The Concise Oxford Dictionary gives a definition of the word hunt as Pursue wild animals especially foxes, (well it is an English Dictionary!) chase for food or sport.
This terse description does little to illuminate the spectrum or plumb the depths of what the pastime or occupation of being a hunter entails. With all the attendant joys and problems that one can experience planning, participating in or conducting a hunt, the Oxford Dictionary falls far short of explaining what hunting is all about. After all, when our distant ancestors took to the field with cudgel and sharpened stick, it was a question of food and survival, and to some people it still is. Graduating to a multi-billion dollar industry world-wide now, has not resolved the endeavour of a lot of the questions that our ancestors faced, and has created a few new ones. The common thread is still there however, and connects the wealthy client being conducted on an exotic safari, to those of us that enjoy the more mundane pursuit of collecting our meat in a pleasurable fashion. That original gene that caused ancient man to take up his weapons and rise to the challenge of pursuing and killing his supper, is still alive and well in many of us.
The same fundamentals of ancient hunting still apply as well today; (a) To hunt you first need an area to conduct the endeavour; (b) You have to have the skills to be able to find your quarry; (c) When found (hopefully) and when you have made your kill, you need to know what to do with it.
Time and again I have heard people looking back at the experience of hunting saying that the real benefit was in the hunt itself and not in the trophy. The head hanging on the wall, or the rug mount on the floor, evokes more than the memory of the shot and the fall of the beast. While these are good memories to have, the mind is also crowded with the events leading to the ultimate moment. The delayed flight, lost gun case, broken down vehicle vie with the sounds and scents of the bushveld and the thrill of seeing your first trophy sized animal fading into the bush. This list can go on and on but a lot of the regrettable experience can be minimised in the preparation of a hunting foray.
A. FINDING YOUR AREA
As human populations expand, the areas where you can find your quarry are shrinking. There is little I can tell you about where to find game to hunt, as it really comes down to the two old basics. It is not what you know, but who you know, and how deep are your pockets. With the first there are private ranches, farms, etc. where you may be able to get a bit of hunting, but more and more game is regarded as a commodity or asset to be utilised, and you can expect to pay for the privilege (for that is what it is now).
For larger game, it is supply and demand for the same reason. To maintain vast areas against human population pressure, they have to be seen to be producing or at least not being subsidised with scarce resources. More and more, the auction scenario is being employed and big game hunting is becoming the pursuit of the fortunate few.
B. HUNTING SKILLS.
After some 30 years of living in remote wild areas and hunting in all manner of conditions, from pouring rain to 50 degree Celsius heat, day and night, some of my experiences may help you acquire the skills necessary to help you find your quarry. Know the game. The bookshops are crammed with the most incredible array these days of books on wild life. From the weightier times such as Smithers Mammals of Southern Africa to pocket identification paperbacks. They all contain a wealth of information about the animals that are sought after on a hunting trip. I could almost guarantee that not one person in ten could tell the difference between a waterbuck spoor and a sable or a reedbuck from an impala. Yes, some of the lure of hunting is being able to gain experience while out in the veld, but any hunter worth his salt should try and stack the deck in his favour before setting out. Knowing that an animal is territorial, for instance, can save you a lot of mileage and effort. One of the papers in the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters Examination is Habits and Habitat of Game Animals, a pre-requisite to not wasting precious time looking in an inappropriate area. This is where I return to the original point I made about advice on how to prepare yourself to go hunting. Forget about the equipment for the moment and ponder this; how capable are you? Can you recognise the game you are after? If you are a trophy hunter, how well can you judge the animal's horns, tusks, whatever? Should you come across tracks, are you sure what they are? Can you follow the track? Do you know how old it is? Is it a bull or a cow? Which way is it heading? Tracking is a long neglected skill, especially by hunters in Africa, who usually rely on the services of a local tracker to do the job. There are Professional Hunters of my acquaintance who panic at the thought of not having their favourite tracker to hand. Do not get the impression that local trackers cannot do the job, far from it. I have witnessed some of the best trackers in the world operate during my time in the National Parks Department and the Professional hunting scene, and they can elevate it to an art form. That doesnt mean to say however, that they are infallible. It is of prime importance I feel, to be aware of what is going on - on the tracking front - at all times as a hunter, and to be capable of tracking yourself especially when a wounded animal is involved.