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Thoughts On A Lifetime Of Guiding
By Sam Fadala
Photos Nick Fadala
I’ve done an awful lot of free guiding in my time — family, friend and downright stranger I never set eyes on until hunter departed airplane in Wyoming, Arizona or Africa. I’ve never applied for an American guide’s license, and therefore couldn’t charge if I wanted to. I do hold a Professional Hunter (PH) license in Africa, but prefer setting up hunts with the only, but significant, reward of free daily rate from my outfitters. Guiding gets me back to Africa for two-plus months annually and that’s enough “pay” for me. No idea how many nimrods I’ve sallied forth with into the field — many. There is special reward in being a significant part of a dream. Like the un-well man coming for Cape buffalo. “What do you want?” his wife had asked. To get a Cape buffalo in Africa was his wish. Done. And I was lucky enough to be at his side when the bull, a bad boy, came our way. He dropped it with two good shots from his .45-70 single-shot rifle.
I remember the fellow from New Jersey who got off the plane in Tucson with one and only one cartridge in his possession. He had contacted my hunting partner, the late John Doyle. “Where would I go for javelina?” he asked. John was tied up with his taxidermy shop, but he knew a fellow who would act as a “free guide.” Me. We found a sounder of pigs. Made a good stalk. Snaking his single cartridge from a coat pocket, our man loaded and began to take aim. “Remember” I whispered, “above that white line is just hair. Hold just behind the elbow.” He did and the bullet went true. He slapped me on the back with high praise for my last minute instruction, saying that as he hunted America and “around the world” he took only one cartridge for each animal he intended to add to his trophy room. He was just that way.
I remember the hunter from Oregon who not long before his arrival in Wyoming had undergone by-pass surgery. I spent as much time watching him as looking for the mule deer he wanted. I could tell that, in spite of our slow and careful working of the country, he was laboring. A few times, not only for his sake but for mine, I suggested trying for a buck by vehicle. He said no. He had passed muster with his doctor and was given the green light to hunt — slowly — even at high altitude. Found the biggest buck I ever saw before or since. And what did he say? He told me to take the shot. I said no. I was not hunting. He was. He missed. “You should have taken the shot,” he said. Next morning he got a lesser, but good, buck. I think I was happier than he was.
I remember two guys from California departing the airplane in Johannesburg for a 14-day go on plains game and Cape buffalo. Neither had a lot of big game experience, but they made up for it in dogged determination — and bless them for not guiding the guide. They had a few tough trials along the way, but never a complaint. At the close of each day where they had hiked with my rangy main tracker, Obed, I asked, “How would you rate this day from one to ten?” Always the same reply — a ten! regardless of success or disappointment. Both knew a lot about the world of firearms, especially gun history — the day John Moses Browning was born, the day he passed, his first invention and to whom it sold for how much — and a lot more. Camp evenings were pleasantly spent with these men.
I remember the man who ranked Africa: people/country/hunting, declaring “My best day was going to that village in Zimbabwe, giving candy to the kids and bringing all that meat and clothes for everyone.” Another sent an e-mail after his safari which read, “Thank you for including me when you and your outfitter took meat and clothes to those three villages. I couldn’t believe the joy and gratitude of those people. And how grateful that woman was when you guys dressed that cut that could have gotten badly infected. My SCI kudu and SCI nyla were highlights of the trip, but I will remember the villages most.” Another wrote, “I will never be the same after hunting with you and Johan in Africa. Just watching the trackers at work was worth the trip. And I thought I was a good hunter!”
There are the missed shots. You and client worked hard for the opportunity and he or she missed — tough to take, but nothing to dwell on. I always remember the client felt worse than I did. We bury it and go forward. Of course it’s grievous when the animal was special. How about the hunter who, after several attempts finally had a shot at a leopard. Not just any leopard. A big boy. He missed. He simply missed. We were both crestfallen. He went home without a cat. And then there are the bad days. Life is like that. The American leopard hunter who wounded his cat. One thing PH and client can count on with a wounded leopard — it will take revenge if it can. It did on this hunter, biting a chunk of meat out of his chest, painful at the time, now a badge of honor — “Want to see where a leopard bit me?”
The Good Times
I remember the good times more than the trials, but bringing out a few negatives, especially about Africa, might be helpful to the safari-bound. There was the man who hunted in dark glasses. I mean dark glasses. I finally asked him why he spent good money on a high-grade scope designed to deliver light to the eye, and then castrate it with dark glasses. He continued to wear them. He continued to miss. He finally took them off. Coincidence maybe, but the next three shots were spot-on. There is the know-it-all client, such as the European who had read volumes on African fauna. The only reason he suffered having a PH along was demand of the law. He blew stalk after stalk “hunting his way.” Frustrating.
Another European client, an extremely fine shot, discouraged his PH, outfitter, and trackers as he issued no love for, nor real interest in, the animals he “collected.”
He walked up to his prize, took a look, turned and strolled back to the vehicle to scratch an “X” on the animal he had just bagged. We offered photos. He didn’t want any. “I’ll see it mounted in my trophy room,” he said, adding “Why would I need a picture?” We cried no tears when this old boy departed the airport 21 days after picking him up. He didn’t offer a word of thanks to anyone who labored to make his stay not only successful in trophies, but comfortable and safe—from trackers and skinners to drivers, cooks, maids, with every pleasantry these people, including his outfitter and PH, provided for him.
I remember the total stranger who ended up at my partner’s taxidermy shop begging help on Coues deer. He had already hunted a week, sighting zero bucks in a supposedly good area. We took him hunting. Within a couple hours we had a bedded Coues buck sighted. Our “client” couldn’t see it, no matter how hard he peeped through his binoculars. We found another buck, also not a shooter, also bedded. No matter how hard our hunter peeped through his binoculars, he could not make out the buck. “One of you lies, and the other backs him up,” he said. The same scene repeated with the same comment twice more. Late afternoon, John’s glass separated a good Coues from the rocks. Our boy couldn’t see it. With sundown coming, we fired a shot near the buck and he bolted off. “That was him,” I said. The man who had called us liars saw it.
The people in camp have names. I make it a point to explain to clients in Africa that the entourage of folks working to make their stay a lifelong golden memory like to be known by their names. Sometimes the names are difficult. A chef in one of our camps has a Venda handle I could never pronounce even after considerable effort. On his own he altered it to Batsani—easily sounded out—Bot sahn eee—and everyone was happy. Maids Monica, Peggy, and Joyce were not so-named at birth, nor were trackers and skinners Joey, Roy, or Wilson.
Nobody in camp wants to hear how the local money looks like it came from a monopoly board, or that “You guys in Africa drive on the wrong side of the road.” That lame language does not impress. The money spends just fine and there is no such thing as the wrong side of the road. Most client trespasses are readily forgiven. I have only one that irks me to the point of near confrontation. That is the cheapo who, after bragging about his “second home” on the beachfront running 10,000 square feet and his special collection of double rifles, moans when he asks me what he should tip the trackers who were essentially responsible for every trophy he got. When I suggested ten U.S. dollars a working day to one of these last-of-the-big-time spenders, the chap said, “Isn’t that a bit steep?”
The hunting client deserves the very best experience, and usually gets it — but not always. How about the lad who took his client on a Rocky Mountain big game hunt with one pan? The guide’s wife was along as camp cook. Having no one to watch the baby, only a few months old, the tot was also on the hunt. That single pot went for washing the baby’s disappears when it wasn’t in use making the only camp meal prepared — oatmeal. Another guide, in Alaska, left his clients 33 miles off the Denali and never came back for them, having had a split with his partner, both men leaving Alaska. Snow began to come down big on September 21. I know. I was one of the clients abandoned on the tundra.
It’s an interesting relationship—the guide must know area, game, where “the big ones” hang out, how to find them, and above all, ensure his client has a good time in as close to perfect safety as possible, be it Africa or the Rocky Mountains. The client, on the other hand, has an obligation to understand that hunting is hunting. It does not always go as planned or hoped for, or even worked hard for. The client who expects his guide to have a record class elk or a 42″ Cape buffalo tied to a tree is living under the shadow of wishful thinking. No client should expect the guide to produce magic. There may be some discomfort along the way. It may rain, snow, and blow on that elk hunt, or the elephant tracked for two days never caught up to.
Life is like that.
The client who does not appreciate the African sunset, Sam says, probably won’t enjoy the camp or any other aspect of the hunt aside from the hunting itself.