The Outfitter. The PH. The Hunter. My Thoughts…

Byron Harrington

1

This article is not intended to offend anyone, but is merely an offer to inform – and possibly improve – the safari experience for clients, outfitters and professional hunters. I’ll begin by admitting that I am not an expert on anything other than my likes and dislikes I base my observations on five trips to Southern Africa hunting with five different outfitters and three professional hunters for a total of 101 days. The areas I hunted in South Africa are Limpopo, Thabazimbi and Barberton. I have also hunted in Namibia near Otjiwarngo and Okahandja.

The first thing I would like to mention is communication. Before my first trip in 2009 I read somewhere that a safari had three parts: There is the anticipation, the actual hunt, and the reliving it when your trophies arrive. Each phase should be enjoyable.

Outfitters are busy taking care of the hunters on site, responding to potential clients, dealing with business promotion and daily routines. However, you the outfitter, and the PH, should consider your hunter.  Stay off your phone or computer when you are with the hunter. I expect all attention to be with me while I am hunting with you. When you talk with others in Afrikaans and I am present, please, translate for me so I am not left out of the conversation. I consider it rude for anyone to talk in a language that others don’t understand without explaining what the conversation is about. The other issue with communication is with emails or messages between clients and outfitters. We are aware of all the things outfitters have to deal with, but please read the entire message and answer promptly and completely. I have waited over a week to get a response from outfitters, and then when I asked four questions only one or two were answered. This wastes my time and yours, as I have to ask again.

Communicate with your clients (especially first-time hunters). Ask if they will be bringing anyone else with them – a son, daughter, grandchild, niece, nephew, neighbor? Plant the idea. Many US people do not realize that young people can hunt in Africa. Sharing the hunt makes it that much better, and it’s an opportunity to introduce someone to hunting. I brought my 10-year-old grandson to Africa where he killed his first animal – an impala. It was the best safari I have been on, and something he and I will share forever. The outfitter applied special rates for my grandson, appreciating the chance to build a relationship with a future client.

My 10-year-old grandson Pierce painted with blood after his first kill

Hunters need to communicate with their outfitter and PH. Make sure you explain how you want to hunt. If you want to spot and stalk make sure you maintain that attitude. Some outfitters will push you to shoot as

many animals in any way possible. More animals = more money. Also state what type of trophy you are looking for.   Do you want a record animal or a good representative specimen?  We will all shoot a record  trophy if the opportunity presents, but do we want to hold out and come away with nothing?  As they say:  “Don’t pass up on Monday what you’ll shoot on Friday.” Inform your PH of your wish list, but also let the PH know if you might add or substitute another species if a great trophy appears.

On my second safari we were stalking hartebeest that were mixed in with some zebra. Following behind the PH I noticed a duiker that I thought was a rather large specimen. I thought that if the duiker bolted he might spook the hartebeest and zebras so I got the PH’s attention and pointed out the duiker. He waved his hand to let me know that we were not interested in duiker, but we were after hartebeest! A few days later in conversation, I said that I might be interested in a duiker if we found a nice one. The PH replied: “You should have shot that one we saw the other day. That was the biggest duiker I have ever seen.” Now there was a time that the PH should have considered the trophy animal presenting itself and informed the hunter (me) that it was a very nice specimen and given me the choice to shoot or pass. Communication!

The manner of hunting in Africa where you do not purchase a license for a particular species in advance is a concept completely foreign to US hunters. In the US you need a license for every big game animal you wish to hunt. Each state has its own regulations and fees associated with each license, and a license is not a guarantee of success. African Outfitters and PHs need to make sure the client understands the trophy fee system, and that a client can shoot any species he finds acceptable – as long as he has the money to pay for it.

HEAT. What is it with no heat in Africa? Hunters from the US and Europe leave the heat of summer to hunt Africa in the winter. Our bodies cannot adapt to the temperature change overnight. I do not mind putting on layers of clothes to go out hunting but I do not want to wear those same clothes to bed in order to keep warm. But taking a shower in a room that is just slightly above freezing is NOT enjoyable. My wife will never travel to Africa again after freezing for 10 days on a concession that had no heat in our bungalow or in the main lodge. Any future trips for me will include the understanding that my accommodations will have heat. I have seen mornings when the dog’s water dish was frozen solid, the staff were bundled in woolen hats, scarves and coats, but the windows are wide open while they cook breakfast. Why? Is it some macho standard that makes a warm room unacceptable? I slept on plank floors in a lean-to during the dead of winter when I was a young man, but I am well past that now. Think about your client’s comfort.

Understand your client’s overall interests. Some clients’ only interest is killing animals, while some are interested in the entire experience. I find each trip as a means of learning something about a culture, the geography, the politics, the flora and the fauna. My favorite PH is great at spotting game, identifying tracks and getting me on the sticks for a shot. He is also knowledgeable about the flora and native culture which enhances my experience and leaves me with something more than a trophy on the wall.

Make all-inclusive the standard for your clients. There may always be some ‘extras’ that require additional compensation, like side trips or even special diets. Transport from the airport? How else would they get there? Your promoted low price tag may attract their attention, but the add-ons can sour the relationship   when you hand them the bill. Believe it or not, not everybody reads the fine print. Don’t forget what they have  to spend just to set foot on the continent.

My experiences in Africa have given me a great many positive memories and very few negative ones. Much of that has to do with my bonding with a PH that I trust and enjoy being with. Spending time with him is now more important than just another trophy. Build relationships. Consider your client as more than a paycheck and they will keep coming back. Often the quality of the finished product is in the details.

Be safe and keep on hunting!

 

1 COMMENT

  1. All good advice, especially the part about wanting the entire experience, including the part that doesn’t involve killing anything. When I took my elephant I spent the next day–at $1500 per diem–watching it being cut up for the villagers to eat. That was money well spent. It showed me aspects of life I had not previously experienced. With respect to all-inclusive packages, it’s also the potential client’s responsibility to find out what is and what is not included in the deal. The onus isn’t entirely on the PH or the outfitter in that respect.
    Clients should be guided by the PH in all technical aspects of the hunt: this is also part of the communication needed. If you’re hunting dangerous game and he says “Bring a .416,” don’t bring a .375. If he suggest you use a hmdrum caliber for plains game like the .30-06, don’t show up with a 7mm Whiz-Bang Super Manglum. He knows the game, he knows what works, and what is potentially asking for trouble with wounded animals. I had a hunt partner who unwisely chose too light a caliber and winged a magnificent kudu that wasn’t found until a week later when the buzzards had finished him aff and he had gone home without his trophy…but he had to pay for it anyway. As Ruark said, “Use enough gun.”

    BEFORE you book a hunt find out what it entails with respect to guns, paperwork, physical effort, etc. Most PH’s are younger and fitter than their clients. I chased a bunch of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra up and down those mountains outside Windhoek, and it taxed me physically. I did it but that was eleven years ago, I’m not sure I could do it again! A young man in good shape can deal with a demanding hunt, but the fact is that many people who hunt in Africa are, so to speak, “past their sell date,” even if they refuse to admit it. The PH needs to know what you can and can’t do,

    Kudos to the author for bringing his 10-year-old grandson with him to hunt. A fine way to make a new hunter is to take him to where he can hunt with a good chance of success. Most Americans don’t realize that an African hunt needn’t cost the price of a Maserati: you can get a great experience at “Toyota Corolla” costs. That boy will likely go back again, and perhaps more than once. Everyone wins.

LEAVE A REPLY