Becoming A Pro
Zimbabwean professional hunters and guides over the years have developed the reputation of being amongst the best in the business. They are sought out both by clients they look after, and the companies that employ them. This reputation is richly deserved, and comes about as a result of the huge amount of training and time and effort which is invested into each and every one of them.
Zimbabwe has one of the most stringent training regimes for professional hunters and guides, in the world, and the quality of the men and women who qualify as a result, are a testament to this program.
Education is the key. Each and every candidate must serve an apprenticeship with a hunting or guiding outfitter, and work under the resident professionals. This apprenticeship lasts several years, usually three years and upwards. During that time, he or she is subjected to a full scale learning and training experience, gaining knowledge in a wide variety of essential topics. The basics are knowledge of trees, birds, fish, mammals, their habits and habitats, tracks and tracking, bush lore, fire arms and shooting thereof, safety, client handling, motor vehicle mechanics, and so on, are all part of the myriad of topics which a young aspiring professional must be taught.
Prior to even commencing such an education, each candidate must obtain a First Aid Certificate from a recognised outfit. These usually take a few days, during which time a candidate must achieve a level of proficiency in First Aid so as to be able to take care of any client in any situation which may arise during their safari. After all, safety and health is paramount to all clients on safari. It is to become a regulation that every professional hunter or guide must have a current and valid certificate prior to renewing his or her license.
The learner professional hunters and guides written exams are the next step. These are set by the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Four exams of around two hours each are written, on the topics of law that is, the Regulation of the Zimbabwe Wildlife Act, so as to ensure no laws are ever broken. Firearms and Ballistics, and the Firearms Regulations are another exam, followed by Habits and Habitats, which covers any question pertaining to the bush and the creatures therein, and finally a General Paper which covers a wide range of questions related to the industry and Zimbabwe and events at large. Each candidate is expected to pass each exam individually and achieve 60% pass mark overall, a stringent test!
A shooting proficiency is the next test in their education. This test consists of fixed and “charging” targets set at various distances, during which speed and accuracy are ascertained. Competency in this area is a total necessity, given clients lives may depend on it. The minimum score required is high, such is the emphasis placed on weapon handling and shooting proficiency. Practice, practice and more practice, with one’s own rifle, is key to passing this stringent test.
As the potential candidate progresses through his education, passing his First Aid, Learner’s exams and the Shooting test, and begins to feel he is ready for the final hurdle, the Proficiency exam, he is first required to sit through the oral interview. This is a panel of qualified and experienced professional hunters and guides, in conjunction with examiners from the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, who have to ascertain whether the candidate is competent enough to attend the final proficiency exams. Questions on a number of topics are asked. The logbooks (in which each candidate logs his hunting or guiding experience) are examined thoroughly. All comments made by the tutor professional hunters or guides are perused thoroughly before a final decision is made. Only candidates whom the panel deem competent and ready to attend, may then proceed onto the final hurdle, the Proficiency exam.
The reputation of the “Proficiency” in Zimbabwe, proceeds itself. It is a weeklong test and combines to examine everything the candidate is expected to have learned during their long apprenticeship. They have to put up complete tented camps, as per the level expected by clients. The camps are examined, vehicles and vehicle set up examined. The candidate conducts the exam as if he was with his own clients. He has to track and frontal brain shoot an elephant, and skin and recover the animal. His approach and shooting is scrutinized as is the confidence and competence. Candidates are grilled on all aspects that is, trees, birds, fish, law, habits and habitats and so on, throughout the week. Mechanical ability, general appearance, professionalism, confidence, are all examined. Safety is paramount, hard work a necessity. The exams are conducted by experienced long serving professional hunters and guides from both the ZPHGA, and Department of National Parks and Wildlife, and consensus must be reached by the entire panel on each candidate.
During this strenuous and stressful week, the true cream of the Zimbabwean training system rises to the top. Only the best of the best will make it through this final hurdle. Only the determined, the diligent, the committed, the competent, will pass through and become one of the people who may call themselves a full professional hunter or guide. When compared with countries which offer no such training apprenticeships, merely offering two week courses after which you will become a “professional hunter”, or worse get a simple exam where no form of prior experience is necessary at all, well, quite simply, there is no comparison.
It is a testament to the dedication and determination of these candidates, and also to those who train them, that our reputation has arisen, and the commitment that goes into keeping it that way will ensure it goes on for many years to come.