'Tracking' is a body of work about learning to track animals, and more broadly learning to become a Trails guide - someone who takes people on guided walks in the African bush. The texts that appear here are extracts from a longer piece and are randomised, meaning they appear in random order. You are invited to click through to the next text, but the panels do not construct a linear narrative, and will not appear in the same order twice.
The ballistics lecture is a bit of a joke in camp. Our lectures are held after breakfast/brunch, which follows a 4-5 hour walk in the bush in the early morning. Everyone always falls asleep in ballistics.
We surprise our instructors by staying awake. We learn the minimum muzzle velocity required to bring down the animals we must defend ourselves against – elephant and rhino in particular – is 4000 feet per second. Only a few rifles can muster this: the .375 Holland & Holland, the .458 Winchester Magnum – the most common weapons carried in the bush. The .375 has good penetration but lacks the stopping power of the .458, which rips through the animal more slowly, in part due to its blunt-nosed cartridge, but it is the only rifle – apart from the .416 Ruger – that will bring down an elephant with one shot. Magnum means the cartridge is over-loaded; the amount of gunpowder contained within it supercharges its trajectory.
Ballistics means the science and technical factors of moving objects propelled through air. It has come to mean the science of bullets only, but this is a misnomer, as is the word bullet – this refers only to the brass and copper alloy nose of a cartridge, which is like the rocket that propels a space capsule.
A bullet’s trajectory to its target is governed by several factors: exit velocity – the speed at which it exits the muzzle of the rifle, the aerodynamics of the cartridge, and weather. ‘Terminal ballistics’ refers to what happens when the bullet reaches its target – how fast it penetrates the hide, the speed and efficacy with which it tears through soft tissue and bone. The amount of resistance it meets.