There aren’t a lot of legends left in our world. Many of the greats are gone, but some are still with us. Andrew Holmberg is retired in Spain, likewise Tony Sanchez. Geoff Broom is retired in South Africa, and Nicky Blunt is in England. Harry Selby is in Maun, next-door to John Dugmore. Brian Herne has been in the States for many years now. Robin Hurt is still doing some plains game hunting in Namibia, but (in accordance with the rules he set for his own company, and thus had to follow) he stopped guiding for dangerous game when he turned 65. Very few genuine African legends are still in the field.
Just now I was in Liberia with Franz Coupe’, now in his 49th season as a professional hunter. We’ve put a number on that, and I’ll tell you that Franz intends to complete (at least) 50 seasons…but I’m not going to put a number on Franz. Instead, I’ll simply say that, born and raised in then-Belgian Congo, he did a lot of hunting and had a lot of African adventures before he began his career as a professional hunter. As a Belgian paratrooper, this included making the historic battalion-sized jump to the relief of Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville) during the Katanga uprising in 1964. He caught a bullet on the way down, up through his right leg and into his right arm, but continued with the operation until the airfield and town were secured. Trained as a diesel engineer, in 1967 he was working in the automotive industry in South Africa when, literally, he answered a “help wanted” ad from Zambia Safaris, asking for a “professional hunter” (which he was not, yet) with “strong mechanical experience” (which he had in spades).
The rest is essentially history, the hunting history of Africa, and during our two weeks in camp, my hunting partner and I listened to Franz’s stories for hours on end. Apprenticed under Mike Cameron, Franz Coupe’ hunted in Zambia from 1968 to 1991…but in that period he also hunted Sudan, and began his long hunting career in Central Africa. Since 1991 he has primarily hunted in Tanzania, but during their off-season he has continued to hunt C.A.R. and Cameroon…and has dabbled in Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Uganda, God knows where else…and, most recently, Liberia.
Back in 1983, I was part of a group hunting with Zambia Safaris. Because of the game sought some of the group went west, while some of us stayed in the Luangwa. My old friend Paul Spenard was assigned to Franz Coupe’ (or vice versa)…and until now that’s the closest brush we ever had. I started to write that it’s odd that I never shared a camp with Franz Coupe’ until now, but that is actually not true. He was a popular and successful professional hunter when I was still a puppy, so let’s be totally honest: His clientele was above my pay grade!
As in all things, to some extent Franz’s amazing career has been a matter of timing. He was established in Zambia not just at its peak, but when Tanzania closed hunting in 1973 and Kenya followed in 1977. As we know, Tanzania reopened in 1981, but Kenya never did…and in those days, Zambia was probably Africa’s most important safari destination.
As a youngster in 1969, he was one of the PHs on the ground-breaking American Sportsman TV series. In C.A.R., he guided General Jimmy Doolittle and Roy Rogers…and still tells some of the jokes he learned from Roy Rogers. Back in Zambia, he was present on Jack and Eleanor O’Connor’s next-to-last safari (in 1973), and told us the story of O’Connor’s only elephant. Also in Zambia, he guided author Wilbur Smith and his late wife, Danielle. Let’s note here that Franz Coupe’ is a quiet man, not a flashy marketer. I knew Doolittle and Rogers hunted in Mozambique, but I didn’t know about C.A.R. Likewise, it’s well-known that Wilbur Smith has hunted many times with veteran Zimbabwe PH John Sharpe, but not widely known that he has also hunted a lot with Franz Coupe’, who perhaps deserves shared credit for shaping the characters and settings of so many of Smith’s awesome novels. Of course, one cannot make entire seasons out of celebrity clients…but Franz’s client list is gold-etched: Bill and Ingrid Poole, Sauro Albertini, Watson Yoshimoto, Jack and Casey Schwabland and so many hunters I’ve admired over the years.
Honestly, I never expected to hunt with Franz Coupe’, but I would have liked to! So I was bemused and shocked when, at our convention this year, a wiry gentleman a few years my senior ran (yes, ran) up to my booth and said he’d see me in Liberia. Of course it was Franz Coupe’, and what a bonus. He had struck a deal with Liberian outfitter Morris Dougba and his agent Ken Wilson, not exactly to “PH,” but to assist with developing areas, building camps and essentially providing experience…and to be on hand in case a buffalo hunt came into play. I’d been there in 2013—pre-Franz. He was there in 2014, when Ed Yates got not one but two zebra duikers. We all skipped 2015 because of the Ebola pandemic, but we tried again in 2016.
I hunted with Dr. Mike Adams, a great guy, and we shared a 14-day hunt. That’s a long hunt for Liberia and we were spectacularly successful: zebra duiker, water chevrotain, Ogilby duiker, black duiker and more. None of the hunting credit goes to Franz Coupe’. The forest hunters know their business; as far as the duikers go, all Franz could do was wait in camp and worry. As far as his primary reason to be there, buffalo and forest hog and such, we failed. Old tracks, yes. Fresh tracks, no. Opportunity? Not even close.
But here’s the real bonus: Most of the forest hunting is at night, so we had unusual amounts of time to kick back and tell stories. Franz Coupe’ has 48 seasons of African hunting stories and can tell them in your choice of several languages. Big lions, big elephants, more than 50 bongos…and so much more. Self-effacing by nature, Franz is not as famous as some of his peers and predecessors…but, throughout my career, his has been a name spoken in soft tones, with quiet respect. Two weeks together in the forest, and I can assure you the legend is not only real, but well-earned. And the stories, a half-century’s worth and more! Self-proclaimed legends are much too common in our world. Genuine, earned legendry is not only rare but vanishing fast. On this, my second, safari to the Liberian forest the hunting was extremely successful…but I’m sure the most lasting memory will always be sharing a camp with Franz Coupe’.–Craig Boddington