Despite the fact that our family has lived in Africa for the last 234 years, I am the first hunter in our family in living memory. Not having a grandfather, father, uncle or older brother to teach me, I learnt about most about hunting when I attended the school of hard knocks, from trackers, guides and professional hunters as well as from books and magazines. It was particularly books that fired my imagination and enthusiasm and, today, I have quite literally hundreds of them.
It was reading one of J.A.Hunter‘s many books that really changed my life. When I read that he had hunted bongo for 30 years without success I was gob smacked. What amazed me was, firstly, that a world famous East African professional hunter could hunt any animal that long without success and, secondly, that I had no idea of what a bongo was. At the time I was also reading Henry Morton Stanley’s book, The Dark Continent, about his attempt to rescue Emin Pasha in Equatoria from the Mahdi’s advancing hoards. The horrific trip through the Ituri rain forests held me spell bound and when I later found I could hunt bongo (which I now knew a little about) on the fringes of the selfsame forests, I was hooked. That hunt, on foot and without dogs, changed my life and, for the first time, I believed that there was a chance that I could become a decent hunter. It certainly gave me the courage to try and hunt the other more difficult African hunting species and, from that time onwards, I confined my hunting exclusively to the African continent.
I had trained much harder and prepared far more carefully for this bongo hunt than any other one I had ever been on and, I suppose, because of the success I had, this became my modus operandi for all future hunts. I became a firm believer that preparation + opportunity = luck and that there were only three things you needed if you wanted a successful hunt – preparation, preparation and preparation! Part of this preparation involved reading everything I could about the places where, the people with whom and the animals I was going to hunt.
The books I have found most valuable over the years have been:
- Big Game Shooting – 1892 – Clive Phillips-Wolley
- Big Game Shooting in Africa – 1932 – Major H.C.Maydon
- African Hunter – 1975 – James Mellon
- African Hunter II – 2004 – Craig Boddington and Peter Flack
- Safari Guide II – 2009 – Peter Flack and Jaque Neufeld
- The Field Guide to African Mammals – Jonathan Kingdon
- The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion – Reay Smithers
- Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game
The magazine I have found most useful has been Magnum and I have been a subscriber for over 20 years. It provides a plethora of useful information on all things to do with Africa hunting. Hot on Magnum’s heels come African Indaba and the Hunting Report, both of which I have read for many years.
As I have grown older, I have become more selective in my hunting and, often, less has been more. By this I mean that I have rather saved and waited to go to the best place, with the best persons at the best time of the year than give in to my impatience and take the first and cheapest available hunt for the species I was looking for. I once likened it to choosing a place to eat. Some people are happy to eat fast food month in and month out. Others prefer to decide on what they want to eat, save and book well in advance to secure a good table at the restaurant of their well researched choice that specializes in the particular dish they want to eat.
Word of mouth is still the best source of up to date hunting research and belonging to a few good hunting associations has been a great help. My two favourites among the seven of which I am a member, are Dallas Safari Club and KwaZulu-Natal Hunting and Conservation Association, and I am life members of both. Of course attending the convention in Dallas or the Aim show in Johannesburg is another way to obtain a lot of useful information in a short space of time and I regularly attend both.
Two very important aspects of preparation for any hunt are physical fitness training and shooting practice and the SAAM course offered by Tim Fallon at his ranch in the Texas Hill Country struck me as just about perfect for the latter. I wish I could have attended the course when I was starting out. It would have made my early hunting life immeasurably easier. Absent this, I would recommend reading and watching Kevin Robertson’s book and DVD, The Perfect Shot, and practice, practice and more practice. Practice sitting, kneeling and lying and especially off shooting sticks with the rifles, scopes and ammunition you propose to use on the hunt.
I have been blessed to hunt with a large number of extremely competent and decent trackers and professional hunters over the years. To recommend some over others would be unfair and not particularly helpful as one man’s meat is another man’s poison. However, to spend one day in a hunting camp with an unpleasant guide is too long and, therefore, the importance of in depth research before making this kind of choice and the relevance of attending hunting conventions where you can meet face to face with your potential guide and assess whether the two of you are compatible, is of great value. Certainly, as part of your research, contact the professional hunting organization in the country concerned and be sure you have a very good reason to book with a person who is not a member of such an association.