The minimum requirement for a well-trained guide in the Bushveld is the ability to communicate in English or Afrikaans (what a pity that so few hunters speak an indigenous African language). Other requirements include good general knowledge of the vegetation, animal behaviour, tracks and scat; keen sense of observation; optimal use of wind and sun; the ability to move slowly and quietly; tracking and locating targeted game; assisting the hunter to get in the correct position for the shot; tracking and locating wounded animals; using a two-way radio; and proper hygienic carcass processing e.g. correct caping of trophy animal without damaging the skin.
Josef Rapala was such a guide - and more. Josef worked on the farm Dikgakeng in the Lephalale (Ellisras) district for nearly 30 years. He passed away a month after he had been diagnosed with liver cancer.
In June 2009, during a family hunt at Dikgakeng, my two sons-in-law and I had the privilege to hunt with him for the last time. He was visibly ill already, but insisted to fulfil his role as farm manager and principal guide. The farm owner informed as about Josef's poor health, but it was still a shock to see this wonderful and much-loved man wasting away before your eyes. He died shortly thereafter. I could not have chosen a better guide and mentor for these two young men who each hunted their first buck under his tutelage in 2008.
Hunters often take guides for granted. For the average hunter who hunts once or maybe twice a year, the guide is arguably the real hunter. All the characteristics of a well-trained guide mentioned above, make it possible for the hunter to squeeze the trigger to conclude a successful hunt.
Many experienced hunters have learned most of their skills from hunting guides. Each time we meet a new guide, we evaluate his skills. Sometimes we are disappointed but often we are pleasantly surprised at their skills and dedication to the their task. Hunters can with a proper attitude learn so much from the hunting guides with whom they spend time in the veld. I know that I was privileged to increase my knowledge while out hunting with Josef.
Josef had a finely tuned sense of humour and the ability to communicate on everything you come across in the veld, whether it was a fresh track or scat, or explaining essential information in a simple yet effective manner.
I remember one morning early, when Josef, my son Mark and I were moving slowly against the wind looking for Marks’ first Impala. At some point we came close to the fence of the camp. Josef changed direction, changed his pace and made no effort to move quietly. Mark looked around at me with a frown on his face and it was clear that he wanted to know what was happening now. I stopped Josef and asked him to explain to Mark. In his usual descriptive manner, he explained to Mark that we changed direction and were walking with the wind to a point in the camp where we would change direction once again to continue our hunt against the wind when the animals could not smell us and our chances were better to get up close. This is just one of many lessons that Mark learned from Joseph and will probably never forget.
There are numerous small tokens of appreciation that the hunter can give the hunting guide. It can be his favourite tobacco or even a photograph of your previous year's hunt on which he also appears. Tipping the guide at the end of the hunt is at the hunter's discretion, but this is an important indicator to the guide of your satisfaction with his performance. a Small amount by the hunters’ standards may be a significant amount for the guide. The tip – or the size of the tip - should not be affected by circumstances outside the control of the guide. Let the attitude and dedication of the tracker - even when things go wrong during the hunt - guide your decision on the size of the tip.
Let us appreciate our guides for their contribution to our hunting experience and success, learn from them and show your appreciation for their work. Show me the person being genuinely appreciated, who does not try to do even better next time!.
Happy hunting Josef! May both the veld and game where you hunt now, be in excellent condition!