Hunting in the Highveld Region of South Africa

The “Trout triangle” in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa lies between the towns of Belfast, Dullstroom and Machadodorp. This area is also known as the Highveld region due to its height above sea level and thus its colder climate. This makes the area the ideal home for Trout, as they prefer cold water environments. This is also why the area is so popular amongst fly fishermen as it offers many opportunities to target Trout on fly.

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It is not common knowledge but the region also offers spectacular plains game hunting opportunities for those who enjoy the challenge of walk and stalk hunting in open terrain. Long distance shots of 200 meters and more is the norm, as in most instances the open terrain does not offer much in the form of vegetation for a hunter to use as cover, as the landscape is predominantly made up of grasslands.

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This however, does make it even more rewarding when successfully hunting an animal in the open terrain as the sense of achievement is so much greater. Typically, the more flat shooting calibers are the norm for hunting in the Highveld and you will see a lot of faster 6mm, 6.5mm and 7mm rifles being used. However the bigger .308 calibers will be better suited to taking the larger Highveld species such as Zebra and Eland.

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Our first hunt of the 2016 season was a special one, and one we have been looking forward to for quite a while. Emile and I left on a Friday afternoon for Fins Estate near Belfast, to meet up with our Professional Hunter and host for the weekend, Nick Van Noordwyk. We met Nick at Fins Estate and after settling into our cosy 4 star quality cottage, he suggested that we spend some time the afternoon practicing our long range shots on the shooting range, before we head out on our plains game the hunt the following morning. He said that the shots will average between 150 and 250 meters as it is still early in the season and the game won’t be that wary of hunters yet.

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Steel gong targets were available to shoot on the shooting range from 100 to 1000 meters, and although we were not anticipating any 1000 meter shots on game the following day that did not stop us from taking a shot at the 1km gong… We were happy with our shooting capabilities and equipment, and we had just enough ammunition left for the following days hunt. Just before the sun went down, we took out our fly rods and made a few casts at the pond closest to our cottage. I caught a nice little Rainbow of about 800 grams on a #12 Olive Damselfly Nymph, which nicely rounded off our first day on Fins Estate.

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A wooden fire and a fine single malt kept us warm that evening and with a chilly breeze moving across the night sky, one could feel that autumn has almost started to settle in.

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The next morning we were up and ready at 06:30 am and our PH Nick gave us a safety and hunting briefing before we went out and into the veld. We drove into the concession where the day’s hunt would commence and after spotting a herd of Blesbuck in the distance, we stopped and started our hunt on foot. Slowly walking and glancing the landscape, we then spotted an old solitary Blackwildebeest bull standing about 300 meters from us. Fortunately there was a hill between us and the old bull and we could approach it from behind the cover offered by the rocky outcrop. The wind was not in our favour and we had to stalk the animal from its left hand side, being cautious not to make him aware of our presence.

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With my .243 Winchester Howa in hand, I started my final approach with the animal at 163 meters from us. I spotted a rock which could accommodate my rifle’s bipod and so I went prone. Not wasting too much time, I adjusted my Aimpoint Monopod and planned the execution of my shot. The Blackwildebeest bull was looking in our direction but still unaware of our presence. As he turned his head, and looked away from us, my riflescope’s crosshair settled on his right ear and I gently squeezed the Howa’s trigger. The shot went off and the old bull fell in its tracks. Emile and I approached the bull whilst Nick went back to fetch the truck to load the animal. It was a magnificent old bull and his horns had a lot of character. We took some photos and then loaded the animal onto the back of the truck.

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On our way to the cold room, we spotted a few Blesbuck on the opposite hill from where we found ourselves. We stopped the vehicle, got out and slowly started to stalk the Blesbuck. There were 3 big bodied rams with one being noticeably older than the other two. I focused my attention on the older ram as it was definitely past its breeding potential. I settled down in the dirt and adjusted my bipod until I was comfortable with my position. Nick ranged the animal at exactly 200 meters and just as I was about to take aim the Blesbuck ram went onto its knees and lied down, facing our direction. His head was dead still so I opted for a head shot. My 200 meter crosshair settled between his eyes and I squeezed the Howa’s trigger. I could see his head dropping after the shot went off and I was happy that the shot was executed as planned.

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After taking some photos of the beautiful old Blesbuck ram we took the two carcasses to the cold room before heading back into the concession. We drove up a hill were we parked the truck and Nick offered us some coffee from his Stanley flask and some homemade rusks that his wife baked. This time it was Emile’s turn to hunt a Blackwildebeest and a Blesbuck. We left the truck after our coffee break, and walked for about 1km before we spotted a herd of Blackwildebeest. Suddenly I noticed that the soles from my Blundstone boots were literally disintegrating as we were stalking the herd, and I was basically walking bare foot with only my socks and a few shards of rubber sole offering protection for my feet against the rocky terrain.

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None the less, we slowly approached the herd, ever so careful of not being seen or heard by the many eyes and ears not too far away. Suddenly the wind changed and the Blackwildebeest herd picked up our scent and steadily started moving away from us. Luckily, one of the bulls stayed behind and Emile decided to stalk the bull. It had a very prominent hump above its shoulders and one could see that it was also past its prime.

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The old bull seemed aware of something but he stood his ground and just stared vaguely into our direction. Emile settled onto one of the many rocks on the hill where we found ourselves, and he positioned himself for the shot. Nick ranged the animal at 153 meters and shortly thereafter the shot went off from Emile’s Tikka T3 rifle in .308 Winchester. One could hear a promising “thud” as the 130gr Barnes TTSX bullet hit the animal. The bull could not make 12 meters before he went down. Emile gave the Blackwildebeest bull a perfect angled heart shot and the bullet penetrated the animal from its chest until its stomach. The recovered bullet’s weight retention was 129.1gr, which speaks volumes of its effectiveness and quality of material.

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After a quick photo session it was time for Emile to find a Blesbuck, and it didn’t take long before we spotted a few Blesbuck standing and about 400 meters, downhill from us. As we didn’t have much of a backdrop for cover, Emile stalked the small herd on his own whilst Nick and I hung back to prevent the animals from spotting one of us. Emile didn’t take too long and he shot his Blesbuck at 168 meters. The 130gr Barnes TTSX bullet went right through the Blesbuck and the animal expired after another well placed vital shot by Emile.

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As we were setting up the animal for a photo session, I spotted a lone Blesbuck ram coming over the ridge at about 250 meters from us and as we still had one more Blesbuck left on our quota, I decided to take him if an opportunity presents itself.

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I positioned myself amongst the Highveld shrubs and as the animal came to a standstill at 158 meters, I placed my crosshair behind his ear and squeezed the trigger. It went down immediately and I was very happy with the shot.

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After we took photos of both animals we headed to the cold room for the animals to be skinned and hung in the cold room.

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We were very fortunate as it was one of those days where everything went according to plan. Our PH and host, Nick was one of the most pleasant people that I have ever met, and he has a wealth of hunting and shooting knowledge to share. He made us feel more like friends than clients and not once did he make us feel rushed to take a shot. We will definitely be back to visit him again in future and to enjoy all the splendour that the Highveld’s “Trout triangle” has to offer.

© 2016 Guns and Fly Fishing. All Rights Reserved.

Swift Epic 580 Fiberglass Fly Rod Build

There has been a fiberglass fly rod revolution of late, driven by people such as Cameron Mortenson from The Fiberglass Manifesto and Carl McNeil from Swift Fly Fishing. Social media has been buzzing with #glassisnotdead and thousands of glass wielding rebels have been posting and sharing pics, supporting their passion for fiberglass fly rods.

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The advantages that fiberglass fly rods have over graphite fly rods plus its retro/cool factor are some of the reasons behind many fly fishermen going over to the dark side, to where the glass is always greener. The other attraction is that it is now easy to build your own fiberglass glass rod, with Swift Fly Fishing now offering complete DIY Epic fly rod kits which you can order online and then build yourself at home.

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Swift Fly Fishing in Wanaka, New Zealand has taken the fiberglass fly rod industry by storm with their Epic fiberglass fly rods by offering some of the best fiberglass fly rods available today. The owner, Carl McNeil is also a certified master caster and the owner of On the Fly productions which has been responsible for fly fishing films such as Once in a Blue Moon, Casts that catch fish and ITU’s Bones to name a few.

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Swift’s Epic S2 Fast Glass blanks are made using a proprietary S2 Glass Composite, which makes it near indestructible. There is nothing else available that can offer you the same combination of strength and finesse. The unidirectional fiber layup, which aligns the fibers longitudinally along the blank, ensures that you have the lifting power of a rod in a heavier line class yet it is easy loading and very smooth to cast.

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We decided that we had to explore this exciting revolution in fiberglass fly rods, so we settled on a Swift Epic 580 ready to wrap fiberglass fly rod kit from Swift to tackle our first rod building project. The reason we chose the 580 is that we had a feeling that it would be the perfect fly rod for some local destinations such as Lesotho and Sterkfontein for Trout and Yellowfish. The 580 Epic was developed and tested in the land of the Kiwi, specifically for New Zealand conditions (where the big fish are) which also makes it the perfect rod to take along when travelling to the North or South Island in pursuit of those legendary big bad browns (we are eagerly waiting for an invitation).

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So we logged onto and ordered our Epic 580 ready to wrap kit, and a week later it arrived on our doorstep. In the kit you will find all the hardware that you would need in order to build your new Epic fly rod. The kit consists of the best of fly rod components available today, which has been specifically designed to work together in Epic harmony. Also included in the kit is an easy to understand and comprehensive Epic custom fly rod build book which takes you through the rod building process, step by step. The build book will also tell you which household items you might need before you can start your build. Some of these items include masking tape, a craft knife/razor blade, a measuring tape and denatured alcohol.

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This comprehensive kit is shipped in a durable cardboard box which has two support wedges inside which you can fold in half and then prop up to support your blank whilst wrapping the silk and applying the epoxy. This is a very nice feature and it eliminates the need for a fancy rod building jig. It is advised (but not necessary) that you buy or build a rod drying motor which makes life easier to cure the epoxy after applying it to the wrapped silk. You can use a BBQ rotisserie motor which is inexpensive and available to purchase at most hardware stores. We opted for this option and it worked like a charm.

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The chances are good that you have considered building your own fly rod at some stage, but most people are put off by the idea that it is both difficult and very time consuming to build your own fly rod. That is what we previously thought as well, but we were proven wrong.

The most important things are to read the instructions carefully and to be patient. Also you will need some beer/single malt/ good coffee and your favourite tunes playing in the background. If you aren’t sure about something rather read the manual again until you have eliminated any doubt in your mind. It also doesn’t hurt to practice a bit before taking on the real deal. You can practice your silk wraps and applying the epoxy on the rear of the rod’s butt section, where you will later fix the reel seat to the blank with epoxy.

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Your initial impressions might be that you will mess it up horribly, but if you follow the step by step instructions in the Epic build book, you can’t go wrong. Plus there are many fly rod building tutorials available on YouTube for any additional help.

The rod building process can be broken down into 7 steps:

1. Find the fiberglass blank’s natural spine (optional).
2. Measure and mark out your guide’s positions on the blank.
3. Epoxy the reel seat and cork grip to the butt section of the blank.
4. Wrap the guides onto the blank, making sure to align them as you do.
5. Glue the tip top to the blank and then do the final alignments of the guides.
6. Epoxy your wraps and let them dry.
7. Go fish and #doepicshit.

So you see; it’s not that difficult to build your own fly rod. The satisfaction you will get from fly fishing with your own hand built fly rod will make the time and effort spent, seem like a breeze. It will probably not be the last fly rod that you will build yourself, as it can become quite addictive once you get comfortable with it.

So which Epic build is next for us? Well, hopefully we can get our hands on a 888 ready to wrap kit for some Tigers and estuary fly fishing later in the year. But then again, a 476 would also be awesome for some back country Trout in the Drakensberg and smallstream Yellowfish. So you’ll just have to wait and see!

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To conclude, fiberglass fly rods are a lot like beards. They have always been there and they have always been cool (just like craft beer, ground coffee and rock and roll music). Not everyone likes them sure, but then again not everyone likes fly fishing either… Just keep in mind that you get fiberglass fly rods and then you get Epic fiberglass fly rods; we strongly suggest you try the latter.

© 2015 Guns and Fly Fishing. All Rights Reserved.

Exploring New Waters and Avoiding Crocs

One of the biggest problems with living in the city is that fly fishing opportunities are few and far between (unless if you are a fan of stew ponds) and the few places that are unspoilt with resident fish are a very close kept secret to a select few (if any). The only way around this dilemma is to follow your taste for adventure and to explore your urban surroundings on your own. This is exactly what we did, and thankfully so.

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We made use of Google Maps (some say it was developed for the adventurous fly fisher in mind) and we identified a potential area not too far from our concrete surroundings. We contacted the land owner, begging him for permission to fish his property and luckily he turned out to be a keen fly fisherman himself!

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Stephan and I arrived at our destination, met up with the land owner and quickly unpacked our gear before heading down to the river. Within the first 5 minutes both of us had about 74 Tick bites each. This did not dampen our spirits however and we started to explore this beautiful piece of property.

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We had a bit of the hike and after about 3km in the bushveld sun I realised that it’s probably a good idea to renew that gym membership again… Along the way we encountered some Warthog, Kudu and a few Impala that were grazing leisurely, not bothered much by our presence.

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Huffing and puffing, we eventually reached a piece of river that looked promising and I opted for a hopper dropper rig to search the water for some action. I made a cast upstream and moments after my second drift I noticed a slight pause in my indicator fly; I gently lifted my rod tip and I was into a fish! My initial thoughts was that a Largescale Yellowfish took my #20 PTN but it turned out to be a beautiful smallstream Spotted Bass. It was a good start to the day and in good spirits we continued prospecting the river for some piscatorial pleasure.

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We couldn’t see much fish activity and so we concentrated on mainly structure and potential places where the fish could hold. Our main focus was Large and Smallscale Yellowfish but we were pretty much keen for anything to take up our feathered offerings. The Bass were quite willing to play along though and they kept us entertained as the storm clouds started to brew in the background.

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I wandered off on my own whilst Stephan focused on a promising pool, and just as I parted a patch of reeds to get into the river a baby Crocodile (about 80cm long) that was basking in the sun got startled and leapt into the river swimming away. My initial thoughts were that it was a Monitor Lizard but, it had unmistakeable Croc characteristics (teeth and stuff). This made me approach the water with a bit more caution but it didn’t stop me from further exploring the gem of a stream. I wasn’t afraid of the baby Croc (as I am 6’7”) but the possibility of its parent’s presence was the reason for my concern…

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Later the afternoon the land owner caught a pretty Smallscale Yellow on a #16 ZAK Nymph and Stephan and I caught some more Bass and a few Tilapia or “Kurper” as we call them. The storm was approaching fast, and as I have a fear of lighting (second only to a Cocker Spaniel) we called it a day. The owner welcomed us back whenever we wished to do so and we gladly accepted his offer before heading home.

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So you see, you don’t have to settle for the local stew ponds and you don’t necessarily have to drive hundreds of kilometres to find a good fishing spot, just get out there and explore. Oh, and watch out for the Crocodiles…

© 2015 Guns and Fly Fishing. All Rights Reserved.

CZ 75 Pistol Cerakote Review

Just like people, firearms can also get old (although they tend to age better than us) and with age their looks can also deteriorate. Scratches, rust and general wear and tear takes its toll and before you know it your once prized firearm can seem a bit dull and tarnished after a few years, when compared to its former glory.

About a year ago I bought a CZ 75 (Pre B) 9mm Parabellum pistol for a very good price. It was clearly evident that the pistol did not work much but it had some visible signs of holster wear; which is to be expected after 33 years of service to the previous owner. There were a few scratches here and there and the original factory blue finish had come off on certain areas, but it was still 100% mechanically sound and being a CZ 75 it was only a toddler in terms of its lifespan.

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Whilst searching the internet for advice on re-blueing CZ 75 pistols similar to mine, I came across a new concept to me at the time; it was a firearm finish consisting of a ceramic coating called Cerakote. I was intrigued by the variety of colours that the application was available in as well as the properties in terms of durability that the Cerakote coating consisted of.

I then looked for a reputable Cerakote applicator in my region and so I made contact with Piet Van Wyk De Vries from in Centurion, South Africa. Piet is a Cerakote specialist and fulltime Cerakote applicator (unlike most) and his work speaks for itself. He has a rich history in firearm restoration as well as being involved in the continual development of the Cerakote range of products. I made a reservation for my CZ 75’s revamp with Piet, decided on the Cerakote colours that I wanted and then my CZ 75’s makeover began.

The Project

For this project we selected 3 colours: Graphite Black for the slide and parts, Smith & Wesson Red for the safety dot and a brand new colour (we are the first to use it in South Africa) called Bright Nickel for the frame.

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Colour Selections are not only done from pictures on the internet, but there is also a colour chart with each factory colour in actual Cerakote, painted onto a curved aluminium strip.

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Each colour’s attributes are checked against records of the colour’s technical performance, and meticulous notes kept of every use of any colour, in a spreadsheet. This data is then used to prepare the colours properly for the desired effect in gloss factor, texture and function.

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An interesting fact is that the Cerakote has to be kept in a fridge for preservation purposes and that it has a shelf life of only 12 months.

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Piet strips the weapon down to the last pin, checking the condition and integrity of every single part as the firearm has to be completely dismantled before starting the prep work in order to apply the Cerakote coating. This serves as an additional service that gives you (the customer) peace of mind that there aren’t any problems with your firearm that you did not know about.

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Piet recalls stripping a pistol for a customer not too long ago, only to find out that the person had been carrying his pistol on him every day for the last 6 months with a broken firing pin!

After disassembly, the parts go into a degreasing solution. The degreaser highlights the areas where rust had been building up microscopically and any oil or other forms of moisture is extracted during this process. The parts then get blasted by a very specific type of aluminium oxide at a specific pressure, to create an optimal keyed surface for the ceramic coating to bind with.

During blasting and the final prep stage, every hook and cranny of the firearm is inspected and Piet makes sure that all of the previous coating and dirt residue is removed from the firearm (there are times when he has to make use of dentist tools to do this).


The Cerakote is the mixed with a catalyst in a measuring tube, after which it is then strained, filtered and only then does it end up in the spray gun. Piet only uses the best quality spray guns and equipment, which he believes does have an impact on the quality of the Cerakote finish at the end of the day.

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The Cerakote application procedure is done in a controlled environment to ensure that there aren’t any external factors that might interfere with the application process.

Piet then applies the Cerakote to the firearm parts with the utmost of precision. He ensures an even application is sprayed on all the parts with the inside (working) sections being applied with 14-15 micron of Cerakote and on the outside sections (visible) 24 to 25 microns. Applying a Cerakote finish this precise is not called a hobby, it’s called an art!

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After applying the Cerakote finish, the parts are then checked for evenness, texture, and of course for any other visible defects before they go into the oven to get cured.

Each type of surface has its own required curing time and these curing schedules are a closely kept secret. The curing time does play a major role in the durability and the quality of the Cerakote finish and thus it is important that the coated parts are cured for a specific amount of time.

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After curing, the parts are cooled down and the quality of the coating is inspected once more. Piet then uses a coating thickness meter to ensure that the Cerakote coating is even all over the firearm.

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When Piet is happy with the Cerakote finish, he then starts with the re-assembly procedure. Whilst doing this he re-inspects every part before assembly to make sure that there will be no operating problems encountered afterwards.


As you can see it is a very specialised procedure and there is a lot of intensive labour involved in Cerakoting a firearm. The successful preparation of the firearm is vital and it contributes to the durability and quality of the final finish. Cerakote is not a magical, bulletproof coating as some might think but it is more durable, rust and scratch resistant than any other coating commercially available.

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We as people, have our own personalities and identities and because of that we do not look the same. The attractive thing about Cerakote it just that, it gives you the opportunity to visually customize your firearms (old or new) to suit your personal taste and to distinguish your firearms from the hordes of similar factory finished firearms out there.

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If you are interested in having one or more of your firearms Cerakoted, contact Piet Van Wyk De Vries to make an appointment. Be warned though, he currently has a waiting list as his impeccable workmanship has made his services very popular.

Piet Van Wyk De Vries
Tel: 079 395 5724
Piet’s South African Cerakote Page

© 2015 Guns and Fly Fishing. All Rights Reserved.

Kinessa Johnson VETPAW Interview

Kinessa Johnson is much more than just a lady with a gun. She is a U.S. Army Veteran, diesel mechanic, weapons instructor and anti-poaching advisor who has a passion for the outdoors as well as wildlife conservation. She is also a part of the VETPAW (Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife) team that is currently operational in Africa.

VETPAW’s main objective is to conserve African wildlife, and they do this by using skilled U.S. Army Veterans to train and assist park rangers in anti-poaching operations and also to educate local communities about the harmful consequences of poaching.

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GAFF editor Hennie Viljoen got in touch with Kinessa to ask her some questions about herself and also to find out more about VETPAW.

Tell us more about yourself and your military experience?

Born and raised in Louisiana, I joined the army in 2007 and served for four and a half years. I was a diesel mechanic and I served in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in 2010. I grew up in a small southern town next to Fort Polk so I was always around the military community at a young age. I was a tomboy as a kid and played basketball and ran track.

How did you get involved with VETPAW?

I was doing a photoshoot for Skallywag Tactical, and a gentleman there getting a product shoot done came over and talked to me for a bit. He told me that he knew of a team looking for a tough female and that I should contact them. I got in contact with Oz and Ryan and I found out that they were searching for a female veteran to train female rangers in Africa, and now I’m here in Africa training rangers and conducting counter-poaching missions. Pretty exciting to say the least!

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How will you be educating people in Africa to create anti-poaching awareness?

While our mission is to work with park rangers, one thing I am passionate about is working with park rangers to educate poachers on why poaching needs to be stopped. I’ve found that many offenders don’t understand the devastating effects that poaching can and will have if these atrocities are not stopped.

It’s truly satisfying to see the emotional changes in a poacher when they begin to realize that poaching is a selfish and dishonorable act that is ruining the futures of their families and their communities. As much of a crime as poaching is, we need these poachers reformed and back in their communities to educate others.

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Which firearms will be used in your anti-poaching operations?

Park rangers typically carry AK-47s in Tanzania. This does vary from country to country.

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What is your favorite gun of all time?

I would have to say the grease gun… it’s just a fun gun to shoot.

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It’s quite obvious that you train hard, how do you keep fit in the African bush?

Haha about that… right now it’s kinda hard to get a good solid workout in. We don’t have any type of gyms or gym equipment here. So right now just a lot of body weight kind of stuff or I’ll throw on my plate carrier and use that. Out here it’s about improvising.

What music is currently on your playlist?

I have everything from country to metal… my mood determines what music I listen to.

What do you do for fun, other than combating poachers and protecting African wildlife?

Normally back in the states I spend a lot of time outdoors. I enjoy going fishing and camping, it’s nice to just cut the world out and enjoy nature. I also really enjoy shooting, traveling and just being involved in the Veterans community.

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What can the public do to support VETPAW and its anti-poaching initiatives?

If anyone wants to support VETPAW they can go to to donate or learn about more ways to support us. Spreading the word about our mission via social media is always helpful. We really appreciate the support everyone has given thus far.

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Where can we follow you on social media?

You can follow me and the VETPAW team on the following:

Twitter: @VETPAW, @KinessaJohnson
Facebook: VETPAW, Kinessa Johnson
Instagram: VETPAW, beautyintragedy

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