Q and A – Around the Camp Fire
When did you start you professional hunting career?
I guided my 1st client as an apprentice PH on a plains game hunt in Rhodesia in 1978 and have since been involved in the safari business to date, some 37 years on. My late father Chris Vivier was a PH for Zambia Safaris and Kerr, Downey, Selby Safaris in Botswana back in the early 60’s – so the safari way of life has always been in my family ever since I was born 56 years ago.
My late father Chris Vivier as a Professional Hunter in Zambia.
World renowned Author and Professional Hunter Peter Hathaway Capstick (left) keeps me (Front) and (unknown) entertained in the camp on the Chobe River Botswana.
Like most of us PH’s, I started out at the age of 5 with a #2 BSA pellet gun; where 500 pellets over a weekend wasn’t enough, never mind the air rifle spring that I would need to replace just about every month!
Me with my #2 BSA pellet gun … My trouser length would be in fashion today!!!
I then upgraded to my father’s .22 Bruno and then a double barreled 12 bore Greener shotgun that used to kick the crap out of me every time I fired it, as the stock and barrel length was too long for me, so I had to place the stock under my arm in order to pick up the front bead.
The abundance of Roan in those days was such that we could shoot Roan for camp meat if needed!
I shot my first animal a Roan antelope bull at the age of 7 with a 30-06 rifle whilst on Safari with my Dad in Zambia. I shot my first dangerous game species at the age of 10 years; a rouge Buffalo bull in Zambia, that had been mauled by Lions and was chasing the villages away from the water hole; Will never forget it, the Buffalo was laying behind an anthill where me and my Dad snuck up to within 20 paces of the brute; taking a dead rest on the top of the anthill, all we could see was his head and neck at a quartering angle looking away from us. Without any talking, my Dad pointed with his finger to shoot the Buffalo just behind the ear; I stuck a 30-06 round into the bull’s brain that ended his suffering whilst my Dad covered me with his .500 double.
I shot my 1st Elephant at the tender age of 18 years old on an Elephant cull (400 Elephant in 2 months) in the Wankie National Park 1977 … Here I got to meet and rub shoulders with great names in the PH and Elephant hunting sector like, Len Roberts, Ian Henderson, Paul Grobelaar, just to mention a few … What an amazing, unforgettable experience for such a young lad.
I just knew from those youth days that I too will one day become a Professional Hunter like my father and get paid to take hunters out on safari …. Can’t beat that deal now can you!! Those who knew my late Father looked at him in awe for the Northern Rhodesia champion boxer and tremendous PH that he was – Tragedy struck our family when my Dad choked on a piece of meat at a hunters gathering in the USA … I was just 18 years old and boy o boy was I ready to go on many more hunts and to learn from the BEST!!
Myself, Dr. Ed Lansche (Missouri USA) & PH Piers Taylor with a Doddieburn Impala ram taken in Zimbabwe during my apprentice days.
What is your favourite game animal?
I love hunting Buffalo out of the dangerous game animals, especially Bulls that are in herds where cows that have calves are present; My Dad taught me how to call Buffalo …. Yes really! and not by saying here Buffalo! here Buffalo! either …… But by projecting my voice as a calf in distress; Clients and Ph’s alike, that have experienced this tactic with me, will attest that it Really does work. We have had herds of 400+ Buffalo coming at us to see what the commotion is all about; We have been surrounded by Buffalo standing not 30 paces from us whilst we hide behind a tree; We’ve had Buffalo climbing up the same termite mound or lala palm thicket that we are hiding in and Yes!
Very often the words; Ohhhh Shit!! have been expressed by the client, until that big bull decides that he is going to come out of the herd to challenge whatever it is that that has captured a calf ….. Great excitement to say the very, very least; especially when a client is not expecting that kind of an up close and very personal encounter of the bovine kind!! Sure as heck beats chasing Buffalo up and down hills all day for miles and miles and miles …….
Hunting Kudu bulls on foot, is without a doubt my specialty out of the antelope species. I have taken on an average 15/20 trophy bulls per year with my clients spanning a 30 year period throughout Southern Africa. That magical mark of 60+ inches being broken only 11 times!! The Luangwa River in Zambia, Southern Zimbabwe, North West & Eastern Transvaal and Northern Zululand producing the biggest bulls for me to date. With many a huge Kudu taken in the heat of the day!!
I have hunted Buffalo in some of the BEST Buffalo hunting areas in Southern Africa which have produced excellent quailty Bulls as seen here; Some of these hunters in the pics have themselves expierenced and taken their Buffalo with me using the calling trick method.
Tell us about your rifles.
For 35 years I have used the same old open sighted .458 Ruger bolt action as a backup and touch wood, it has never let me down …. yet! It holds 3 rounds in the magazine with 1 up the spout. My rifle and I have covered many a kilometer together and I have backed up on wounded Duiker thru Elephant.
I use hand loaded BarnesX 510 grain as a soft and hand loaded 500 gain monolithic solids; I find this combination in ammo suits me just fine, with the emphasis on putting the bullet in the right spot!!! Never forget, as long as lead is in the air … there is hope!! Also in my battery of firearms is a .375 Model 70 pre 64 Winchester rifle that has an easy crisp trigger and shoots like a dream. It is fitted with a Leupold 3 x 9 vari x ii scope which has NEVER had to be re-zeroed in over 20 years!! All of the BIG 7, plus many Antelope species have been taken with this rifle using 300 grain BarnesX ammo and Woodleigh solids. Rounding off my arsenal with a .308 Remington rifle, .303 BSA rifle, 12 bore Remington pump action shotgun, .22 Bruno and a .40 caliber Glock hand gun.
Any regrets regarding the choice of PH as a career?
The only regret, if one can call it a regret … Let me rather say, that I found very tough in my career as a PH, was being away from my wife Bev and daughter Kelly. Before Kelly was born, Bev would go with me on every safari, to help transport clients to and from the hunting areas and in most instances Bev would handle the catering and camp for me as we were a team.
The minute a child is born into your safari career, then know straight off the cuff that your life as a PH changes. With my busy safari schedule of 250 days being away from home year in and year out, was no doubt tough! One minute Kelly was 4 years old and with a blink of an eye lid she was 18; with only 1 sports day under my belt that I ever managed to attend of Kelly’s. A 3 week safari with the same client, in a remote area and country, with no direct comms’ with home, is really tough!
Often I would cast my thoughts back to my family, wondering how they all are; especially at night, when you retire to your own tent, or you are in a hide with that feeling you are alone with no client to talk to in keeping your mind busy and away from those wondering thoughts of home and family. Then reality strikes, jolting you back to the present where these sacrifices meant an income for ALL of us in the camp ensuring bread and butter on our tables; so very much to be very thankful and grateful for that we indeed we were blessed with work!
Do you have any specific career highlights?
Whoa! I have many, many career memories that are still highlighted in my mind today. But to single out and mention a couple; I would say the very 1st time that I actually staked up to an Elephant Bull knowing that … I … Me … Myself … was about to shoot my first Elephant at only 18 years old. I had only ever viewed these enormous land giants on foot at a distance, or within the safety of my Dad’s hunting truck.
Never in my wildest dreams, did I ever imagine that at just 20 yards, standing right in front of me, that an Elephant bull would look even bigger than the biggest building that I have ever stood next to. Even when a Jumbo is laying on the ground he is big sure! But, I never expected him to be SO huge when you are right next to him and it being so intimidating when you are within his comfort zone (and mine too of course). The adrenalin that rushed through my veins, the pounding of my heart in my chest and ears, the feel of my .375 in my sweaty hands resembling a pop gun, the unbelievable fear element that wanted to engulf me, the thought that if only my Mother could see me now! she would give me the hiding of my life, the little bugger sitting on my right shoulder screaming at me to get the hell out of there and run!!!
But I couldn’t move … THEN suddenly the Giant stops feeding, he turns and faces me looking even BIGGER as he raises his head and opens those huge ears …. Everything slipping into slow motion mode for me now, then on my left shoulder and directly into my ear I hear the soft spoken, yet distinct order from PH and Elephant hunter Len Roberts; Shoot the light bulb in the middle of the broom stick NOW …. Boom ….!! The Elephant disappeared out of my sight picture due to recoil to a perfect frontal brain shot.
It was and still is, hard for me to believe that such a small projectile, which is barely the size of the tip of my little finger, can trip the light switch of such a huge animal with just a pop of a cap!! It is hard to explain the tremendous, excitement, experience and relief to anybody if one isn’t there standing on your own 2 feet facing that kind of a situation at such close quarter combat yourself …. Especially when you are just 18 years young! I will always treasure and be most grateful to Ph’s Len Roberts and Piers Taylor, for giving me this unbelievable and non-repetitive opportunity at taking my 1st Elephant! I just knew as the tears streamed down my cheeks, that my Dad was looking down at me with pride that day … Chris had just passed away a few months prior to that Elephant cull.
What is your definition of a quality hunt?
There is no doubt in my mind, that a quality hunt is about to expose itself, when your client expresses his deepest gratitude of being on safari with you as his PH, on his very first morning out in the bush!! ….. Whereas and in actual fact, it is me as the PH that needs to be kissing the clients feet for putting his confidence in our Outfit, for booking the hunt and for bringing us and our Country much needed business and forex! So be very grateful for every client that books a hunt with you!!
None the less; the clients most welcomed gesture, just sets the stage in the right direction for a dream safari about to unfold. It just encourages you as a PH, want to teach the client how to hunt in Africa; to show him the little things in the bush that we as PH’s take for granted, which means so much to the Client. Explain to the client why your hunting vehicle is rigged the way it is; teach the client about skinning, salting, boiling of horns and trophy care.
Let him see first-hand that his trophies are THE most important aspect of his safari. Leave religion and politics out of a safari equation, especially when there is hundreds and hundreds of things in the bush that you can keep yourself and the client busy with; teach him as much as you can and most of all, let the client feel that he has hunted all his animals fair and square. When your client tells you, that in his wildest dreams that he could never of even imagined his safari to be such a great experience; when you listen to the client tell you in his most sincere voice and manner, that his safari has gone far beyond his highest expectations and that he has gotten more “bang for his buck” than what he could of ever imagined.
That he tells you how much he has learned, that he treasures these past few weeks with you and that he is proud to call you his friend ….. As a PH stand tall that you have completed yet another quality hunt and know that you have just set the stage for a return bout with the same client, which is what it is all about!!
The difference between an agreeable and a difficult client?
A client that arrives on safari with his correspondence and contract that is 100% in order and he acknowledges with you that all is square and agreed upon. A client that has a well-worn pair of hunting boots; dark green colored clothing with a hat/cap that is dark green or camo’, a watch that does not reflect or has a cover over the glass; a rifle that he is used to shooting and has practiced with a lot at the range; that has a nice crisp trigger with a great quality variable scope; good quality ammo that has been recommended by the PH who he is hunting with; A client that understands that hunting is hunting, that he is in Africa and understands that yes! shit does happen sometimes and that tomorrow is another day.
A client that informs the PH that there is NO pressure on him for minimum horn sizes, and should a record book trophy be taken then great so be it. A client that reassures the PH that it is the quality of the hunt that he, as the client is looking forward to the most; In other words, a client that arrives on safari well prepared, is excited and shows enthusiasm to be on safari and has respect for the animals and environment; 10 out of 10 times these genuine clients are the making of an agreeable client which invariably turns out to be a fun and memorable safari for both client, PH and all staff.
Fortunately for me, and I think I can speak for most of my PH buddies here, that majority of our clients are good salt of the earth hunters which is the norm in our hunting field – The odd bad, disagreeable, disrespectful client, are far and few between. Maybe via an agent, a bad apple will slip past the screening and scrutinizing stages that we have in place at the conventions or via correspondence; in other words we can see then and there whether we want to book this particular client or not.
I try my best not to associate myself with such A holes, but you do get these buggers that no matter what you try to do, no matter what angle you come from, no matter even if you try to join them by being miserable yourself … there is zippo that is gonna make this client change his mind and realize that he in actual fact having a great time! I just take a deep breath, putting it down to experience and realizing one thing for sure; that with every sun rise and every sun set is another day closer to getting rid of the bugger!!
Can you single out a particular and favorite hunting area?
I was very fortunate that back in the early 70’s, I was able to go on safaris into countries like Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. I was able to view game in numbers unheard of today and see some incredible hunting areas. I fondly recall certain experiences like watching 3 huge, heavily manned Lions walking together in Mumbwa Zambia, viewing herds of Buffalo in excess of 1000 animals in the Luangwa valley; the remoteness of the beautiful Chobe River in Botswana; the magnificent Selous game reserve which includes the Rufiji and Ruaha rivers; the Ngoro Ngoro crater in Masailand; ….. If I had to choose only 1 area, phew! That would be tough, but it would be the Kigosi / Moyowashi area in Tanzania, this area has always enchanted me with its uniqueness, beauty and unbelievable hunting and trophy quality …. What an experience!!