, and it has been the weekend activity of choice for Hatim El-Gammal’s family ever since, beginning with his grandfather. According to El-Gammal, an investor relations manager with Orascom Telecom, Egypt is a popular pit-stop for a wide variety of birds migrating from Europe to the warmer climes of Africa during the winter months. From December until the end of February many thousands of Teal, Shovelers, Wigeons, Gadwells, Mallards and the occasional Pintail will fly over the country, stopping at the country’s wetlands for rest and food.Here Hatim and his fellow hunters lie in wait, often in freezing conditions, fog or rain, carefully taking aim and shooting in the hope of bagging a few birds. “I caught 10 just last week, he says. “It was a lot easier years ago because there was more free land and so there were more birds. In one weekend I managed to take 200. Hatim and his fellow hunters, mostly members of the Shooting Sports Club in Dokki where the trips are organized, frequent Zagazig north-west of Cairo, where expanses of wetlands make ideal hunting grounds. Lake Nasser in Upper Egypt is also a popular destination, and is home to the rare and beautiful Egyptian goose, but is harder to get to.Hunters drive up on a Thursday evening and stay in nearby clubhouses and lodges, waking well before sunrise the next morning to prepare for the day’s hunt.With shotguns, camouflage clothing, sandwiches, and flasks of soup and coffee in hand, the group sets out to prepare bases on small islands of land scattered around the wetlands known as “blinds. The weather is a major factor that must be taken into account when preparing for a hunt, especially the direction of the wind. This plays a large part in determining where the birds will fly, so hunters will occupy blinds where the wind is heading.Around each blind they position a number of fake lifelike ducks, which attract birds passing overhead. The hunters then clamber into small manmade holes, with usually one or two to each hole, and wait for their prey.The shotguns they use fire small pellets that have a maximum killing range of only 40 meters, so they must wait until the bird is quite close to take a shot.”And most of the birds fly at around 25 meters a second, so hitting one is actually very difficult. When they do manage to hit a bird, it is collected by a hunting guide called a “shakayry, who also looks after arranging a lot of the decoys.The recent emergence of H5N1 bird flu means Hatim and his friends can no longer eat the ducks they catch. Rather the bodies are handed over to the country’s environmental agency for testing, meaning their hunts contribute toward the fight against bird flu in Egypt. Hatim admits that over-hunting became a problem some years ago and some areas were declared off-limits. Lake Qaroun in Fayoum is one such example, and the bird life there is now flourishing once again. According to Hatim, hunters in Zagazig also take fewer birds now than they used to.”Both hunters and environmentalists are happy with the new arrangements, he says.He does point out however that over-hunting remains a problem on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast and along the Nile, where fishermen indiscriminately catch birds with their fishing nets.”I noticed on my way to work that some Mallards, which have become very rare in Egypt, have inhabited areas around the Imbaba Bridge. But I’m not sure how long they will last. Over the years, Hatim has witnessed a number of amusing slip-ups when out hunting.”As recently as the other week one of the boats capsized sending two hunters and all their gear into the water, he laughs. “It wasn’t a good day’s hunting for those guys. Thankfully, he has never been involved in, nor heard of, mishaps with guns, like that involving US Vice President Dick Cheney who accidentally shot his partner in the face when out hunting. Luckily for Cheney it wasn t fatal.”If you are stupid enough to shoot your partner, says Hatim, “you shouldn’t be holding a gun in the first place.