In March 2016,  I attended the Midlands Senior Hunters Course at Nkwazi, and what an experience it was! I have been hunting since my teens and spent many a day in the bush. I had thought myself quite versed in guns, animals and hunting – and then I attended this course with Martin Erasmus and Dawie Scholtz . It turned out to be FAR more than I had ever bargained for! I have  been a member of the KZNHCA for three years and when I finally got the chance to book for the course, I thought it would be a formality to get a qualification. As it turned out, this was arrogance born out of ignorance and I would soon realise just how wrong I was.

The course was held in the Umkomaas Valley, truly in the middle of nowhere. This was evident by the lack of cellphone signal.  I arrived early and others came in later, having chosen the wrong road at the fork.

Midlands-Senior-Hunters-CourseOur general knowledge test showed us how little we really knew about animals.  On that first evening evening we chatted, and learned that our group had hunters from all walks of life – pilots, farmers, lawyers and doctors. We also had a DCO from Ezemvelo Wildlife, whose knowledge would become invaluable later on in the learning process.  Martin also started his instruction about the KZN Ordinance and we had to research animal species and find out what groups they fell into by looking at pictures on the wall.  That night we were entertained by Martin and Dawie with their grand stories of hunts which went right, and even more entertainingly – hunts gone wrong.   Morning came and we were up early, climbing the mountain before first light, only to be placed in the bush alone for what I guessed at the time was to ponder life or something of the sort.

It turned out that the purpose of this exercise was to experience the bush with every one of  our senses.  Back at breakfast, we were questioned about what our senses had picked up, such as the river flowing, rooster crowing,  buck snorting and the smell of rotting wood. Martin was the only one who could identify buck by smell.
We went over snake venoms and first aid and then moved on to cleaning and maintenance of firearms. This was a section that I felt confident about, and I rather lazily took notes when Martin brought up the topic of cleaning guns and sighting of guns and how shooting them when they were clean would not be the same as shooting them when they were dirty. This wasn’t something I had contemplated too much in the past, but it made sense.

It was somewhere in the following discussion that an error in judgment would leave me with a red face and nickname that would stick.  Martin asked us what guns we had been brought with us for the shoot. I hadn’t really listened but as one would expect, .308 was a common one and .222 was also called out a number of times. Martin added that he was very pleased that there was no .303 or .243 shooters in the group because historically those two calibres had been cursed on this course. At that moment, I proudly raised my hand and admitted that I had brought my .243.

After various discussions, Martin and I made a bet on the shoot that was to take place the next day. I felt quite confident in myself, because the previous weekend I had used the same gun and ammo and had good results. Or so I thought.

The day progressed, and with every new subject I began to understand that what I thought I knew was only the tip of the iceberg of what was out there and what I should really know. I realised that some of us have  done our paperwork incorrectly for most of our lives and it’s amazing that none of us were arrested due to our ignorance in the past.

That night was another session of socialising and stories around the ever-burning central fire.

The next day, Dawie left camp and came back with an Impala which we used for training purposes in the form of caping, skinning, gutting and processing of the carcass for transport.

I have cut up a fair number of animals before, but as one of the students put it, Martin was like an artist with a knife. It was Martin’s efficiency and precision that taught me a completely different process to the one I would normally follow. After that, we participated in horn measuring at a distance, with a few wild card animals thrown in there to trick most of us. Knowledge about trees, grasses and tracking just added a whole new level to our already-frazzled brains.

Next, it was time to go to the shooting range to shoot at an Impala target from 50, 100 and 200 metres.  There was some very good shooting that day as well as some average shooting – and then there was me! I won’t go into the ugly details, but by the end of it, myself and my .243 had thrown our names away and I was met with a grinning Martin at the end, with the “I told you so” smile.

In all fairness to me,  I have never ever performed so poorly at a range in my whole life. I don’t think  back on it fondly, but  I would also not change it because it taught me a lesson. Anyone who performed badly with his/her own firearm, was allowed to use either Martin’s .223 or .308 and everyone who did so, achieved good shooting scores.

The day came to a close and I spent the night taking the well-deserved chirps for the day’s shooting, with Martin just saying that for some reason, every time those calibres came to the course, it turned out the same way – not that this made me feel any better! Later, I would spend the evening learning for the next day’s test to somehow gain back  a little bit of confidence in myself.

Next morning the exam papers came and we all got on with it. It seemed that all the learning had helped because I knew most of the work.   Before we all went on our way,  we  gathered for the group photo and I came to realise that this trip was one of the most worthwhile things I had done for a very long time.

I had not only learned a lot more about hunting, but I had also learned to be humble and open my ears, because you learn nothing with your mouth open. Since the course, I have spent more time in improving myself as a hunter and a shooter than I have spent in the last two years.  I have realised that you cannot become a master of something unless you work towards it constantly. At the end of it, all I can say that I recommend the Senior Hunters Course to anyone.

My nickname .243 is now a constant reminder of how I must always try to improve myself even when I think I know it all, because there is always something new to learn.