Harry Selby, Professional Hunter


Harry Selby, Professional Hunter

Harry Selby was born in South Africa in 1925. At three, his family moved to Kenya and homesteaded 40 thousand acres of ranch land within sight of Mount Kenya suitable for raising cattle. The family farm was also inhabited by herds of many species of African antelope and seasonal migrations of Elephant, Buffalo, and other big game. When Lions or Leopard appeared, a hunt would be initiated to protect the livestock. At the age of 8, Harry was considered old enough to take on the responsibilities of hunting with a single shot .22 rimfire. These early hunts provided the family with Guinea fowl, Francolin, and gazelle chops. Since the farm was not fenced, animals that migrated onto the property and competed with the cattle for grazing were often culled. Harry honed his skills during these hunts, sharpening his shooting skills using an old worn .303 British military rifle with iron sights. Harry learned about dangerous game by learning to avoid them while hunting smaller game. When Harry started hunting the dangerous species he took advantage of experienced native trackers who imparted their knowledge and wisdom of the bush to the young hunter. Harry soaked up this wisdom like a sponge, and these trackers came to respect Harry because they knew that when he pulled the trigger, it meant fresh meat in camp.


Robert Ruark (right) with Harry Selby (left)


Harry Selby (left) and Robert Ruark (right) with a great pair of Elephant tusks, photographed at the Mount Kenya Safari Club near Nanyuki, Kenya.

In his late teens, Harry went on his first elephant hunt teaming up with a cousin who like himself was a keen hunter. They each bought an elephant license and departed for Kenya’s Northern Frontier District. Harry bought a Westley Richards .425 caliber rifle and his cousin carried a .450 double rifle. With several of the family’s native farm hands, the two hired a local tracker and set out on foot to hunt elephant. Tracking a small herd, they finally closed on them and found 3 bulls with very large tusks. Singling one out, the two young hunters both fired at the same bull, bringing him down easily. The spectacular elephant that they downed had ivory to the tune of 135 pounds per side; a number that is unheard of in Africa today. Well into the 1960’s, Harry returned to that same area and guided clients to many hundred-pound tuskers, considered by any standards to be the “Holy Grail” of African Elephant hunting.


Harry Selby with elephant

Harry joined Ker & Downey Safaris in 1949, which eventually became Ker, Downey, & Selby Safaris in Botswana. In 1951, Selbey took Robert Ruark and his wife on safari in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) which resulted in Ruarks’s book, “Horn of the Hunter” – one of the most widely read books ever written about African hunting and safari life. This book literally put Harry “on the map”, created a demand to hunt with Selby so great that bookings had to be made three to four years in advance. Ruark’s subsequent trips to Africa netted another book entitled “Something of Value” which is a fictional novel whose principal character is based on Harry’s persona and life experiences. Ruark continued to hunt with Selby throughout the 1950’s sometimes returning two to three times in a year. In 1962, with the future of hunting in Kenya uncertain, Harry moved to a little known country called Bechuanaland (now Botswana) again joining Ker & Downey. Negotiating with the government and securing a concession of nearly 10,000 square miles along the northern edge of the Okavango Delta, Harry and his partners took up the safari trade in Botswana. Harry and his partners expanded KDS to include photo tours, built a 30-bed lodge and two 10-bed tented camps, completed in 1970. By the end of the 70’s the operation included more than 90,000 square miles of concessions and a roster of Professional hunters totaling more that twenty. The 1980’s saw the eventual break up of the large safari companies and today the large concessions have been divided among a variety of photo and safari outfitters. He conducted his last professional safari in the year 2000. Due to a knee problem which unsuccessful surgery had exacerbated, he was unable to continue professional hunting. During the period 1945 to 2000 he hunted professionally each season without break. As a white hunter, Harry made the record books as the longest-operating career professional hunter ever, but he has also made history as one of Africa’s finest and most-respected professional hunters.


Harry Selby, Professional Hunter

Harry Selby is truly an icon among professional hunters. While his professional hunting days are over, he still enjoys his time in the bush, walking among the big game, sleeping in tented camps, and just enjoying the events of each day he spends in the field. Harry’s exploits will be the topic of conversation around bush campfires as long as the big game still roams the plains and bush of the “Dark Continent.” A Botswana citizen, Selby is now (more or less) retired in Maun. He's a quiet, unassuming man who never sought (and has never much liked) the limelight Robert Ruark thrust him into. He served as a PH every season since 1945 until his partial retirement just a couple of years ago. No professional hunter in the history of African hunting can claim so long a run.

Throughout his incredible career neither Selby nor any of his clients were ever touched by a dangerous animal. This takes a bit of luck as well as exceptional skill and remains as fine a tribute as can be offered to the title "professional hunter."


Monish