Leadership & Philosophy

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To be replaceable, that’s the best that I can do for The Powder Keg. That means sharing my information, knowledge and learning.

To be replaceable, that’s the best that I can do for my family. That means ensuring that I leave behind an orderly space.

“A true measure of a man is what he can leave behind, for what he can become.” Victor Hugo

Empathy is a key component of leadership. I find that generally kids today have less empathy and they tend to be more self centered. Empathy, in my opinion, is nurtured by our interactions with nature, and not from being behind a computer!

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Encouraging ethical hunting and sport shooting among all

I start this BLOG with the penguin lesson,  relevant in most real life situations and relevant to The Powder Keg initiatives of real change.

10% of the penguin colony are leaders searching new territory, 80% are undecided, while 10% are blockers refusing change. The Powder Keg is seeking ambassadors in the 10% to focus on the undecided 80%, to pull them to the side of leading change, while ignoring the 10% blockers who require inordinate energy to change.

By communicating this message The Powder Keg may risk losing a page like or worse, a customer;  but that is acceptable if it means getting to the bigger issues that matter.  By focusing on the 80% who only need reassurance that change will improve their space we can increase the hunting and sporting shooting fraternity exponentially.

More and more our love for the hunt and the adrenaline of sport shooting is threatened by the anti-gun establishment and animals rights activists. If we do not react in a different way then we cannot expect a different outcome.  Doing nothing is 100% wrong.  We have a responsibility to protect our space in hunting and shooting and to nurture and grow interest among a larger group of people.

There are thousands of hunters and sport shooters that know this industry better than we do; all we ask is that of the 10 concepts we introduce, search those 2 that might be game changers and don’t focus on the 8 that may be stupid because we know less than you do.

There are numerous articles defending our rights and communicating facts around the contribution that ethical hunting makes to conservation. But the needle has not moved, we slowly losing ground.  Educating and reversing the ignorance of anti gun and anti hunting groups is impossible without increasing our numbers and gaining support for hunting and sport shooting from the entire demographics of our population.

Social media is an ideal platform for false coverage of guns, hunting and sport shooting.  Extremism and a few individual lunatic gun shootings further push sentiment against legal gun ownership. We have to do things differently, with purpose and with heart.  We need new ambassadors.

This BLOG is focused on encouraging more people of all races to get involved in ethical and responsible hunting; and sport shooting.  The traditional group of hunters and sport shooters are a white male dominated group. In countries like the USA and SA we tend to associate certain communities possession of guns with violence. We must be united with proper initiatives to halt and reverse the growing anti-gun sentiment.

Dr Danie Craven took rugby to Argentina and today they are capable of beating traditionally recognized teams. Mandela wore a Springbok rugby jersey because he understood the power of sport to unite. Look at the increased black talent in cricket and rugby which were traditionally white sports.

I recently went to the West Rand shooting range near The Powder Keg.  Every shooter was white and the range officer a black gentleman. It was a privilege to witness the comradery and the adherence to instructions from the Range Officer proving many different values within the shooting community and between races.  It is time to think out of the box.  To behave differently. To be proactive. 

At The Powder Keg we have approached national shooting institutions to work together on development programs, but progress has been pedestrian. We identified a talented and aspiring black trap shooter to sponsor with a shotgun but we were unable to conclude with his employer. Time out.

Our suppliers are supporting The Powder Keg initiatives to promote responsible hunting and sport shooting among all South Africans.  Our actions will be consistent with our words.

I have enjoyed many days in the bush with Manne Dipico and Anthony Rooiland. We we were continuously  entertained by Manne with his incredible sense of humor and humility. Anthony is a great shot while Manne was a man of two extremes, the best dressed hunter our group ever seen but also the worst shot. Manne simply loved to be in the outdoors with hunters even though he preferred not to shoot. We need such ambassadors.

The future of ethical hunting and sport shooting relies on attracting more responsible hunters and sport shooters into our world. Nothing more and nothing less. The gun industry in South Africa will die a slow and painful death if we are not bold and urgent in encouraging more black shooters to participate. Our industry feels the pain of the recession more than any other; have you ever asked yourself why? 

Challenged for my encouragement of woman in hunting and sport shooting

In a recent post (hunting wild boar in Croatia) I expressed an opinion on the need to encourage more woman folk to participate in what for many years has been a male dominated sport. I appreciate the feedback in whatever form or content, and decided best to respond in a Blog under the category of “leadership and philosophy”.

I have strong opinions, in the corporate world I would tell my teams “my opinion vs. your opinion, I win. Your facts vs. my opinion, you win”. I respect others points of view but I must be convinced with facts. I have no personal ego for my position and will change when others have a better way forward.

I have received no creditable feedback that changes The Powder Keg commitment to encouraging woman in shooting. 

Ego, another leadership pitfall where woman mostly fare better than us men.  Ego is a big downfall in becoming an exceptional leader because ego gets people to take positions, the deeper the argument the more entrenched positions become. People with strong egos typically keep digging their hole deeper. Maybe Trump has a bigger ego than rocket man.

I learnt hard lessons after moving to Europe; I was too quick to judge. You must live in a country to understand WHY before opening your mug. For instance, I was extremely critical of the fact that woman had 12 months of maternity leave and companies had to protect their positions during this absence.  I came to Europe with a tunnel vision of my perspective of how things should be; just as I was ignorant about custom guns.

In managing the European business I found that woman have extreme competence in business, dare I say more than many men folk. Finding competent workers is a big challenge that leaders have; for me to protect the positions of competent woman during their maternity leave was worth every cent.

I am reminded of the penguin story; 10% of penguins look for a better place, 80% wait to see which way to go, and 10% are blockers.  For hunting and sport shooting to gain a better image we should focus on the 80% and get them to our side. Forget the 10% blockers. Woman will be influential in that 80%.

In Slovenia on average 99% of woman work, it has been like that for generations. The system nurtured that outcome. Woman never compromise their independence. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction; in my opinion the men are no-longer “manne” and that is not a positive trend either. Fewer and fewer younger people are joining the hunting families (in Slovenia); they were too slow to involve woman and now the woman have got them by the “balls” and the woman are not interested in shooting.  Too late. 

A reason that I quickly came to recognize the strength of woman in Slovenia was due to a precondition that all my direct reports had to be stronger in their functional roles than I was. Many woman fulfilled that criteria. Good leaders have a high level of self-confidence; with self confidence they surround themselves with strong teams.

In Austria in recent years a greater number of woman are enrolled in the hunting system than men. Woman folk want to enjoy the outdoors too. Ask professional hunters here and they will tell you that woman quickly become competent marks-woman because they do not have that testosterone and ego which can be a handicap in precision shooting.

Unlike all other sports where testosterone gives men the advantage; in shooting it can be the opposite. Off-course this is not relevant in every shooting discipline; like when shooting guns with heavy recoil, strength does count.

Nations that enjoy the greatest woman rights, in my opinion, will have the greatest advancement.  Children spend most of their childhood with mothers.  Characters are mostly formed as children. Minds are the most absorbing when young. Spending those early years with a respected and competent mother count a lot; hence I question the advancement of those nations that depress woman’s rights and rely on oil reserves only.

Maybe I am an Alpha male and that is what allows me to empower woman and still know that I am in charge:) Oysters not needed but they are good.

One of my leadership philosophies has been “2 balls in the hand vs. 20 in the air”; probably because I am an Alpha male I am limited to doing one thing at a time. I have observed that woman (and Omega men) have a better ability to multi task.  I am not suggesting that is better, simply an observation.

We shoot better when our actions are subconscious; in the conscious state we are deliberate, slower and clumsy. Maybe our testosterone might keep us men away from the subconscious state more than woman,  meaning that we need more practice (repetition) to be in that ideal state of precision shooting.

Congratulations Lauren Parsons for your silver medal in the ladies division of the Field Target World Championships held in Wales!  We pleased to read your reliance on Kahles optics in your achievement.

Criticism for not showing shot animals on our Facebook page

There have been observations and some criticism that The Powder Keg does not publish pictures of shot animals on its Facebook page. There is no easy answer but we have chosen to limit pictures of shot animals for a few reasons.

It is partly about trying to understand today’s connection with people.  For example, although the anti-hunting establishment are dangerously uninformed about hunting we seek ways of positively influencing them vs. giving them material to put at risk our passion for the outdoors and hunting.

The anonymity of social media gives the opportunity to publish widely misleading information without consequences. But we (the hunting fraternity) also “shoot ourselves in the foot” from time to time by posting unsavory hunting scenes and videos which do us harm.

Paul Luff and I are proud hunters and every animal we shoot is shot in a legal and ethical manner. We know the contribution that hunting makes to conservation.  By not publishing pictures of shot animals we are not “sitting on the fence” … and here is WHY.

The Powder Keg is not focused on hunting alone, and we are not focused only on selling products and services; we are passionate about selling an experience, a purpose and a lifestyle.

We are passionate around getting more people of all sexes and all races involved in hunting and sport shooting.  We are passionate about responsible and ethical hunting practices. We are passionate about changing the negative image around guns. We do not expect overnight success. 

Money is not our key driver; we believe that relationships are our real capital; we are focused on fostering relationships that will bring new hunters and new sport shooters into this great space.

There are reasons in favor of publishing pictures with legally and ethically hunted animals, “fishing where the fish are”. With every decision there are compromises. Twenty – 30 years ago we were encouraged to get “dirty and rough” in rugby scrums and now with cameras you a scorned upon for being sent off.  We have to change with the times, sometimes whether we like it or not. The business we are building is wider than hunting alone.

I have hunted in different countries and in all they have their own culture around hunting. Keyboard “bashers” have no right to impose their cultures on others provided hunting is conducted in a legal and ethical manner – BUT THEY DO! In every country I have hunted in their are rules, regulations and laws around the management of game.

Our Pricing Strategy

The clarity of our mission, vision and strategies; and our principles of transparency, fairness and consistency make it easy to explain our pricing strategy. And we are proud to share this. Even though we operate in a retail space we limit specials in favor of consistent and fair pricing. Creating trust is an important element of our team.

We do have product promotions where we aim to increase product exposure. Promotional awareness is communicated on Facebook and via email to our data base. Our distributors are informed in advance and they are encouraged to participate in promotions.

There are instances where we decide to discontinue a product line or product brand and offer prices to clear the goods. We do not expect many clearance sales because we test products thoroughly in advance and we stay with the golden thread of our strategy. We do however make mistakes, what matters is less the mistakes vs. how quickly we get back on the mountain.

In some cases we change our strategy like we did for our 2 brand strategy in clothing; we will no-longer carry an entry level local brand because this space is too crowded. Our resources are better spent elsewhere, hence our current pricing to clear clothing and focus on Chevalier. Clothing takes space, we do not have a space issue, but space must anyway be used effectively. Normal clothing can be purchased in most shops. We focus our attention on a premium quality and style of clothing from Chevalier that is not otherwise available.

Pricing of our imported products are adjusted when the Rand moves +-5% from the last adjustment in order to have pricing relevant and current to global pricing. For example, our optics cost the same in SA as in any other foreign country. The days are over where every country had its own pricing level, internet has created a global trading village. Rand weakness & volatility of 2016 was costly, but like Kahles optics we in business for the long term.

Huntex Gallagher Estate was an example of our discipline to keep to our business principles. Everyone around us was discounting products, we even had a first time gun buyer say that he was advised by a dealer to rather buy a 300 H&H vs. his choice of a 30-06.  We focus on value and life-long customers vs. short term dumping of excess products. The success of our pricing strategy reflects in a 40 year legacy, we in business for the long term.

Our customers asked ….

When customers ask there are normally more with the same thoughts and questions. In this blog I will address why The Powder Keg stopped selling and trading in old firearms when others have started to do this as a new initiative.

When we bought The Powder Keg from the estate of the late Dr Lucas Potgieter there were approximately 500 second hand firearms in the safe. I best describe the situation as fog; a distraction to running a disciplined business with proper controls and clarity of vision.

Every business operates under different circumstances; good strategy in one business is often bad strategy in another. Also, good strategy is normally a differentiated approach; a copy strategy is normally not good strategy.

When fixing a business, do it quick. The number of second hand firearms on our premises was a cancer that could not be cured in a reasonable time frame given the licence procedures in SA. Our business needed surgery.  We boxed 2 crates of our old pistols and after 6 months of trying to have these destroyed we gave them to another dealer with a different strategy.

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Similarly we got rid of our second hand rifles with little or no value and asked customers to collect their storage firearms. The storage of firearms is a good business if that is your main focus and if you have a warehouse for storage. We needed to focus elsewhere.

The average value of the 500 firearms approximated R1,000 each. At best we could realize an average margin of R250 per firearm.  Consider the effort to sell, complete license applications, control stock and the cost of insurance while compromising stock control and the opportunity cost of not doing what matters. Waste, we had to cut fast and deep.

A lesson I learnt from Carlyle Private Equity in the financial crisis of 2007- 2009, cut deep and then cut again, better to make corrections later than not being around to have that chance. My biggest frustration in the firearms industry is that you cannot make legacy issues a 1 day problem; you simply cannot get rid of an accumulation of unwanted firearms quickly.

In every decision you have benefit and compromise. Employees who were part of The Powder Keg for many years could not understand why we refused to compromise on keeping second hand firearms.  To get rid of the second firearms we needed decisive action, no grey areas,  even though in some instances (viewed in isolation) this was a lost profit. We had to be clear and decisive on our goals and time to implement.

In China there is a no drink and drive policy (ZERO). No grey area. A limit allows for subjective evaluation i.e. “I should be fine with one more”. The same rule for new drivers in many European countries; kids in these countries will not risk losing their license; there is nothing not to understand about a ZERO allowance rule.

Similarly, when the production director of a manufacturing plant in our business needed to reduce the cost of overtime worked he banned overtime and stomached the impact of those instances where there was a cost to production shortages. At The Powder Keg we implemented lessons learnt from our past.

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To be a good leader you must be courageous. At The Powder Keg we have clear strategy and we focused on that golden thread. Selling second hand firearms might be a future strategy at The Powder Keg but not until we are perfect and successful in other more important matters.

Doc Lucas was in the business for 40 years, he sold second hand guns and he stored everyone’s firearms, why would we now consider this bad strategy? New eyes are important in all businesses. If you throw a frog into hot water he will jump out. If you place a frog in cold water and slowly heat the water the frog will cook to death because the slow temperature increase is not recognized as an event to act upon.

A police inspection that took 5 hours is now possible in 30 minutes.  As we continue to implement lean principles at The Powder Keg we should get a police inspection down to 15 minutes – our next goal.

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Huntex 2017 – TPK Strategy

The Powder Keg strategy for Huntex is focused on brand awareness and brand building of products that we represent exclusively or those products that are differentiated. We will not duplicate our store at Huntex; we are focused on long term value creation and not short term commercial suicide.

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The main reason that The Powder Keg will exhibit is to create brand awareness of those brands that we represent exclusively AND where these brands are not exhibiting themselves.

The Powder Keg does what it believes is the right thing vs. “follow the crowd”. To be noticed you must step outside of the crowd or else you are lost in the noise. Huntex in the past was a commercial playground of specials which in our opinion is short term commercial suicide or simply marketing ignorance.

The Powder Keg as seen from Hendrik Potgieter Road

The Powder Keg has chosen a hybrid approach in order to cater for visitor expectations.  We will sell 1 model (max 2)  in each of the brands that we represent at special pricing. We will communicate in advance on Facebook those Huntex  promotional products and prices allowing allocated stock to be sold to our existing customer base before Huntex. Key benefits – loyalty to existing customers and limiting the distraction caused by selling at Huntex.

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Not what is said, but what is heard

The Powder Keg (TPK) launched it’s new website 6 months back and it’s Facebook page about 4 months back. We cannot be the best in such a short time, but what is important is that we are better today than we were yesterday.

Family of elephants marching through savannah at dusk with glorious view of sunbeams breaking through impressive cloudscape

The new generation that have grown up with social media, in my opinion, do not have the patience to read more than a few lines of a posting on Facebook. I wanted to check myself, to see if our messages were being heard. Nina, daughter of a great family in Slovenia has often “liked” the TPK Facebook posts, hence I decided to ask her to articulate in 3 schematics what she believed were the main messages we delivered.

Nina’s first observation was that the team of The Powder Keg practice abundant thinking, she likens this with “out of the box thinking”. In her words “you always considering to do something that others do not do”.

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Nina is a lover of animals and when she was younger I had to tell her that we only hunted animals that were sick. Older, and with a more balanced and realistic approach to life, she is now a believer that responsible hunting is important to conservation. Many species would be extinct if they had no commercial value and if proceeds from hunting was not available for conservation.

Her second observation was that The Powder Keg focuses on shooting products that improve shooting results.  Her pictorial of this was a target with shots in the zone (below). Customer value should be measured in the field.

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I did ask Nina to describe what words she thought best described the TPK culture and business way because research has shown that customers get to learn and understand the culture of a business from Facebook postings and blogs.

Nina’s last of the 3 pictorials to describe The Powder Keg are depicted in the photo below. Likely she was influenced by her overhearing many business calls and her deeper understanding of my personality; hence this outcome may not to be the influence of her reading only.

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A lesson I learned in this process was that Nina made no reference to customers.  The Powder Keg lives “customers first, always” but we need to align our messages to ensure that we are being heard. We only exist because of our customers, without orders we close shop. My takeaway, The Powder Keg must become more customer eccentric in words and in actions.

Demi shooting with Dave Hurr

Pioneering new spaces

Getting greater women involvement in sport shooting and hunting. 

A part of The Powder Keg culture is pushing the boundaries; being proactive allows us to influence what others do not consider.  Paul Luff and the local team do the hard and important work of growing our existing business and looking after our existing customers.

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I use my remoteness to seek areas of strategic growth. We are focused on increasing the size of the market and not only fighting for a piece of the existing market. Our initiatives seek to engage people of all sexes and races to participate in the amazing sport of shooting. 

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I start with this headline on the Clay Target Shooting Association of South Africa’s website, “welcome to the thrilling and visually exciting sport of clay target shooting – you are now connecting with one of the oldest and safest sports in the world!” We must contribute to improving the image of “guns and hunting” because responsible hunters and gun owners are being tarnished through irresponsible, ignorant and biased media reporting.

With that introduction the point of this BLOG, women shooters . Generally us men have bigger egos than women and this is immensely restrictive to our advancement. For example, the advice to men about starting the sport of 3 gun shooting is “toss your ego aside and jump into the arena”. In getting women involved in shooting we fortunately do not have the ego hurdle to climb. We do however have to be a supportive community to show that getting involved is easy for women.

The Powder Keg is a family store. The golden thread of our business is not “GUNS” but includes creating an environment where women feel at home; buying gear for themselves or simply being supportive of their families involvement in the sport of hunting and shooting. Who better to uplift the image of guns and shooting than women.

In Austria alone there are more than 12000 registered female hunters, and growing. Some Austrians concede that women may be better hunters than men, their reasoning includes women’s respect for the animal; and that they make sure that the meat, the fat and the fur are not wasted.

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The point I am trying to make is not which sex is a better hunter, but to point out that more and more women in Europe are choosing to spend their free time in the nature, gun in hand and dog at side, hunting for food, fun and companionship.

In Europe women hunters contribute to keeping the old huntsmen’s traditions alive and keeping us men folk better behaved, although not all hunters like it, especially hunters with old habits and fixed paradigms.

I think women have improved hunting in Europe, made it more elegant, they are less interested in hunting just for “trophies” to hang on the wall, instead they hunt primarily for food, camaraderie and because of their love for nature.

The Powder Keg stocks a range of Chevalier hunting clothing for women that is functional and elegant. Our goal was more, a gun that would be a “signature gun” for women hunters.  Research suggests that women are more precise with their shots vs. just blasting away, hence The Powder Keg decided on a single shot break-down gun; a type more suited to creating an elegant, light weight and short rifle.

Here is a “sneak peak”, a 308 Win weighing in just over 2 kg without scope. The gun is that well designed that recoil is no issue despite the light weight. We did not want to insult women with a “signature gun” in a .22 caliber:)) We fitted a scope of 1″ tube diameter that complimented the sleek and elegant lines of this round body action, and there is no better 1″ illumination scope than a Kahles Helia 3 scope.

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I am hopeful that through The Powder Keg initiatives to get more women shooters and women hunters involved my daughter will rekindle a flame that was part of many days that we spent in the veld together.

Demi shooting with Dave Hurr

Demi shooting with Dave Hurr

The Powder Keg and Kahles are proud to be associated with Lauren Parsons, ladies Field Target World Champion in 2015 and SA Ladies National Champion in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Lauren shoots with the Kahles 1050FT scope. We will join with Lauren to support initiatives for a greater involvement of women shooters and women hunters.

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Straight Shooting on Leadership

This time of the year is about reflection and adjustment in our commitments for 2017. I like to make public what I commit to because I find this keeps me “honest”. When your goals are private, breaking them is hidden and easier. Take the silencer off your gun when committing to 2017 goals.

Our Powder Keg vision for 2017 is unchanged, to be the best run and most respected shooting outfitter in South Africa for our customers. Our mission is to provide our customers with the highest value price-to-performance equipment and service. Accurate shooting requires a steady hold; we holding our vision and mission.

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We are not the biggest in the industry so we will “shoot outnumbered and WIN“. People talk about wanting to win, we need to win.  Winning is defined in many different ways, this is the reason why we are clear about our vision and our mission. We will be “best in class” in chosen segments; you can be “best in class” with the proper shooting gear and practice. Most of us do not have the resources to be “best in class” in all shooting disciplines and definitely not the time; by choosing and focusing on a discipline you have a chance to “shoot outnumbered and WIN“.

I want to reflect on our team and teamwork, a reference often flogged to death; for me what is important is to be part of a winning team because who wants to be part of a losing team?  First and foremost in our team is the instilled family values like honesty, integrity and respect for others.  With this core we embark on continuous improvement in 2017.

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I got involved in The Powder Keg because of a passion in fine guns, the outdoors and the value I could bring by being resident in Europe. My reflections after 1 year – I am more passionate than ever about fine shooting gear but I do not like elements of the industry such as the licensing process and the prerequisite for employees to have a Competency to Trade which limits the pool of people available to hire.  I understand the need but it is immensely prohibitive.

I like to build a team balanced with experience from within the industry and new ideas of people from outside of the industry.  My last CEO came from another industry into our leadership team of many years experience within our industry, he said “look for those 2 things in the 10 things I say which could be materially beneficial to the business and don’t focus on those 8 things that might be nonsense given I don’t yet have experience within your industry”. I have seen people who never fired a gun before pick up a firearm and shoot accurately. 

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Paul Luff (managing The Powder Keg) and I are different in important ways; if we were the same then there would be need for only one of us.  The distance that separates us does create frustrations for each of us, but this is the reason that neither of us can afford to be average. We have to add value in different dimensions.  It is critical however that we share the same vision and the same urgency to achieve, much like a rifle where the most accurate barrel, the most effective receiver and the highest grade stock must be in perfect balance for optimum results

This brings me to straight shooting on leadership. I have strong opinions, my opinions your opinions I win, BUT your facts my opinions, YOU win.  Leadership tends to be biased to either an intellectual approach or a relationship approach. Although I qualified as a Chartered Accountant my style is more relationship than intellectual which probably explains why I only lasted 6 months in a finance role.  My role in The Powder Keg must be more intellectual (living abroad) because Paul Luff is more relationship, key to our customer value.

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7x57R -K95 Stutzen – straight shooting

What I search in a team is urgency to act and a desire to learn and improve. Without urgency you don’t change anything.  Leaders who are self confident find it natural to lead; they don’t have a personal ego to satisfy and instinctively take responsibility for mistakes; giving others credit for successes. Confident leaders surround themselves with strong teams while insecure leaders hide behind weak teams. Professional hunters must have patience to succeed well; retail is alive and you need urgency to succeed.   

The leader of every function reporting to me had to be stronger in his function than I was. If I was smarter then it was not a reflection of my smartness but rather validation that I did not have the strongest players in key roles. I always encouraged vigorous debate, never personal, but at a time there must be consensus or majority vote. This eliminated the excuse or reason for passage talk. Toxic people did not fit our environment. If I hunt dangerous game the PH must be far more accomplished than I. 

Ego is a big cause of failures because it causes people to take positions, their ego gets deeper and deeper entrenched in positions and they become defensive of bad decisions.  I have a strong ego in the vision and mission of The Powder Keg but not in me personally, so I adopt to facts that reflect a better way to my opinions.  My advice when egos get entrenched in positions is to stop digging. Climb a tree and make sure you chopping in the right forest. Stop shooting, pause and reflect.

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Leadership by example is critical, never under estimate your impact on others. If you are not showing the way how can you expect others to get stuff done?  Effective leaders motivate their teams; I am yet to see a leader who does not lead by example motivate a team. We need to get staff to work to their potential and not to their compulsory minimum. I have not had success changing people, especially older people who are generally more entrenched in their habits. Fit a square peg in a square hole or find a round peg if you only have a round hole.  You cannot force a 30-06 round into a 308 just like you will not change a leader who’s profile does not match your businesses need. Change the gun!

Leaders have “balls”. Many employees in senior positions in large global corporations are followers (you need them also … sometimes).  I recall the HR Director of a $2B company I worked for answer to the question of a new incoming CEO about what we wanted to achieve under new private equity ownership and he said “to prove to the company that sold us off that we could make it”. I do not what to hunt Buffalo with a PH who is a “pussy cat”.

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I am very forthright, probably something I got from my mother; she called a spade a spade. I encourage everyone on my teams to be transparent and forthright. We all screw up (provided only once and we learn from it), there is no point to hide and try solve the mess yourself while risking much more in not getting help early on. Being too proud can have serious consequences.  Agree with your PH about how he will back you up before you take the shot.

I was sometimes a fish out of water in the American company I worked for because I said what I believed in while many said what they thought the CEO wanted to hear. I resonate with parts of Donald Trump, I find his break with the establishment refreshing. I am not agreeing with his policies but for the first time I see an American leader saying what he believes in vs. what would have been politically correct to say. I build teams who are kick ass and not suck ass. When shooting it is the result that counts and not how you got there.

This reminds me of when I said to my past CEO – many who agreed with his point of view on something were the same people who agreed with an opposite perceptive of the previous CEO, and without any debate. He told me that he liked that because it meant that he did not have to negotiate with them. There is no right or wrong on leadership styles but this behavior in my opinion sub-optimizes organizational value.

'I need you to be more decisive when agreeing with me.'

I rather be respected than liked (although both are often linked). Successful people “know how to say NO“. I find people with a personality bias of “to be liked” cannot say NO. They will, with good intentions, “give the house away”. I have experienced individuals with a “like me” personality to be trustworthy but mostly I do not have confidence in their ability to run successful operations because they cannot deal with tough issues. For them it is easier to say YES than NO.

Energy is vital and this is the reason I don’t like to be around negative people – they drain my energy. My advice is run away from negative people. Positive people are more proactive and therefore have a larger circle of influence. Every organisation is more or less divided into the 20% who pursue change, 60% who are not sure (on the fence) and the remainder 20% who flatly reject change. I focus on the undecided 60% to get them to pursue change and eliminate the toxic because they risk pulling the 60% their way.

My advice on change is get to love change because it is the only constant in life. If we do nothing then we going backwards because everyone else is going forwards. I often say “just do something because doing nothing is 100% wrong”.  All I am doing is emphasizing the need for change because there are always better ways to get ahead.  If you serious about shooting reload (if you don’t already), this is a sure way to get ahead and love it. 

When I want something done I give it to a busy person.  I find that busy people don’t want to be average, they possess drive.  For those less energetic I always encourage them to start because for them having started is to have done half the job.  Getting in the car to drive to the highest mountain in Slovenia was already half the climb for us. 2016 was our start and the beginning of a great era at The Powder Keg.

you not Slovene until you have climbed Triglav, the highest peak. Here I am with Jeff, the US Military Attache to Slovenia at the time

Triglav, the highest peak

I have a strong bias for discipline and process. I don’t tolerate exceptions, not for me nor for any of the staff. I dislike nepotism so prevalent in businesses today.  This becomes a cancer in business. Like in sport like in business, if you going to make a mistake make it quickly and get on with it.  Cancer in business must be cut out, it is better to cut too deep and come back vs. not being around to come back. When attacked by a lion it is better to shoot than not being around to explain why.

Discipline starts with oneself. I weigh the same at 53 as I did when I was 23. I am as fit now as ever in my life (not that I am very fit but I maintained a level). Off-course genes count a lot but as my dad warned me, we don’t have good genes.  I have never made my genes an excuse, it simply meant greater “grit” to get ahead.  I am pictured below after having cycled up to the top of a ski resort called Krivavec. I had to include the picture because I have never had the courage to repeat. Shooting is a great sport that you can improve in with age.

bicycle-krvavec

Success breeds success; the most successful people understand what matters and then they focus on what matters. It is important to empower staff and have them grow. I used to like hearing about other companies trying to poach our staff, that meant we were doing stuff right.  No-one poaches staff from a poor organisation. There are some people who you just cannot empower, don’t give up on that leadership skill, rather employ the right people. Hire the right PH if you hunting leopard or stick to hunting quail. 

When managing over 1000 staff and multiple global locations it was inevitable that you had to dismiss people. I found this “normal” because it was always for good cause and knowing unemployment is high there are many people crying out for employment privileges. Why would you keep a non-performer who jeopardizes the whole business while knowing that so many people need employment? Mostly when a non-performer is dismissed his coworkers would comment “why did it take them so long?” You find the best trackers with the best PH for good reason.

What I seldom find in people is balance, and here I am the prime bad example. My dad said it is in our genes, everything we do is over the top (good and bad). This is the reason I always have my last will and testament current; respect to my loved ones.  The more balance we have the more effective we will be.  We all have blind spots but here I fail so miserably that if I could not recognize this failing in me then there would be no hope for me.

I love to see people successful, the reason I like to share my life lessons. Why would I want others to take the same number of years I did when they could gain in a split second from my sharing? We must be guarded how we interpret “we are what we are”.  Our personalities are molded by the age of about 18, but we can influence if we choose to. Until we experience stuff it it does not really sink in. It took me this past year to realize that I must “stay” within the parameters of my nature and personality.  This helps me to get balance.

Make performance your security in life.  Make it happen or else it won’t.  Make your actions consistent with your words. I recall my Latin American boss about 15 years ago tell me “don’t sell me a dream and deliver a nightmare”.  I remember that like it was yesterday.

performance-matters

What do I mean when I say that at The Powder Keg we must shoot outnumbered and win. It means that we must differentiate our value, if we are not different then we are not going to be noticed. We must choose carefully what 2 balls we want in hand and ignore the temptation of 20 in the air.  We have a road-map of our future and carefully chosen bullets.

My final sporting clay … If the business cannot grow profitably without you then pause and reflect, reality is “you a shit leader”. Leaders who think a business cannot survive without them are generally insecure.  Great leaders build organizations that are successful long after they have left.

Don’t drink and shoot.  This hunter is a “fuckareweebird”.

drunked-hunter

Wishing you a MERRY CHRISTMAS and a PROSPEROUS 2017

staff

At this time of each year we are reminded of how quickly time passes by; or in some instances how life passes us by. I make this small distinction because we have control over our destiny, to some or other level of influence. Generally the more proactive we are the more we influence.

I have learnt many life lessons living in Slovenia (central Europe) the past 11 years. Europeans I have found value life experiences more than material accumulation. I am often reminded that when you older you never regret what you’ve done but what you have NOT done.

The picture below is of the main square in Ljubljana. I am a little biased but not far off when I score Ljubljana as the best city to visit in Europe. Ljubljana was voted the green capital of Europe for the past 2 years.

ljub-xmas1

Ljubljana city is beautifully decorated with Christmas lights and numerous stores selling food, drinks and small Christmas gifts; mostly hand made.

ljub-xmas3

I sincerely wish that we create a Powder Keg family and that we meet not only at The Powder Keg but when your family visits central Europe.

ljub-xmas4

Christmas is a time of reflection, worship, celebrations and enjoying family time; something we at The Powder Keg relate to because our team has instilled family values of honesty, integrity and respect for others.

The vision of the Powder Keg will be further entrenched in 2017,  to be the best run and most respected shooting outfitter in South Africa for the benefit of our customers.

Best wishes to all for a merry Christmas and may you make 2017 everything that you want it to be!

david da silva

David Kudu A

I was born in a small town that borders on the Orange River called Aliwal North. I grew up on my parent’s farm which was situated 10km other side the river in the province of The Orange Free State. Till today I remain a Cheetahs fan. From grade 5 I attended boarding school in Grahamstown; it was costly for my parents sending my brother and me to Kingswood College for many years; I am grateful to them and the school for the privilege.

I am married to Andreja (Slovene). I have an amazing daughter Demi who is finishing matric at Collegiate in PE. My wife Andreja has a leadership role in a well-respected Slovene company. Andreja has two great kids, Rok is first year Varsity and Nina is 16 (going on 22, nicely). We are blessed that all our kids have strong values. About 96% of mothers in Slovenia work, so home tasks of cleaning and cooking fall onto both parents; I don’t cook so Andreja has a tough time with this South African man. Women in Slovenia are in my opinion a much stronger race than the Slovene men, hopefully Andreja has other benefits

My dad, Justine & Andreja

My dad, Justine & Andreja

I don’t find writing about myself “easy”, I have always believed that it is more relevant what others say about you than what you say about yourself. As I get older I am more inclined to write about my experiences in order to share that which I have had the privilege to learn in my life. My drive is a desire for others to know early on what took me 50 years to learn. I have paid school fees for 50 years and I am committed to keep learning and sharing.

We all learn life lessons throughout our lives. My dad taught me that a simple life has its own rewards and to always pay your debts. My parents embedded in us from childhood a behaviour of “your word is your honour”. Boarding school taught me the values of being independent from a very early age. When my dad dropped me off at Kingswood as a 10 year old his only advice was “always own up”. I truly believe that the accountability and responsibility instinctive in me comes from my schooling where not owning up was branded as being “yellow”.

I don’t believe that you can over communicate or over train. If I could change anything in my past it would be to have given greater attention to more effective communication. It is important to keep learning; I have found that on the job training makes up 90% of our learning after university. I was fortunate to start my working career with a global company and an icon in SA at the time, Goodyear. I travelled the world, I met incredible people and I got the opportunity to live abroad.

My last 10 years in the corporate world were probably my greatest learning in life. Working for an American company and living in Europe gave me insights into both good and bad of these two nations and hopefully I have adopted the great of each. My last 4 years were easily the most challenging; my boss who was President and CEO of the company had incredible strengths and incredible weaknesses (in my opinion). It is not the purpose here to expand other than to say that I was privileged to be part of such a dynamic process and practicing the strengths of my boss make me a much more effective individual.

A large part of my success in the corporate world was founded on TRUST, a combination between sincerity, ethical behaviour, empathy and subject matter competence. I got away with a lot because people trusted that, when I said something it was said with belief and sincerity. I have strong opinions, my opinion vs. your opinion – I win; your facts vs. my opinion – you win. I never take positions, I have no ego about my opinions; I am driven by continuous improvement and will always change direction when information points to a better solution.

My dad & Andreja , Demi & me

My dad & Andreja , Demi & me

Questions & Answers

The Powder Keg as seen from Hendrik Potgieter Road

The Powder Keg as seen from Hendrik Potgieter Road

The Powder Keg is celebrating 40 years of business in hunting supplies; was this an influencing factor in your decision to buy the business?

Not the 40 years specifically; I would say more the legacy of LJP who in many respects was a pioneer in the firearms industry. I have known of the Powder Keg since my childhood passion in guns and hunting. Having Paul Luff, a professional hunter and someone who works well with customers running the business was an important factor.
I see 40 years of The Powder Keg as tradition and excellence of a timeless pioneer.

I understand that you live in Slovenia, how is it that you got involved in The Powder Keg?

My career was 23 years in a division of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. which was later sold to Carlyle Private Equity. When Carlyle sold the business I decided it was time to start my own business in an area of my passion.
In a discussion with Neal Seady (now living and working in Abu Dhabi) I asked if he wanted to sell his dealers licence. Neil referred me to Paul Luff who at the time was managing The Powder Keg on behalf of the executors of LJP. Neil’s exact words were … Paul is a no bullshit type of a guy.
Paul and I never knew each other but we shared the same circle of friends – that was enough.

Are you planning to move back to South Africa and be active in the management of the business?

For now – no. The value I bring to the business is derived from living in Europe i.e. building relationships with suppliers of products that fit the strategy and profile of The Powder Keg. I love South Africa, but the business needs me in Europe. Paul Luff and I talk daily on Skype. I will go where I can add the most value.

Why did you invest in the gun industry in South Africa?

Probably because my emotions are moved quicker than my intelligence. I “love” fine guns and the outdoors; it is this love affair and passion that will get me over hurdles and make us successful. Each of my private rifles are worth more than the vehicle I drive. Also, I believed that I could make meaningful contributions to the industry. I was told that there was a broad distrust in the values and ethics of the gun trade. I have successfully changed company cultures all over the world, I wanted to grow a business that was standout from the herd. Making your passion your business is a privilege.

What are these values that you want to bring?

Fundamental in everything I do are – trust, one for another (i.e. team work), a passion to win and freedom to act. I teamed up with Paul Luff because we share these common values. Our customers first – always, they must trust us and we will earn their respect. I prefer to be respected than liked; customers and my team might not always like what I do or say but they will respect the logic that I share behind every decision.

Did you consider the competitive landscape in your decisions to invest?

Yes. I like what Safari and Outdoor brought to the industry – they lifted the bar on professionalism in the industry. We can never be what Safari and Outdoor are AND we don’t want to be. We have good strategy, meaning our strategies are differentiated. Competition is healthy and critical to the industry. I don’t over-indulge in what our competitors are doing, I rather focus on doing well that which we have chosen to do.

Can you share with us your strategies?

The detail – not just yet. What I can share is that we will uphold the highest level of ethics in everything that we do at The Powder Keg. We will work with the police to solve problems – I don’t like only criticism, we must be part of the solution. We will deliver value to our customers. We will work closely with our suppliers because they are fundamental to our success. We will differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We have a lot to change and that’s the value I see in the business.

What is your vision for The Powder Keg?

I ran a successful $400M business responsible for all countries outside of the Americas. I mention this to illustrate that I would get bored with a shop only. I did not buy a gun shop. We will grow through innovative approaches to market with partners who share our values and principles of win win. LJP left a 40 year legacy, we will contribute to the transformation of this legacy.

Do you hunt in Slovenia?

I was the first foreigner to be accepted to a hunting family in Slovenia. This process required 2 years before I qualified. There are no agricultural fences in the country so it is the duty of the hunting families to manage the game. Hunters in Slovenia do a lot for wildlife – I am required to work 30 hours a year in the family, feeding game in winter and cleaning the hunting territory.

Do you speak Slovene?

I am ashamed to admit that despite having lived in Slovenia for 10 years and being married to a Slovene I don’t speak Slovene. There has not been a need, however I miss the comradery in hunting because the older generation don’t speak much English. But all Slovenes appreciate the 20 words that I do know even though (to me) they are not as descriptive as they are in Afrikaans.

you not Slovene until you have climbed Triglav, the highest peak. Here I am with Jeff, the US Military Attache to Slovenia at the time

you not Slovene until you have climbed Triglav, the highest peak. Here I am with Jeff, the US Military Attache to Slovenia at the time

What animals have you hunted in Slovenia?

I have shot Chamois (GAMS) at 1600m elevations; deer and wild boar on the flats. I have hunted in snow and in the heat. I have participated in driven hunts and shooting from a hide. I am yet to shoot Red Deer and decided not to shoot a brown bear. I will have a blog on our website where I will share my hunting experiences; my plan for 2017 is to host family hunting safaris in Slovenia. I want families to enjoy a wide range of activities including hunting.

hunting in snow at BRDO, Slovene residence & hunting ground of Tito, late president of ex Yugoslavia

hunting in snow at BRDO, Slovene residence & hunting ground of Tito, late president of ex Yugoslavia

How would you compare the licencing process in South Africa to Slovenia?

What I like most in Slovenia is the emphasis on licensing the person vs. the firearm. The process to own your first firearm is involved, stuff like medical and psychological tests, exams on local animal species and the local gun laws, one year practical in a hunting family with a mentor etc. but now it takes a maximum of 5 working days to get a licence. I see no purpose in the time and resources spent licensing individual firearms, the focus should be on the assessment of individuals, their character and sanity for example.

You said you love guns and the outdoor, what firearms do you own in Slovenia?

I came to Slovenia with tunnel vision of what I grew up with in the Eastern Cape. American calibres, high velocity, heavy barrels and serial guns. In my quest to own one true custom gun I met a great friend in Slovenia – Ales Spendal, one of the finest gun makers from Ferlach Austria. I sold most of my serial and high velocity calibres and have a collection of European calibres made by Ales – his guns are art, he takes up to 3 years to complete each piece.

my 20 gauge built by Ales Spendal

my 20 gauge built by Ales Spendal

What is your favourite custom and serial rifle?

Double in 9.3 x 74R made by Ales Spendal. I had him make me the finest 500 NE, for what I was not sure at the time, but this gun will become the icon of The Powder Keg, it is displayed in all our stationery and adverts. In serial I only own Blaser because they are accurate out of the box and because they are shorter (important for limited space in hides). Others will add quick loading but I love double guns and only use double guns for pig hunts in Slovenia.

9.3x74R with bear and wolf engraving

9.3x74R with bear and wolf engraving

Do you reload your own ammunition?

I have been reloading for the past 30 years and still learning. This is my passion and GO TO when I need a break at home. Regulating double guns by reloading is fulfilling. Mostly my doubles were regulated with heavier slower bullets but I have had successes regulating lighter bullets at higher velocities. I do not load for anyone else, I simply don’t want that responsibility.

My reloading bench in Slovenia

My reloading bench in Slovenia

What reloading components do you use?

I spend a lot of time and effort on my loads so I use only premium components. It is expensive to shoot animals in Europe and besides it is only fair to animals to have a clean kill – if I make a mistake it is not because I saved on component costs. The Powder Keg will carry premium components. It is important to practice (for me anyway because I am not a natural) so I would use cheaper components for practicing.

Chamois shot at an elevation of 1600m on the mountain peak that divides Slovenia & Austria. Shot at 320m with my 7x57R Stutzen using premium bullets

Chamois shot at an elevation of 1600m on the mountain peak that divides Slovenia & Austria. Shot at 320m with my 7x57R Stutzen using premium bullets

What reloading equipment do you use and will The Powder Keg also be selling it?

I have continually upgraded my reloading equipment at a heft cost, I don’t want our customers to pay the same school fees that I have paid. I still own a Forster press that I bought from Kassie Kasselman at QPS some 15 years ago. The Powder Keg will sell carefully selected equipment in the different reloading processes and our team will be trained in the benefits and features of the products we sell. I don’t believe that there is any manufacturer who has the best components across every reloading process.

Have you had any successes at The Powder Keg since ownership?

We took ownership of the business in Jan 2016. We are building the platform for 2017 around carefully chosen strategies. In 2016 we only had time for opportunistic local purchases, but in only 5 months we have secured exclusive representation of Kahles and Delta optics, Chevalier clothing, Huglu shotguns and custom guns from Grulla and Ales Spendal. We have secured other non-exclusive supply relationships that fit our strategy.

You talk a lot about The Powder Keg strategies, so I want to ask you again about these?

Let’s just say for now, if you don’t know where you are going then any road will take you there. We know what will be the golden thread at The Powder Keg and we will focus on good implementation. We have refreshed our logo and in the next few weeks our new image will be portrayed on our website. We want The Powder Keg to become a relaxing and convenient haven for hunters, sports shooters and their families. We want to serve and satisfy. We want The Powder Keg to become the destination of choice.

You mentioned Chevalier clothing, can you give some more insights into the clothing lines that you will sell?

Clothing was a big learning curve and paradigm shift for me. On one occasion I was sent home before the start of a hunt because I arrived in camo; on another, an alpine hunt, I was first taken to buy suitable clothing; these were lessons learnt apart from cold weather conditions. It gets very hot in summer so clothing in Europe is designed for all conditions. I discarded all clothing I bought during my numerous business trips to the USA, there is just no comparison to European clothing designers. For the past 8 years I have only owned 1 piece of Chevalier clothing for every season so I am pleased to bring this product to The Powder Keg.

Chevalier clothing for all weather conditions & the different types of hunting

Chevalier clothing for all weather conditions & the different types of hunting

Do women hunt in Europe?

I am told that in 2015 in Austria more women hunters enrolled than men. I have not validated this but directionally this is true. More and more clothing and firearms are being developed specifically for women. The Powder Keg will carry a range of quality designer Chevalier clothing.
In Slovenia not many women are members of hunting families but this is changing. In the past it seems that men used the hunting excuse to escape their wives, more than shooting anything.

What do you miss most and least about South Africa?

I miss my daughter the most … living apart from my daughter (Demi) has been tough. I miss my family and friends and the outdoors. Hunting in SA is a privilege and partnering with conservation must continue to grow. What do I like least? There is corruption globally, no purpose to comment on this, but I dislike the violence that accompanies crime. Slovenia is probably the safest country in Europe, girls of 6 years and older ride unaccompanied on public transport. Children can still be children.

Demi shooting with Dave Hurr

Demi shooting with Dave Hurr

How does hunting compare in Slovenia to South Africa?

Let me start with the non-hunters joking definition of a Slovene hunter – a drunkard walking through the forest looking for the shortest cut to the nearest pub. What they call communal hunting are days that hunting families invite other hunting families to their hunting area. This typically involves traditional formalities and lots of drinking with very few animals shot.

a communal hunt where traditions are practiced, instructions at the start, green clothing & hats

a communal hunt where traditions are practiced, instructions at the start, green clothing & hats

There is no comparison because of the differences in habitat, space and regulations; however what is common is hunters’ respect of wild life. Slovene hunters are active in their communities, maybe something that originates from the positive aspects of socialism. If only we could all learn from each other with open and enquiring minds then hunters would all be in a better space.

Have you brought any Slovenes to hunt in South Africa?

On at least 5 different occasions. They loved their experiences and all will return when they can afford to. All valued the companionship of the hunt – shooting trophy animals was not what defined for them success in the hunt. They were often overawed by the sheer size of the animals. They loved the South African people irrespective of background.

Ales & Maja Spendal with Roman after his 1st animal in Africa

Ales & Maja Spendal with Roman after his 1st animal in Africa

What are your favourite hunting calibres?

I prefer heavier calibres to light calibres in every instance other than shooting vermin. Every hunter will have a bad shot, with heavier calibres there is a much better chance to track and find quicker. For light deer in Slovenia I like my 7x57R only because I reload with quality bullets at higher velocities than factory ammunition. For bigger deer or pigs I use 9.3mm calibres. In South Africa I opt for 375H&H most of the time. In Europe everyone shoots for the meat yield, there are limited animal quotas so meat damage is a big factor in choice of calibre and bullet (bigger and slower).

You spoke about the 500 NE that is becoming the icon showpiece for The Powder Keg – how do you manage the recoil?

I only shot this rifle in the regulation process. I bought this double for investment, but what I did learn is that recoil is more an imaginary issue to deal with than a real issue. After shooting the 500NE (not much recoil) I am more comfortable shooting every other calibre (psychological). I taught (maybe convinced) myself to love recoil and now I thrive on bigger calibres although I weigh only 80 kilograms. My bad habits are the same irrespective of calibre (imaginary noise and recoil anticipation) hence I always opt for bigger calibres. You are not done with your rifle collection until you own a double in a big calibre, you load for it and your enjoy shooting it.

My 500NE built by Ales Spendal which appears on all stationary of The Powder Keg

My 500NE built by Ales Spendal which appears on all stationary of The Powder Keg