Since I've been living in the US it has taken me some time to realize just how important television is to the average American - you see my wife works at the Denver Zoo and we were exact opposites when we first met however I'm proud to say that she now realizes what good hunting does in those areas that I ply my trade in. I think it had more to do with the simmering pot of bushpig stew than anything else that eventually tipped the balance but I will take my small victories whenever I can - they're few and far between! However on the subject of television I fight a losing battle day in and out.
So it transpires that our TV selection includes amongst other liberal ones, America's next top model, the John Stewart show, Meet the press, NBC Sunday mornings and other lefty stuff and I guess I am learning to drown out Matt Lauer, Meredith and Al preaching news and the like from dawn till dusk. However one thing caught my attention recently - some or other expert was saying that Americans do not like to be second - no matter what - and in this case they were talking about world leaders and how most Americans held within them this belief - that the good old spangled banner was still tops in all fields across the planet barr none and America led the way in all things decent. I have no doubt that it does!
Now I came from a country that is called third world - and still more appalling - it is in that most darkest of unknowns, Africa! Bear this in mind when I speak of the US being number one - on this list I think my country of birth belongs where it's alphabetical scale puts it - way down in the Z's. We've nothing to speak of when you look at the powers that be - we are a speck in a sea of shining achievements by other more gregarious nations. Yes indeed we are true to type - life is slow and unhurried, democracy is but an idea, there is never any crisis or fever that grips the nation and there is never a thought in anyone's mind about being first in the world except perhaps for fantasia dreams about our national soccer team, Chipolopolo, winning the world cup. Zambia is simple and sedate, yes we have our scandals yet if you're caught with 12 mistresses who say they still love you, you don't have to go into hiding - they hold a parade for you! However we are way up there in one thing, probably by default, and I was of the opinion that the US could never get close to us on this one - our wildlife and the hunting thereof.
But I digress, you see why I found this interesting has to do with an old PH icon, one many of us have forgotten and even heard rumors that he had been trampled - yes MR BLACK DEATH the ultimate first one and only world champion buffalo professional extraordinary hunter himself. OK I can't mention names, out of respect you know, but here's why Mr BD popped into my mind - I ran into him yesterday, not at the fancy diamond, gold, silver and bronze studded SCI show he so masterfully commanded a few years back - no it was at a paltry sportsman's deal in Denver, where I live. Of course I got all excited to see the man himself standing out above the mere mortals walking by, he does cut an impressive figure for an older PH and being 20 years his junior I must admit I was rather envious - last time I tried to get close to him in Reno he was surrounded by a pulsating crowd of middle aged safari goers who were snapping up his materials and, it seemed, were chanting his name in unison!
The man is famous for taking down that most feared and dreaded animal that lurks around every thorn bush on the African savanna - the Cape Buffalo - or black death as someone called it way back! Now there are many famous old hunters out there, some took down buffalo due to colonial orders, thousands of them, others pretended they took down thousands and wrote fancy stories of their exploits while some are still helping out the natives by depleting the stocks - however none had ever shot the hell out of so many black deaths and put it on film than Mr BD himself. Of course he was the bain of every other PH in that part of the world - you see he is American and us African PH boys tend to look longingly at them and their blond arm candy, their fancy double rifles and of course the cut off vests and massive bulging ammo belts! It was insult enough that he was not one of us - born on the slow continent - he was a foreigner BUT to top it all he came and showed us - can you believe it - how to hunt black deaths!
Hence the failed campaign against him at the fancy conventions - I remember one of my mates, in typical tight PH shorts, falling over himself to get the news to us, a beaming smile across his face - had we heard Mr BD had copped it from a back death! Regardless, I look at him as one of the pioneers in a hunting genre - not in the industry but rather a style - because hunting takes many forms and perceptions BUT without a doubt Mr BD created what has become the norm rather than the exception today, he is the undisputed world leader in the creation of the GoldenBalls PH! He is the GB pioneer and I felt saddened when I saw him without his usual throng of followers trying to persuade a lone kid as to why he had to pull both barrels at the black death before his client even had a chance! Here stood a stalwart of the Goldenball brigade and they had all but forgotten him!
I admit, much of this game we play is about image, no sane PH - African or American - will ever admit to failure and in fact will argue without hesitation that they are probably the best hunter in their part of the world - simply put, the safari industry thrives on our ego's. What Mr BD did was put it on film and he created a legion of followers and admirers to such an extent that one of the largest hunting groups in the US ascribes and promotes this style of shooting! When I tell someone I'm a professional hunter they stare at me with disbelief - no way - where's your camera crew - does the colonel endorse you - have you got your own TV show yet? hey wait... where are your buffalo hide boots... you're not a PH? The one I get the most often is - seriously you're the owner of SafariBwana - you????
Then there are the wannabees and there's a whole industry created around this, in fact I'd say for the thousands who attend these fancy conventions this is the essence of modern safari hunting, the crux of living the great African adventure - wear the boots that Mr BD had on when he blasted the back deaths - you too can own a double like his (if you can carry it that is) - here's the ultimate cut off vest, it has revolutionary tsetse fly repellant and comes complete with the colonels endorsement - how could you go wrong with this set of gloves, it's PH approved! Here, you can't possibly wander into the African wilds without your custom made lions tooth choke chain, and what about this set of anti fatigue wrist bands?
Well one thing is for sure, the American PH's have us severely whipped, they've shown us country bumpkins how to do it, they are the undisputed leaders in safari hype and hoopla! Just as Hollywood fosters hype around the famous actors, so these American PH's have created a new genre of hunting in Africa which fosters what you look like, what you wear and what awards you have, rather than focus on what you are hunting and how long you have been doing it for. These days it is not about the simple things anymore, it is about brand and money and not about the game you pursue.
And this brings me back to the situation in my very own living room and the battle for the remote! You see I come from a world where you never trust what they tell you on TV or in the press - purely because most of these are controlled by the man! Yet here in the US if it's on TV it's got to be true! I marvel at how the different TV stations report an event - to coincide with what they want you to believe, leaving out unsuitable truths. The same goes for our hunters on film, if you can see it straight up on a TV set in the US then hey it is damn right true!
I can tell you one thing for sure, there's allot that goes on behind a camera in the African bush and there's allot that gets left on the editing table, the stuff that doesn't suit the image. Hunting in Africa isn't air conditioned and climate controlled - any PH that tells you he knows 100 percent what an animal is going to do is lying, and anyone that tells you it was all smooth sailing and 100 percent success should be looked at with suspicion. It is high time that our perception of these safaris by the glamour boys was put straight - I look at the reality TV BS my wife is obsessed with and think, now there's something they should do on Africa!
Give us a real African hunting film, one that shows a worn out old PH beating and belittling his staff at every opportunity, getting drunk and cussing his clients or trying to fondle their wives, falling asleep on the back of the vehicle or having to borrow his clients bino's or rifle. Show us the pooping out in bush behind a large tree shot, show us one where the PH doesn't have a double but shoots just as well with a rusty old stick, where the PH actually admits he misjudged the trophy and it doesn't just have nice bases, it is a damn baby! Show us one where the PH stands his ground against shooting a Lion or Leopard just because it is the last day of the safari, where the PH turns down a wide set of horns because it is still young!
Show us one where the game officials ask for bribes and solicit money if they allow you to break the law, where they constantly beg the client for any of his gear and walk around with loaded guns all day, show us one where the customs officials confiscate the rifles because they see a graft opportunity, show us the poor Africa riddled with AIDS, corruption and hunger. Let us know about the unscrupulous owner of the hunting concession who got it through political favors and bribes, where the locals don't see any benefit other than the much hyped safari care package which is then commandeered by the chief, show us where the money really goes, who really benefits from safari hunting!
Show us one where the client shoots like shit, is afraid of his new rifle and can't hit a barn, where there's a trail of wounded game and spent shells, where the fancy double they bought makes them stagger around in the heat and ask for a gun bearer, where the genuine buffalo hide boots blister the hell out of their feet, where the client pukes on his buffalo once it is down or takes a dump next to the Sable he just whacked because he has a nervous stomach. Show us those who refuse to go in after a wounded Lion saying that's what you're here for buddy I'll stay on the vehicle!
Many of you know my thoughts on this subject, the one of the fancy professional hunters showing what I call disrespect for our wildlife - I get nothing out of seeing some half baked PH clapping his client on the back as a pack of dogs maul a wounded leopard, it's shameful, or when an elephant goes down and everyone starts whooping, this beast deserves more than a cowboy burial! These people preach sharing their hunting legacy with their children, they preach conservation yet the image they put out in no way shows the true respect that is needed for our wildlife in Africa, it is very much in the Hollywood genre and will continue to leave out reality.
Some would say I'm envious - perhaps, - no one refuses an engraved double with a pretty blond thrown into the deal, but more and more it seems to me that the safari industry has become too full of glamour and glitz, if you don't have a movie of yourself potting charging pachyderms then you're not up to scratch and no one will book with you. If you do not own a double rifle then c'mon man how can you be taken seriously and more important if you dress like a vagrant you are out of here!
Sadly our hunting has become much like Hollywood - the truth, the real Africa is no longer good enough, it is perhaps too real to accept - we need heroes and villains - we need branding, endorsements and product placement - we need experts giving their opinion and we need to hunt in a world that we like, the one on TV, not the real Africa!