On safari with Jaco Oosthuizen

African Hunting Gazette: When and where were you born?  

Jaco Oosterhuizen: I was born in northern Namibia back in 1973, in the town of Tsumeb, though I spent my early years on a cattle ranch just east of Etosha National Park. Later on we lived in town because of the high security risk in the middle of the infamous Angolan bush war. My dad was a cattle rancher for 23 years until 1982, when he decided the risk of the war was not worth it anymore, so for a while we moved to South Africa.

 AHG: Tell us all about your family.   

JO: I was fortunate to have met Magdel in 2010 who instantly became a huge asset to our business with her enthusiastic and innovative hardworking attitude. Having also grown up on a ranch, she was the perfect match in both worlds, with a great love for the African bush and its wildlife. We have two beautiful kids, Josh (almost 5) and Nina (almost 2).  Kind of a late start, I know, but mostly due to my many bachelor years spent hunting in the African bush.

AHG: What led you to become a professional hunter?

JO: My dad was an avid hunter, and since we did not have power on the ranches back in those days (except for a rather huge generator which only ran for an hour or two at night) we spent a lot of our time as kids wandering around in the bush exploring and, of course, learning from our fathers.  My dad’s oldest brother was our neighbor, so we visited back and forth all the time, always with a rifle in hand, very often on foot between the homesteads.

My dad was 14 years old when his father passed away; he had to leave school at the time to run the family ranch south of Etosha. At that young age he killed his first cattle-raiding lion, all by himself, though he went out on his first lion hunt on horseback when he was only eight years old. Such was life in those days. Ranchers had to protect their cattle as that was their only livelihood.  Of course, with this background, my dad’s love for hunting automatically just spilled over to me and my brother, Pieter. We have been hunting for as long as we can remember. Once that love for nature and the outdoors is imbedded in you, nobody but the dear Lord can take it away. It’s a God-given privilege, and there is just no other way to get in touch with nature, than through hunting. I only learnt more about the professional side of hunting during my ‘varsity years, and was fortunate enough to have known a former nature conservation official who also started outfitting, who then guided me in the right direction.

I became a PH in 1994 and got my first outfitter’s license in 1997. At the 1999 SCI Convention I was the youngest African outfitter on the floor in Reno. In the meantime, we have had the privilege of having built a proud reputation and also won the Dallas Safari Club Outfitter of the Year award in 2008.

Jaco is a professional hunter at Namibia Safari Cooperation

AHG: Which countries have you hunted, and where are you hunting these days?

JO: I first started out in South Africa, got licensed in numerous provinces initially, then ventured into Zimbabwe with mixed successes. At the end of 1996 I ended up in Kenya on a culling expedition in northern Samburuland – an amazing experience, and ever since then East Africa was in my blood. I became involved in Tanzania in 2000 where I still spend most of my days on hunting safaris, going on 20 years now. Just a beautiful country. We added Cameroon to our list of destinations some 10 years ago and now enjoy entertaining our clients up there annually in both the savanna and the forest

Now I mostly hunt in Namibia, Tanzania, South Africa and some in Cameroon. South Africa also adds to our operation through the huge variety of plains game available, especially a must for the collectors. However, I always tell everybody, if you do not want to be disappointed in your first (or any) African experience, then Tanzania is awaiting you. This is unspoiled nature at its best, paired with dangerous-game hunting at its best. I’ve  been hunting in Tanzania since 2000, uninterrupted, and there is just nothing on earth that can beat this adrenalin-rushing experience on a daily basis. It makes you feel alive every day, and every day has a new challenge. We pride ourselves on focusing mainly on totally free-range hunting and, if not possible, on huge chunks of privately-owned land in the applicable countries. The great part of it is that the different seasons in these different destinations works out well for us. We moved back to Namibia in 2012, where we cater mostly for the plains-game market, with some elephant hunts offered up in northern Namibia. I am now also hunting there fulltime, mostly up in the old Caprivi (now called Zambezi Region), generally focusing on dangerous game. I have hunted Botswana as well – truly an elephant hunter’s paradise.

AHG: If you could return to any time or place in Africa, where would it be? 

JO: I think I would have loved to explore Africa, and more specifically East Africa, with the likes of FC Selous and the white hunters out of Nairobi during that time.

AHG: Which guns and ammo are you using to back-up on dangerous or wounded game?

JO: Currently, my Chapuis .470 NE with 500-gr solids is my favorite. If Chapuis would make a .500 NE I would jump right on it, but since they don’t, I had to settle for the .470 – I just fell in love with the gun some 15 years ago – it can write its own stories…J There are certainly quite a few popular and great brands out there, but Chapuis just fitted me well in all aspects, and a very important one was the standard beavertail front end / forearm so I don’t naturally cover the rear sights when I grab the rifle. It is just a well-balanced rifle and I just don’t miss with it.

 AHG: What are your recommendations on guns and ammo for dangerous game and for plains game?

JO: I have always been a big .375 H&H fan when it comes to client recommendations, purely because it’s such a versatile rifle and handles much easier than anything else out there, on average. It is important for clients to have confidence in themselves when shooting big calibers – if they have confidence in themselves it is easier to have confidence in the rifle. One of my clients nicknamed his Sako .375 he bought back in the ‘80s, “Irene”. I promise you, she is deadly accurate! The .458 Lott is also up there, and then when clients want to go for double rifles, it then becomes a personal choice for them, but from a management point of view I’ll recommend them to get a .470 NE.

AHG: What is your favorite animal to hunt and why?

JO: Elephant – just intriguing, challenging, all together awesome to hunt while understanding that the money involved truly contributes big time to conservation and protection of wildlife habitat.

AHG: Looking back, which was your greatest trophy?

JO: That’s a tough one, there are so many of them. Just recently I got a splendid 62” kudu bull, but one among many that always come to mind is a magnificent, perfect, almost 47” Cape buffalo we hunted in western Tanzania, after the client had taken an awesome 42-incher on the first day of the hunt.

AHG: What was your closest brush with death? Looking back:  anything you should have done differently?

JO: In 2010 I got hit by a leopard which I ended up shooting in the chest with my .470 NE at point blank. He still got me on the arm, and as we went down I literally hit him with my fist as hard as I could on the ear… It worked. He ran off and died 15 yards from me, from the 500-gr bullet through his heart.  Under the circumstances not much could have been done differently. The interesting thing was that there were five or six PHs who got hit by cats that year, mostly leopard – and everyone’s name started with a “J”.

AHG: How has the hunting industry changed over the years, and the hunting clients themselves?

JO: Well, over the last 25 years we have certainly experienced a lot of changes, some positive, some negative. Unfortunately, more recently it has become much more success-driven from the clients’ perspective – instant gratification is the norm, fueled by the rapid development of technology and communications. Life has become too fast in many ways, and there are always the pros and the cons. Few people / clients have the time to smell the roses anymore – success is measured in the number of animals taken which immediately defeats the purpose of “trophy hunting / conservation hunting”. I feel that we as professionals are tasked to re-educate hunters about the ethics of hunting and how we should protect our hunting heritage in the process. Many young PHs  in the industry also need to be taught that success is not measured by the number of animals you take every year and the filling of client wish lists through the so called ”put-and-take” method – that is a certain death wish for the industry. We need to totally do away with that, whether it be on game ranches in the USA, Africa or wherever. I believe there is no place for that concept in the hunting industry if we want to survive and justify hunting around the globe. Make the effort to hunt animals in their natural habitat and ranges. We need to get away from the $-driven approach in order to satisfy personal and clients’ needs and demands. It is our duty to instil in clients that ethical hunting is a conservation tool to ensure a sustainable future for the industry, wildlife, and its habitat, and it comprises many components, and the road to success starts with us and our ethics.

AHG: Which qualities go into making a successful PH and/or a successful hunting company?

JO: First of all: patience and passion. Respectful behavior towards all people and animals alike, complemented with hardworking ethics. Pride yourself in what you are doing and do not put the $ up as your objective.  Do your job, and blessings will come your way in due time. These words from Charles T Davis always stuck with me: “To ride, to shoot straight and speak the truth, this was the law of ancient youth, old times are past, old days are done, but the law runs true, O little son!”

AHG: What makes hunting with you different from others?

JO: I always tell clients when hunting with us, you hunt for the experience. I am never selling a client an animal, we are selling an experience, and yes, part of that experience, of course, is having a successful hunt.

Do not get me wrong… we totally understand that part, but the difference is that not everything is based on size. We like to hunt ethically (the better the client’s ability to move around, the easier this is for us to maintain), which of course includes taking down the older male specimens which have generally done their part in nature. In most situations this will result in taking out pretty good – to sometimes very big – specimens, if that is of importance.

This is the perfect example of Conservation through Utilization. This small percentage of animals taken selectively by trophy hunters contributes in a huge way to the survival of various species and the protection of their habitat, while affording such hunters the opportunity to spent priceless time with Nature, learning every day from their experiences, enriching their lives in many ways – something the anti-hunters unfortunately will never understand from the comfort of their warm lounges in New York, or where ever that might be. We abide by the code of Ethics prescribe by PHASA (Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa) which I believe is a very simple basis of respecting nature while enjoying the privilege of hunting Africa.

AHG: Which qualities go into making a good safari client?

JO: Everybody has different personalities and circumstances, resulting in different objectives and approaches. However, in general those clients who are best prepared, both physically and being proficient with their equipment, and who normally have the least expectations other than just wanting to have fun, just wanting to enjoy their hunting safari – they often are the luckiest folks who walk away with the big old boys – especially hunting true free-range areas. Patience is the name of the game, and when God smiles upon you when out there, be grateful!

AHG: If you should suggest one thing to your hunting clients to improve their experience of their safari, what would it be?

JO: Take the time to prepare yourself for your trip, it’s your time and money – maximize the opportunity, and trust your PH, especially if he is not a rookie!

AHG: Based on your recent experience in the field, do you think that any species should be upgraded to Appendix i or downgraded to Appendix ii, or closed all together?

JO: Not really. Of course it also differs from country to country. I think African countries / governments are pretty much on top of managing their natural resources these days – at least in the countries where we operate, the respective government departments are very serious about their task at hand, and to secure long-term sustainable income through hunting as a utilization channel. I believe they also understand the sensitivity around the industry and therefore close cooperation /consultation with stakeholders is typically the norm.

I do believe, however, that foreign governments and their wildlife departments need to respect the laws of African countries, in the sense that if an animal is legally harvested in a specific country, respect that, and allow importation. Use your energy to run your own countries and not the world. Don’t play with the livelihoods of poor people in foreign countries for the sake of your own political gain, essentially leading to your own monetary gain at the expense of many poor people in Africa who are just trying to survive and feed their families.

AHG: What can the hunting industry do to contribute to the long-term conservation of Africas wildlife?

JO: I believe most of us have already been intensely involved and committed for a long time, whether physically or financially, to secure not only our hunting heritage but also wildlife habitat, and to find harmony between human encroachment and wildlife habitats. We have also been trying to educate the uninformed about our efforts and its importance. It is a nonstop battle that intensifies every year, and I truly feel that most professionals carry the conservation of Africa’s wildlife at heart like nobody else. It’s blood, sweat and tears – this is our true success story and we won’t slow down in our efforts.

AHG: Are you involved in local programs – conservation, education, anti-poaching, health services?

JO: Yes – BIG TIME, both in Namibia and Tanzania. The government in Tanzania also expects and insists on us to do so. Annually we spend tens of thousands of dollars on different projects: Maintaining and stocking local dispensaries; building and maintaining schools and offices for teachers; providing meat, and uplifting socio-economic standards. We also contribute to the American Chamber of Commerce in Tanzania’s programs and fundraisers for anti-poaching, as well as similar programs in Namibia.

AHG: In what ways are you affiliated with SCI?

JO: Though I first became a member back in 1996, I have been a life-member for some time now. I am also a Master Measurer, and our company, Game Trackers Africa contributes big time annually with donations in order for SCI to raise the funds that are required to fight battles for hunters around the globe, to keep hunting and conservation alive. We also support a few specially selected chapters.

AHG: If she had the chance, would your wife do it all over again, and what advice would she offer to any future wives of PHs?

JO: There are always immense challenges in terms of relationships and marriages involving PHs, but I was fortunate that Magdel had spent a good amount of time with me in wild Africa, and she fell just as much in love with that African wilderness as I did, and therefore totally understands my passion. After thinking about it long and hard, she reckons she’d do it all over again; nothing good in life comes easy, but make sure you know what you sign up for!

And having kids they, of course, take first priority. I have had the privilege of having my four-year-old boy already experiencing an elephant hunt which of course totally opens new horizons for him. I believe that kids growing up in the bush see life from a different angle.

AHG: Anyone you want to say thanks to who has played a major role in your life? 

JO: First, I thank our heavenly Father. I had enough close calls where I could say for sure I could feel His saving hand keeping us out of harm’s way. I am grateful for the privilege to lead a life in the outdoors, and for Magdel for her awesome support, including taking care of the business side of things… she truly keeps the wheels rolling. And of course our great complement of staff, from Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia and Cameroon – we have many loyal staff members who have been with us for a long time, some 20 years plus. That makes a huge difference!

AHG: any last words of wisdom?

JO: In Capstick’s words: “.. unless your passion is greater than your fear, your fear will only cripple you!”

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