Hunting in Africa - Stalking in tough and dense terrain
The red dust covers your boot as you take the first step behind the PH through the thorny bush. Even if you don't yet know what the hunt will bring, you know that the day will be thrilling, challenging and instructive – quintessential Africa!
On an African hunting day, you never know whether you'll end up stalking buffalo, bushbuck or something else entirely. But today, you've decided to try your luck with the astonishingly beautiful oryx. The PH stands still, assessing the situation, listening intently to the sounds of the bush, reading his surroundings. His eyes glide over the dawn terrain, decoding the possibilities and contemplating his next move. He stoops to grasp some of the red soil that he uses to read the wind direction. As it cascades to the ground, a red plume fans out downwind. The PH is now ready. A plan is formed.
"These are the few seconds that you have travelled so far to experience."
The teeming life of the bush
The sun casts a gentle light over the dense bush which, in combination with a mosaic of shadows, creates excellent cover for wildlife. Only a trained eye will detect even otherwise conspicuous species, like zebra or the light-coloured 200-kilo oryx. A turtle dove coos over to the left. Its evocative call is an injection of sound through your eardrums that sends a rush of Africa directly into your veins. While you stalk behind the PH, you sense the excitement and clearly register the unstoppable rise of hunting zeal in your being. You spot several different species in the bush. A small bush duiker rears its head, some impalas trot down to a watering hole, while the hefty eland grazes behind some shrivelled, thorny bushes. But no oryx yet.
A meeting with the bull
The oryx or gemsbok is extremely hardy and can survive in some of the world's driest biotopes. It is not particularly dependent on direct access to water, which strikes you as ironic when the PH climbs seven or eight meters up a wind turbine that draws life-giving water from the subsoil. Not every bush animal is as tough and hardy as this antelope with its black-and-white-marked face. Having explored the dense bush from a bird's eye view, the PH climbs down from the turbine. He joins you seconds later with an intense gleam in his eyes. He has spotted a lone bull oryx just a few hundred meters to the south. The stalk continues and you are lucky to have low sunlight streaming in over your shoulder and the wind in your face.
A sudden movement attracts your attention. A pair of shiny horns glistens in the morning sun a few hundred meters ahead. For a few seconds, the PH studies the animal which is almost completely hidden in the bush. He lowers his binoculars, turns round and looks you straight in the eye: "It's the bull, the one we’re after. Follow me!”
You lean back to quietly track a glowing ember that rises up from the fire into the night sky. As it fades away, you are spellbound by the great continent's clear, starry sky and the mystery of the Milky Way.
The silence is broken by a leopard, claiming his hunting ground with deep growling on the other side of the muddy grey, croc-infested water. In that second, you realise that the bush's paradoxical combination of beauty and fierce, untrammelled nature has captured part of your soul. A small part of you that you will only recover by returning once again to the mysterious hunting grounds of the bush. Africa is in your veins, it's under your skin!
Over time, income from trophy hunting has helped preserve the populations of game and their biotopes. In South Africa, trophy hunting has led to cattle ranches being transformed into natural idylls with amazing wildlife density and variety. Not only does the income from trophy hunting give value to the wildlife. It also provides a direct economic boost which in turn creates employment and higher living standards for local populations. This influx of foreign currency and the value placed on wildlife helps to further reduce poaching. Essentially all parts of hunted animals are used in local cuisines.
A number of African countries have now introduced PH training schemes. However, the legislation varies from country to country. PH training teaches the theoretical and real-life assessment of game trophies from different species, practical hunting techniques and methods and the tracking of shot game. General trophy handling, skinning and meat handling are also part of the training, along with first aid, snake bites, customer care and camp set-up. Also covered are topics such as wildlife conservation and management, shooting techniques and general legislation and knowledge concerning plant and animal life. Completing the training is the first step to becoming a PH, but to be a top PH requires years of hands-on experience. And you never finish learning.