Any hunter who claims to have never made a mistake, in my opinion, has not had much experience. Whether it trivial or major is irrelevant. However bad or embarrassing it may be, it is these mistakes that enable us to really learn, improve and hone our own skills and perhaps pass this valuable knowledge on to others.
Most of us that love the bush and the animals believe that hunting is an important part of Game Management and with it conservation. The principle of sustainable yield is well practised by Operators who see any long term future in the business. But times are definitely changing and so are Professional Hunters and Operators.
Being a qualified bushman is a privilege that some people love and enjoy but its a fact these days that is lost on many. It used to be a rare breed of person who could spend long periods away from city life, often working under basic and difficult conditions. During the last 50-100 years, legendary names like Selous, Bell, Hunter became famous and their books relate the conditions under which they hunted, quite often being hungry, lost in unknown territory and without adequate weapons, supplies and little or no equipment. They were hunting more for themselves and as times changed these types transformed from hunting out of necessity to ivory hunters, adventurers, white hunters and professional hunters and guides as we are known today
It takes years of hard work and learning to be classified as experienced in the wildlife field. In the various African countries, the level required to achieve professional hunter status is different. It is noteworthy that many countries have a high qualifying standard and other countries are trying to come in line with that standard. This is encouraging as it can only but improve the calibre and professional hunters in general. Having shared camps with very experienced men and heard stories told of the old days of the then Rhodesia Game Department and National Parks, and being privileged to have worked under such men, I often stop to think about their experiences. How they learned their mistakes - the hard way! There was no one to help with a broken-down vehicle, or be backup on a wounded elephant, or a PAC buffalo with a snare on its foot. That was real experience. Yes, they made mistakes but learned quickly or suffered the consequences
School leavers and young people entering the Wildlife Industry often have the wrong impression of what it requires to be a professional. It takes hard work and never-ending learning. When I left school at 18 years of age, I was a bull, or at least I thought I was. I was privileged to be accepted into Zimbabwes Department of National Parks, but soon learned I was lower than shark s...t. During my first year in National Parks, being an Appy, I learned so many ways to make tea, it was ridiculous. Whether it was in between serving tourists at a desk, or fixing a Land Rover, or at the end of a hunt on an elephant cull. However, tough and unfair, it seemed at the time - I was learning the fundamental skills of being in the bush; how to make a fire, what wood to use etc. Over time, my knowledge and skills progressed with being around such experienced people as we had in Parks in those days. It was only after six years of hands-on experience that I even contemplated attempting my professional hunters licence. Even then I was considered as rather inexperienced. I had taken part in elephant culling, shot many buffalo for rations and on PAC, shot several PAC elephant and accompanied many private hunters in the Zambezi Valley to assist them on dangerous game. This was not including the amount of game capture and handling of dangerous drugs and other activities like anti-poaching, training of scouts and other jobs which were part of our monthly duties. Today, I still make mistakes and learn new things all the time.
These days, it seems as if the basic training is disappearing. Do people have the wrong idea? Many see the bush life as really romantic, driving women in 4 x 4. In reality, a lot of PHs are skinny legged men driving clapped-out Land Rovers. Whether its the seemingly romantic way of life in the bush, or the excitement of being around wild animals or purely financial reasons, is anybodys guess. Some are hardworking and very conscientious, and are headed to become great bush people (if they realise their limitations and not attempt to be a PH too quickly), but a large majority expect to be taking out clients the first day on the job, having shot a kudu on their uncles farm last holidays. Its a shock that you find you are now, actually a labourer, and have to build camps, dig latrine pits and go for resupplies when the client is out hunting with the PH. These are a few basics and is part of ground training that Appy PHs need to have before being let loose with a rifle.
Bushcraft is a hugely vast subject that few really master. Its vitally important as is good knowledge of the flaura and fauna around you. Some of this can be learned from a book but there is no substitute for experience on the ground.
Are professional hunters and guides getting to their full licence stage without having enough training and experience that is vital for this industry? The opportunities for dangerous game experience are not as common as recent times due to the fact that there are just too many young people trying to get into the industry. We hear of as many as 400 candidates applying for learners licence exams. There are not enough jobs for this number of people wanting to be hunters or guides, nor are there enough fully-licensed tutors to train them sufficiently to the level required to be proficient in the field. This has been evident in the calibre of hunters/guides attending the practical exams at the end of each year. There is also a large turnover of staff in this industry and the sad thing is that an Operator may spend two years training his Learner and allowing him to take part in PAC hunts or accompanying his own clients only to find that his Learner did not really want to be a Hunter, and ends up taking over his parents farm, where he is not the Gofer. The problem is that a wounded buffalo does not know or care who is experienced or not. Losing control in a tight situation will result in injury or loss of life.
Have respect for the wildlife! Wild animals evoke different emotions from each one of us. It may be joy of gameviewing, excitement at seeing a lion, fear of being near an angry elephant, or whatever. In this day and age, wildlife management has evolved from being a way of life and a career for some into a source of quick and easy money for others. The moral principles and basic skills in hunting are being replaced by methods deemed unethical and short cuts for a quick dollar. There is much debate around the subject of hunting methods - do we allow hunting from vehicles, leopard hunting with dogs, spotlighting, using aircraft to locate elephant and so on? Are quotas too high and can we still say we are taking the older mature trophy animals? One look at the records, will tell you the answers to these questions. Is it fear that with political changes or increasing populations, destined to deprive us of hunting opportunities, or is it greed that makes hunters practise some of the methods around today?
Anti-hunting and Greens attitudes are on the increase and many of these types cannot understand how one can love these animals so deeply and yet kill. Many arguments come and go, and explanations of how with politics today, its important to keep a value on an animals head to help the species survive, only shoot the mature, older animals, hunting is only done on foot - a PH against the animal etc. It takes one PH with bad ethics to spoil the whole basket and this is why a PH has to keep his standards high.
For those of you who practise PROFESSIONAL hunting - keep it up. A man without integrity is nothing!