Professional Hunter (PH), Buzz Charlton of Charlton McCallum Safaris shares his journey into the world of hunting and the significance hunting has on conservation and local communities within the Dande safari area, Zimbabwe.

Can you share a bit about your background and how you first became involved in professional hunting?

My father used to hunt in Kenya for the prestigious Ker and Downey under John Kingsley Heath. He hunted up until the closure of Kenya in 1968. As he felt that the ‘writing was on the wall’ regarding professional hunting throughout Africa, he left Kenya and came to Southern Rhodesia to fly, which was his second passion. Unfortunately, when I was one, he had a fatal hang glider accident. As I grew up, I was intrigued by his amazing photos of hunting in Kenya.

How long have you been hunting, and what drew you to this profession?

I started my hunting apprenticeship as soon as I left school at the age of 18. I then qualified four years later and have been hunting professionally since 1992, so some 32 years.

Seeing the pictures of my dad’s hunts in Kenya had a profound effect on me when I was a kid. I knew I wanted to be in the bush, and it was either going to be professional hunting or professional guiding, taking clients on photographic safaris. Here in Zimbabwe, if you obtain your Professional Hunter’s licence, you can do both, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and I’ve never looked back.

What do you enjoy most about being a Professional Hunter?

Not being tied down to a desk job. Paperwork and routine are not my strong points, so having the freedom to be out in the field is a huge bonus.

One of the real benefits is meeting incredibly interesting people. Hunting is an expensive sport, and nearly every person who comes on a dangerous game hunt is a successful individual with a fascinating story to tell. I am quite gregarious and enjoy being around positive and ambitious people, and that is generally who my clients are.

For me, it’s also the freedom to hunt in true unfenced wilderness areas. Participating in a well-oiled hunting team that focuses on taking old animals mainly by tracking on foot is the ultimate hunt.

Recently, you hosted Rigby MD, Marc Newton for a two-week safari. Can you tell us about that experience?

Initially, when I found out how old Marc was, I was a little taken aback. It made me realise that I have reached the point in my career where I am not always younger or fitter than my clients! Jokes aside, it was such a pleasure to have a client that at no time did I have to ask, “Do you need a rest or a drink? How are you doing?” Every track was catchable, and having that freedom was great.

Marc has clearly made a huge success of turning around Rigby’s fortunes. Hunting the way we do involves long hours, day after day, physically and emotionally taxing. It is teamwork that leads to success. If any member slacks, it’s to the detriment of the whole team and can often mean the difference between success and failure.

This is where Marc has a wonderful talent. He has the ability to put every member of the team at ease in a friendly and respectful way. This, combined with his ability to never put pressure on anyone and make the hunts fun, gets the most out of everyone. Having visited the factory, I can attest to the fact that Marc is getting the same results there as he did on our hunts – the maximum results with maximum respect.

On our hunt, we were successful on the second last day. We had tracked well over 100km and looked at numerous game. Never once did the team’s spirits lag, and this was partly due to Marc’s upbeat personality.

Could you tell us about the area where you were hunting? What makes it unique?

When I booked Marc into Maitengwe, I told him that he would be hard-pressed to find a more unattractive, unappealing area on the face of the planet. I was not joking! Maitengwe is a massive area that is predominantly low scrub mopani with cattle, some villagers, and a few water points but rich in the game we were hunting.

Marc was hunting with a Rigby Rising Bite double – what are your thoughts on the rifle?

I must admit that I am not a gun nut or particularly knowledgeable about rifles as a whole. Sitting around a campfire talking about guns and ballistics at length I find terribly boring. Having said that, I have been hunting dangerous game for 32 years, so I have pretty much seen it all – the good, the bad, and terrible.

Even to a novice like me, it is abundantly clear that this rifle is a true work of art. If you take the time to look at how all the working parts fit together, you really begin to appreciate the level of workmanship.

As to how the gun performed, all I can say is that it certainly had the desired effect and, if I may say so, good marksmanship as well.

What role does hunting play in your local community?

In the Dande region, hunting is essential for both conservation and community welfare. Charlton McCallum Safaris has operated there for 24 years, recognising that the area’s limited carrying capacity and aesthetic appeal make it unsuitable for non-consumptive tourism like photo safaris. Without hunting, there’s a risk of land being converted to unproductive agricultural use, as seen in other regions.

When hunters harvest game, every part of the animal is utilised, providing a vital protein source for local villagers. Additionally, hunters pay fees, with half directly benefiting community-chosen projects. Another portion goes to the Dande Anti-Poaching Unit (DAPU), which employs local game scouts to combat poaching and protect wildlife. These scouts, well-acquainted with the area, ensure conservation efforts are effective.

DAPU’s initiatives include drilling boreholes and piping water to sustain wildlife during dry seasons. The organisation also supports scout families, ensuring their financial stability. Fundraising efforts are ongoing to extend these conservation measures. This integrated approach fosters both conservation and community development. More information is available at www.dapuzim.com.

Last year, you won the Rigby Dagga Boy Award. Can you share your thoughts on this initiative?

I was very privileged to be awarded the first Rigby Dagga Boy Award with my client. The award was started by Rigby to encourage hunters to seek out old buffalo that have lived their lives and already spread their genes. These old bulls have been kicked out of the herds and live the last few years of their lives by themselves or in old bachelor groups. These are the ideal animals to take. Hunting these bulls does not affect the dynamics of the breeding herd. If the hunting quota is correct, the number of dagga boys taken each year will be replenished from the unmolested herds the following year, making the hunting of these great bulls totally sustainable.

This award has gone a long way in changing the mindset of hunters, shifting the focus from horn size to age.

Now as a judge, what criteria do you consider when evaluating nominees?

The judging of these bulls is based on a points system divided between:

  1. Ugliness
  2. Difficulty of hunt
  3. Age
  4. Story

There are three judges, and the combined scores are added up, with Marc casting the final vote on the top three. Ugliness speaks for itself and often goes hand-in-hand with age. As buffalo get older, their horns wear down or break, sometimes ending up as the “holy grail” scrum cap. These are some of the criteria I consider when scoring for ugliness and age.

The difficulty of the hunt and the story are very important to me because they encapsulate what makes buffalo hunting such an exciting pastime. Spotting a buffalo, stalking it, and hunting it gets very few points from me in either the “story” or the “difficulty of the hunt.” Tracking an old dagga boy on foot for hours in difficult terrain is what it’s about and hence a point scorer for me.

All in all, the entries so far have all been outstanding buffalo, great old bulls, and there has been a shift in thinking. Age is taking precedence over horn size, which is vital for the continued success of buffalo hunting. Part of the credit goes to this wonderful initiative that Rigby has set up.


2 responses

  1. Hats off to Buzz and Charlton McCallum Safaris for the great work they have done and likewise to Marc Newton for pioneering the Rigby Daga Boy Award, thereby incentivising hunters to go for past breeding animals.

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