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Week 3

15 October 2018

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Week 2

13 – 14 October 2018

a weekend like all the others

The weekends are rather non-eventful and seem to follow a regular routine. Saturday mornings are community service (technically it is called Sustainable Living – but it typically has nothing to do with sustainability and more to do with weekend chores and maintenance). My favorite chore is what I fondly (and immaturely) call Poo-Doo-Tea. Basically we drive out to the pasture and collect cow paddies for the garden. We fill the truck a couple times and bring them back to garden and add water.

And yes – this is my favorite task for a Saturday morning duties. It is by far the best job there is on the list. Add “I like to pick up shit" to the list of things I never thought I would say…

The rest of Saturday was spent with my nose in a book (or procrastinating) studying for the exams on Sunday morning.

Sunday exam day

Another rather un-interesting day. Began with exams on the first 3 modules of our Trails manual. The remainder of the day I edited photos while Maya read aloud to me. It was a delightful way to spend a rainy, stormy afternoon.

12 October 2018

Quick summary – I passed – It was awful

Today was terrible. I hated it.

The written exams were fine. They do not tell us our score, just whether we passed so that we could advance to the next exam. I doubt I will ever receive an actual grade just a certificate and the necessary paperwork that will be submitted to the South African Police so that I can officially be authorized to be in possession of and can use a firearm for business purposes. (I can’t own one as I am not a permanent resident or citizen but I can use one owned by an institution or employer.).

The first of the 2 range assessments was easy. Using a .22 we needed to hit the target (approx. 5×7”) 10 out of 10 times at 15m (maybe 10 – I forget). I managed that on the first target. Shot a second, hitting them all again. We had the option to shoot another 20 times but I opted not, knowing that I had more awaiting me with the second skills assessment. Shooting the .22 was very similar to shooting the air rifle. The main difference I experience was hearing the sound and even that was not significantly louder. Except… it was a real bullet being fired out of the end of a real rifle at a real target.

The second skills assessment was a completely different experience. In the past, all of the Ulovane assessments for the PTFC were done with the .22. Not sure why we were the “lucky” ones and were given a .308 to use for the final assessment. In order to pass, we needed to hit the 8” x 10” target 8 out of 10 times at 50m. Pretty straightforward and with a .22 would have been easily achievable from a kneeling/seated position. However, we needed to shoot from a prone position with the .308. The aiming, pulling the trigger and hitting the target was all easy. What was difficult was how violent it was. It was loud – extremely loud – startlingly loud. The recoil from the shot drove the butt of the rifle directly into my collarbone due to the body position. We were absolutely stationary, so the body didn’t give at all to absorb the impact. By the end of my second shot, I was terrified to pull the trigger again but I knew I had to. I cried through the remaining 8 shots. Oddly my accuracy increased throughout. I had no options but to pass on the first try – I don’t think I would have been able to pull myself together to gain the courage I would have needed to shoot another target 10 times

Two of our group had to reshoot. Thankfully, they allowed Maya to use the .22 for the second attempt. Martijn landed them all with the .308 on the second go-around. At the end of the day, we all passed but the experience has left me afraid and with a welt on my collarbone the size of a chicken egg. The two guys really enjoyed the day. I am definitely not “One of the Guys”.

We are required to pass all of the FGASA rifle skills with a .375 as the minimum caliber. Next Wednesday is our first day on the range. Shani (one of our trails instructors) has assured us that shooting while standing is a completely different experience as we can better place the butt of the rifle against muscle rather than bone and that we can use our bodies to absorb the recoil rather than being a stationary wall that it pounds into. I hope she is right. I have 3 weeks to get used to the idea of shooting this rifle and to gain the proficiency to complete all of the skills accurately and within the time allotment.

I have never liked firearms. Never thought I would ever have a call to use one for any reason. Yet here I am, needing to use one. And not just use one, but be exceptionally good at using one. I am mentally having a tough time with this.

It was suggested to me that I look at these exercises as being about extreme focus and concentration not about landing a kill shot. I wish it were that easy to switch my mindset and perhaps I could if I were learning how to shoot long-range precision shots as a marksman does. That is not the shooting that we need to learn. The only time as a trails guide that you can legally shoot is if the animal is charging, there is no chance it will veer and it is within a maximum of 10m (A lion charges at 22m/second.). The only acceptable shot is a brain shot. Basically, once you decide your only option is to kill the animal in order to protect your guests, there is less than ½ second to aim and pull the trigger. That is not the shot of a marksman, that is the shot made by a person who has trained themselves to the point of automation. You don’t think, you perform as you were trained to do so. It is a natural response. I honestly don’t know if I can become that person. And that may be the one thing that determines whether or not I receive the Trails Guide qualification.

11 October 2018

PTFC Firearm Training Day 1

It was our first day with the outside firearms trainers. Today was the theory and legal class to prepare for the written exams (3) and two practical assessment tomorrow. These are a must pass if we wish to proceed in the trails course. No pressure…

Nothing really positive to say about the whole experience so will end the post and go begin my studying for the exams. Regurgitating legal verbiage exactly isn’t exactly an area of strength so best I get to it.

10 October 2018

Not sure how to feel about this week

I have purposely been MIA this week. It has been a rather confusing week for me and I have been trying to reconcile my feelings about the week before committing my thoughts to the written word publically.

So what has me tongue tied and unable to commit my thoughts to paper (the digital kind I guess)? Firearms. Firearms have me in a quandary and filled with mixed emotions. I have already mentioned that learning how to shoot a rifle would be part of all of this training as it is necessary to be prepared to deal with potentially dangerous situations should they arise. Intellectually – it is 100% justifiable as to why one needs to carry a rifle should it become necessary to defend your guests from a charging animal. It is quite another to feel the weight of that rifle in your hands.

Until we receive our official Firearms Training in accordance to South African firearms law from a government authorized third party firearms training facility we cannot shoot or be in possession of live ammunition. All of our drills have been with dummy rounds. We spent the days repeating each of the skills over and over and over until our arms were exhausted and our muscle memory began to automate the entire process. Occupied with thinking about how heavy the rifle is, and before you realized it you have a loaded magazine, a chambered a round and were standing with the rifle raised in firing position. How did that happen? How did this set of steps become automated – something you just did and completed without consciously thinking about each and every action. With each repeat, becoming smoother and more efficient. At one moment I am ecstatic because I didn’t fumble through the process, each motion being awkward and unnatural. The next I am terrified for the very same reason.

We also spent hour after hour this week practicing with an air rifle. Even that was a mental barrier for me to cross over. Aiming at a target in the distance, pulling the trigger and then waiting to see how accurate I was. Where did the bullet impact?

It is easy to say – “it’s a step up from a bb gun, which is a step up from a squirt gun” – Yes – maybe, but – No, no it isn’t. The whole process of loading, setting my stance, aiming, breathing, pulling the trigger was done with the purpose of desensitizing myself to an action that goes against basic ethos I have long held.

I wouldn’t say that I am necessarily anti-firearm. I just don’t believe weapons have ever been a necessity in my life. Nor do I think that there is a justifiable reason for the majority of the firearms that are owned by American citizens. Just because it is a constitutional right does not mean that it is a right you have to exercise because you can. If you are a hunter and your rifle or shotgun is used for hunting purposes (although, I may not agree with the necessity of killing animals for sport) I understand it’s use and purpose. I understand hunting is a tradition and an important part of many people’s lives. I will never understand the desire to kill a beautiful animal for a trophy to hang on my wall, to have a story to tell, to put food on the table or for the adrenaline rush of taking the life of an animal. (I will refrain from sharing my thoughts on gun ownership for personal safety or to protect ones property or any of the other various reasons one has for their personal arsenals.)

I know I need to move beyond my mental barrier – this isn’t going to be easy.  

09 October 2018

oh how the days are better when we are on the reserve.

Dang is it hot!

I do not think I have ever lived anywhere as fickle as the Eastern Cape. One day it is 12 degrees with howling winds and sporadic downpours. The next day there isn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun is beating down hard, not a breeze can be found and the temperature is nearing 40.

Knowing it was going to be sweltering by mid-day we departed camp at 4:45 so we could be in the park by 5:00. It was beautiful to see the sunrise. Our first for the trails portion of guide program. I hope there will be many more. It is nice to be on the reserve hearing the day wake and seeing the animals welcome the morning light. One may expect the morning to quiet but that is not the case at all. It is oddly quite loud – full of birds calling to announce they made it through the night to their neighbors.

Despite all the morning chatter, we didn’t manage to slip by the zebra at the waterhole without drawing their attention. They are so very alert to their surroundings. They have the advantage of having a keen sense of smell, sharp vision and acute hearing. The zebra serves as an early warning system for many of their fellow plains animals. If the zebra is curious and alert, everyone should be looking around to see who may also be in the neighborhood

The temperatures climbed quickly and we were eagerly seeking the cover of shade whenever safe to do so. It always needs to be kept in mind that we are not the only one seeking the relief of shade. Walking in a thicket area always poses the potential for an unexpected encounter. On a day like today, I would suspect the odds increase significantly.

Our goal was to be on foot for 8 hours. I wouldn’t say we were on foot for 8 hours because the breaks were frequent out of necessity. We were in the park for 8 hours though. In many ways you need to be equally as alert while not moving as when moving so although not technically walk, it certainly was not passive time spent relaxing.

There was not much in the way of game to see today. I don’t think any of the animals were prepared for the radical shift in temperature that we experienced. It was a day of looking at tracks in the soft sand.

Frog or Toad track

Frog or Toad

Small Murid track

Small Murid

Snake

Lion scratching tree either to clean nails, mark territory or stretch ligaments and tendons in their paws and legs.

08 October 2018

Monday is Class day

Despite the trail’s class being more practical in the field learning we still have a fair bit of classroom time. Today was a full day focused on guidelines for preparing a walk and preparing your guests for a walk in a dangerous game area.

As I look back to the two occasions when on safari when I have participated in bush walks, I will admit that I did not fully understand the potential dangers that we could have encountered. Did I not fully pay attention during the brief? Or, did I assume the information wasn’t really relevant and was just something being said to release them from liability? Or, did the guide not communicate the actual potential danger that could be encountered while walking with the Big 5. Regardless of whichever the case, I would not have, in any way, been prepared with the information needed (as a guest) to have responded appropriately had a lion or elephant charged the group. In fact, I likely would have done exactly what I should not have.

Suddenly, Module 1 of the FGASA Trail Guiding book is filled with necessary information. Information that needs not only to be communicated to the guests, it needs to be comprehended and fully acknowledged.

Not exactly sure we needed a whole unit on what to put in our backpacks and carry on our belts but guess it doesn’t hurt to have the recommendations.

Week 1

07 October 2018

I am going to cheat a bit today.

I had to write the Trails blog post for the first week of our program.

For a quick recap though – It is exam day – every Sunday is exam day at Ulovane. Unlike the tranquil tone of my post below, my studies and exams for the week involved Rifle safety, firearm laws, loading and unloading cartridges, learning how to hold a rifle as if it is an extension of my body. Caliber, ballistics, trajectory, placement of kill shots have been cycling through my brain for a week. All information I never had an inclination to learn for any reason whatsoever. Yet, when considering the responsibility of walking on a reserve and potentially being the only person who is between a charging elephant and the guest that I have taken on the responsibility for, the need to know the correct placement of a bullet takes on a whole new level of importance.

File this one under things I never thought I would think.

Photo Credit: Pieter Dunn

Our first week on Trails has come to an end. How did that happen so quickly? There are only 6 more to go and there is so much to learn in that very short amount of time.

It is wonderful to be back at Ulovane but there are too many missing people from our family. It is profoundly different here without our whole Field Guide unit. Speaking for our small trails group, we miss each and every one of you terribly. We are not whole without you. (Can’t you all just jump on airplanes and join us?)

We have welcomed the new Field Guides – remembering back to what seems to be forever ago when we were all experiencing our first week together. Recalling our impressions of being introduced to the reserve and the pace and way of life at Ulovane. They seemed to have settled in quite nicely and are eager for what awaits.

The seasons have changed on the reserve. As we look out from camp the evidence of Winter becoming Summer is profound – it happened in what seems to be a blink of an eye. The reserve is vibrantly colored with green grasses and blooming flowers in white, yellow, orange and purple.

Perhaps this is all just seems more evident because we move through the landscape at a slower pace. Each step is with more care. Each sound we make, whether it is the snap of a twig, the scuff of a shoe, or a swish of pant leg seems to be an invasion of a serene space. The animals are much more alert to our presence as we are unexpected guests. Heads raise, ears perk, eyes turn to view us. A change in wind direction reveals our scent to their sensitive noses.

There is more time to take in the smaller wonders. Textures, smells, sounds are so much more apparent than when in a game truck. A fresh lion track suddenly has a significantly different meaning when on foot. The sightings are more distant but the experience seems much more intimate. We are more vulnerable. There is no fast retreat to the safety of a vehicle. More care and sensitivity is required to pick up the subtle signs of an animals' behavior. The goal is to not interfere rather observe and move as one with the animals. We are privileged visitors to their bucolic domain.

I look forward to becoming less visible, less apparent, less of an interference as I learn to be more sensitive, more respectful and more observant of how my presence is felt by the animals on the reserve.

06 October 2018

A cake day for me

They are taking it easy on me – guess they want to make sure I am ok before I get tossed back in. Today was sustainable living, all of my fellow Trail Guides had the pleasure of digging out river reeds to transplant into our brown water leech fields to help prevent runoff. I was tasked with watering the soon to be volleyball court. (Not exactly sure when anyone will fit in a game of volleyball. Given my experience on the Field Guide course, there was rarely the moment to go for a short walk to identify trees and tracks. There was no time that resembled “Leisure Time” for a quick game of volleyball.)
Definitely not complaining. I rather enjoyed the 2 hours of moving the sprinkler every 10 minutes.

Yes – it looks like a good way to sprain an ankle to me too (and the watering may be a few days too late for over half of this experiment). I have been assured that this is indeed how you are supposed to lay a field of couch grass. I have been told that as soon as the couch grass begins to send out its rhizomes you level the areas in between with sand and be patient. With proper watering and adequate mowing in 4 months a perfect couch grass lawn. I will take their word for it now and will give you an update in 2 months. I am more than a bit skeptical at this point.

Now it is study time.

We have our five exams on Rifle Handling modules tomorrow morning at 8 am. I had intended to get a head start on the studying yesterday but I was lacking to focus necessary to absorb the material. When it comes to anything involving firearms you should always have complete focus. Much catching up to do this afternoon.

We have a guest on campus at the moment. This is the second occasion that I have needed to engage with this person since I arrived at Ulovane and I am hoping this is the final. On the first go around, he made it a mission to pick apart pretty much any foreign raised aid for endangered species and anti-poaching efforts once he knew the reason behind my being here to learn more about those topics. Needless to say, this did push a few buttons but I managed to hold my tongue by biting it very very hard for very long periods of time.

The individual came prepared with material this time. When the first attempt to engage me did not have the desired effect, he opted to turn his target on the vegetarian among us to pick her belief system apart (also a foreign visitor). She left the room a bit furious but soon had to return because all of her books were here to prepare for our exams tomorrow.

Without an audience to provoke (as everyone still present was trying to study) he moved to the the other end of the room to play a video as if it was the first time he had reviewed the footage of himself being interviewed by a “Know-It-All American female filmmaker” that was here to learn about poaching for a series of 4 anti-poaching videos. The excessive volume he was screening it at managed to catch the attention of 2 of the women, which gave him the opportunity to say his prepared dialogue to them that he intended for me.

Really – is he 12? Did he not have parental attention as a child? What is the point of purposefully trying to provoke everyone? Does it make him feel important to “prove” how stupid everyone else is for wanting to help? Maybe foreign funders do not have a clear understanding of the best practices or needs by why insult and provoke those hoping to learn so they can better assist?

ARGH. He leaves Monday morning – won’t be soon enough.

(I am just sick of arrogant white men in positions of power telling me what I can do, how to do it, and how insignificant my contribution is.)

Note to self (and anyone reading this) – I probably should have omitted the whole last portion of today’s post…

This weeks Supreme Court confirmation has my blood boiling. This whole exchange is insignificant in comparisons but it was enough to push my buttons as yet another example of abuse of power. Minor things matter too as they are systemic.

05 October 2018

Today did not go at all as planned.

The day was supposed to be spent walking on the reserve again, then returning to campus for a QA session to prepare for our exams on Sunday.

The day went off the rails at 5:05 am. After dressing I had an allergic reaction that was significantly more severe than any I have ever had. It started as they do with itching palms and soles of my feet. I knew what was happening so I immediately popped a Benedryl, peeled off my clothing as that was the only possible cause as I hadn’t eaten or drank anything yet. Within 10 minutes my entire body was covered with hives – I was nearly tomato red. I waited for 20 minutes to see if the Benedryl would take effect – nothing was improving so I took another. Waited for 15 minutes and notified my instructor what was happening over WhatsApp to explain what was happening and that I would be late to arrive for our 6:00 pre-walk brief. After another 20 minutes of waiting and still no improvement, I realized this was different. I had also started to shake uncontrollably. The timing of this event couldn’t have been better. The Field Guides are receiving their first aid training this weekend so we had a licensed EMT on the property. He willingly came down to my room and saw my condition and advised that I leave as quickly as possible for the ER in case the symptoms continued to progress.

Koen was rousted from bed and kindly rushed me to Port Elizabeth about an hour and twenty minutes away.

Can I tell you, the whole experience was a totally different experience than I have ever had in an American ER.

We walked in, no line, Koen asked when his doctor would be available and the administrator said his first available time would be 10:30. The thought that went through my head was – hey 2:30 hours not a bad wait. Apparently, that was way too long to wait so he said we would see the next available doctor. I was given a 1 page form to fill out. By the time my form was complete and my passport photocopied a room was available. The doctor arrived in less than 5 minutes. He asked me to explain what happened, what I experienced, how I felt before proceeding to examine me. After assessing my symptoms that were still present (thankfully the uncontrollable itching had passed and I was only trembling again, the hives on my face had lessened but they were still very present all over my body), before just proceeding with a treatment option he discussed what he suggested and why and what he thought the likely source of the allergen was and for suggestions for limiting my potential exposure. I agreed and he wrote a prescription for an injection and for an oral treatment should symptom re-occur. I was then lead to the nurse’s room. I waited about a minute for her to arrive with the injection medication, was given a shot. She again explained how to use the oral medication and what I should expect from the injection.

I was then told to hand the paperwork to the cashier our by the check-in desk. I was expecting about a 1000-1500$ bill and was shocked when it was the equivalent of 55$.

There was 1 person in line in front of me at the pharmacy. My prescription took about 5 minutes to fill. By the time I left, I was already feeling significantly better and the entire experience from entering the ER to leaving with my prescription was less than 45 minutes.

When was the last time you visited any ER in the USA and had that type of an experience? And have you ever left an ER visit not terrified of the multiple bills you were going to receive in the mail in the next week or two?

Had I been a South African the entire visit would have been free. Free – yes free – absolutely free.

How is a similar system is not possible in the United States?

Why do we think our system is so very effective?

Do we receive better care? No.

More sophisticated care? No. South Africa was the first country to successfully transplant a heart. They are also the first country to successfully transplant an HIV positive liver into an HIV negative person without transmitting the disease. The person remains HIV negative after over a year and is doing well. Another person I personally know has had a transplanted liver for over 23 years and is still healthy and living an active life.

Sure you may say they are a smaller country. Yes, they do have a smaller population. There are about 56 million people in South Africa (California has 39 million)

And then there is the argument “How could we pay for it?” Taxes perhaps? The average annual salary of a South African is just slightly more than $10,000 USD. Their official unemployment is 27%. If with that tax base they are able to do everything else their government does (like free education, affordable university, highways, public works, military, government agencies, courts, law enforcement, etc. – i.e. everything we do except trying to police the world), how with the American tax base resources are we not able to provide a similar system?

The rest of the day I spent in a bit of a drugged stupor between the Benedryl I took (which typically knocks me out) with the additional antihistamine and cortisone, I was a bit glazed over. I did manage to rewash all of my laundry with phosphorous-free detergent and it is now drying in my room out of the reach of blowing pollen. Detergent and newly in bloom pollen are the leading theories on what I may be allergic to given the lack of ingested allergens as a possibility for either of my reactions.

04 October 2018

This is why I am here

On those down days I need to remember days like today. It wasn’t an easy day by any means. We went on a 7 hour walk on the reserve. 7 hours may not sound like all that much – it is walking after all – but with the amount of focus you need to maintain continuously during those hours can be a bit overwhelming and consuming. You need to pay attention to everything – sounds, wind, scents, sights. Things near and far.

When you are walking as a guest you can relax as you know that others have you covered but we are training to be those people who will be the ones that are covering the guests. The training is very different from the previous course. It is much more focused on observing, learning from practical example, practicing, repeating, repeating again, and when you are exhausted you do it yet again and again.

But on to the fun stuff – OMG

The sighting we had to day was truly amazing. I didn’t film the whole sighting – It began much earlier than the filming. This is not a typical on-foot sighting. Typically you are not this close to dangerous animals when on foot. Animals are much more aware and cautious of people on foot. And you are much more aware of how vulnerable you are when on foot – there is no speeding away if an animal decides he doesn’t want you around. The river is a key geographical factor in this sighting that allowed for the close proximity.

Although the video doesn’t show, we were being followed by a curious bull giraffe. We trailed him for a bit, then he trailed us as we moved into the sighting of the elephant. Truly rare to be with both species at the same time.

Today was a privilege. Feeling fortunate.

Random info

If you see a lone giraffe it is likely a male. If by chance it is a female, she likely recently calved a youngster and is keeping it well hidden. There are other ways to differentiate the male from a female. Typically, they are larger. Typically, they are darker. Though a females can be dark when they produce more than average levels of testosterone or they are older. The horns of a male are straight whereas a female’s horns curve in at the top. Female’s also have tufts of hair on the top of their horns whereas, the male is bald.

03 October 2018

It was another day in the classroom.

This morning was filled with Dangerous Game instructional videos, fire arm safety and operation videos and practical demonstrations.

We also held the .375 rifles for the first time.

For our Back-Up Trails qualifications we need to pass 6 different rifle skill exercises. This simplest of the exercises is to load 3 cartridges into the rifle’s magazine, then chamber one cartridge and move into firing position while blindfolded in less than 15 seconds.

My first attempt took 40 seconds. My hands are not big (or strong) enough to place the cartridge with my right hand and click it into the magazine with my fingers of my left hand (as it was demonstrated) so I needed to modify how I load the cartridges using only my right hand. It isn’t as fast as using both hands but it is how I can do it so that’s that.

By the end of the afternoon, I was consistently completing the process in about 15 seconds. Over the course on the next week I need to shave off 7 more seconds. The training program requires that we are able to load the magazine and be prepare to fire within 8 seconds before they will allow us on the firing range. Needless to say – I have practice to do. If I can make it in 8 seconds the 15 on the test day will be a breeze.

PS – I had no idea just how heavy a rifle is. I will have sore forearms and shoulders tomorrow and this is just the beginning.

02 October 2018

It works elsewhere

Our day was supposed to begin with a long walk on the reserve but due to a scheduling change we spent the morning in the classroom learning about South Africa’s firearm laws. Wow was that eye opening. As an American where you can walk into a local Walmart and walk out with a gun ten minutes later it was amazing to hear that other places actually take the ownership of a gun to be a privilege for which you need to be qualified, trained, cleared and licensed. It is not a simple nor fast process.

To give you a quick overview of the process of purchasing a firearm here:

First you need to be professionally trained by an academy that is accredited by SASSETA (Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority). This multiday course involves practical, legal and theoretical training and examinations. You can then purchase a firearm but you must leave the firearm at the gun dealer. Once you have a serial number for your weapon, you then need to submit an application for ownership of the gun. This process can take as little as 4 months and as long as a year or more. For your application you need to be declared competent, provide a verifiable reason for why you should be allowed this privilege, submit to a full background investigation, prove that you have a gun safe (and have a home visit to prove the safe is permanently installed).

If your application is approved only then is the gun shop allowed to release the gun to you. At anytime you need to be able to provide a photo id with all identifying information about the gun and yourself. The card must be in your possession anytime the gun is.

This process needs to be done for each firearm you own – of which you are allowed to possess a maximum of 1 rifle, 1 shotgun and 1 handgun. You are also allowed a maximum of 200 rounds of ammunition for each firearm and a record of when and why those rounds were used needs to be maintained. Exceptions are made for individuals who are dealers, collectors, sport shooters and farmers but additional certifications, evidence and justification for the reason needs to be submitted. Should your firearm be used in any unlawful act you are held responsible as if you had perpetrated the act yourself.

This is just a brief overview. I have a 30 page single spaced book covering an overview of the Firearms Control Act.

If this can work in South Africa why can’t we figure out a system in the states?

We did get a short walk in the afternoon. This beautiful girl greeted us at the Amakhala Conservation Center where we parked before walking. Her mother was killed when she was a wee one and she was hand raised. Unfortunately, she will never be running free on the reserve but she does have a very large, safe area to roam that is free from predators.

Video by Martjin Zantijnje

01 October 2018

Beginning Day – Round 2

And it begins again.

It is the first day of Back-Up Trails Guide training.

Five of us that completed the Field Guide training returned from the break to attempt to qualify for the FGASA Back-up and Trails Guide qualifications. It is quite odd to be here without the whole group. It is also odd to have a whole new group of newbie field guides arrive. We were them just 12 weeks ago. In some senses it seems like forever ago. I am not sure that they are aware of what is in front of them. They have a hectic 10 weeks ahead. I am certainly glad that I have moved beyond the basic field guide training.

The trails course doesnt have quite as much theoretical lessons as the field guide program. It is much more practical and experiential which I am looking forward to. However, we do need to hit the books some and we began today with 3 modules of Rifle Handling. Actually in the case, I think we were all happy to have the academic lessons as handling firearms is not something any one of us have much (if any) experience doing. We are assured that we will be practicing so much that it will become second nature once the muscle memories are built but for the time being it is a very intimidating.

Numbers and terms that I grew up hear but never quite understanding now make a bit more sense. Words like caliber and ballistics and rifling and casings and bolts all have a bit more meaning than just being words spoken by my brother and father. I am a bit overwhelmed by it all to tell you the truth. Rifles are a basic necessity if one is to walk in the bush with dangerous game.

We will go for our first walk tomorrow. The trainers will be the only ones carrying firearms. Our practical rifle training will begin later in the week and we will need to be certified by an outside agency before we
will be carrying rifles so I still have a bit of time before I will be faces with walking with a rifle.

Hoping for a good nights sleep so that I have a
fresh set of eyes, a clear mind and a rested body before we walk for 8 hours tomorrow.