When we first set out to launch our foundations mission for 2016, it was probably one of the greatest unknowns I’ve ever taken on within the safari industry. The questions mulling over in my head and the fears of launching a successful program felt more daunting than my first Cape Buffalo hunt. While the John X Foundation has been supporting a number of worthy initiatives and causes over the past five years, this one seemed closer to home. It was my brainchild, something I had been quietly thinking about for a number of years ~ I knew my passion and the unrelenting support from my team would ensure success, but this was still a first for all of us.
Counting down the days and then the arrival at Orange Grove Adventures… The first Jr Hunters Course
Having raised the necessary funds through the support of our generous hunters, whom we cannot thank enough, we plotted and planned every detail of the course with Patrick Cairns. Trish jumped to work on sourcing the various items of clothing, toiletries, and food requirements. Greg, Stix and I covered the various topics of the course with Patrick, while Ozzie and Jose from GTS Productions worked on the script of how we would be sharing this very first Jr Hunters course with the rest of the world.
The months soon turned to days and before we knew it we were unpacking the trucks at Orange Grove, Tarkastad. With us we had eight shy boys from various backgrounds and communities – all linked to the safari industry in one way or another.
At first I wasn’t sure who was more nervous than the other? Patrick had warned me of something I had never considered when the idea first came to mind. While most of us grew up “wanting” to hunt or have been introduced to hunting at a young age, and would have given anything to have been accepted to a Jr Hunters course at age 13/14, none of these boys from our previously disadvantaged communities had ever hunted before. They understood the concept, but not a single boy had ever held a gun in their lives! Did they even want to be here I kept asking myself. Was it my “want” for them to be here? Or was I being overly ambitious in my concept?
If you don’t dare you cannot succeed….
Nelson Mandela once remarked; “If your plan is for 1 year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate children.” And it was with those words that we jumped in head first. We were determined to make an impact through hunting and the great outdoors on these young men.
That first afternoon and evenings’ schedule was dominated by lectures on topics such as; why hunting plays an important role in conservation, what the correct ethics were in hunting – the do’s and dont’s, and of course we wanted to hear from them what they thought hunting was. How did they see this age-old tradition?
We spoke about the various methods of hunting and then capped off our day with a rifle cleaning session and dinner around the campfire. Some of the boys had never traveled this far away from home before – so all were pretty exhausted after an overwhelming first day. The boys settled into their campsite and were fast asleep before we even realized they had quietly disappeared from the fire.
The following morning saw the “shy” boys from the previous day rise to slightly more confident young men. With their smiles and imminent signs of genuine interest, my fears started dissipating. Things started falling in place as we started the morning lecture off with tracking and track identification in the field. By mid morning we had them back to the final lecture session of the day – animal identification. This proved to be an interesting one as soon one could judge the region a child was from by the game he was able to identify. With our huge variety of game one could understand how a kid from the Karoo didn’t have the slightest idea of what a Blue Duiker or Bushbuck looked like, while the coastal kids had never seen a Gemsbuck in their lives before.
After lunch we were off to the range. This proved to be one of the most rewarding afternoons I have ever experienced. There we were, Greg, Stix, Asisipho, Patrick’s trainer assistant, and myself, each at a bench with the boys taking turns. Patrick covered the various gun safety aspects once again, and then we had the boys take their first shots with a .22. The results were astounding. Expecting a full afternoon on the range we had not planned or banked on how fast they would master the art of handling a firearm in a safe manner, and then becoming crack shots at the same time. We were astounded!
Soon we had them shooting off sticks, and then we put away the .22’s and took out the 243’s – which they would be using the following day to hopefully harvest their first Springbuck.
By the early evening we felt confident in our young hunters capabilities and headed back to camp to discuss the various shot placement scenarios and the general characteristics and habits of their target specie the following day.
8/8 – What a day!
That morning we woke the boys at 04:30 am and headed out for Springbuck. Four teams consisting of a Professional Hunter and two boys, accompanied by a GTS Productions cameraman, set out in various directions. The Springbuck were plentiful and the opportunities numerous. The boys had clearly listened the previous day, and while there were some spectacular misses, there were some pretty amazing shots too. In the end we got home at 17:30 that afternoon with 8 boys, and 8 Springbuck. It was a remarkable feat to say the least. We had taken a bunch of serious “green horns” and achieved a level of success we had not envisaged, but more important than any kill, we had introduced hunting and the benefits of that lifestyle to a group of young men who now clearly seemed hooked.
We had taken 8 boys and turned them into 8 enthusiastic hunters. There’s something to be said about that particular experience.
Wrapping things up in fun – A Charging Buffalo and Clays…
Our final day saw the weather continue to treat us well, as we set out to work and process the Springbuck carcasses from the previous days hunt. Each boy dismantled the various portions and cuts from his own Springbuck, while Patrick and Asisipho explained what each portion of meat could be used for, or prepared into a scrumptious meal. Once the meat was processed and packed away we were off to the range once again. This time round we had a surprise up our sleeve for the boys.
Arriving at the range the boys soon realized they wouldn’t be shooting at stationary targets, but a mobile one – in the form of a charging Cape Buffalo on a sled. One of the boys would tie a long rope around his waist, which was connected to a life-size Cape Buffalo target, and upon Patrick’s command the runner would take off at a full gallop pulling the sled along at a rapid pace towards a second boy with a loaded .22. The concept was quite simple ~ hit the Buffalo in the head or chest before the sled reached your position. This proved to be a hit with the boys, as the laughter and excitement reached new levels. Soon we pulled out the “Elephant gun” as they referred to the 458, and offered then an opportunity to shoot with a big bore rifle for the very first time. Once those who opted to try the 458 had each had a couple of turns, the instructors and PH’s set out on a small competition of our own, taking on the charging Buffalo with the 458. I can proudly declare each one of the guys made the required kill shots, with our Mexican friend, Jose, out shooting us all! (He just got lucky! LOL) By the end of the charging Buffalo challenge one could see that the boys had now truly come into their own and were engaging in every aspect of every challenge we threw at them.
From one challenge we headed to the next – Clays on the range and the concept of wing shooting. This particular session proved to be an amazing one as some of the boys were recording 3/5 scores on their first round. We all agreed that was pretty impressive considering the time it takes most of us to master the art of successful clay pigeon shooting. We finished up the clays and shells, satisfied with a morning well spent and headed to camp for our final afternoon and evening around the camp fire.
We had all had a blast!
Giving Thanks where Thanks is due…
As I proudly reflect back over the course I can truly say we have achieved everything we had hoped for and so much more. More importantly we have realized how much we take for granted, and how important it is for each and every one of us as hunters, to take responsibility of our actions, by committing ourselves to introducing our age-old tradition we hold so dear, to the next generation. While it is important that we continue to raise our young boys and girls in a manner that accepts hunting and the role it plays in the future of our wildlife, we need to challenge ourselves to introduce a complete “outsider” to the world of hunting. This is something harder than most would realize, and something we could not have done without the support of a number of committed hunters who made this first Jr Hunters Course a reality during 2016.
Most of them, as on previous occasions would prefer to remain anonymous, as they feel it’s not about them, but about the kids. They are the true saints of our Foundation, the people whom I cannot leave out at this time.
Sam Cunningham, Jim and Chris Smith, John Thompson, David and Mary-Lynn West – Words cannot express my gratitude. You all know how close to my heart this mission was, and every one of you never asked a single question, except how many kids the Foundation needed sponsorship for. You are the ones that have truly made a difference. Thank you.
Enjoy the memories with us as GTS Productions takes us back to a week of fun on the first of many Jr Hunters courses to come.
If you’ve enjoyed hearing about the John X Foundations Jr Hunter initiative and would like to get more involved by sponsoring a boy/s for our 2017 course, then please feel free to contact Carl directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or catch up with him in the US during Jan/Feb 2017. Also note as of 2017 we will be able to offer our donors the opportunity to claim back 100% of their donations through an agreement reached with the Ithembu Trust via a 501(c)3 Registered Organization under the Jernigan Foundation. We’d be glad to have you on board as we strive to make a difference through hunting.
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