Like most people who knew his name, I first heard of Harry Selby through the hunting writings of Robert Ruark. Ruark was a journalist, columnist and novelist, and an avid hunter in love with Africa. His go-to Professional Hunter was Harry Selby.
Selby was born in South Africa but grew up on a big cattle ranch in Kenya in an era when Kenya was as close to paradise for a young man with a rifle as we’ll ever see. He learned the safari trade under the legendary Philip Percival, who guided both Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway on safari. By age 22, Selby was a PH.
As Safari Classics magazine notes:
In 1949, Robert Ruark took his much-anticipated six-week safari in Africa. Ruark requested to hunt with the PH who employed the renowned tracker Kidogo, which just so happened to be 24-year-old Selby. Later, in 1953, Ruark would publish his account of that hunt, making Selby a household name among safari-goers — and the PH to hire if you wanted an unforgettable adventure. He was booked five years in advance at one point.
Ruark died in 1965. Selby died on January 20, 2018, at the age of 95, at his home in Botswana. He had remained an active hunting and photographic safari guide through 1997 and fully retired only in 2000, at the age of 75.
Harry Selby’s Africa changed profoundly during his lifetime. He managed the changes well, in a career that started in the golden age of the weeks-long, self-contained safari and ended in a day of short treks with every modern convenience from electricity to flushing toilets.
Selby always struck me as the kind of true-blue, salt-of-the-earth fellow you would want at your side in the bush. In my imagination, I can picture a six-week safari in the gamelands of Kenya with one of the last great PHs of the Old Africa. It is a fine dream.