Focus on the foresight whilst valiantly struggling to keep them within three or four compass points of that ethereal and ill-defined object that you know deep down inside to be a target. Animate or otherwise. Gently yank the trigger back, whilst slamming both eyes shut to make the whole world go away, and simultaneously damning the ancestors who begot you. Sound at all familiar? The day after the night before. Whether in the bush or on the target range, many of us are no doubt familiar with the struggle to function within that partial vacuum which is, well, a hangover. A hangover, perhaps under the relentless Zambezi sun. Or maybe a hangover on the 400m range, where all manner of people are inconsiderately making very loud noises. (Why can’t people learn to shoot quietly?) In other words, the last place on earth you’d want to be with that hangover.
And what of the shot? Was it followed by the mirthful and mocking chortling of an unscathed antelope melting gleefully into the bush, or was it perhaps a V-bull? Both happen. To compose the perfect shot calls for a perfectly composed shooter. And it’s a fact of life that alcohol forms part of the sub-culture of shooting, be it a ten-day hunt or a two-day national championship.
The relative wisdom of consuming vast quantities of alcohol, either when handling firearms or sharing one’s space with myriad creatures, which for some reason or another don’t always have our best interests at heart, aside for the moment, most shooters at one time or another fall foul of the dreaded “day after”.
How much alcohol is too much alcohol, and why? The Road Traffic Act does not allow one to drive (har,har,har) with more than 80mg of alcohol per 100 cubic centimetres of blood - and that is a concentration of less than 0.1%! On the National Range complex in Harare, one may not shoot after having consumed any alcohol. Definitions and end points may vary, along with each individual’s response to a given number of vats of ale, but in broad, general terms, most of us remain relaxed and at peace with the world up to about 100mg/cubic centimetre - above that and we qualify for a career in politics: loss of short-term memory, impaired judgement, confusion, disorientation, anxiety and impaired motor control. Nearing 300mg/cubic centimetre few of us could function well enough to be anywhere near a firearm or deal with any of the unexpected emergencies which can arise in the bush.
The sleep which follows the consumption of large amounts of alcohol is disturbed sleep - the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep from which we derive much rest is greatly reduced, and the repercussions may be long-lived.
Throughout the period of alcohol consumption, and after, the portion of the brain which releases hormones to control the body’s reabsorption of water in the kidneys is inhibited by the alcohol, and this brings about a gradual dehydration, as precious water is diverted into the bladder to be lost as urine, rather than being taken back into the bloodstream. Accompanying the lost water are quantities of mineral salts which the body needs to function properly. The end result is an imbalance of the body’s electrolytes, or basic biochemicals of metabolism.
The alcohol itself is also a problem, for the liver must work overtime - in addition to the dozen or so other vital tasks which it must perform - in order to detoxify the blood. Alcohol is processed by enzymes, the body’s biological catalysts, first into acetaldehyde, and then into acetic acid, before eventually entering into a final pathway where it may be respired into carbon-dioxide and water. Both acetaldehyde and acetic acid are, in their own right, toxic and adversely affect the system during their removal. (No doubt I will be accused of not only trying to justify my actions, but also pointed out as living proof to the contrary, it is worth mentioning that alcohol is metabolised as an energy source, and not converted to fat, as many believe).
So, after an evening’s celebrations following that one-shot kill in poor visibility, or the trophy that goes with a 100/10X score, your liver would probably like to be transplanted into some nice Taliban policeman in Afghanistan, and your kidneys will be mightily glad that there are two of them, and the rest of you will have failed to appreciate that brilliant sunrise even if you saw it - a combination of a lack of restful sleep, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance. With luck, it’s the last day of a fine hunt or the day before was the end of the Nationals, and you will not be called upon to do much of anything requiring alacrity and agility, mental or otherwise. With less luck you may be awakened as I was one fine morning at Kanyemba some years back, after five great days on the Zambezi river and one great night in camp, by two little green monkeys standing next to the stretcher. (Calming down, I vowed never, EVER to again buy a green mozzie net - though sadly, according to other eyewitness accounts, it appears that there was only one monkey..).