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“You’re not what I pictured”

Editorial January 6, 2011

Several years ago, while conducting interviews for firearms instructors to work for my training company Silvercore Inc. I found myself face to face with a well dressed petite woman who on appearances alone one would not associate the words “Firearms Instructor” with. I have a few rules when hiring, one of which is “don’t worry about trying to find the candidate with the perfect skill set, rather find the candidate with the perfect core values as the skill set can be taught”.  If we hire a candidate who knows the subject matter inside out but doesn’t have the core values their mother should have taught them, they won’t last long in our organization.  Bearing that in mind, I still had concerns about how this woman would be able to relate to a burly outdoorsman or have the voice and physical presence to control a firing line.  That was of course until we spoke and I had the opportunity to learn once again that you can’t judge a book by its cover.  Her name is Helen Rohrs and not only did she possess all of the important core values we require, but she also had a lot more to offer. Here is her story: “You’re not what I pictured.” By: Helen Rohrs. “You’re not what I pictured…” is the expression I usually get on the face of 20 or so students as I step in front of them for the first time. “You’re not what we pictured as a firearms instructor… actually you’re not what we pictured as someone who would be into guns at all…” I’ve become immune to the skeptical looks I get when I tell people I like guns or that I teach gun courses…or that I spent five years traipsing around the South African wilderness, as an armed, professional safari guide. I guess it makes sense. When people think about firearms, especially big guns, they don’t usually associate them with a female, 5’5,’’ 120lb, art school graduate. I didn’t become passionate about firearms out of the fun of it, but rather out of circumstance and necessity. I’ve been around guns, in one way or another most of my life. I was born and spent my childhood in South Africa, and have fond memories of shooting pistols with my grandfather, hunting guinea fowl with shotguns on my grandmother’s farm, and participating in the ever-fun tin can shooting championships with my brother and cousins. (I was the youngest out of the bunch, and as a hopeless tomboy…could never be left out of the fun the boys in the family were having.) Guns were never a mystery to me, or a forbidden-fruit type enigma, only seen on TV and movies. I really didn’t think anything of them at all. My family immigrated to Canada when I turned ten. After graduating high school, I immediately entered art school, where my weapon of choice became a swift paintbrush. After getting my degree I felt the African wilderness of my childhood beckoning me back. Without hesitation, I enrolled in a South African game ranger course. The training involved tenting it for a month, next to a dry riverbed in a South African game reserve. While sharing camp with lions, leopard, elephants, rhino, buffalo, and their kin; I learned the basic skills of animal tracking, bush craft and field guiding. As African safari guiding requires one to carry a rifle for protection against the potential of an animal attack, the day came when I found myself on a dusty patch of ground, the hot African sun, high in the sky above beating down on me, squinting at a makeshift cardboard target. An instructor handed me the rifle.. a hefty .458 bolt action. I pressed the butt against my shoulder and lowered my cheek to the wooden stock. My arms trembled with anticipation as I looked through the open sites and readied my finger on the trigger. As I slowly depressed the trigger the loud, jolting CRACK took me by surprise. I’m not even sure if I hit that target on that first shot, as the adrenaline surged through me. But, I knew at that moment, my life would never be the same. Upon completion of the course, I went on to spend some time at a private safari lodge, in the Sabi Sands (Greater Kruger) Game Reserve. There, while volunteering my services to the lodge and the surrounding rural communities outside the reserve, I really began to integrate myself into the environment. In return for my work, I received further training and gained experience from the local guides and trackers, many of whom had spent a lifetime living and working in the remote, surrounding area. It wasn’t long before I found myself in tune with the wildlife and the surroundings. As time passed, I was given the opportunity to work as an animal tracker. (Tracking game for tourists visiting the reserve to partake in photographic safaris.) Who would have thought? A young woman, taking on the job, traditionally afforded to the local tribal men from the region. I was given a great chance, and took to it like a “ravenous lioness on a fresh zebra kill”. When tracking wildlife, in a dangerous game area, one has to carry a high caliber rifle. Often we would find ourselves face to face with the “Big 5.” (Lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard.) Sometimes these encounters, on foot, would be hair-raising, and having a rifle close at hand, was a big comfort. It wasn’t long before my rifle, became an extension of myself. It never left my side as I spent my days, following spoor through acacia thickets and riverbeds, watching and listening for animal signs. After some time and a serious case of “Khaki Fever” (Khaki fever is the affectionate name given to the spell young women fall under as they fall in love with African game rangers, who wear Khaki uniforms… this is a whole story unto itself!), my soon to be Game Ranger husband and myself, moved on to a safari lodge in the Manyeleti Game Reserve. Here, I’d been hired to work as a full time safari guide. Interestingly, I was the first female guide that this lodge had ever taken on. Once again, I immersed myself into my work and the new reserve… which to me was a true, wild Eden. Within months I was promoted to Head Ranger, and was placed in charge of their Safari Department. Typical duties were to host and guide travelers, by 4X4 vehicle, or on foot, to seek out creatures both great and small. It was not only my responsibility to protect myself against the potential hazards Mother Nature had to offer in this unforgiving place, but also to also protect these people who trusted me to lead them through the wilds. It was now more than ever, that my .375 Holland and Holland Magnum rifle became my faithful tool. However, soon enough, I realized that not only was I to protect myself and the travelers against the wildlife, I had to also protect the wildlife and it’s environment from those wishing to do harm. It became customary to find myself chasing illegal poachers, during the darkness of night, through the dangerous bush. As soon as the radio calls would come through, asking for help with anti-poaching, I’d have to jump to action and once again my rifle was always in hand as I ran out the door… not knowing what I was going to encounter out there. Eventually, the time came when I was to return to Canada. I had to leave behind the African wilderness, the creatures, and the need to never be without my rifle at my side. The next couple of years were spent establishing a new life in the city. One day, an opportunity presented itself to me in an online ad, seeking instructors to teach firearms courses in and around Vancouver. Silvercore Training hired me to instruct firearm safety, hunting, handgun, and bear defense courses. Once again, I was in my element! My passion for firearms, along with my passion to share my knowledge and experience with people, melded together, as I embarked on this new journey, as a firearms instructor. As I stand before a classroom of students, quizzical looks on their faces, wondering what I am doing before them. I smile to myself, thinking of the journey that has brought me here, to this point and I can’t wait to see where this adventure of mine will take me next.    

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3 Responses to ““You’re not what I pictured””

  1. Avatar

    Not what you expected!!!, A lesson I learned that lesson a long, long time ago.

    I too come from SA, born and bred out of good old fashioned country stock to a family of merchants and gun dealers, I grew up around hunting and clay shooting, so my natural progression was to become a big game hunter all across SA and in places like South West Africa and the Kalahari.

    It was back in 1981, I was 23 years old at that time, it was nearing the end of August which is the end of hunting season in South Africa and the then South African territories, we were hunting gemsbok in South West Africa, and being near the end of the season the animals were all as bokbe@@k or gun shy as can be, and because of the very wide open plains in SWA, we could not get closer that between 750 to 1000 meters of the heards, so easy shots were out of the question.

    Now being of ex SADF and fully trained as a skerpskuter, (Sharp Shooter or sniper), I knew my way around long range shooting and was considered a master at the long shots, but as anyone who has hunted gemsbok knows, this is not an antelope you want to not bring down with a single or first shot as once its adrenaline starts to pump, when winged, this bad boy is going to run a long way before he stops to rest or drop, and this will take you days to track and find, and that is if you are not beaten to it by the jackals or the lions or both, and once you have winged it, whether you find it or not, you are paying the farmer for the kill whether you find it or not and that is going to be a hefty price, and this is what brings me to my lesson of “Not what I expected”

    We had just completed our fourth day of the hunt and we still had not made a single kill, we were sitting around our campfire just as the sun was starting to set when the old farmer rolled up in his Landcruiser, we got to talking and he spent the better part of the evening drinking up our Klippies and coke while laughing at us rooineke (Afrikaans word for an English Speaking city dwelling know nothing rednecks) when he offered so kindly to assist us with our hunt, he would, out of the kindness of his heart, have his leading tracker / hunter come out and join us the next morning to assist us on the hunt, with that promise made and most of our booze in his belly, the farmer set of back to his farm house some 20 kilometres away, yes that is how big some of the farms were back there.

    At around 5:30am the next morning this really beat up old HiLux 4×4 bakkie, (Toyota pickup truck), came rolling into our camp, what happened next is what started one of the most mind blowing hunt experiences I have ever experienced, out of the truck jumps the most stunningly beautiful 5 foot petite blond bombshell of a girl no more than 20 years old, bare foot and sporting a bright floral summer frock and long naturally wavy dirty blond hair, and in her best broken English tells us that it is she that is here to “assist” us oornosils (morons) on how to hunt gemsbok in South West Africa.

    With tongue in cheek we broke camp and set off on the days hunt, we found our first heard at around 6:30am, we were a long way off but as we tried to draw nearer the game started to move off away from us, we tried this for about an hour to no avail, all the while the farmer’s daughter quietly observed all that we were doing.

    After about an hour of this she looked at me and laughed, she cocked her head and said that if we were going to carry on our hunt in this manner, we would defiantly be going home empty handed, with that she stepped back to her beat up old truck and proceeded to extract from it an old Mauser K98 8mm rifle,(or 8X57 as it was called then), that was more beat up than her truck old truck was, I mean this was an old WWI millsurp rifle that we would normally have cannibalised for its action for a custom build if it was at all salvageable, she took a running leap into the back of the truckbed of her truck, stepped up behind the cab and took up a position looking down that long barrel of the K98. Now it is important to note that in SA we only hunt the males of the species and never the females or the young, and due to this, at long range it’s not always easy to spot and single out a specific animal from behind a rifle that is not even scoped, as your target, she rested up behind that large rifle for no more than 5 seconds before we heard the loud snap of that K98, 3 seconds later we saw a large male go down knees first, stay like that for a few seconds and then slowly roll over on to its side no longer moving at all.

    Now that would have been a difficult shot for anyone with any reasonable shooting skills to make even with a scoped gun, but this tiny petite little blond had just made a shot, (and we did measure it), from almost 700 meters on a rifle that was designed for military use of between 50 to 100 meters in the hands of a trained WWI soldier in less than ten seconds and with the precision of a marksman I have yet to meet, that includes all the military experts who are doing it with their 50BMG’s or Lapua’s, we were amazed at how this young girl could shoot, and she did it another three times over the next 2 days and although I went home empty handed myself, my buddies did not as she bagged a beast for each of them, but I did get to dance all night long with one of the finest sokkie jollers I have ever come across, at the local dance hall on our last night there when this amazing young lady traded her barefoot soles for a mini and a pair of pumps she called her dancing shoes.
    And that is the endearing lesson I learned in what is “Not what you expected!!!

  2. Avatar

    What an outstanding story. I have a female friend who is an avid shooter and outdoorsperson and she absolutely loved it. You can’t judge a book by it’s cover nor should we ever underestimate the power of a “small” calibre. Hope her journey treats her well 🙂

    • Avatar

      This post has been around longer than me, I have read it several times as it pops up when I search all, an interesting story but getting old, guess I am just dumb, don’t get the point after several years of looking at it, you post something you move on

      Sure this will get a rise from some but for me, need something different when I search all


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