Request a Selection of Hunting Outfitters to Make you an Offer.
Now that you have made all the critical choices, decided on ethics, authenticity of your experience, your trophy quality expectations and a few more and you have also selected a few two week periods in which you could go on a safari, you can start to look at the advertising material of the hundreds of outfitters.
A quick Internet search will soon have you inundated with information about South African hunting outfitters. Now is also a good time to read some Questions and Answers to get to know what else is involved. Read, and heed, the advice posted by Terry L Carr at http://www.accuratereloading.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=&Number=472962&page=0&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=31&fpart=1
In the Q&A you should in particular take note of the contractual requirements. The advice from Terry Carr to “make sure it is in writing in the contract”. Is very sound indeed. Do not accept one hunting outfitter just because he advertises such very nice low rates on his web page. In all probability the web page prices have not been updated for some time, and no longer hold. Also true that you should not eliminate a potential hunter outfitter just because his advertised prices look a bit on the high side. In October and November 2003 a sample of nearly 100 price lists taken from the web pages of hunting outfitters have revealed that the ratio of highest price to lowest price is typically in the range of 2.5 to 8.0 for the same trophy species or service.
Please consider the prices listed as the Andrew McLaren Safaris 2005 price list only as a guideline of what to expect! These are in fact only the average prices from a large number that were published on the Internet and should only be used as a guide to the probable maximum final prices. A single hunter wanting to take only a small number of species and only Roland Ward size trophies may be charged at the full listed price. A group of hunters, wishing to each hunt a number of species and will be happy with hunting fully grown mature males with representative size horns, may be finally quoted significantly lower prices. Do not judge me by the prices in the list, judge me by the final offer that I make as a binding Booking Agreement or Remuneration Agreement.
By now you should know essentially: When, in what type of terrain, which species, and how “ethical” you want to hunt. You should know if a package deal offered appeals to you, or weather you feel confident that an deal based on daily rates and trophy fees will suit you, or lastly, if you are on your way to negotiating a real custom safari. Now is the time when you start your tough negotiations.
You should by now also have gathered quite a number of hunting outfitters’ names, addresses and e-mail as well as home page URL’s. How do you decide on one of these, plus the few thousand others in South Africa that you don’t even know about, you are going to entrust with making your dream come true? How do you avoid making a bad choice that results in your dream turning into a nightmare? Let there be no misunderstanding about it:
The choice of hunting outfitter is the crucial one to have a dream come true, or live through a costly nightmare!
Hunting outfitter firms come in various shapes and sizes: Small, medium and the big boys. They are also either declining, stagnant or growing in yearly number of clients’ turnover. Their web pages/brochures/advertising material is horrendous, average or excellent. Their daily rates and trophy fees are either below average, about average or above average. A most important fact about the condition of any hunting outfitter firm is: Is the shape, size, growth and whatever what it is by choice, or does market forces force the change against the will of the owner(s)? If you consider one of the big boys with excellent advertising/web page material and average prices, but which is declining in client turnover against the wishes of the owner(s) – there must be a reason for the declining clients???
A big hunting outfitter firm must be good, because after all you do not become big because you are bad. Right? Yes, quite so, but you may become bad because you are big! Similarly the medium boys who are expiring to become big may give very good service and value for money. Simply because they want to grow big! In exactly the same manner some very small, even one-man firms will give you excellent service and an experience of a lifetime, just because they want to be successful and grow bigger. But then some medium guys were big boys at a time, but their management was not up to the standard to remain big and good, and the have declined from big to medium through market forces. Do not judge by size of the outfitter firm alone!
As owner of a small, and by choice I will remain relatively small hunting outfitter firm, I will advise you to choose a small firm with growing client numbers. One who has not yet reached such a size that the Peter Principle applies, of being promoted or have grown to beyond the level of competency! That is IMHO a sure-fire recipe for a successful South African plains game safari.
But, what do you do to find a hunting outfitter that you feel confident will make your dreams came true?
You start by sending an e-mail message to ALL those that you have details for in which you request them to make an offer based on your preliminary trophy list and time allocation. The planner who took my advice seriously will by now have a detailed document My Safari Planning on which all his important decisions, feelings and views of importance to the hunting outfitter were recorded. Please send this file to email@example.com in order to also give me a chance of tendering to arrange your safari.
You may wish to put such a request on hunting chat forums, like rec.hunting or Accurate Reloading and any number of many others. Give the guys a reasonable time to respond. You are very likely to get a very large number of responses; all claiming to be just the right firm to arrange your dream hunt. A few days after placing your intention to go on a plains game safari for your selection of species to South Africa on the Internet you will have a large number of responses and offers from many hunting outfitters. Give the guys a week or two to respond to your request. Be open to evaluate a late offer!
Your next major task is to evaluate the offers that you have received. In response to your specific request, what was offered? Do you get the feeling that the hunting outfitter really tried to tailor a deal for you, or is his offer a standard “Take it or leave it,” type? At what cost was what you desired offered? When comparing two similar offers, do you get the feeling that the firm with the higher priced offer will give you a better hunt, bigger trophies and a more enjoyed experience? Or do you get the feeling that the higher priced offer will give no better value for money, and the firm will simply make more profit from you? How well was the offer presented? Is the outfitter very clear on what is included and what is excluded in his price? Do you feel that the offer is so vague that there is room for an unscrupulous outfitter to maneuver and later add cost items for which you have not bargained for?
A bit of advice: The majority of hunting concession owners in South Africa are Afrikaans speaking farmers. This means that they communicate with you in English, for them a second language, and one in which many of them have great difficulty to express themselves adequately. Try to be sensitive to the language use, and understand that the firm may be really first class as actual arrangers of a plains game safari, but the owner has some linguistic disadvantage and cannot make a grammatically correct and easy to read and understand offer in English. Get your “gut-feel” into action, but do not rely on it alone, if in doubt, ask the hunting outfitter to clear up any misunderstandings.
Compare the offers that interest you with your original request, if it exceeds your expectations, and remain within your budget, and then all is good and well. If the offer does not quite meet what you had originally hoped for, refer to the planning cycle and see if you can live with the changes. There will be some offers that you feel confident in “throwing out” for some reason, maybe so far exceeding your budget or whatever other reason. Try to get down to as short a shortlist as possible.
Depending on the complexity of your request you could by now be able to decide on a specific hunting outfitter that you want to use, or you may want to have a few matters cleared up before finally deciding. Here you must communicate with the prospective hunting outfitters and clear up every single aspect that you are not sure about.
Ask for and INSIST to be provided with a draft remuneration agreement or contract to be used for the hunt. You should get one from each one of the few hunting outfitters to which you have restricted your short list for potential choices. It is a legal requirement that such a remuneration agreement or contract be signed before the onset of the hunt. It is only this contract that actually specifies what is included, and what not. Download and read the documents pinned by Terry Carr at http://www.accuratereloading.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=&Number=472962&page=0&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=31&fpart=1 particularly the parts which deals with the hunting outfitters.
Now list all the aspects about which you are still not 100% sure of from the contract. Then ASK the hunting outfitter to explain or elaborate. The true service-orientated hunting outfitter will not be offended by a question like: “Do you guarantee that all the animals offered to be hunted are true wild animals and that none have been recently released (e.g. within the last x months) into the concession area? If you do guarantee it, please include a clause to this effect into the remuneration agreement!” You can also on your own edit the draft remuneration agreement to suit you, and then e-mail the altered contract back to the would be hunting outfitter for their consideration. Heed the advice by Terry Carr: “If it is important, have it in the contract!”
Do not compare the offers of hunting outfitters based on their brochures, or the prices quoted on a home page on the Internet. It is only the actual contracted price as specified in the remuneration agreement that has any weight. Remember what has been said before: In South African hunting you will generally get what you pay for. With all but the few real rouge hunting outfitters you should get decent accommodation, good and tasty food and be generally very well taken care of. It is the less often thought of details that make a trip sour: The lack of attention to the client’s trophies that often result in hair slip and a ruined shoulder mount. The mix-up with the taxidermy instructions, the poor marking of the client’s trophies and other that result in a shoulder mount with horns that does not look in the least like those on the animal on the “happy snap” photo. Some beginners, who do not yet know how to really handle a safari, and thus slip up on these aspects, may, through being so eager to get clients, offer seemingly very competitive prices. But in the end you are most likely to get what you pay for! For your own sake you are advised to not make a decision of which hunting outfitter to use only on the price at which a seemingly similar safari is offered by two competing hunting outfitters.
Shortly after entering this final negotiations phase is the time when you will have to make the final decision on which outfitter you are going to book with. Now is the time to ask for references and check these out. Check the advice of Terry Carr on which questions to ask the references. Remember that no outfitter is likely to give as a reference the one or more clients for which things went wrong, for whatever reason. Andrew McLaren Safaris provide the names of every single past client in Clients. Here the clients say what they have experienced and were free to include telephone numbers and e-mail addresses.
It is now the time to post questions on hunters chat forums to enquire about the hunter outfitter. You have to do this is before you have decided finally on a hunting outfitter, at the time you are busy checking the references provided by the hunting outfitters on your shortlist. Be aware that any question about AA hunting outfitter is bound to bring up a lot of advice to use BB instead. You must decide how you are going to handle such referrals, as giving consideration to such will put you right back to drawing up a new shortlist! But the advice from trusted individuals should be heeded.
Be aware that all hunting outfitters are people, and people make mistakes. There may be clients who suffered as a result of a mistake, and will forever give the particular hunting outfitter a bad reference. The real question is not if the guy never made a mistake, the question is: What did he do to rectify the mistake and lessen the adverse impact on his client? Most importantly, is he the type of guy who will at least learn by his mistake? If he is, then you can be sure that he will not repeat the mistake, or even make a similar one to whatever some former client give a bad report on a chat forum.
What you wish to accomplish by asking a question about a potential hunting outfitter on a chat forum is to eliminate is the really unscrupulous hunting outfitter who consistently cheats his clients. A question about such a hunting outfitter posed on one of the forums is sure to result in ample warning to beware!
In fairness to less experienced outfitters, do not make up your mind finally by just considering the first response to your invitation to tender of the selected outfitters that you have invited to make proposals. By all means eliminate a few of those who did not respond in accordance with your desires, but keep a few in the contesting pool, and ask them to fully explain all aspects of their offers that may not be very clear to you. After receiving the response to the first queries you should be in a position to motivate the reasons why you want to choose a specific hunting outfitter to make all the arrangements for your first, or second or whatever, South African plains game hunting safari. If you are still not sure and have only a few options left on your shortlist, now you start bargaining. If, for example, you are a teetotaller and the daily rate offer includes alcoholic beverages, tell the outfitter that you don’t drink, and what discount he is prepared to give? It is often not the few $ that you will save that decides the issue, but the attitude of the hunting outfitter to such bargaining and client satisfaction that will help you decide.
Be reasonable and honestly tell those that you have decided not to use that they have lost out. If you so wish give reasons, but do not at this stage start arguing about what was offered and what not. The guy had his chances, and you, and only you as the customer alone, may decide to use or not to use some hunting outfitter!
Congratulations! You have now decided to let Andrew McLaren Safaris arrange your South African plains game hunting safari. Read about the next steps.
Confirmation? Deposit and Conformation.
As soon as you have decided on which hunting outfitter you are going to use, your attitude towards the firm should change. Up to the moment the decision is made you were a tough, hard-bargaining and levelheaded businessman/woman in your negotiations set on getting the best possible deal. You kept the often-repeated advice that “In South Africa on a plains game hunting safari you generally get what you pay for!” in mind when the very ‘cheap’ offers were presented. As soon as you have decided, you are suddenly a customer or client, and in a sense a co-worker, who has to work with the hunting outfitter to ensure the success of your own trip. By the time you have decided on a hunting outfitter there will in all likelihood still be some outstanding or unclear issues. Now you should give your full co-operation to the hunting outfitter to resolve these issues to your mutual benefit. Remember you are now part of the team of hunting outfitter, professional hunter, trackers, skinners, camp cook, camp servants, cleaners and client, all who should have one objective, i.e. your enjoyment of the hunt.
A vast majority of hunting outfitters will confirm your booking as soon as you have paid 50% of the estimated daily rates for the safari. Warning! Do not pay anything until you have a fully satisfactory Remuneration Agreement from the hunting outfitter! A remuneration agreement is not a “nice to have” offered by some ‘better’ hunting outfitters; It is a compulsory document that needs to be signed by each and every single foreign hunter before he/she starts to legally hunt in South Africa.
You should absolutely insist on getting a Remuneration Agreement before paying any money as a deposit for any hunt whatsoever to any hunting outfitter operating in South Africa! Do not pay any deposit without a signed document clearly identified as a “Remuneration Agreement” by the would-be South African hunting outfitter! If any hunting outfitter tells you anything else and you believe him, you are exposing yourself unnecessarily. The South African Nature Conservation Regulations in all provinces universally require that a foreign hunter enter into a Remuneration Agreement with a hunting outfitter before the onset of the hunt. My advice is to get this agreement in place before any deposit for any hunt is paid! Unscrupulous hunting outfitters may tell you all manner of BS, but there is absolutely no getting away from the fact that before the start or onset of any hunt by any foreign client a Remuneration Agreement between the client and the hunting outfitter must be signed. Make this a condition of paying any booking confirmation deposit.
Once the booking is confirmed the more detailed preparation for actually going on the safari starts. Now is the time to read through some packing lists, and to ask the hunting outfitter about all the small things. Simple small things like: Does your definition of “personal toiletteries” include a washcloth? Some hunting lodges, even some really upmarket establishments, do not provide visitors with a washcloth, as it is regarded as a personal item. Make sure that you remember that semi automatic rifles and shotguns are not allowed in South Africa. Make sure that you have the required US Customs 4457 (Certificate of Registration of Personal Effects Taken Abroad) form for each individual firearm and other valuable items like video cameras etc., that you intend taking to South Africa with you. Now that the arrival and departure dates are fixed, you start to seriously get the best airfare deal and buy your ticket. No you go for a medical check-up, get fit (or fitter), acquire travel insurance and do all the things that your outfitter advises. Now you start seriously practicing shooting from shooting sticks, if you are to use them on your hunt.
Learn about the basic Legal Requirements.
As a visiting hunter you will want to do everything in a nice 100% legal compliance manner? Our laws are as complex as those anywhere else in the world. The brief summary given here is just aimed at making sure that the basics are in place.
Warning! The overwhelming majority of visiting hunters who get into trouble in South Africa do so for the simple reason that they are not told and warned by their incompetent hunting outfitters, or they ignore or forget that they were told, that all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are not allowed in South Africa. Get detailed instructions from your hunting outfitter on the required procedures to bring your own firearms into South Africa, and make sure you adhere to these instructions. Generally the South African Police Services are responsible for issuing you with a temporary import permit for any firearm brought into the country. Although arriving at JIA with a semi-auto shotgun is not likely to actually land you in serious trouble, it will cause significant delays, and you may have to hunt with a borrowed shotgun, as yours will not be allowed in the country, you have to export it back home there and then, at great cost!
As a visiting hunter your hunting in any one of the 9 provinces has to be arranged by a hunting outfitter or professional hunter who is the holder of a valid license to operate in that province. Beware, there are some operators who do not have the required license, so ask to be faxed or send a scanned copy, or at least a number and expiry date of the license if you are not sure.
A Remuneration Agreement is not a “nice to have”, it is a Regulatory requirement. You and the hunting outfitter have to sign two copies, one to be retained by you and one by him, of a Remuneration Agreement in which all the details of what is offered at what cost is spelled out before the onset of the hunt. I advise that you insist that the completed copies already signed by the hunting outfitter be sent to you before you pay any deposit to confirm your booking.
While actually hunting, like being in the veldt with a rifle, you have to be guided by a professional hunter who holds a valid license to operate in the particular province, and at all times hunt only in his/her immediate personal presence. Except on a bird hunt, a single professional hunter may guide a maximum of two hunters at any time
You have to listen to and obey instructions given by your professional hunter, as it is his duty to see to it that you do not do anything illegal while guided by him.
You have to complete and sign the SOUTH AFRICAN PROFESSIONAL HUNTER REGISTER AND TROPHY EXPORT APPLICATION book, which will be presented to you by the professional hunter before the onset of each hunt as guided by him.
These matters are not “nice to have” little things, they are legal requirements that you are advised to adhere to. Be careful in your selection of a hunting outfitter and you should never have any trouble with the law or anyone else for that matter while enjoying your hunt in South Africa.
This guide is for plains game hunting, and the exportation of the trophy from any species of plains game should not be a problem at all. But if you are hunting leopard or cheetah be very, very careful about the export procedures. Warning! Before you pay any deposit for a leopard hunt insist on a copy of the provincial nature conservation authority license to hunt it, and for good measure ask for a certified copy of the CITES permit to hunt the leopard.
What if Things go Wrong?
A last thought on planning and preparing for your hunt has to deal with a less positive aspect, the agony of dealing with: “What if things go wrong?”
In hunting, and in life in general, some good advice is to: Plan for success, but be prepared for failure. The whole object of reading and working through this PASSAS documents was to plan for a successful choice of a hunting outfitter to arrange your South African safari so that it will be a dream come true! Chances are very good that you have made the best choice, or at least a very good choice.
But what if, despite all your effort, after you have committed to a particular hunting outfitter by paying a substantial amount as a booking confirmation deposit, you hear some horror story about the past dealings of the particular hunting outfitter? What do you do if, despite your efforts to not get caught by some shyster, you hear after paying the booking confirmation deposit that your chosen hunting outfitter has, at least by some, a bad reputation? It is agonizing just thinking about it, but what do you do?
A lot depends on the situation: How long before the onset of the safari did you first hear the horror story? If you meet a fellow hunter on the airplane en route to your safari that tells you such a horror story, you are basically stuck. But if you had heeded the advice of insisting on a signed Remuneration Agreement before paying any deposit, you have at least a contract that binds the hunting outfitter by South African law. Call me on arrival in South Africa in any case at +27 82 654 6474 and I may be able to assist. I have on occasion been called at 08.30 on a Sunday, and had a satisfied client (who spoke only Japanese) with an ethically hunted record book trophy impala back at the JIA in time for a flight the same afternoon. On the other hand if you have made a well-planned advance booking and there are a few months before the start of your hunt, before you hear such a horror story, it is quite a different kettle of fish. You now have time to establish the seriousness of the allegations. How trusted is the source of the horror story? Have you heard “…the other side….” of the story? You could consider sending an e-mail message to the hunting outfitter and state that you have heard serious allegations about some past hunt, and ask his version of the story. Alternatively you could just keep quiet about your knowledge, and keep a sharp watch for any funny business during your safari. Which one of these actions, or some other you choose must to a degree depend upon your own personality and attitude. You could also contact the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA) to enquire if they know about the incident. You should realize that PHASA is an organization to look after the interests of South African professional hunters, including possible misconduct by some members, but it is NOT meant as an organization to protect the interests of the foreign hunter. The only recourse that the foreign hunter has is to lodge a complaint with the nature conservation authority in the province where the hunt occurred. The nature conservation authorities are only interested in “illegal” aspects, so if you were ripped off, but nothing illegal was done you will have to face the loss.
An alternative type of potential nightmare is when you remain under the impression that you have booked with a trustworthy and good hunting outfitter firm, until you reach South Africa. You clear customs and enter the public lounge looking for someone to meet you, but no-one seems to be there to pick you up. You get to a telephone and phone the hunting outfitters’ number, with either no reply or a message only. What do you do now? Has the pickup simply been delayed in traffic? Involved in an accident? Or has your hunting outfitter disappeared off the face of the earth with your deposit? How long do you wait before taking action? What do you do?
Should this ever happen to you, and it has happened to quite a few unwary hunters, please telephone Andrew McLaren on my cell phone at +27 82 654 6474. Unless I’m actually on a safari hunt then I may be able to help and assist.
A really scary thought is that all could go well with the pickup and transport to the designated first hunting area. Then, while actually hunting in South Africa you only then realize that there is something amiss. Many things can go wrong: Substandard accommodation, or food, or have a professional hunter who is mostly half or totally drunk. You get offered to shoot animals that you can clearly see are “canned”. You find out that you are expected to hunt by driving around on a vehicle and then shoot from the vehicle. Your professional hunter suddenly sees an animal walking crossing a path 600 yards from you and visible for only a few seconds and then you are pressurized to “Shoot! Shoot quickly! It’s a good trophy. Shootit! Shootit!” You then later hear the professional hunter reporting that you “blew” an excellent opportunity and will have to pay for the animal in the package hunt, as you had an opportunity but did not use it. In this case too, I invite you to phone me at + 27 82 654 6474.
Many things can, and unfortunately sometimes something does, go wrong on a safari. How you handle the situation will again depend on your personality, and obviously that of the professional hunter who is guiding you. A small-built, quiet, soft-spoken ethical hunter from a professional or office background will likely handle the situation different from a big burly construction gang foreman. You may, or may not have ready access to a telephone at the hunting area to use to phone someone to complain to. But you must complain if you feel you are being short-changed! In the first instance to the professional hunter and then to the hunting outfitter. Finally if you do not feel that your complaints are taken seriously, and you are confident that you do have reason to complain, you must fill out a hunt report and post it on some chat forum to expose the situation to the broader public.
The Professional Hunters of South Africa (PHASA) is ONLY interested in hearing complaints about their members. They have very few teeth, and have an unfortunate history of being extremely reluctant to use what bit of teeth they have to discipline members guilty of some misconduct. Since Stuart Dorrington has taken over as the new President of PHASA, reports about more action to discipline members are filtering through the industry.
If a hunter has a complaint that clearly relates to the legality of conduct, the correct place to complain is the relevant provincial Nature Conservation official.