Jokl le Roux
The vast majority of hunters I have hunted with or accompanied during hunts over the years, left much to be desired with regard to being fit for hunting. They may have been excellent companions, nice guys or a good laugh around the campfire, but when it came to the hunting part, they were often underequipped, unprepared, unpractised, absolutely dependent on the PH or tracker, inexperienced and incapable in the sense of doing things for themselves, and generally physically unfit.
I know this opening sentence is somewhat of a sweeping statement and that I’m exposing myself to serious retribution, but this is honestly my opinion based on experience. Fortunately there are exceptions, and maybe I have been hunting with the wrong types. That is why nowadays I prefer hunting solo, or only with some selected friends.
Being fit to hunt not only implies physical fitness. Although physical fitness is very important it is but part of the complete picture. In this miniseries I will endeavour to cover the main points that I consider essential in preparing for the hunting season.
I am not going to deal with aspects such as finding the right place to hunt, or booking the hunt after the landowner has been asked all the right questions – that could be an entire article on its own.
Let’s start with the paperwork or documents essential to ensure that the hunt is legal. I wonder how many hunters comply with legal requirements. At my previous place of work, as part of the service to our members, we sold hunting licences on behalf of the Department of Nature Conservation and I had experienced numerous cases of hunters not even being aware of the requirement to have a hunting licence!
In the ‘old’ Cape provinces, e.g. the current Northern, Eastern and Western Cape, every hunter must have a current hunting licence in his / her possession during the hunt, even when hunting on CAE (Certificate of Adequate Enclosure) properties. In the ‘old’ Transvaal provinces, no hunting licence is required for hunting on enclosed properties (known as Exempted Farms). In the Free State and KZN, in addition to ordinary hunting licences, you may also need specific permits for specific species. I do not have all the knowledge of the legal requirements in all the provinces, therefore the prospective hunter should enquire from his / her local Nature Conservation office what the legal requirements are. In the Cape provinces, every hunter must also have a Permission to Hunt document, in the form of a letter, from the landowner. The detail to appear in this letter may differ from province to province. You also need firearm licences and a Permission to Transport document to transport the meat back to your place of residence. The latter could form part of the Permission to Hunt document.
When hunting outside the borders of South Africa, you need a letter of invitation from the landowner or outfitter, on the strength of which a hunting licence and / or temporary import permits for your firearm are issued. Ensure that you make the right enquiries in order to secure the correct documents. For Namibia, for instance, you also need a veterinary permit and an export permit for the meat and any trophies you may want to take home. A meat import permit from our Department of Veterinary Science (Contact person: Mrs Ina Labuschagne, 012 319 7514) is essential. The same is applicable in Botswana. To hunt there with your own rifles, you also need to arrange for a temporary firearm transport permit by making use of an agent in Botswana (Mike Botha, 00267 393 9830). Don’t forget your driver’s licence!
Firearms and ammunition
Make sure that you take a firearm or firearms of adequate calibre for the species you intend to hunt. All the provinces (and most African countries) have certain legal requirements in this regard, so make sure you comply. Also ensure that you take the correct ammunition for the calibre you are going to use. I have had to lend out my own rifle on more than one occasion due to a calibre / ammunition mix-up when the hunter was packing at home.
Always take more ammunition than you expect to use. A wounded animal may drain your ammunition supply, or a scope that needs to be re-zeroed can deplete your stock. Please arrive with your rifle sighted in with the ammunition you are going to use. The sighting-in session that most landowners (should) insist on is not solely intended for you to check the zero of your scope; it also allows the landowner the opportunity to assess whether you are competent enough to shoot his animals without too much of a risk of wounding them! Keep in mind that a wooden-stocked rifle sighted in at the coast may shoot to a different point of impact in the dry interior, and vice versa. Also consider the fact that the first shot from a ‘cold’ barrel will often strike an inch or two away from follow-up shots, when the barrel has heated up. It is normally that first shot that (should!) count, so make sure that you know your rifle’s characteristics in this regard.
It could be sound policy to pack a spare telescope and the appropriate tools (Allen keys and screwdrivers) needed to replace the existing one. You never know when the scope on your rifle may let you down; this could ruin an expensive hunting trip.
Take a sharp knife (no need for a Crocodile Dundee-type) which can be used for cutting animals’ throats, gutting and skinning purposes. Do not assume that the tracker allocated to you will have a knife, or that it will be sharp enough for the job at hand. An ordinary, sharp folder will suffice for most hunting purposes. Always keep a multi-tool such as one of the Leatherman models or a Gerber Multiplier in your vehicle. If you are planning on doing your own meat processing, take appropriate knives for dissecting muscles and cutting biltong. A handsaw or cleaver, steel meat hooks and a length of strong nylon rope, meat containers and the necessary spices are essential.
Hunting without a good pair of binoculars is an indication of an ill-prepared or rookie hunter. I simply hate it when I’m glassing a potential quarry and my client / hunting companion looks at it through his / her telescope (Never point a firearm in the direction of anything you do not intend shooting!). I do not only get nervous because of the possibility of an unintended shot, but the unnecessary, excessive movement of bringing a rifle to the shoulder will catch the eye of potential prey much quicker than the slow, short movement of bringing the binos from your chest to your eyes. Invest in an elastic bino harness or ‘bra’. This is probably the most comfortable way to always have your binos at hand. It keeps your binos snug against your chest, preventing them from swinging or bumping against your chest when running as is the case with normal binos hanging from a strap around your neck. The harness also spreads the weight of the binos between your shoulders.
I know many hunters who don’t even own a water bottle. This tells me that they are voorsitjagters or bakkiejagters, who never move far from a source of liquid (not necessarily water!). Make sure to have a suitable water container as part of your kit. This can be stashed in a jacket pocket, on your belt or in your rucksack. It can even be in the form of a dedicated, convenient hydropack on your back with a convenient siphuncle. The volume of the container should be determined by the weather, terrain, duration of the intended hunt and your own liquid requirements. Some people’s stomachs are sensitive to changes in water, which can ruin a hunting trip if you do not take your own supply with.
I alwayshave at least one litre of water on me, although I seldom drink it. I often use it for washing my hands after I have gutted a downed animal rather than for drinking but at least it is available. If you hunt elephant, for instance, carry as much water as you can without it hampering your progress – once you have decided to stick to a particular set of tracks, you may do many kilometres that day and will still have to return to your campsite afterwards.
Always pack at least a few lengths of toilet paper. This is not only useful for its intended purpose, but also for marking the carcass, your shooting position (more about that later), the last evidence of a lost blood trail, or even for preventing noisy articles in your rucksack / pocket giving your game away.
A small, convenient rucksack or fanny pack is indispensable during most hunts. Extra ammo, the water container, camera, cellphone, two-way radio, rangefinder, clothing items, some basic first-aid equipment, medication if you are dependent on it, snacks and / or food for the duration of the hunt or other small hunting paraphernalia can be stashed in it. Furthermore, it can make a convenient rest for the fore-end of the rifle during a prone shot, or when shooting over a rock.
A folding spade behind your vehicle seat is handy for digging a vehicle out of sand, burying waste products or even shovelling coals from a fire. A quality torch with extra batteries (preferably one of those small LED headlamps to allow you to use both hands for tasks in the dark) is also essential, as is a functional cigarette lighter and / or box of matches in a waterproof container. Always carry something to light a fire with on your person as this may save your life in remote areas should you get lost and have to spend the night in subzero temperatures. Tear the two sulphur strips off a matchbox and stash this, together with about 20 matches, in a small plastic bank sachet, which should have a permanent place in your ammo pouch, hatband or pocket. A space blanket, which should form part of the essential hunting paraphernalia carried with you in the veld, can be folded to the size of a cigarette box, weighs next to nothing, and is handy in survival situations or even to keep the sun from your shot animal in direct sunshine if nothing else is available.
In the next issue, nice-to-have items, the contents of a first-aid kit for hunters and hunting apparel will be discussed.