Junior Hunting Camp at Pongola Game Reserve

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Post Date: 22 Oct 2019

By Willem De Valence

At the KZN Hunting Shooting and Conservation Association, we are all extremely proud of our hunting heritage! It is our passion and we would like to share our heritage and beautiful country with everyone, including our children. We believe in ethical hunting and will go out of our way to ensure that our children understand all of this and continue to conserve our heritage for generations to come.

In support of junior hunter development, I had another great opportunity afforded to me to take some of our Association’s junior hunters on a hunting trip, where we served food around a campfire where hunting stories were shared and forged friendships in a true South African fashion. For some of the juniors who joined me on this trip, this was their first hunting experience ever! This awesome experience was made possible by KZN Hunters, as well as Karel Landman and his family from Pongola Game Reserve, in acknowledgement of the importance of youth development.

Oom Karel Landman made some Warthogs available for our juniors to hunt in support of developing them as part of the hunting community.

I left for Leeukop with my family from the Durban area on Sunday, 2 July 2018. After fixing a flat tyre on our way, we reached Pongola Game Reserve all safe and sound with fellow coach and hunter, Sijmen van der Merwe. Soon, we united all our junior hunters for the week. Larissa De Valence, JJ De Valence, Sijmen van der Merwe (JNR), Max-Reece van der Merwe, Kye van der Merwe and James Burnes were all on board with high expectations for this event.

Our coaches used the Sunday afternoon to engage with the juniors and discuss general firearm and hunting safety, as well as to discuss the proceedings for the week. The purpose of this day was to ensure that the hunting participants were prepared for their time hunting. This includes briefings on safety, shooting and hunting. Questions are asked, answered and debated.

As I always share with people, introducing youngsters to the outdoors is most certainly one of the greatest joys of parenting. The idea of taking our children into the outdoors and eventually letting them participate and become full partners in a hunt is a very rewarding opportunity.

The silence in Sondaba Camp was broken by my alarm. It was 5am on Monday morning and time to get ready for our next Junior Hunt at Pongola Game Reserve. The camp was already buzzing with excitement, as all the youngsters were getting ready for hunting. I still remember that no one had used any toothpaste, shower gel or deodorant as they were all committed to smelling natural whilst hunting.

Everyone knew what their job was, and we quickly had some coffee ready with rusks and biscuits. As I slowly sipped on my coffee, I recalled the journey from Durban to Pongola the day before, and how the excitement grew as we got closer to the farm. This time we were eight juniors and two mentors. Most of the juniors had never been on a hunting trip before, while others were a little bit more experienced. The common denominator between everyone was a love for the bush and outdoor life!

I know this farm quite well, and this was not my first time taking some juniors out on a hunt. As I watched the first morning light break and sipped the last of the coffee from my cup, I was thinking about where to start our hunt on this beautiful Zululand morning. Then it was time to go, and we packed our empty cups away and grabbed some stuff to take with us to the bush. We took a group picture as the rangers arrived, and then discussed the day’s strategy and split into two groups. Group one jumped onto the bakkie with me, while Group two climbed aboard the Cruiser with Oom Sijmen van der Merwe. Our quota for the next few days consisted of quite a few animals – mostly Warthog and Impala. Most of the youngsters were kitted out as rekkies!

On entering the farm’s hunting area, we felt the Zululand bush embracing us, and a sense of calmness and excitement came over us. JJ, aged 14 and armed with a silenced 6.5mm, was nominated by the group to be the first hunter. It was hot in the way that it can only get in Zululand, with the temperature exceeding 30˚C. Animals were only to be seen in the far distance. We had no luck in harvesting any animals on day one.

On day two, we quickly spotted some different animals and JJ got to bag a warthog just after 10am with a quick but perfect shot. That was it – our luck had turned! Soon after that, another Warthog and Impala was harvested, but that was it for the day! The wind was never in our favour, and the animals were not pleased with our presence. We had to do some tough walking, stalking and climbing in thick Zululand bush to get a better go of some animals, but with little luck.

The terrain was mountainous with steep hills, thick thorn bush and deep cliffs. It was the end of day two in the veld, and time to go back to Sondaba Camp. All hunters were summoned to the cold room to skin their animals with their own knives that they had brought along. The hunters eagerly complied with this requirement of learning more about the process of skinning, preserving and how to cape a trophy and skin.

These juniors were all such proud hunters in their own ways. All of them were tired and looking forward to a shower and dinner around the campfire. Soon after that, everybody was in bed and ready for a good night’s sleep! It was really an awesome feeling to be part of these juniors’ experience.

On hunting day three, after a good night’s rest followed by breakfast, all hunters headed out to look for either Warthog or Impala. JJ was lucky enough to find some Blue Wildebeest and harvested a female successfully. Given the severe drought and recent rain, we found that the animals were wild and conditions were tough. Soon, the day was over, and we all managed to reflect on the last few days in nature as we sat around the fire enjoying the dinner prepared by Tannie Alida De Valence.

En route back home, we all had the opportunity to reflect on hunting and the pleasures that our beautiful country and heritage afford us. This was truly an experience that will stay with all of us forever. Once again, I have personally realised the importance of all stakeholders working together to develop our youth and to initiate programmes aimed at junior hunting development.

There is such a need out there to impart not only life skills, but also skills relating to conservation, fauna and flora, stewardship, bush craft, hunting, firearm safety and first aid, to mention just a few aspects. I will continue to highlight the need for all of our stakeholders to continue to develop our youth. I invite all branches of KZNHSCA to support me in these endeavours so that we can take youth development to the next level in our Association.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the KZNHSCA for affording me the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with our young and upcoming hunters. Thank you to Sijmen van der Merwe for his support during this hunting trip. Sijmen is truly a great coach and mentor for our young people, and brings a wealth of knowledge to the party. Also, a warm thank you to my lovely wife, Tannie Alida, for doing kitchen duty to ensure that everyone was well fed during this trip.

I must confess that even Teacher De Valence loves to be with the learners outside of the classroom, out and about in nature! Lastly and most importantly, thank you to Karel Landman and family at Pongola Game Ranch for making this opportunity available to our young people. Such opportunities help us to ensure the sustainability of great quality and ethical hunters within the hunting community. I urge you to give back to our land and game owners by visiting Pongola Game Lodge. You can go to http://pongolagamereserve.co.za for more information.

Until the next time, happy hunting and conservation!

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