'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.
We are walking in single file as we do in the bush. I am near the back of the line. Four or five people in front of me ascend the ridge.
I am beginning to plod its slopes when we come to a sudden halt. I hear a crack, but not loud enough to be a bullet. Max’s ‘Gandalf stick’ – his walking stick, repository of his twenty years of sage bush knowledge – lies on the ground. He has thrown it a buffalo, shouldered his rifle and yelled Fuck! in the same instant.
It is a textbook example of an encounter that could go badly wrong. The animal does not know we are there, we do not know he is there. Surprise ensues. A surprised buffalo is just as likely to run for you as to run away. Your only option may well be to shoot.
But this buffalo ran away. Ahead of us, Max lowered his rifle.
When you are fully trained, you find that you have shouldered, chambered and fired before you know what is happening. You won’t even remember having done it later, Max tells us.
After lunch in the shade cast by the dining platform I do dry practice, loading the rifle with doppies and practicing just this sequence of moves – swing round on the back foot, put your weight on the front, rifle swung up to the shoulder from the left arm to the right shoulder simultaneously working the bolt to chamber a round, finger away from the trigger until I am ready to fire, rifle in the shoulder held tight not too high not too low, the stock tight against my cheek. Finger on the trigger and squeeze. Once this is all committed to muscle memory I will make no further mistakes.