I do not want to imply, in any shape or form, that everyone in the hunting industry is a crook but it does seem, at times, that every crook is in the hunting business. As such, before parting with any of my hard earned funds, the most important single thing I do is to check and re-check all the information I have been given and all the representations that have been made. In the early days, I used to hunt regularly with a group of close friends until one emigrated to Australia, the other to the U.K., one returned to Texas and the last one became a full-time professional hunter. We always used to do our homework thoroughly and booked our hunts a long time in advance in order to ensure that we secured the right place, at the right time of year, as well as the services of the people with whom we wanted to hunt. Most importantly, however, each year the role of checking out our proposed hunting area fell on the shoulders of one of the group. We did not part with a deposit until one of us had physically inspected the land on which we were to hunt and verified the facilities that were on offer.
Of course, the further afield I hunt, the more difficult it is to do this. As I have wandered into ever more remote areas, looking for ever more difficult species to hunt, I have reached a stage where there is no alternative but to rely on the representations of the booking agent, the outfitter, the professional hunter and the sportsmen who have hunted in the area before.
It was for this reason that, some years ago, I tried to develop a more objective data base. After six years, three failed attempts and many tens of thousands of Rands, I managed to computerize the SCI Record Book of Trophy Animals on an interactive basis. This software program allows me to ascertain, at the click of a mouse, which country, location in a country, professional hunter and amateur sportsman has the best record for any given animal in the record book. I can plot, on the map of Africa, which I can also enlarge, every species in the Record Book for which there is a designated location. By limiting my search by different time periods, I can also track whether trophy standards have improved or deteriorated over the period in a given location. The program is as good an initial research tool as it is in verifying representations made, as it is in providing the names of outfitters, professional hunters and amateur sportsmen to contact.
Fight fair I can hear you saying: ‘That’s an information system not available to anyone other than you.’ At the moment that is the case but this record book and the even older and more respected, Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, allow you to do the same thing albeit not so easily.
At the end of the day, however, I need to talk to people. In this regard I have drawn up a checklist of questions to some or all of which I need answers. I ask the same questions of each of the booking agents, outfitters, professional hunters and sportsmen I talk to and, if the answers to the same questions are different, a little amber light starts flickering in my head.
Some of the questions you may wish to ask are the following, namely:
- Can you give me the names, email addresses, telephone and fax numbers of people who have hunted the area that I am thinking about going to, for the species I am interested in, over the last three years?
- How big is the area that I can hunt?
- What other species can I take in the same area?
- What is your success rate over the last three years on the species that are found in the hunting area and can you give me measurements of these species taken over the last three years, by year?
- What is the best time of the year to hunt?
- What is the climate like at this time, including high and low temperatures?
- Who will my professional hunter be?
- How many times has he hunted the area I will be hunting?
- How many animals of the kind I will be hunting have his clients taken over the last three years and what are their measurements? Can you give me a list of their names, email addresses, telephone and fax numbers?
- Can you send me a photograph of the camp and two or three representative photographs of the terrain and bush in the area I am to hunt?
- If there is no permanent camp, please describe the camp that you will establish and the terrain in which it will be situated.
- Will we hunt exclusively from the main base camp or will we move to one or more other permanent or semi-permanent camps during the safari and, if so, why and for how long?
- Will we hunt exclusively from the main base camp or will we fly camp and, if so, why and for how long?
- Can you send me photographs of a typical fly camp and the other permanent or semi-permanent camps.
- Will I be sharing the camp with other hunters or have it to myself?
- What food and drink is served in camp and, when we stay out for the day, what food and drink is taken along and how is it carried?
- If I have any special preferences regarding food and drink will you cater for them or must I and, if you cater, will this affect the daily rate?
- Is there a current first aid and snakebite kit in camp, if so, what do they contain and is one carried in the hunting vehicle?
- What is the standard of the tracking staff?
- How many staff will there be in camp and what are their functions?
- What vehicle will we use to hunt and how old is it?
- Apart from the daily rate and the trophy fees, what other charges will there be attributable, directly or indirectly, to the hunt such as import or export charges for firearms or ammunition, government conservation fees, taxes and levies, trophy preparation, dipping and packing fees, documentation fees, airport departure taxes and so forth.
- What hunting methods do you use, walk and stalk, sitting at water holes, Toyota tracking, dogs, driven shoots and so forth?
- Is there poaching in the area that I will hunt?
- Are local citizens allowed to hunt in the area that I will be hunting, with or without licenses?
- Will somebody be there to meet me at the airport, if so, who?
- How do I get from the point of entry into the country to the hunting area and back, how long does this take and what does it cost?
- What other travel options are there, how long do they take and what do they cost?
- Which taxidermist do you predominantly send your trophies to?
- How fit do I have to be in order to enjoy the hunt?
- Where can I obtain a good map which includes the hunting area?
- If I am compelled to cancel my hunt after I have paid my deposit, what are the cancellation terms?