That famous hunting author, Peter Hathaway Capstick, to whom we in the African hunting industry all owe so very much, wrote the following:
"I've never seen a job description for a Professional Hunter but I think the job description might read something like this: WANTED: Young active man interested in low and infrequent pay to play bwana in remote bushveldt. Must be proven raconteur and socialite without liver trouble, expert card player, bartender, caterer, barbecuer, philosopher, African historian. Experience in sanitary engineering, local architecture, labour relations, navigation, medicine and pharmacology, botany, zoology, ichthyology, mineralogy, entomology, butcher, taxidermist, dietetics, optics, photography and radio navigation essential. Applicant should speak at least two black African languages fluently as well as one other modern European tongue. A knowledge of mechanics, driving, gunsmithing, toxicology, ballistics, tracking, marksmanship, handloading, and experience as a bodyguard are required. Benefits are a twenty four hour day, unlimited fresh air, including rain, sun and dust, no medical dental or life insurance and no retirement benefits. Applicant should supply his own rifles. Vehicles on a per diem basis. The duties of a Professional Hunter on safari are essentially the same as those of a ships captain and with the same responsibilities. Hes everything from the social director to the ships surgeon, if needed. Hes the author of the strategy of the hunting plan, but also the tactician as to make each stalk. He keeps the peace among the staff, oversees the food and drink, translates and interprets, sees that the trophies are properly handled and is shooting coach, gunsmith, stand up comedian and diplomat any time he is called on to be so. A Professional Hunter is perhaps best summed up in the observation that he is the social equal of anybody while on safari, up to and including a duke."
Also from Ian Goss, Chief examiner of Professional Hunters, KZN.....
"All of the above implies and demands that every part of your behaviour has to be highly professional, your skill exceptional, your integrity and honesty of the highest standard, and your business ethics above reproach."
Not all Professional Hunters are equal and you need to consider whether your own hunting desires will mesh with those of your Professional hunter. I, for example, believe there's a lot more to an African hunting safari, than just going out to hunt and kill. I have a deep and abiding interest in the bush around me and the smaller inhabitants of that bush. If you hunt with me, unless you tell me to shut up, I'll spend some of our time talking to you about the trees and bush around us. I'll rattle on about medicinal qualities, scientific names and uses of trees and grasses etc. I'll talk to you about birds and small mammals, I'll also point out animal behaviour patterns and my interpretation of them etc. More than one client has told me I'm really a frustrated teacher.
Other Professional Hunters may simply ignore the bush and concentrate on the hunting and nothing else. So it's always a good idea to ask about whom your Professional Hunter will be and what his interests are. If you can match your own interests to those of the guy who will be guiding your particular safari, then you'll gain the maximum benefit from your hunting adventure.
Also consider what species you plan to hunt. Some, like cats for example require a certain specialist expertise that usually only comes with age and experience, so often an older and more patient Professional Hunter may sometimes be a better choice to guide you on these types of hunts. Although there are exceptions to that rule. Two young but absolutely superb Professional Hunters who have learnt their trade from the very best are Wikus Groenewald and Cinton van Tonder. These two guys are amongst the very best in the business despite their tender years. Unfortunately for them, some clients look at Wikus and Clinton and assume that because they look so young, they are inexperienced. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'd go into the thick stuff where the big 'n uglies lurk with or for those two guys absolutely anytime.
The Professional Hunter client relationship is a complex one. Most develop into a very close friendship and those friendships often last for many years and sometimes for life. Indeed many of my closest friends started as clients. When this happens, the relationship often changes to one of 'hunting buddies' rather than a strictly business relationship. When I hunt with my buddies such as Peter Lang or Bruce Ferreira for example, It's more like I'm having a hunting holiday rather than conducting a hunt on a Professional basis. They in return, hunt in a manner that I don't need to second guess their next move.
Professional Hunters vary enormously in age, experience, attitude and pretty much anything and everything else you can possibly think of. A more diverse bunch of guys and girls, you'd probably never meet. Because of this, it's advisable to try to choose a Professional Hunter that matches your preferences. Although a good PH will watch his client to see how he's coping with the longer marches and unaccustomed exercise, a super fit young PH that is in the habit if running up mountains on a daily basis may not always be the ideal match to a 55 year old client with a waistline problem.
Professional Hunters are no more free of moods than you are, and you need to remember that they work incredibly hard and have not only, to conduct your hunt, but they also need to supervise the entire hunting operation as well. So it's a good idea to try to give them a bit of personal time and not expect them to entertain you 24 hours a day.
Many Professional Hunters, myself included make it a rule never to go to bed before the client for safety reasons...so another piece of advice I'd offer is to try to get to bed at a reasonable hour...especially bearing in mind that both you and he will be up well before first light the following morning...and remember your PH will have been doing that all season. You might be able to afford to be tired and not firing on all cylinders when youre hunting, but remember your Professional Hunter cannot afford that particular luxury. With this mind, it's probably a good idea for you bring a book or two or an i-pod to entertain yourself on the odd occasion you might be alone.
Also remember that your Professional Hunter is a professional. He's there to keep you safe, conduct your safari, inform you and sometimes entertain you, but he doesn't clean your rifles etc for you. If you want that kind of thing done for you, bring your butler.