Sunday, 30 December 2012

Monday, 5 November 2012

True Hounds

Over the course of time hunting Man has fabricated, and further mastered the utilization of, many tools and aids to improve the regularity of his triumph over a chosen quarry. From stone arrow tips to core bonded projectiles, fragile wooden bows to carbon fiber compounds even elaborate trap falls to the Oneida Victor soft catch traps.

The hunting canine has accompanied man along this course for almost the entire journey, and likewise, has undergone significant change. From the wolf emerged the hunting dog and thereafter followed the broad diversity of modern hunting hounds and dogs.

But what is the difference between a hound and a dog you inquire?

Well it’s best to start with the image of a Jackal, Coyote or physically similarly constructed canines. Ears positioned high on the head to function like a radar dish, eyes clear and acute and a sensitive nasal organ in constant employ. This trio of senses is complimented by a powerful bite force capable of tearing flesh from a very much alive animal. The dog moves efficiently through the veld and investigates any promising sound, scent or movement. The pursuit is silent and often stalking techniques are engaged. Of the many species of predator the canines rank high on the list of success rate and their widespread dispersal and abundance are proof of this efficiency. Mastering these canines has benefited hunting man significantly as this weapon regularly delivered a source of protein.

History records a change in Mans hunting motivation toward a practice more aptly described as sport and the consequence for the canine was a program of selective breeding for specific physical and temperamental traits. Dogs were no longer required to acquire the meat but rather to function as a hunting aid and perform a pleasing task. Enter the Hounds, both sight and scent, the possession of which bestowed great esteem on owner’s right across the globe from Arabia to Western Europe. 
The persisting theme of this paper will however only deal with scent hounds:

Great bawling voice, long drooping ears fastened to the head well below eye-line, elongated slender body, deep chest, obsolete bite force, sociable and responsive character and a passion for, actually an addiction to, the pursuit of scent, forms a basic but accurate description of what became the true scent hound. Lymers (leashed hounds) were the preliminary with numerous breeds now found prevalent on every continent of the modern world.

But How? And Why?   
As hunting man placed more emphasis on the scent tracking ability of his canine tool so physical traits became more synonymous with individuals proficient in this task. Genetic flags, like your nose is the same as Granddads’ or big feet like your Uncle, were indicators that the individual might store the same good scenting abilities as previous descendants. Compounding these genes through processes of line-breeding and in-breeding resulted in a general uniformity and the start of hound breeds. Late 10th Century and a Belgian monk, later to be named the patron Saint of hunting, documented for the first time a breed standard, that of the Saint Huberts Hound or now commonly known as the Bloodhound. The St Hubert, and similar hounds, not only assisted the hunter to target a specific quarry by being unleashed onto a selected spoor, but also enabled him to pursue, on foot or horseback, by following the broadcast from the hounds bawling bark, and the sport of hunting entered some of its finest years in recorded history.

Hound hunting has now found its home in the pursuit of more elusive animals like pigs and cats but not limited to such. Diverse cultures and traditional practices are not as rich in the SA or USA hounding context as can be found in Europe but pioneer communities have always discarded a lot of the lace and embroidery for more practical measures. Traditions are often quite local in our fair land but the appreciation for the hounds ability and character can be experienced countrywide. So too is the general method of identifying the spoor of the target game and then orderly unleashing the pack onto the alluring scent track. Not every decoupling is successful but for the most part the joy of hearing the hounds hunt is prominent on the hunters agendas. The hunter performs the killing as has always been practiced in this discipline, initially with spear, sword or knife and nowadays the modern high powered firearm, since the start when the hound was fabricated to bay and not physically engage the stationary quarry. Although the hounds might be rewarded with parts of the carcass their enthusiasm for the hunt is to please their master and employ their finely selected genetic drives. Man has selectively molded the canine, in the form of the hound, so dramatically that it bears only a slight resemblance to its ancient ancestors - what predator advertises his pursuit so vocally to the quarry? This act is a complete demolition of the predator advantage.

Currently, around the world there are too many scent hound breeds to mention each individually but in France alone 23 Chiens Courants  are recorded and standardized. On every continent One can find scent hounds and in the USA alone there are more active hound hunters than the total amount of South African sport hunters. The elaborate large packs of the decadent eras are much less familiar now being replaced by economical, smaller packs, even to the extent that consideration in International hound hunting competitions for the categories of Solo and single Couple is most common.

Hunting is ingrained in SA culture for many and the sport is still well practiced and on a positive graph with the industry weathering the current economic storm comparatively well. This indicates a sturdy future and the popularity of hound hunting is growing respectively, especially among the hunters seeking a really interactive experience. 

Scenthound pups

Friday, 2 November 2012


The .416 Rigby evokes the romance of the African safari like no other with the possible exception of the .375 Holland & Holland. Introduced in 1911 it was the first cartridge to use a .416” bullet. Sending a 400 gr projectile out at 2300 fps, the Rigby gets high marks in any comparison of stopping rounds. While its impressive dimensions demand a true magnum action, it is interesting to note that perhaps the most famous .416 rifle - that of PH Harry Selby - was built on a standard Mauser action. This CZ 550 is a variant of the true magnum Mauser properly proportioned to accept the modern big game cartridges. 

Friday, 26 October 2012

Feeding Bushpig

The bushveld has just now started its drastic transformation from a dry, almost empty space, frequented by fires and wind transported waves of dust to the blossoming lush habitat captured in the many images that all the travel journals depict. 

Rain has arrived and the promise of abundance is ever more present. For most herbivores and omnivores the pantry has however not yet been fully unpacked and they still take full advantage of rich nutrient sources like the pile of sour unprocessed maize strategically placed by a hunter like myself.  This specific bait was visited by no less than 3 separate sounders in the same night but it’s this imposing Boar that captures my interest most. His confidence and surety of presence is a trusty sign that he will be a capable adversary for both hunter and hounds.  Physical identifications of his gender are the pronounced warts on his snout – absent in the sow on his left. Although his size is larger, this we find is often not the norm with sows regularly weighing more than the boars – field dressed.

One morning in the future the keen hounds will be de-coupled onto the scent track, and should this brute be brought to bay and felled by a hunter, it will no doubt be memorable and most challenging.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Training days for Xosha Bushveld Hound pups involves following the astute lead of the adult hounds. 

The humans do the initial labor of finding the clear trace of a feline and then pass the baton over to the adult hounds to investigate if sufficient scent deposits are apparent and in sufficient quantities to allow for fixed trailing. Always it’s the search for tracks and weeks can go by spent without any profit for the invested hours driving and hiking. But when a good track is found the atmosphere is loaded with possibility and positivism.
8 months plus is the entry age for the Bushveld hounds into the initiation and a hound won’t be considered trained until at least his/her 3rd season. All the emphasis is placed on scent tracking and always the quarry is left in the tree to shrewdly lay scent deposits for another day. 
True ‘catch & release’ and not possible by any other hunting means than over Hounds.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Xosha bushveld hounds


Besides the rare encounters in my adolescence, my relationship with the Leopard started in earnest in December 1996 with my appointment as a field guide for a private photographic safari camp in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.
Being the most sought after animal for viewing by visiting tourists, the Leopard is a priority to find if one has the determination to provide a quality experience to the paying guests.
This translates into a professional competition amongst all the field guides operating in a certain traversing area, resulting in a drive to be the most efficient tracking team.
The tracking team consists of the field guide, responsible for controlling the vehicle, and the tracker, responsible for identifying the spoor from his perch on the bonnet of the vehicle. Once a spoor is found the pair must co-ordinate their efforts in order to bring the tourists in view of the Leopard, either by vehicle or on foot.

By 1998 I believed that the team of which I was a member was quite efficient, managing to track, locate and view both male and female Leopard fairly regularly, however my move further North to a camp situated close to the Timbavati/Umbabat border resulted in a revolution of that concept when I had a tracker by the name of Giyani assigned to me.
I can freely state that Giyani opened up to me a new world of insight into Leopard habits and behaviour. Being of Shangaan origin and having grown up as a herder boy for his fathers cattle, Giyani had a seemingly emptyless basket of experience and talent.
I had a lot of learning to do and a lifetime probably was not enough to catch him up.
Regardless, the time spent tracking Leopard over Giyani’s shoulder was to fabricate the foundation of passion for pursuing this elusive cat, which remains with me to this day.
We took every chance presented to us to find Leopard and it became our specialty.
Several years of the duty cycle of working for 4 weeks followed by 7 days leave passed so quickly it now feels like a dream, but at the time each day was packed with exposure to raw nature in the pristine African bushveld. I began to feel the need to be more involved – to remove myself as just a spectator and be included in my surroundings. This desire led me to leave the photographic scene and enter the professional hunting industry.

I obtained the required qualifications as stipulated by the law in 2004 after having intermittently served apprenticeship on several game farms in the Limpopo province in between paying the bills with forestry work. During this time I constructed a hound pack for hunting the Bushpig that are numerous in the mountainous areas where I was functioning. I also began to receive some freelance work performing Leopard hunts for other hound operators, which over time increased in frequency and profitability.
Finally by 2006 my ‘Bushpig pack’ was a rough and tough dual-purpose unit and I had acquired all the necessary tools and equipment to respond to a call for a Leopard hunting pack anywhere in Southern Africa. I had infused my line of locally bred hounds with foreign genetics through the mating of a male Bluetick I imported from Canada in order to amplify certain qualities required for successfully pursuing Leopard, and I had equipped a good Zimbabwean tracker with the skills to additionally perform the function of hound handler.
He remains in my employment to this day.

November 2006 was to present an opportunity that, although it meant I had to sell my hounds, I am grateful I did not refuse - a position as a handler with a German Wild Boar pack made up of Deutsche Jagdterriers.
For 2 years I was involved in driven hunts in numerous locations throughout Central and Southern Germany that bestowed on me a better comprehension of the origins and cultures of European hunting. Good fortune also afforded me several occasions to hunt in France, Spain, Austria and Belgium.
The real prize however was the ease of accessibility I now had to the French houndsmen and their hounds. It became necessary to engage in a French language course in order to at least be able to comprehend some basic French writings on the topic of hounds and their training, especially those which regarded the hunting of the Wolf.

During this time I was keeping in contact with the developments in the hound hunting industry back home with the intent of later returning to pick up where I left off, this time with a breed I had discovered in France that possessed all the desirable characteristics for hunting Leopard – in spades!
The Grand and Petit Gascon Saintongeois.
I travelled and traded in France and Belgium, purchasing and collecting the foundation stock of 9 individuals from kennels that I judged to be breeding the correct type of Gascon-Saintongeois hound with suitable characteristics for introduction into the African arena.

My perspective on what is needed for efficiently tracking and baying a Leopard stipulates that the hound must:
  1. Primarily have a firm affliction for using his nose and be bred from stock that demonstrate the characteristic of detecting old scent tracks.
  2. Be built proportionately with long legs, a long neck, deep chest and a foot similar to the Wolf.
  3. Have a great voice.
  4. Be courageous and not easily intimidated, yet not be foolishly driven to attack the quarry.
  5. Possess a fine coat with exposed skin being dark.
  6. Be acutely connected to his master and not aggressive to other hounds.
  7. Have problem solving ability supported by intelligence.

Since returning to South Africa I have patiently and conscientiously trained up a pack of hounds exclusively for hunting the felines found in our bushveld namely; Caracal, Serval and Leopard.
In line with the centuries old tradition I have implemented the principles and practices as defined by the Art of Hunting with Hounds – Venerie, which sets out a template for constructing and operating a pack of hounds with emphasis on aged scent tracking ability, identifying individual strengths, communication between hounds, discipline and target specificity.
This, coupled with some of the traits found in the American dry ground hound like persistence, heat tolerance, ‘treeing’ awareness and working endurance, have directed me to a course of breeding selection and pack composition that results in a complete team very capable of consistently tracking and bringing to bay the elusive Leopard.

Add some unique South African hunting culture and enter into our wonderfully diverse habitats and the result is a superb hunting experience far and above the simple acquisition of a trophy.
We are now confidently ready to offer our services of a top notch Leopard hunting team.
My goal is to stay aligned with current Leopard conservation principles of harvesting the most ecological sound individual, which remains according to all current research, the large mature male.

For all these blessings that have steered my life path I am thankful to God.