When I first told my (then) wife I wanted to qualify as a Professional Hunter, she looked at me aghast and yelled, “you want to be a WHAT! Are you mad?” When I attended my PH training course and examination, the sentiment was repeated……. but thankfully, this time, in humour!
We get many e-mails from young men and the occasional young lady asking us how they get a job in the industry. Some erroneously see it as a ‘glamour’ job, some are genuine hunters and some simply need psychiatric help. Sometimes sorting the wheat from the chaff isn’t easy, so I usually tend to give as much advice as I can and then it’s up to them if they choose to pursue the matter.
Getting started in the industry isn’t easy for anyone, but it’s not impossible. After all, if an Englishman like me can do it, then anyone can. Two of the hardest challenges you’ll be faced with is getting your initial training and then getting your first few seasons’ experience, especially with dangerous game. I was lucky in that my first few years experience was in a more relaxed generation and I was the luckiest SOB in the world to meet and become friends with the late Mr Vivian Good. Viv was not only a great PH, he was also a good man who gave unstintingly of his advice, hospitality and friendship. When I first went along to get my official training and sit my first PH exams, I struck lucky yet again by attending the Goss Professional Hunting Academy in Kwa Zulu Natal, run by Ian Goss. Ian is a tough, ‘old school’ taskmaster, but he gives a superb standard of training and strict examination. Even today, when I tell someone I passed with Ian Goss, they’ll often comment something like, ‘hell, you must be good then!’
One of the most valuable things Ian gave to me was his parting advice as I drove off with my very first PH licence tucked in my pocket. He told me, “Steve, don’t for a moment think that I’ve made you into a good Professional Hunter. I haven’t, but I have put you on the road to becoming one, and as you take your first steps down that road, you’ll learn something new every day.” Nearly 20 years later, that statement still rings as true today as it was then. I’m still learning new things about the business on a daily basis and I doubt I’ll ever be able to thank Ian enough for all his help, friendship and support he’s given me over the years.
The South African Professional Hunting academies, although occasionally criticised by some, are a very good way for the novice to start his PH training and get his first licence, but remember, if you’re not a South African resident, you are forbidden to sit the exams, which means that although you’ll have completed the training, there is no possible way you can actually gain the PH licence.
Don’t even consider attending one of these academies unless you have at least a reasonably good knowledge of the basics such as rifles, ballistics and a general knowledge of the common mammals in general and hunting in particular. If you turn up not knowing a kudu from 30.06, you’ll be wasting your money and everyone’s time and you may very well get kicked out on your ass!
It should be noted that at the time of writing this article, South Africa is currently considering revising the Professional Hunter training and examination system, and if this happens, the course will become considerably longer, more expensive and harder to complete. The proposed syllabus currently looks like it’ll comprise of something like 150+ unit standards and each unit standard will equate to a day’s work or study.
Another option if you are unable or reluctant to attend one of the South African PH training academies, or even if you do attend the course. Your next step will be to begin looking for your first seasons work.
If you live in South Africa and want to restrict yourself to that country, then it’s fairly straight forward, all you have to do is join PHASA and put an advert in the magazine and hope that something comes up. If you’re from overseas, then it’s a bit more difficult. My advice would be to get on the internet and start researching for good quality hunting companies that might pique your interest and operate in the countries you’d like to work in. Then you get yourself organised with a good quality, professional CV/resume and start sending it to the companies of your choice and asking for work. Remember that even if you offer to work for nothing but keep and tips, and you may well have to, it still costs the safari company a great deal of money to keep you in camp and train you, so if you and your application needs to be of the highest possible standard. If it’s not, then forget it until you can make yourself more desirable to any potential employers. I’ve never forgotten one bloody idiot that wrote to me many years ago telling me that just because he had a masters degree in medieval history, had been chairman of his university clay pigeon club for a year and lived on a farm in the shires, he was ideally suited for me to employ him as a Professional Hunter. Quite why, I could never fathom – he hadn’t even ever fired a rifle and knew zero about even the basics of Africa or the African hunting industry…….. Needless to say, he didn’t get a job, but he did give me a laugh!
If you’re lucky enough to break into the safari industry, and some do manage to do it, you can expect your first season or two to be spent doing some of the more mundane tasks such as road and camp building and vehicle maintenance. You’d better make sure you make a good job of everything you do. Stuff something up and you just might be out of a job the next day. After all, a safari company simply can’t afford vehicle breakdowns in the middle of the bush for instance. – The good news is that if you get it right, you’ll be taking the first steps down the road to a great career.
Working as a PH is a great job, but don’t expect it to ever make you rich. If you want to make serious money, go get a job as a lawyer or a banker or something, sure it’s not as much fun as working as a PH, but you’ll probably make enough money to come on safari on a regular basis. If you feel you can forego the money in exchange for the lifestyle of a Professional Hunter, then I’d encourage you to go for it. I did, and I’ve never regretted it. My bank manager and my ex-wife might have done, but I never have……..