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When to shoot or not to shoot?

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

This is a good question, but it does not have a simple answer. The amount of variables are almost infinite, "what species have I encountered here?", "how many of that species are present?", "what is the individuals sex?", "does it have young?", "how old are the cubs, calves etc?", "how many youngsters?", "how far are they?", "do they have a kill?", "is there a male present?", "is he of breeding age?", "what are the weather conditions, windy, hot?", "what is the season?", "what is the lie of the terrain?"...............I can go on like this but I think you get the idea.

I have read and been told many different things, such as you have to shoot an Elephant at 20m or it will land on you if it dies with the 1st shot and a Buffalo you have to shoot at 15m. Black rhino and Hippopotamus don't break off their charges. If I had taken some of this advice my kill list would be long and distinguished indeed!

So what is the correct answer, basically there no single answer to this question. It all comes down to experience. With experience many fascists of your skills should improve. There are the hard skills such as accurate shooting, which you acquire by practicing and practicing. Also tracking and track identification is improved and honed through hours of practice. Then there are the subtler skills, such as situational awareness and your ability to subconsciously recognise and respond to animals behaviour and posture. These softer skills are only improved by being in the bush, in the presence of our magnificent animals, be it on foot or from a vehicle and being able to absorb this information. Also after every encounter or even during the encounter one should run scenarios through your head, such as "what if the animals went to that point? How would I react or where should I go?" By doing this you are over time conditioning yourself to respond and react with little or no conscious thought. When you get the opportunity to spend time with other people in the bush be they trainee guides, guests or very experienced guides, be open to them as you can learn a lot from them By the guests question that you have never asked yourself or the trainee guide challenging your knowledge or the senior guide telling you all their mistakes around the camp fire back at camp.

Let me get back to the actual question. "When do you shoot or not?" Well I have never shot an animal in the past 16 years as a trails guide over more than 4500 hours of walking in the bush. So I guess my expertise is, when do you not shoot? Almost every time you should not shoot. Shooting is the last resort. It is not to say I will never shoot an animal, I just hope I do not have to. We have many other options when animals confront us. Firstly always remember they are much more frightened of us than we think, we are a predator and have evolved over millions of years with these large animals and they are wary of us. We can stand our ground and present ourselves bigger than we are by our posture and by our voices we can roar back at lions. We can communicate with them. We can read the terrain and use it to our advantage by putting streams, termite mounds or trees between us and them. We are an intelligent species, we have the ability to learn complex details that occur in our world, this also means we can learn a lot more about animals that they can about us. If we are humble and open to what our wild animals and wild environments are telling us and try to teach us, I believe the majority of encounters can end safely for all involved, animal and human.

I am writing this blog in response to being asked by one of my guides the exact question I am writing about, after my close encounter with Splay the elephant bull, from my last post. The day after our encounter I went back to the tree where it happened and I did an analysis of the situation and posed many a question to myself about it. I wanted to learn more. If I am being honest I went away more nervous the day after than during the actual encounter. The reason why is because I stepped out the distances where Splay stopped in front of me and my volunteers. His 1st charge he stopped at 7m (close by any standards). His second charge he stopped at 4m!

So why did I not shoot him. I did not shoot him because all my years in the bush and the many hours of walking and encountering big game and building up my experience and honing my soft skills, told me he would stop. We train to shoot the furthest at 12m and the closest at 4m. Both charges I could have shot him and most people who have experience in the bush would probably not disagree that I was out of line to do so.

If I had shot I would have killed an elephant who was not trying to kill me.

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