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Choose Your PH Wisely, Then Obey

As a young Tenderfoot, I memorized the Boy Scout Law: A Scout is: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Seems to me a good description of a great PH.

Some of these may seem a bit off but give it some thought. Thrifty? A hunt costs what it costs and lasts as long as it does, but I expect wise use of the time. Reverent? You bet! A good PH has reverence for the land and its wildlife, and is obedient to game laws, always.

There’s more.

An effective PH has extensive knowledge of the country and its fauna and flora, not just the game hunted, but the plants, birds and insects. With game animals, he or she will know how to find them, judge their quality, get you close for an effective shot and organize the recovery and game care. Depending on the situation, essentials often include camp construction and maintenance, management of other staff, mechanical expertise and skill in handling emergencies.

Boddington and Jaco Oosthuizen, an SCI PH of the Year winner, with an East African roan. They’d been hunting hard and things weren’t looking good, but Boddington trusted Jaco. With time growing short, they were rewarded with a fine bull.

It’s a tall order. No one could have all these attributes in equal measure. But there are hundreds of great guides and PHs scattered across game country throughout the world. When planning an outfitted hunt, our job is to make sure we find one of them.

Let’s start with some basic terms. The word outfitter literally means to outfit the hunt. Implied is an area inhabited by the game you seek, and the major equipment (usually including camps) and supplies to hunt effectively.

An outfitter is probably a PH. However, he or she must be primarily concerned with running the outfit and managing logistics. An outfitter may not actually accompany clients in the field. This means that, except in small companies, the outfitter will probably not guide you.

Your hunt will be conducted by a professional hunter or guide. In some areas, PH is the preferred term. Elsewhere, guide is more common. In some areas, guide is a legal term that reflects different standards or restrictions on activities than a full PH.

In any case, duties to you are the same, so I’m inferring a person with an effective mix of the attributes listed, plus the proper legal prerequisites. For the record, I am not a professional hunter. It’s a pet peeve for me or other media persons to be so labeled.

I guide hunters on my Kansas place and have guided elsewhere, but PH is an honorable title that I lay no claim to. I have, however, hunted with dozens of good PHs, and very few that were, in my opinion, less than good.

FINDING THE RIGHT PH

So, how do you make sure you’re getting a good PH? The late Jack Atcheson Sr. was a great mentor. He told me, “When shopping for any hunt, his first considerations was area!”

Good outfitters will have adequate, well-supplied camps, but even the very best PH’s hands are tied in marginal areas. Finding the best areas for the game you seek is largely a matter of research.

The record books are a prime reference for areas that produce not just the biggest and best, but also good animals in numbers. Our SCI Record Book is especially useful because it is global and current, and, uniquely, lists the PH or outfitter.

Obviously, you want to find an outfitter who has good areas and camps. Word of mouth is always the best reference, and the internet is a wonderful resource. Conventions offer a wonderful opportunity to meet outfitters face-to-face.

Always get references and follow up. At our convention, you can usually track down references and get first-hand info. Otherwise, you can start with email, then schedule phone conversations.

Never hesitate to ask the hard questions. What size are their areas? Are they exclusive? Are they properly licensed in the areas they hunt? What organizations are they affiliated with? Not just SCI, but their local outfitter-guide associations, or international groups such as the International Professional Hunters’ Association (IPHA) or African Professional Hunters Association (APHA). There are valid reasons for nonparticipation, but it’s a fair question.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

After area, Atcheson always told me that your guide or PH was next in importance. That’s the person with you on the ground, with the greatest influence on success and whether or not you have a quality experience. Many PHs attend our convention, but many do not. Some, in various parts of the world, are in the field. So, when shopping a hunt with an outfitter, always ask, “Who will guide me?”

If you can meet your PH, great. At least, get contacts and references. Experience is important, but there’s nothing wrong with a young, ambitious and eager PH. Even so, you have a right to know his or her experience with the game you seek.

Ideally there should be some degree of personality match. You need to evaluate what kind of experience you’re looking for, and what you expect. This is the stuff you must convey to the outfitter, who will assign guides accordingly, and to the guide or PH when you chat. It is in your best interests to be completely honest. Disclose any strong preferences you have (on anything) and divulge any health or physical limitations.

Great PHs have their own reputations, sometimes separate from the outfitter. It’s okay to request a certain guide, even to make that conditional to booking. However, as outfits get larger, it is impossible for a best-known guide to guide everyone. I have never asked to be assigned a PH by name. Almost always, it has worked out fine but, perhaps, I have my own reputation. Maybe you do, too.

So, finally, you and your PH are in camp, and it’s time to get that long-awaited hunt underway. Depending on situation, there may be other key players, or the outcome may rest entirely on you and your PH. Either way, you need to be a team. It’s probably not a bad idea to turn the old Boy Scout Law around and apply its tenets to yourself.

Author Craig Boddington and PH Dirk de Bod with a magnificent old lion, probably Boddington’s last. Dirk has won SCI’s PH of the Year award, and over the course of 25 years and many safaris, he has also won Boddington’s complete trust.

On some guided hunts, the paying client isn’t expected to lift a finger but, in the interest of saving time and building mutual respect, I urge hunters to pitch in as they can with camp chores, game care and such.

By its nature, and why we love it, hunting is uncertain. There are ups and downs, good days and bad. You gotta roll with the punches and keep trying. Never forget, the last day is as good as the first.

The best advice I can offer anyone on a guided hunt is simple: Trust your PH. Assuming you’ve shopped wisely and chosen well, your PH knows what he is doing. Within limits, and to the extent of your experience, it’s okay to confer and politely offer suggestions. Just understand that the last thing a competent PH wants to hear is how he should be hunting.

A guided hunt is an unusual situation. You are paying the freight, but the PH is in charge of conducting the hunt, and assumes primary responsibility for the safety of the party. We think hunting is the main focus, but being a PH is also about entertaining the client, what I like to call dream fulfillment, that is, showing you a good time.

On small matters, a good PH should defer to you. On the big stuff, let’s go back to the Scout Law: You should be obedient to your PH. Final decisions on where and how to hunt, and anything that may result in safety issues, must rest with the PH. On any given day, not all decisions will be correct, but your PH will do the best she can, based on experience and local knowledge. The best course, always, is to trust your PH.–Craig Boddington

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