I have a fairly good collection of African hunting books and I go through my catalogue to refresh my memory as to which books might contain detailed information on the animals and those people that have hunted them successfully. The series of books put out by Safari Press and edited by Tony Sanchez-Ariño entitled, Hunting in (African Country Name) such as Hunting in Tanzania, are also a useful source of information. However, to date, I have found The Hunting Report, to which I subscribe, to be the most fruitful source of up to the minute, written information. Staff, as well as subscribers, file reports by species and by country and, for a small fee, they will email copies of these reports to you. Apart from the useful information contained in the reports, they also provide a list of sportsmen who can be used as references and a list of safari outfitters for the particular animal(s) I am looking for and, if you are a regular subscriber like me, then you will also follow the controversies which they publish, usually between hunters and outfitters which can serve as warning of what and who to avoid.
In recent years, James Mellon’s magnum opus, African Hunter, has been updated and African Hunter II, edited by Flack and Boddington provides the most comprehensive overview of hunting in Africa that it is possible to obtain in one book. Subsequently, Safari Guide II edited by Flack and Neufeld was published – both books are available from Safari Press and Rowland Ward – and the latter one provides the most detailed information on hunting in all the various countries in Sub- Saharan Africa which offer the sport. If you are only going to consult two books, I can honestly say that these should be they.
Being an African, I subscribe to African Hunting Gazette, Magnum, African Outfitter and S.A. Game & Hunt magazines. But beware of those journalists who accept free trips and then write glowing reports about those they visited. As a regular contributor to all of these magazines, I believe they are the best hunting publications in Africa and are choc-a-block full of relevant information. They certainly help both fill my data bank and point me in the direction of people who may be able to help me.
Most booking agents, outfitters and PHs have websites and, for the sake of completeness, I mention them and, although I will look at them, I usually take them with a pinch, and sometimes, a bucket of salt.
Another good source of information, which I never neglect, is my taxidermist. Good taxidermists receive trophies from all over Africa and are in regular touch with safari outfitters, professional hunters and clients. There are 10 commercial taxidermists in South Africa and I have yet to find one who has not been unfailingly helpful. If, however, a taxidermist doubles as a booking agent, then the comments I make later regarding these gentlemen need to be born in mind.
Belonging to one or more hunting associations is, in my opinion, essential. I belong to three domestic associations, namely, Cape Hunt, the KwaZulu-Natal Hunting and Game Conservation Association and the East Cape Game Management Association. Again, I find members of these associations tremendously helpful, even insofar as international hunting is concerned, although, in this respect, you can do no better than to belong to Dallas Safari Club and SCI whose members are good sources of objective and unbiased information.
From these various sources I have now obtained a list of booking agents, safari outfitters, professional hunters and sportsmen to contact. The list of sportsmen is probably the most important as they should be able to provide the most objective and unbiased information and advice. As a general rule, I do not use booking agents, quite simply, because they are not objective. While they cannot recommend an out and out buffoon, as this would damage their reputation, I never forget that they earn their livelihood from commissions paid by outfitters and hunters. Some of the best of these, however, have such good reputations and are so well known that they do not use booking agents. You do not have to be a neurosurgeon to work out which outfitters and pros are going to receive the nod from the agents.
I should, however, issue a small word of warning here. The relationship formed between a client and a professional hunter is often a very special one. Over a three week safari you probably spend more quality time with your professional hunter than you do with your best friend over the course of a year. This relationship often grows into friendship and the client returns, year after year, to hunt with the same PH.
Asking such a client to give his opinion of that professional hunter is like asking a proud mother to give you an opinion of her prodigal son. Just as important when checking references, is to remember to ask how many times the referee has hunted in Africa as, it never ceases to amaze me, how often in following up a glowing reference, it is only to find that the referee is talking about his very first trip. In all honesty, such a person has no standard of comparison to go by and his reference is, to all intents and purposes, of very little value.