What it takes to be a Private Guide!

by Sandy Salle on April 20, 2020

Thank you for joining us for this week’s guest blog by David Amyot. Last week David highlighted his upbringing and where his passion for the African “bush” came from. This week he gives us a bit of insight into what it takes to become a professional guide and the reason there are so few in Zimbabwe. Hopefully his blog will let you know a little bit more about why professional guides are one of the best assets to utilize while on Safari!

Written by David Amyot, Professional Safari Guide, Zimbabwe:

At the very beginning of a hunters and guides career he or she is required to write the learner professional hunters & guides license, a written examination which consists of four subjects:

  1. The Habits & Habitats paper (a paper covering all aspects of flora and fauna) 
  2. The Firearms paper (covering all aspects of firearms)
  3. The General Paper (asking questions about Zimbabwe and world events)
  4. Most importantly the Law paper (covers all the acts of law which govern the whole industry and establishes clear guidelines for one’s conduct while on safari) 

Hunting and guiding candidates that pass each subject are required a minimum of four years to accrue the practical experience. A lot of focus is placed on being able to ultimately defend their guests. This experience is gained by having actively hunted Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Crocodile and Hippo. 

Prior to interviews, the ZSSF (Zimbabwe Shooting Sport Federation) runs a proficiency shoot. This involves being required to shoot a series of targets with his or her heavy caliber rifle (criteria is that the rifle should be personally owned by the candidate and it should be a suitable caliber for thick skinned dangerous game. The most popular is a .375 H&H). The candidate needs to shoot accurately and within a certain time frame to pass the shoot test. Then they are ready for the interviews which are the final step to the big exam. 

The animals hunted for the learners experience, are typically problem animals having eaten people’s crops, or in the case of lion and crocodile being livestock killers. It is not uncommon for villages that border the national parks and safari areas to have conflict with wildlife in the area. Once acquiring the right number of animals and necessary experience to move to the next step, the candidate must also have photographs and letters of support from a tutor. They can then continue with the pre- proficiency interview.  

At the interviews, examiners from the Association of Professional Hunters and Guides, as well as those from Parks and Wildlife Management Authority are present. They are extremely competent and require the candidate being interviewed have his rifle and pack ready as if he were going to lead a walk. Typically, the nervous candidate will walk in and be thrown a barrage of questions, ranging from details of his rifle or his first aid kit, GPS, water bottles, ash bag (for ascertaining wind direction). These questions are accompanied with an array of questions on skulls, skins leaves, seed pods and pictures of birds to identify.

At the conclusion of the interviews, some will continue onto an intensive six-day examination. The area for the proficiency exam is announced and the candidate is required to provide a full camp including beds, linen, groceries, refrigeration, chef, toilet, shower, beverages etc. and should be able to cater for and entertain his examiners as his guests for the full 6 days. Understanding that people come from all walks of life and that some may have more financial resource than others, there are no extra points for a shiny camp. In his career, a candidate will provide a tented experience for his guests and needs to show an understanding of what is needed to make it work for everyone. 

Out in the field, examiners will ask many questions and put candidates into as many a situations as they can, to see how confident they are.  They will also try and simulate scenarios with elephant and buffalo. In these situations, the candidates will actively shoot. Based on their performance, the examiner will determine whether they get their full license or have to try again the following year.  The percentage of full passes is very low in proportion to the number of candidates that do the exam. 

During my examination, we slept for 7 hours in the first 72 hours of the exam. The next four days were a bit of a blur as we completed the necessary tasks of covering ground, answering questions and giving talks on requested topics. The examiners worked out our individual strengths and weaknesses. We baited and set up a lion blind and approached a pride as the examiner looked on to see who would stand their ground as a big lioness barreled in on a mock charge. While on a bull elephant approach, one examiner would start to talk to see how the candidate in question will handle himself, now compromised with a full six ton bull elephant at ten yards, having spun around to face the noise and seeing the group, his ears out, his head held high and his trunk at an obtuse angle in a stare down. 

The licensing and exam process is tough. The industry needs to continue being thorough to produce high-quality hunters and guides, with a strong emphasis on safety and competence. These tough exams are what give Zimbabwe the reputation of being the finest walking destination in Africa.

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