Although the South African bush is new territory to her, Eurydice from Belgium has lived and breathed the outdoors as much as she could growing up by being an active member of the Belgian Scout Movement, taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, and volunteering on various wildlife and marine conservation projects.
After completing her Apprentice Field Guide course, she knew she needed to learn more and explore walking safaris. As a nature enthusiast with professional experience in customer service roles, Eurydice is eager to be a part of South Africa’s guiding industry and was drawn to Ulovane’s holistic approach to training ethical Trails Guides.
Read on as Eurydice gives us a bit of insight into the Apprentice Trails Guide course at Ulovane.
The Trails Guides have two words for you this week: Danger Zone.
Welcome to Advanced Rifle Handling at Ulovane. Piet warned us: he runs this week “military-style”. Shooting can be fun but as Trails Guides, it’s a skill we’re practicing as a last resort should a situation with dangerous animals arise where we need to step up (literally) and protect our guests.
Monday was all about theory. I went from not knowing the difference between a cartridge and a bullet (in case you were wondering, a bullet is just one of the four parts of a cartridge along with the primer, propellant/powder, and case) to learning about hydrostatic shock theory, ballistic coefficient, and sectional density.
The next day, we packed ourselves and all the necessary gear into two cars and headed across the road to the shooting range. For those who may not be familiar with shooting ranges out in the bush, imagine this: your firing line is a crumbling cement beam laid across the sand, you shoot into a dirt bank where trees no longer try to grow and while you wait, we all huddle under one tree to try and keep out of the scorching sun. But really, what more do you need? Laurien even used the tree as her own playground while waiting her turn, climbing branches and hanging upside down. Fun for days.
Last Friday, most of us had never even touched a rifle before but after practicing our aiming over the weekend, it was now time to graduate from air rifles and move onto 0.375s. Piet spent the whole day Tuesday running us through the 6 ARH exercises as dry runs so we could get used to the heavier weight of the rifle and build muscle memory. There were a few hiccups here and there: cartridges dropped, fingers on triggers when they shouldn’t be, one rifle muzzle aiming straight at Piet’s head… And that is why we only use dummy rounds on the first day!
When one of the lodge managers dropped by to test his new R1 rifle, I got to shoot a few rounds as well. Piet loaded the detachable magazine for me, which was good because my whole head felt like it was still ringing from hearing the previous shots go off. I fired the first round hesitantly, anticipating the recoil. When I realised it wasn’t that bad, I started firing them more confidently, and by the end of the 5 rounds, I would say I was almost having fun. And then I realised I hadn’t actually been aiming… Work in progress.
We eventually got everyone through exercises 2 to 5, and then set up for the simulated charge, which we would go through 3 times each. I was feeling relatively confident up until this point, but Sarabi the lioness comes at you at what feels like the lightning speed of 7m/s and she looks mad. Verdict: I “died” all 3 times.
Anyone who thinks FGASA doesn’t know how to have fun doesn’t know that exercise 1 of the ARH assessment is a blindfold exercise where you need to load 3 cartridges, chamber, and aim in under 15 seconds. Needless to say, more cartridges were dropped that morning. Piet’s head was also aimed at a second time… Another shout-out to dummy rounds for literally saving the day.
Thursday, we were back at the range, and this time, things were very serious. Even though Piet hates running more than he hates vegetables, if we did something wrong now while dealing with live rounds, there would be no outrunning him. In that situation, I think most of us would rather take on a live Sarabi.
A 0.375 bullet being fired is loud. But somehow when you’re the one shooting it, whether it’s the ear protection or the adrenaline, you barely notice it. When I wasn’t the one shooting though, I jumped at every. single. shot.
Running through the exercises with Piet individually goes by in a flash and the rest of the day is then a waiting game until it’s your turn again. Before you know it, it’s already 16:00 and you’ve been at the range for over 9 hours.
Friday was a repeat of Thursday’s schedule, running through the whole procedure as we will do come assessment time on Monday. Nonetheless, it was crazy to see the difference a day made in how comfortable we were handling the rifle, aiming, and firing. Turns out, practice does make (slightly more) perfect.
There were definitely some frustrating moments throughout the week. Because of the time pressure, you sometimes rush things and end up fumbling with your ammunition, struggling with the bolt, or missing the target. It’s a mental game but also a physical one and by the end of those last two range days, everyone was tired. Throughout the day, people were even napping on the ground or the tyre (picture Sid from Ice Age trying to sleep on the rock), too exhausted to be bothered by the sound of 0.375 rounds firing barely 10m away.
As we continue to prepare for Monday’s assessment by doing dry runs over and over again in 34-degree weather this weekend, there is definitely stress in the air.
Despite the pressure we put on ourselves, I think what will stay with me the most about this week are the drives home where we played Top Gun’s Danger Zone on full blast and everyone sang along on the back of the game drive vehicle, releasing any tension we’d built up during the day, enjoying each other’s company (and singing voices) and simply remembering to appreciate being under the South African sky.
Matt has always had a passion and love for nature and wildlife!! Doing the 1-year course with us, he is hoping that this will be the beginning of a career in guiding and conservation and wants to be a part of protecting our wildlife. An avid fisherman growing up in the Western Cape, Matt is hoping to be able to get involved in marine conservation and guiding!
Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
In the midst of Week 3, our Trails team was privileged to partake in an enlightening lecture on Advanced Rifle Handling (ARH). This session delved deep into the intricate aspects of rifle handling, covering everything from the ballistic properties of firearms to the critical cleaning and maintenance requirements. Prior to Week 3, we began with air rifle plinking, honing our shooting abilities before advancing to the 375. On Tuesday, we commenced with the 375 and began with dummy rounds, allowing us to acclimate to the action of the 375 while performing exercises necessary for our ARH evaluation.
We then proceeded with live round practice on Thursday and Friday, developing familiarity with the recoil and gaining a comprehensive understanding of how our assessment would proceed. My personal favorite exercise was the charge simulation.
As the weekend approached, we shifted gears to sustainable living before diving headfirst into our studies to prepare for the upcoming Sunday exam. After the exam, we continued to practice with dummy rounds in preparation for our ARH assessment scheduled for Monday. With ample preparation, we are well-equipped to handle any challenge thrown our way.
Fill the day with enthusiasm. Give the day all you’ve got and it will give you all it’s got, which will be plenty.Norman Vincent Peale