A question I often get is what can I do to prepare myself physically for my hunt? The fitter you are the more you will enjoy your hunt, there is no doubt about that. If you are a bow hunter shooting from a blind all you need is patience and tough posterior which shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish if you have an office job. However if you are hunting big game (eland, buffalo or elephant) in a large concession where tracking is the order of the day, you need to try and get into shape.
Spend as much time as possible on your feet. Just being on your feet for hours just following buffalo tracks can be hard going on the feet. Make sure your hunting boots are well worn-in otherwise you could end up with blisters and you are going to suffer through this hunt.
Get out and do some walking. Walking around the block will help somewhat but the best is to walk on an uneven path. The more rugged your training terrain is, the better. Instead of taking the elevator, take the steps to the office or in the shopping centre. The best is to find a place with different size steps to climb as nothing is symmetrical in nature.
This is the most important of all and the most neglected part of your training to hunt in Africa. So many clients arrive on safari only ever having shot their rifle from a bench rest. Bench rest shooting is important and the first thing you will do on arrival at camp is go to the shooting range to zero your rifle.
This also gives the Professional Hunter an opportunity to assess your ability and comfortability with your rifle. If you choose to take your own rifle on safari, take your favourite rifle as this is most likely the one that you shoot best. Being familiar with your rifle is also paramount for the safety of the hunting party especially your Professional Hunter who in most instances will be walking in front of you. GUN SAFETY FIRST AND FOREMOST.
In most cases you will probably be using shooting sticks for the first time in your life. They come in all shapes, sizes and designs. I would suggest you buy, borrow or make your own and spend some time practising your aim from the sticks.
A number of clients want to use bipods instead of shooting sticks. Personally I do not like bipods as these contraptions tend to affect the balance of the rifle and affect your grip if you need to take a quick shot. They also take time to adjust and often too high or too low to see over the grass. They are great for controlled shooting situations like varmint hunting but not in the African bush.
Next you need to practise your shooting positions as you will not be shooting from a platform as steady as a bench rest. You do not need to pull the trigger every time you practise a shooting position. Lift up your rifle and take aim, get into a comfortable shooting position. This position could be from the shooting sticks, the side of a tree, someone’s shoulder, kneeling or sitting on your rear end wedging your elbows against your knees.
Now rehearse your how things will pan out in a real life situation. You pull the trigger and bang! Do not just stand there admiring your shot, these animals are a lot tougher than what you expect. Reload as quickly as possible and be ready to take another shot should you get the instruction from your Professional Hunter.
Many an animal has fallen to the ground and the hunter has felt proud of his/her shot. Many an animal has then sprung up and disappeared as the shot never took out the vitals. The calibre is important but the most important of all is shot placement. Shooting at a target and a live animal are two different experiences, so always be prepared to take a follow up shot. With dangerous game we call this insurance.
A follow-up shot not only ensures an ethical quick kill but is also a safety precaution. Always approach a shot animal with caution, even a wounded antelope may give one last thrust with their horns or a kick. A large hoofed animal’s last kick on your leg could break a bone and a small antelopes flying hoof is as sharp as a razor blade.
If you approach the animal and it requires another shot to finish it off do not look through the scope as it will probably be too highly magnified for the situation and just be a blur. You will not be able to make out the animal’s outline. At this short distance using the scope will affect your shot placement as the bullet trajectory and bullet flight will be way out of sync. Rather use the point and shoot method, and with practise you will improve.
Another good tip is to practise your freehand shooting over a distance of 20 – 40 yards/metres. This can come in quite handy should a wounded animal jump up and run away or should you be charged from short distance. Often you will only have one shot so you need to make it count.
Occupational Health and Safety
Gun safety is of utmost importance, so listen to your Professional Hunter’s instructions. He will tell you when to load your rifle, put it on safe and get ready to take a shot when instructed. Safety is vitally important and cannot be stressed enough.
Lastly, for those hunting with muzzle breaks, please remember the hazards of hunting without ear protection. If you wear hearing aids, ensure they are serviced and please use them to avoid poor communication which can lead to an accidental discharge. Having a muzzle break go off in your face not only destroys your hearing for life but it also feels like you just got flat handed on your ear and all your fillings have come flying out your teeth.