Becoming a Trails Guide in Botswana
Updated: May 27
Trails Guide Theory
Becoming a fully qualified trails guide in Botswana is an arduous process. A trails guide takes the lives of his group in his hands when he walks out into the wilderness with a vast array of potentially dangerous animals. Before becoming a fully qualified trails guide, the student must first qualify as a back-up trails guide. The qualification itself is broken into different components. The first and most simple component is the theory of being a trails guide. The guide’s rifle is always a last resort in any situation but understanding the safe and efficient use of the weapon is critical. Beyond safety, the weapons theory also covers detailed internal, external and terminal ballistics a well as the mechanical functioning of a bolt action rifle. Also covered in the theory is a detailed information of all Potentially Dangerous Animals (PDA’s). Included in this is signs that animals have become aware of the group’s presence, warning behaviour and indications of mock and serious charges. The guide must know the charge speed of each animal and where to place both a brain and an anchor shot.
The Practical Walking Component
The practical walking component covers conducting a well rounded wilderness experience on foot with guests. The guide must show that he has the requisite knowledge of tracks, trees, birds, bird calls and other components of the ecosystem. Further to the generic walking safari component the guide must show competency in Viewing Potentially Dangerous Animals (VPDA) on foot. Under the mentorship of a qualified guide trainer the guide must find, approach and retreat from a sighting with the trainer in a satisfactory manner. During this approach the guide will be marked on his communication with his back-up, use of wind, cover and structure, his understanding of the animals behaviour as well as the safe extraction. It is always the aim of the guide to view and extract with the animal having never been aware of the groups presence. The number of hours and required number of encounters for back-up and lead trails guide are detailed in the following blog.
Walking With and Without a Weapon
Advanced Rifle Handling (ARH) is a component that only guides who are qualifying to walk with weapons need to conduct. It is legal in Botswana for a guide to walk without a weapon and in areas such as Chief’s Island, it is the only possible option. The back-up trails guide is expected to be able to do a full rifle check followed by a blind fold drill where the candidate loads and unloads the weapon blindfolded. This is done under time pressure to check that in a situation where the guides needs peripheral awereness, they can deal with the weapon without having to look at it. Only once these have been achieved can the guide go to the shooting range.
Advanced Rifle Handling
Quick Kill Exercise
The first exercise on the shooting range is the Quick Kill Exercise. The guides starts with his weapon in carry mode in a relaxed posture facing an elephant target at 15 meters and a buffalo target at 10 meters. On the command “GO”, the guide loads aims and fires a single shot a the brain of the elephant. Immediately reloading the guide will fire his second shot at the brain of the buffalo, reload and hold his posture with the finger on the trigger. Only at this point will the assessor stop the timing. The back-up guide has 10 seconds to complete this without losing points and must complete the assessment in under 15 seconds. Full trails guides have between 8 and 13 seconds.
Recover from a malfunction
The second exercise is Fire a Rifle in the Context of a Malfunction. Two live cartridges and one dummy round are placed in the magazine by the assessor. The dummy is places as the first or second round without the trainee knowing it’s location. With the rifle in carry mode the trainee will fire two shots at the buffalo target at 10 meters on the command “GO”. The cartridge that does not fire must be extracted by canting the rifle away from the face and immediately reloading and continuing with the exercise. The assessor will stop the time when the third round is loaded and finger is on the trigger with the rifle aimed at the target. The back-up guide has 9 seconds to achieve full score with a cut-off of 14 seconds. The lead trails guide has between 8 and 13 second.
The final exercise is only for lead trails guides and requires them to shoot a simulated charging lion. The lion target is dragged at speed toward the candidate. While issuing instructions to the guests the trainee drops to one knee and fires at the brain of the lion. Follow up protocol is followed with points being deducted for steps that are missed or not satisfactorily completed.
On all shooting assessments the guide must at least hit the stun-zone to score. Full score is only given for a brain shot and the combination of time and accuracy will determine the final result. A minimum of 75% is required to pass.