Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An American Deer Hunter In Africa, Part II

There are things the hunting magazine articles rarely mention and the classic books on the subject only offer up to careful scrutiny...

Part II: Your Kit

Make certain all of your equipment is completely silent. I had a creaking left boot tongue that was quieter if I tied it just so. The other boot was silent. Perhaps I’d never been anywhere quiet enough to notice before. Your rifle’s sling swivels probably clatter a bit did --like mine-- unless you have already silenced them with bits of cloth tape. If you use your host’s masking tape for this chore you’ll appear to be very dedicated hunter who didn’t sort things out before hand, or who forget to pack a small role of duct tape --Ol’ Indispensable-- along in his toilet kit. Cordura --apparently outdoor equipment manufacturer’s favorite fabric-- is extremely noisy in the bush. Shorts, pants, and shirts made with "hard" cotton cloth worked well for me. Velcro fasteners on pockets are common, and noisy as well. Buttons are quieter, but the thornbush will sometimes unbutton them for you. The leather holster in which I carried my Contender pistol creaked every minute I wore it. It even creaked when the my only motion was breathing. I gave it up --the holster, not breathing-- at lunch on the third day.

Dress for the weather. You’ll probably be hunting during the African winter. There isn’t much chance of snow, but it can be chilly in the mornings. Depending on the time of day and the whims of nature you could need rain gear, a coat, balaclava, sun hat, gloves, long sleeve shirt, long pants, shorts, short sleeved shirt, boots, or low shoes.

Short pants and short-sleeved shirts are quieter in the bush, but only because your skin makes less noise when snagged by thorns. I looked liked second place in a cat fight by the end of the first day, but as our host, Schalk van Heerden, says, "Your skin will grow back, but you may not see that Kudu again this week."

The bushveld will untie your bootlaces and then shred them for you if you let it. If you wear socks or laced boots with your shorts get yourself some gaiters to keep your boot laces tied and your socks free from all sorts of very persistent "stickers." Of course, most gaiters are made of Cordura, so you’ll probably need to fabricate your own of some quieter fabric. I suppose the well-heeled, lazy man could always bring enough socks to throw his bramble-laden pair away each evening. The rest of us will have to pick the burrs from our socks by the fire each evening.

Spare no expense on your footwear. If you’re going to "walk and stalk" (think "stillhunting") you’re going to be on your feet at least eight hours a day. Buy the very best boots or walking shoes you can afford. My Gore-tex lined Danner’s have a lot more character now then they did before the expedition, but everything but the laces survived in great condition. Get the best socks you can find, even if you plan to throw them away. Thorlos worked very well, keeping my feet warm but dry under all conditions, in temperatures that varied from the low 40’s to the upper 80’s Fahrenheit. Unless you are hunting in rocky, uneven terrain, heavy boots with lugged soles may be noisier than you want. A low rise leather shoe with a soft sole might allow you to feel a dry twig beneath your feet before you break it at the closing moments of a very clever sneak. It may be just me, but I’d swear dry twigs in Africa snap much more loudly than those in America.

Consider wearing a hat with a large enough brim that you don’t have to wear sunglasses. My fancy "city-boy" clip-on’s had a brown tint which is precisely the wrong color for hunting clever brown animals in the tall brown grass. Gray or green sunglasses are probably much better, but you’ll note that your tracker never wears them and your PH rarely does.

Wear lip balm, and sunscreen on at least your neck, ears, and nose. Wear rub-on bug repellent on at least your legs to keep the ticks away. African ticks are bigger and uglier than our ticks. Our tracker used a panga to kill one he found crawling on him. I packed along spray-on DEET, just in case mosquitoes ("the deadliest animal in Africa") were a problem. They weren’t. I did, however, encounter a species of fly in Africa that will deliberately crawl up your nose if you don’t stop it.

Bring as small and light a good camera as you can. The larger or heavier the camera the more likely it is to get left behind, as mine did when I doffed my Cordura buttpack on the second day. Things sometimes change in a hurry in Africa and you’ll miss some great photos unless your camera is in your pocket. You may spend the rest of your life describing what its like to be in the middle of a Red Hartebeest stampede (instead of being able to show your family and friends photographs of what it looks like) simply because your camera was only as far away as the front seat of the Land Cruiser.

Bring some light, compact, and easy to use binoculars. Even in the bush binoc’s come in handy every couple minutes. No, that is not what your rifle scope is for. My 10x Vivitar’s offered perhaps just a bit too much magnification, but they served well although --no, perhaps because-- they were not quite pocket sized. They were light enough to wear all day without causing a strain on the back of my neck and small enough to pop down the front of my shirt if the action called for crawling or if the sneak would tolerate no chance of my binoculars clattering into my rifle.

Carry a decent knife of moderate length. It is customary to finish not quite expired game with a knife blade slipped between the between the base of the skull and the first vertebra. Your PH will carry such a blade, but your tracker may not. The ranch hands are very polite when you offer them your Leatherman "folding toolbox," but it’s pretty clear they appreciate the pliers a lot more than they do the knife blade. I think I’ll carry a Cold Steel Master Hunter next time. It’ll be sharper than anything the help is used to and will make a nice gift to some especially hardworking staff member when the safari is over. You won’t be doing any skinning, but you might find yourself loaning a good, sharp blade to the staff to keep the work moving forward on the larger trophies late at night.

No comments:

Post a Comment