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What a week! It is officially the end of week two of semester two. Our Bushwise group split up this week with half of us going to Tzaneen to do their rifle competency and dry runs for Advanced Rifle Handling, while the other half of us spent the week with Colin Patrick and K9 Annie doing Track and Sign. I had the joy of spending my week with the latter.

First semester I probably could have gotten a few tracks correct; things along the lines of elephant, lion, zebra, and giraffe. The most basic of tracks. After just a few short days with Colin, I can honestly say that my eyes have completely opened to the huge and never-ending world of track and sign, and I am absolutely in love.

Day one we started off by having one of the best life lessons we could have learned from Colin. The takeaway from that chat was one simple quote: “True success comes from the subconscious mind.” I think this quote has been forever ingrained into my brain. My understanding is that when you let doubt cloud your subconscious mind, you can talk yourself out of something that you know is true and correct. Such a simple sentence can be applied to many aspects of life, but especially for track and sign.

Photo by Devlin Loader

Before I talk too much about the track and sign and the Colin portion of the week, I have to give a huge shout out to Colin’s dog, Annie. We got the pleasure of spending the week with her and I can only speak for myself, but I fell head over paws in love. Annie is a tracking dog that lives and works with Colin. She has gone through intense training to be able to track poachers, criminals, and animals alike. The love that she has for Colin is unbreakable. I could write my entire blog all about Annie. But, I will refrain from that to tell a less exciting story from the week.

Photo by Lara Coldrey

As the days spent in the reserve with Colin and Annie passed, we found ourselves learning more and more every day. If I look back now to before this week, the amount of information that I was able to learn in such a short time is incredible. Every day we added new tracks to our brain bank of tracks, and every day the mini-assessments that Colin gave us became easier and easier.

After 5 days of staring at tracks, soaking up every word from Colin we were ready for the actual assessment. We started with the practical on Friday afternoon. Excitement, nervousness and a little bit of confidence were in the air as we all got off the vehicle and got ready to jump straight into the deep end of whatever tracks Colin could sneakily find for us. We continued the assessment on Saturday morning as light is a factor and we sadly ran out of it Friday afternoon.

Photo by Vaughan Jessnitz

After walking a million circles around tracks, staring, we had all submitted our final answers and could breathe deeply again because we had survived our first Track and Sign assessment. As eager as we were to receive our results we had a celebratory braai in the bush recapping the best moments of the week and waiting not so patiently to hear what we all hoped would be good news.

One lucky member of our group knew his results before the rest of us, as he got ALL 50 questions correct, rightfully earning himself only the SECOND Level 4 Track and Sign Certificate received by a student on the first try in the history of Bushwise. What an accomplishment that Martin earned, and as a group, we could not be happier to be a part of his achievement.

The moment finally came to find out our scores. By the skin of my teeth, I nervously waited for Colin to announce my level… and to my surprise, all the hard work from the week paid off with a Level Three Track and Sign qualification!

Photo by Lara Coldrey

Being a South African born, American raised human being that made a quick and easy decision to come back to my roots. I could not be surer that I made the right decision moving back home, coming to Bushwise, and living my absolute best life in the African bush.

As the groups are now going to switch, the rifle group will get the joy of opening their eyes to the world of Track and Sign and I cannot wait to watch their excitement, with a little bit of jealousy as I know exactly what they are going to learn and experience this upcoming week.

Blog by Shawn Gardner

Shawn Gardner