Becoming a professional hunter in Africa is a lot more than hanging out at a shingle and calling yourself an outfitter or guide, as is the case in the United States, if for no other reason than you could be put in a life-or-death situation.
Still, for any hunter who wanted to hunt big game on the continent, it is a dream job. That includes South African native Helgard “Drom” Beaukes.
“I started hunting when I was 15 and have owned my own business since 2005. My grandfather was a hunter and a farmer. My father didn’t mind hunting, but he did not hunt. He was a farmer,” Beaukes explained.
I met Beaukes at a Dallas Stars hockey game while he was taking a break during a hectic week at the Dallas Safari Club show, one of the most important shows for international outfitters.
“When I started, you did a three-year apprenticeship and had to take a PH course to learn the laws,” Beaukes said.
For him, the choice to get into the profession was easy because it was a simple case of his job also being his hobby. The hard work he and his staff put in in the field often results in heaping amounts of praise, making it even easier.
“The best thing is working with people, meeting people from all around the world and making people’s dreams a reality,” Beaukes said.
The hardest part easily is being away from family during the 250-day hunting season.
With over 45 game species to hunt in five concessions totaling more than 1 million acres, Beaukes said his favorite of the Big 5 is the dangerous cape buffalo while the elusive eland is his favorite plains game.
Africa is changing and there is more to the hunting industry than there was 100 years ago. Its population is the fastest growing in the history of man. That along with political strife across the continent and modernization, even though it comes much more slowly than it does here, can all add pressure to wildlife populations.
As has happened in North America, changes have resulted in conservation becoming a major component of the hunting landscape.
“Conservation is the biggest role we have. We have set limits and we manage our areas working between The Nature Conservancy, CITES and ourselves,” Beaukes noted.
South Africa has been looked down on by hunting elitists for much the same reason Texas is, its private landownership and the fact some properties are high-fenced. However, with 90 percent of the land being privately owned, it is in a better position to conserve and protect species than neighboring countries where the land is owned by the government.
Beaukes points to the black wildebeest as a conservation success story. A native of South Africa, black wildebeest numbers were down to just over 100 on two farms in the 1900s. Today, their numbers are closer to 20,000.
A similar story is cape buffalo. Although their numbers never cratered, they have become probably the most sought-after big game in Africa. In South Africa the population has climbed 25 percent in the last five years. Part of the reason for both is because hunting has given the animals an economic value to be there.
“In South Africa, hunting is a way of life. They know how much money it puts into conservation and into helping the poor. The hunting industry falls under tourism and tourism is one of the top five industries in South Africa,” Beaukes said.
As for the fences, it is a matter of size. In some cases the PH’s concessions are larger than the city of Dallas. In those cases the fences do their job in protecting against poaching, but still provide a fair-chase hunt.
There are strong views about African wildlife, some of which are misguided, some are true. One misconception is that elephant numbers are dangerously low. Beaukes argues in many areas there are too many elephants, however, that is not to diminish the fact that poaching for ivory is an issue.
The concern over rhinos is real. Beaukes and others in his trade believe the solution is a reverse on the ban on rhinos.
“They need to open the legal trade on rhinos. Dead, they are worth nothing. They are worth something alive,” he suggests.
Beaukes believes the solution is to dart the rhinos and harvest their horns, giving them a value that would provide more protection. Made of keratin like a human fingernail, the horns would regrow.
While there was concern about the future of hunting in Africa a decade of ago, Beaukes says that has turned around in recent years in part because the hunts are affordable, and hunters are looking at them as more of a family opportunity. A plains game package, flight, taxidermy and all, can cost $10,000, less than some some trophy deer hunts and certainly a trophy elk hunt. Add something like a buffalo and it ups it to about $20,000, but still ballpark to some single animal hunts in the U.S.
To accommodate families, Somerby Safaris offers activities for those not interested in the hunting.
The U.S. is an important market for Beaukes, who sees a lot of hunters from Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Utah in his camps.