“I thought you said Makuleke was hot???” I screamed over the sound of the engine and the rain hammering down on the canvas roof of the game viewer. Everyone was wrapped in hats and coats and every spare piece of clothing they could find – soaked through and shivering we bounced down the tracks towards our new home.
The Makuleke concession is 24,000 hectares of land owned by the Makuleke people inside the Kruger National Park in South Africa and is nestled between the Limpopo river in the north and the Luvuvu in the south. A land of fever tree forests, wide open pans and exceedingly tall grass, it’s at the northern tip of the park accessed via the Pafuri gate – and is a bird nerds paradise.
New camp, new species, new faces and once again I was lucky enough to have a tent to myself (if you ignore the compulsory Acacia rats, geckos and tree squirrels). The tent could better be described as a chalet, with an en-suite bathroom and gas powered hot shower; pure luxury in a beautiful setting amongst enormous Nyala trees, Mangosteens and Black Bitterberrys.
I was unpacked in about 5 minutes flat and out wandering the camp to get my bearings and realised that despite endless studying over the previous months, there were an alarming number of trees, sounds and plants I could put no name to. But that would have to wait. Our first week was advanced rifle handling (ARH) – the week I had been dreading since booking the course last summer.
I’m not a fan of guns at the best of times, but a .375 bolt action rifle that can stop a charging elephant at 10m is something I was absolutely shit scared of. Thankfully the first couple of days of the course was spent getting used to the action, the weight, the safety procedures and generally drilling the loading and unloading stages as well as learning how to put the thing into a safe walking state. After a couple of days I had gained a little confidence, despite awkwardly trying to get to grips with a right-handed rifle as a left-handed beginner. I had also learnt that a magazine was not something you read, a sear was not some kind of fortune teller and “short-stroking” was thankfully something one should avoid at all costs.
After endless drilling my arms were weak and I knew something would have to be done if I was to carry that thing for any length of time and then have a hope of holding it up long enough to aim and accurately fire when needed. Little did I know then what “Bushfit with Bruce” would do to me.