Transforming a novice
Basically all men are hunters, women too, many of them just don’t know it or haven’t had the opportunity to get involved in hunting. In this article I want to tell you what happens when the “hunting door” is opened for a non-hunter.
A while ago I took my hunting truck, a 35-year-old Land Rover to an auto-electrician to have its lights fixed. Normally my Landy attracts a fair amount of attention, but when the workshop owner, Benji, saw it, all work stopped – I had to show him the gun racks, storage compartments, jerrycan holders and all the gadgets on the instrument panel. Then the conversation drifted to hunting and Benji, unashamed and very adamantly, asked me to take him hunting. He had never before hunted in the real sense of the word, apart from a few experiences with an old shotgun as a kid. I promised him that I would look into it and get back to him.
MAKING AN IDEA WORK
Back at home I started thinking about Benji’s request and how I could make it happen. Then it struck me that there are probably other aspiring hunters who would also embrace such an opportunity. Why not make it a project, I thought. The more I thought about it, however, the more I realised that such a project would be much bigger than what meets the eye.
It would require a training programme and proper training.
Introducing novices to hunting is a rewarding experience.
You’d need a suitable and legal shooting venue/shooting range. I phoned a number of game farmers on whose properties I have hunted before. When I explained to them what the object of the exercise was they were all keen to participate, but their farms were too far away from my hometown. Then I met Johan, a game farmer and owner of Petzer Safaris whose land is close to East London. Everything fell into place. Johan was keen to participate and his farm had everything we needed; from a shooting range and an abattoir to accommodation and catering facilities.
With our combined hunting experiences and years working with clients, Johan and I were able to work out the most suitable itinerary for our training course. The aim and purpose of our venture can be summarised as follows: To enlighten the public or the man in the street about the positive aspects of hunting and to endeavour to counteract the negative and biased messages the anti-hunting fraternity sends out. Furthermore, to enable people to experience nature and to enjoy the camaraderie that exists between fellow hunters.
One subject included in the training course was knowledge about the rifle. How it works; its safety mechanisms and safe handling (among people, in a vehicle or building, in the veld while hunting, etc); and the cleaning and storing of firearms. We wanted to imprint on the participants that firearm safety is of the utmost importance.
During similar training exercises in the past, I was amazed to find that many people have no idea how far a bullet can travel and how lethal a rifle can be at extended ranges. Aspiring hunters also have no idea what happens to a bullet or what recovered bullets (from an animal or the backstop of a shooting range) look like. I wanted to include this information as well.
To teach the importance of bullet placement we would use drawings and life-size, full-colour targets of game animals. It is important to teach the student not to shoot at an animal but at a specific killing area (the vital organs inside the animal). Bullet trajectory would also be dealt with briefly. We also included hunting laws and ethics as well as handling the carcass.
Most of the training would take place on the shooting range. Students would start with a .22LR rifle and first shoot off a shooting bench, then freehand from the sitting and kneeling positions and finally over shooting sticks. With the .22 training completed students are then required to use a centre-fire rifle and shoot at targets placed at 100m. Only when a student is capable of firing a satisfactory three-shot grouping would he be allowed to move on to the next step.
Fully aware of what could go wrong and the dangers of our project, our itinerary included safety rules that some would deem unnecessary. It is always exciting to watch (from a suitable vantage point) when an experienced hunter stalks his quarry; you can observe and notice any mistakes or decide where you »
» would have done things differently. However, if you guide a novice hunter and something goes wrong, you are accountable.
Another important aspect that is often overlooked in training is that it might be the client’s first time in the bush. Such a client might not have any knowledge of the animals that he or she would encounter. We thus decided to add animal identification to our course.
THE FIRST STUDENTS
To qualify, applicants had to be total novices with no hunting experience. With an added drawcard of hunting their first buck at the end of the course, we soon had four applicants.
There was Benji, 46 years old, married with two daughters, previously from Zimbabwe and at present the owner of an autoelectrical business. Inga, 32, single and working as a quantity surveyor, also applied. He has never hunted before and knew nothing about guns.
The third applicant was a high school teacher, Charl. He is 56 years old and has one daughter. He has never hunted before but had some training with a rifle during his national service days in the army.
Mike, a 55-year-old who works at the VW factory in Uitenhage was the fourth person. He is also a freelance photographer and took some of the photos for this article. He also had some rifle training in the army.
It would take the students about three weeks to complete the training programme. On the last weekend they would then hunt to test their skills and the success of our hard work would be evaluated.
THE BIG DAY
The four students worked their way through the course without too many hiccups and then the hunting weekend finally ar- rived. The excitement of the four was tangible.
We arrived on Johan’s farm at 3pm on a Friday afternoon. After the accommodation was allocated, a game drive followed which the trainees found very informative – some were totally unfamiliar with certain of our local animal species. After the drive Johan insisted on a final rifle check before going back to camp where refreshments were served.
The first-time hunters were then surprised with a clay pigeon shoot, with a shooting jacket as first prize. The shoot was an exciting experience as none of them had done it before and Mike ended up winning the jacket. A braai concluded the evening during which new friendships were formed around the campfire.
The next morning was D Day! Everybody was up at first light waiting in anticipation for the action to start. Johan and I were equally excited as this day would prove our programme’s failure or success.
Johan knows his farms like the back of his hand and took charge. He split the group into two pairs. His son-in-law, who came to help for the day, guided the one pair and Johan the other. The two groups would meet again at the farmhouse at around lunchtime, circumstances permitting.
At noon Johan returned with Charl and Benji both standing proudly on the back of the hunting vehicle with their hunted animals. Charl dropped his impala while the animal was facing him – the impala simply would not offer a side-on shot. Benji was quick to tell us that he got his buck with a good shoulder shot as he was taught by his mentors.
About an hour later the other truck with Inga and Mike arrived. Inga had a hard time getting within shooting range and had many unsuccessful stalks before he managed to bag a good blesbuck ram. Mike managed to line up on an impala ram but unfortunately missed. However, there were happy and proud smiles all around!
Each hunter had to bleed his own buck and help gutting it. The carcasses where taken to the abattoir with instructions by every owner on what to do with the meat. The braai on Saturday evening was a great success with ample food, preceded by a tasteful entrée of fresh liver. Many stories were told and each hunt relived.
Sunday morning found everyone in a relaxed mood with a huge breakfast to end off a fantastic weekend.
Johan and I were pleased with the events of the weekend, es-
pecially after listening to the positive comments from our participants. We made notes of possible changes to improve our programme in the future.
Here are some of the written comments by our hunters: • “Dirk had a fantastic idea to
teach newcomers to hunt.” • “We could hone our shooting
skills.” • “The instructions were clear and the information provided was very relevant.” • “I enjoyed the socialising dur
ing the weekend.” • “The company was great and everyone enjoyed the stories told by Johan and Dirk.” Charl Wessels summed his hunt up in the following words:
“My first hunt occurred at the ripe old age of 56 years. Being a fisherman for many years I have never considered hunting before. After years of fishing my father-in-law invited me to hunt as part of his project for first- time hunters.
After days of practising on targets, I was ready to hunt. My shots were judged to be good enough to hit the heart of a buck at 100m.
On the morning of the hunt it felt strange to think that I was going to kill a warm-blooded animal. When fishing I did not have the same sentiment. I was allocated to Johan’s team and we headed off towards the top part of the farm. Soon after spotting a herd of impala we got down from the hunting vehicle to stalk the animals on foot. When we came to within about 40m from our prey I lined up on a buck, the only problem was that he was facing me. We were well hidden behind thick bush but the wind was blowing from us towards the buck. However, the animals did not run – thank goodness I did not use deodorant that morning. Because the impala was facing me I did not know where to aim – we had always practised on a side-on buck target.
The impalas moved on and we followed silently. In a whispered voice Johan quickly told me where to aim when an animal is facing the hunter. We found another gap in the bush but this time the animals were bunched up. Remembering Dirk’s warning that shooting into a herd can result in wounding a non-target animal, I did not pull the trigger. Again the impalas moved off and we followed.
On our third attempt I once again had a buck facing me. I aimed to the left of centre on the chest where I imagined the heart to be and smoothly pressed the trigger. The crack of the shot shocked me into thinking what if I had only wounded the animal and that it would be running around in tremendous pain. Thankfully it was a clean shot and the impala hit the ground after running a few metres. We walked up to it and the clear, big eye staring up at the sky reminded me that it was alive a few seconds ago. How did I feel? A little sad but very relieved that I did not cause any suffering. My adrenalin was still pumping – we had managed to outwit, on foot, an animal with very keen eyesight and very good hearing.”
My message to my fellow hunters is to take the step and introduce novices to hunting. We need to spread the word that hunting is the best way of conserving animals and to counteract the lies and biases of the anti-hunters.
Mike trying out a shotgun. He won the shotgun shooting competition (and a shooting jacket) that was organised for the students.
A proud and happy Benji with his impala.
Inga on the shooting sticks while Dirk, Benji and farm owner, Johan Petzer look on. All the participants were properly trained with a .22 rifle before they were allowed to fire the centre-fire rifles.
TOP: The farm’s well-equipped butchery. ABOVE: Proud hunters with their carcasses, from left to right, Inga, Benji and Charl.
A lekker braai to conclude a successful hunt. From left to right is Johan’s son-in-law, Johan, Charl, Inga, Dirk, Benji and Mike. Enjoying a good meal after a hard day in the veld.
The lovely accommodation facilities at Petzer Safaris.