African Hunter Magazine

Hunting Gear

'Gear For The Hunt' by Don Heath

Hunting Gear Image
My choice of what goes on my belt. L-R: Pouch for ammo (10 rounds of softs), GPS (with two changes of batteries), Leatherman, a reasonable general purpose knife, revolver (S&W M58), ash bottle (the white top gets left in the vehicle when hunting, but was left white so that I would never forget to take it off before the hunt starts), ammo pouch for solids.

My hunting kit is constantly being refined and, of course, it changes depending on what I am hunting. For a leopard hunt in an area where there are no elephant or buff, I am not going to weigh myself down with a belt full of solids for my heavy rifle, but may want an extra pocket full of Cyalume light sticks for marking the pathway to a blind. Still some things remain constant, and for the primary benefit of learner professional hunters and guides coming into the industry and new citizen hunters I give this general guide as follows:

Your Own Pack

I am fully aware that most professional hunters do not carry a pack of any description. They own a small knapsack, invariably ex-army, which is given to the tracker, skinner or someone brought along for the express purpose of carrying the water and other odds and ends. One can debate this at length, but most guides carry a pack, all learner hunters should and most local recreation hunters are much better off carrying their own gear.

What sort of pack? Well, one that is light, comfortable and easy to drop out of if there is a need for a careful stalk. Most of your little 'day packs' I have used were either designed by somebody of unusual form or somebody that always gets the tracker to carry the pack! You need to get air onto your back to keep cool and you need to be able to carry small heavy things comfortably. I prefer a thin pack that runs the full length of the back. Having said that though, one can make a good case for army style 'Kidney Pouches'. Weight is much more easily carried on the hips than the shoulders and dropping a belt when you need to stalk something involves far less movement than dropping a pack. Just depends on what else you want to carry on your regular belt! Also remember to cut any 'tactical' carrier rings off both shoulders. You cannot shoot a rifle properly if you have a D ring under the butt and you may have to shoot off the weak side shoulder on occasion.

Day Packs
Day Packs - more in use amongst guides than hunters. Left: The normal soft pack is as much as anybody needs to carry. If your kit takes up more space you are carrying too much. Centre: A CamelBak pack with internal water bag and two small pockets is a good choice - light enough to be pleasant to carry but with enough space for those things you don't want to entrust your tracker with. Make sure it has a proper on/off tap for the water tube though. The bite and suck ones invariably leak in the truck. Right: A small over shoulder 'possibles' bag is de rigeur with the black powder hunters but is generally only seen in Africa being carried by a tracker. Still they are convenient and easy to ditch when you need to make a stalk.

Water Bottle

Yes, I know the tracker carries most of the water, but when a stalk is on and the packs are dropped, you might want your own. Also when something goes wrong and you get separated, a small amount of water on your person is essential. I prefer the soft collapsible water bottles to the hard plastic ones and like the 'CamelBak' type carrier even more. If I have somebody along who can carry extra water, I will generally only carry half a litre on me. If I am hunting alone or guiding I fill the bag and carry the full two litres. Also, I generally throw some Dioralyte (oral rehydration salts) into my own water. Others in your party may not like/want/need it, but I know on a hot day, I do.

Spare Ammunition

Each to his own and I know many a hunter or guide who carries the rounds in his rifle and perhaps ten spare on his belt. I want at least twenty rounds. Poachers, dogs and persuading cow elephants and lionesses to push off can burn ammunition at an alarming rate. I always leave a spare box with the tracker and carry 21 rounds on me. On my own set up, they all fit on my belt, but other peoples don't always and then you will need a few in your pack. I like the plastic cartridge holders that are supplied with Federal Premium ammo for carrying spare rounds in a pack as they ensure that the rounds do not rattle. Also, the same holders with a leather cover riveted to them are great cartridge holders to go on your belt.

Spare Ammo
Stock cartridge holder. I am no fan of these for carrying ammo in when hunting but find them very convenient to put the rounds that I have taken from the magazine when the rifle is unloaded in camp or vehicle. If you need to grab the rifle in the night at least you know where the first magazine full of ammo is!

Hunting Gear
Ammo Pouches. I like the plastic belt holders that Federal pack their premium ammo in (right). If you are going to use them on the belt then they need a canvas or leather cover (left), but even for spare ammo carried in your, or the trackers', pack they are the way forward as they stop the rounds clinking at crucial moments of the hunt.

Light

A small torch and a light stick are essential. Torch in your pack and perhaps the light stick in the trackers. A light stick gives enough light for an emergency night time skinning operation or can be left on top of a carcass to keep the hyenas and jackals off if there is some reason why the animal cannot be recovered that night.

Matches Or Lighter

There are times when you have got to have fire. I have made fire using fire sticks but Murphy dictates that you will not be able to find a dry combretum or leadwood when you need it. Dropping a match is so much easier. Even easier if you have one of those mini fuel bricks that go in those hikers stoves! I like the waterproof/wind proof matches that look different from ordinary ones and that your tracker is not inclined to pinch when he needs to light his own smoke. Again the law of the bush is that your tracker will have just finished the box in his pack when you really need one, so this is something you carry yourself.

Fire Lighters
You only need fire in the bush when there is some sort of problem, and then you need it badly usually just after the tracker has just used the last conventional match. Waterproof safety matches or a magnesium firelighter or similar means of easily starting a fire needs to be carried.

Nylon Rope Or Paracord

A ten metre length weighs nothing and is incredibly useful for all sorts of things from fixing blinds to tying up the skin of a trophy that has to be packed out by hand to...you name it.

Rifle Cleaning Kit

A simple pull through, a Bore-Snake or an Otis flexible cleaning rod are the best choices for field carry. One never intends ones barrel to get clogged with mud or sand but they do and tying boot laces together is a pain, time consuming and not that efficient. You don't need a whole kit, just enough to keep the rifle in working order.

GPS & Spare Batteries

In the old days it was fashionable to carry a map and compass. A map is still a good idea, since you can work out where your quarry is heading, easiest route around obstacles, how close you are to the boundary etc. A compass? Well, all good makes have a mirror on them so that you can see who is lost! They still have a place but pale into insignificance for way finding compared to a GPS. A GPS takes all the guesswork out of hunting and makes you far less reliant on locally supplied trackers. If you have one you can always find your camp, vehicle and kill, assuming you still have battery power!

Knife

As a kid I soon learned that there are two types of knives and both are essential in the bush. A Swiss Army knife or one of the multitools like a Leatherman are just about essential for a hundred and one little daily chores from opening a coke through a can of something for lunch to tightening the stock screws on your rifle after dirt road ride. The knife is usually only useful for those small chores like peeling an orange or cutting some plaster to cover a blister. The rest of the time, when you need a knife, you need a proper one. A skinning knife and sharpening system can always go in the trackers pack, but you need your own that is never lent out! It needs to be big enough to chop a splint or walking stick, sharp enough to skin a buff and tough enough to be used as a hammer, lever and a dozen other innovative uses for which it was never designed but is the only thing available!

Small First Aid Kit

I have long ago given up carrying a trauma kit! The trackers pack holds a small but comprehensive supply of bandages, plasters, ankle guard and a wound dressing - sprains and particularly twisted ankles being the main 'big' injury I have encountered on a hunt. My own kit is the stuff that always gets used and that the tracker will have finished by the time you need it if left in his pack. Aspirin, or other suitable pain killer, Phenergan or other antihistamine tablets for severe allergic reaction to insect stings etc. Diclofenac (Voltaren) or other good anti- inflammatory pill. Rennies or something similar for heartburn, Imodium - constipation is the thief of time but diarrohea waits for no man. Oral rehydration powder. Needle and tweezers. Small supply of plasters. Rubber gloves - this being the age of AIDS!

First Aid Kit
First Aid kit. For a man hunting alone or a professional guide, a small first aid kit should be carried. If you need more than this, you are almost certainly too far from medical assistance anyway!

Rubber Gloves
All of this fits into the top pouch of the 'CamelBak'. Rubber gloves and the ankle support are the things I have used most. A space blanket for warmth, signaling, collecting water etc is 25g of good survival kit.

High Energy Food Source

I carry corn syrup, in my own pack and put a can of Red Bull and a small packet of Nuts & Raisins in the trackers pack. When a hunt ends up taking much longer than expected and the vehicle is suddenly 17km away it is very useful to have something to keep you going. When you are tired you make mistakes. When exhausted and dehydrated those errors of judgement can be life threatening.

Camera

For a PH a camera is probably going to be used more than his rifle. For a guide, definitely so. In this day and age of mini digitals there is no excuse. You need to capture memories, both for yourself and your client. The chances of your client being a fantastic photographer aren't good so the onus is on you to ensure that there are some good photos at the end of the day. Also, Murphy's law dictates that if your client shoots a world record something-or-other, his camera will be dropped at the airport, X rayed and film destroyed etc. Have your own!

Binoculars

As good as you can afford. You cannot judge animals with the naked eye or inferior binos. They also need a good carrying system to keep the pressure off your neck all day long.

Hunting Belt

A wide, comfortable belt that carries all you need it to. A proper cartridge belt is fine, if that is how you like your ammo held, or a normal web belt with a clip or slip on ammo pouch(es).

Ash Bag/Bottle

One of my pet hates on the proficiency exam is watching guys trying to scoop up soil with their boot or bending down to grab a handful of sand, or worse still, lighting a cigarette, to determine wind direction - too much movement, unnecessary noise or an instant warning smell (smoke = fire). True, on many animals you can actually be quite casual with the wind, particularly if you are hunting in an area where there is a lot of human traffic anyway and then human scent won't spook them until you are really close or the wind is blowing directly from you to the animal. That is sometimes...elephant, buff, eland and many others are a different story. You need to know wind direction and you need to know what it has been doing all day - what it is likely to do in the next ten minutes. Which means that each day you need to have been watching wind direction and the daily pattern as well as what is happening during the actual stalk. For this you need an ash bag or squeeze bottle. An old sock filled with the cold ash of last nights campfire works fine but a little squeeze bottle that puts out a little puff of ash is even better. The right ash is important - it needs to be fine. I find what little ash a soft wood produces is often superior to that of Mopane. I have seen guys using straight talcum powder - and it works superbly (the faint smell of new babies wafting through the bush is a little unusual but it doesn't seem to bother the animals and masks human scent very well).

Gaiters
A good pair of gaiters is nearly as important as a good pair of boots in spear grass or devil thorn country.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but it is a minimum and a starting point. There are undoubtable many other useful hints which I have forgotten but that experience will rudely teach you and everybody will add things as experience teaches them, but you need to start somewhere. I haven't even touched on things like a hat, boots and gaiters. These items are too personal or local conditions too different to generalise on for me to give much guidance on. If you wear a cap - don't forget the sun screen. If you wear socks, gaiters or a spare pair of socks are essential in spear grass country, but in many parts of Africa you could hunt comfortably in sandals or good pair of manyatellas (sandals cut from a tyre with the straps made from the inner tube). In the accompanying photos you will see many items not in this list but individuals ideas of what is needed, that will also provide you with additional ideas.

Don Heath

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