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Choosing a good hunting outfitter

This is a discussion on Choosing a good hunting outfitter within the Before & After the Hunt forums, part of the HUNT AFRICA category; It's that time of year. Lot's of shows; lot's of outfitters trying to sell their services; lot's of hunters wanting ...

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    Default Choosing a good hunting outfitter

    It's that time of year. Lot's of shows; lot's of outfitters trying to sell their services; lot's of hunters wanting to book their dream hunt. So much hope and so much potential, yet unfortunately, far too often those dream hunts end in disappointment. There are many things besides the outfitter that can ruin a hunt (illness, weather, travel problems, etc.). However, the single most important factor in determining whether you have a good experience is the choice of your hunting outfitter? Therefore, I thought that I would start this thread so that the more experienced folks can share their insights and those who may be planning their first safari can pick up some tips.

    What can you do to improve the odds of booking a hunt with the right outfitter? That's the zillion dollar question. I've hunted with quite a few outfitters. Some of them belong in jail (literally). Particularly in North America, the bar isn't set very high for becoming an outfitter or a guide.

    I can't claim to have all the answers. I've had some great experiences and some horrible ones. I've had a good experience with an outfitter one year and gone back the next year and had the exact opposite. Sometimes, I feel like it is just dumb luck.

    What do the rest of you think?

    FYI - a few years ago, there was a good post related to this question Guidelines to Choosing a Good Outfitter for a Hunt in South Africa

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    Hi Mtn Goat. Good topic. My best hunts have come when I have had a good referral. I think there are some great outfitters on AH. Thats one of the reasons I participate here. In my mind first you need to decide where you want to go and what you want to hunt. Then start looking and reading about others experiences, especially where you want to go. Try and get a list of those that hunt that area. Then formulate a list of criteria of what you want along with the animals. Then start sending e-mails and see who answer's and what they offer. Try and find 2-5 that offer what you want. Then its time to carefully check references. Recent ones. Both successful and unsuccessful if you can.
    Remember things can change in a year. My taxidermist was unhappy with a hunt he was on in the East Cape. he took a day off to search for a new place to go. He found one with "lots of animals". Especially Impala. He thought that we'd all fill out on Impala on day one. So we followed his advice and went to that property a year later. I shot mine on day 5 on the neighbors place, because the place we were on didn't have a decent Impala that we could find. Do your research. Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Bruce

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    I think, and since I cant back up anything I say till I get back from my planned trip (once I commit to booking) that the outfitter and hunter need to get that "feel" for each other, either through emails or talking on the phone. I appreciate responses to my questions, along with additional information that I forgot or didn't know to ask. I like a sense of humour as well, and I don't need to hunt with a stick in the mud, I even got an answer for that age old question that I know everyone has asked themselves
    Is a Zebra white with black stripes, or black with white stripes

    The shows that I have been too have had a mix bag of people, some "salesmen" had never even been to where they are selling hunts for. I walk away, the least they could do is lie to me, but they would then need pictures showing off their trip.

    Forums like this will showcase the good from the bad, when outfitters offer advice and their expertise without trying to push a sale on you, that to me shows a class act, and so far I have seen nothing less from the group here.

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    Bruce,
    I agree completely.


    The one thing that I can say has helped improve my odds has been checking references. Perhaps I go overboard, but, hey I'm about to spend a lot of money. I want to get it right. In one case, an outfitter gave me his complete client list from the previous year. I called each of those clients. In that case, every client only had good things to say about their experience. I booked with him and had a great time - a really first class operation.

    The risk that you take when checking references provided by the outfitter is that they will cherry pick. They will give you the names of the hunters who were lucky and bagged one (or more) really exceptional animals, or were hunting at the peak of the rut or the peak of the migration. Some unscrupulous ones might even give names of their friends and family. At least it is a starting point. Ask the outfitter for the names of a couple of hunters who were not successful. Some will give a complete list of clients, others won't.

    When you contact a reference, have a list of questions prepared. One of the things that I like to find out is how experienced the hunter is. Was it their first time elk hunting? The list of questions is something that we should discuss in this thread.

    Next, you can search the web. Go to forums like this and ask other hunters if they what they know the outfitter that you are considering. Many forums allow you to search all of the threads for a text string - search for the outfitters name (plus likely misspellings). See what has been posted.

    Check with public authorities. Is the outfitter's license current? Have they been charged with any violations of any of the game laws in that country/province? Are they aware of any complaints against the outfitter?

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    dobber,
    Good points. However, far too often, on the show floor you'll find the "salesman" outfitter. I understand that everyone is there to sell hunts. However, there are salesmen and then there are "salesmen". The latter are all smiley face, your instant best friend, always laugh at your feeblest attempt at humor, etc. You get the picture - in short, phony. They would be just as comfortable selling used cars. I want to avoid them.

    For me the top value of the show floor is for eliminating people, rather than making a selection.

    It's also important to keep in mind that no matter how great of a personality the outfitter may have, you are probably not going to hunt with the outfitter.

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    Mtgoat,
    Great thread! A couple of years ago I had a prospective hunter contact me for a safari. Questions were asked and answered, and so we moved along. We got to the topic of references. The prospective hunter, asked me for some US references, but wanted me to supply him with both good and bad references. After informing him that I did not have any bad references, his response was, " Well, that's not good."
    Well, if he contacted me again today, I still would not be able to help him. Just can't keep everyone happy, I guess.
    Marius Goosen
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    Quote Originally Posted by gillettehunter View Post
    Hi Mtn Goat. Good topic. My best hunts have come when I have had a good referral.
    Absolutely!

    BTW - I have found that booking agents can be a particularly bad source of recommendations. They are just inside sales reps - they are there to sell the hunts that the outfitter couldn't sell on their own. The priority for most of the reps is hitting their quota. The quality of your hunt is secondary (at best). Without naming a specific company, I used a booking service from one of the major sporting goods retailers. They directed me to an outfitter who turned out to be a real scum bag. My bad for not insisting on a list of references but still, they shouldn't have even had that character on their list.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KMG Hunting Safaris View Post
    Mtgoat,
    Great thread! A couple of years ago I had a prospective hunter contact me for a safari. Questions were asked and answered, and so we moved along. We got to the topic of references. The prospective hunter, asked me for some US references, but wanted me to supply him with both good and bad references. After informing him that I did not have any bad references, his response was, " Well, that's not good."
    Well, if he contacted me again today, I still would not be able to help him. Just can't keep everyone happy, I guess.
    Over the years, you must have had someone who didn't get something that they had hoped for, or as big as they would have liked - haven't you? I would put those in the "Bad" bucket.

    When I check references, I try to probe for anything negative. It's a bit like checking pre-employment references. I ask things like "How could they improve?" "What could they have done better?" With one outfitter's list, the closest I could get to a negative was one guy who ended up taking an animal smaller than he would have preferred (in hindsight). However, he blamed himself rather than his guide. He felt that he had failed to communicated what he wanted.

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    Reading the hunt reports on this site would be a good starting point.

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    Leaving your hunt up to dumb luck is insane.

    You can increase your chances of having a good safari exponentially by doing your home work.
    Learn what to ask. Ask the questions; Lots and lots of questions.

    People are going to say check references.
    Good thought, but you minimize the usefulness of this review if you do not ask questions or don't know what to ask.

    I asked for references from the place I was considering for my very first hunt. I got them and contacted them all.
    Because this operation was very small it did not have a long list of people to contact that had hunted in the last year. (Which is a factor when you choose a small outfit) Is this a bad thing? No, just something you have to consider.
    The references were also not hunting the same species I was. A happy Leopard hunter from three years ago does not provide much substance for a plains game hunter, beyond the fact that the outfit did what they promised to do.
    This was really what I was after. Did the outfitter do what they said they would do. No false promises, no misdirection, etc.

    I read one online review that had used the "concession" of this outfitter, not actually hunted with him. They got their Eland. The report was truthful and informative without slamming the farm. It stated that the accommodation was basic. It had a couple of photos, so I knew what my outfitter looked like and part of the farm house.
    It confirmed it was basic and there was game present and the hunter got what he was promised.


    I wanted to hunt alone for one week on a low fence, small family operation that did not cater to large numbers of hunters that had Kudu, Oryx and Warthog possibly Eland in their native habitat.
    I stated from the outset that I wanted SCI Gold or better. The Outfitter knew I was a trophy hunter from the start.
    He sent trail cam pictures and those just confirmed there was game present of the size I was looking for.
    Note: I had a back up plan and more places to hunt on my first trip. Therefore, I could be picky about size and I could walk away without shooting anything.

    I set all these criteria out by doing endless amounts of research and homework. (Lots of it right here on AH) That's me.

    The reality:
    In a week long hunt I saw TWO good Bull Kudu, ONE Oryx and lots of trophy Warthogs and ONE herd of Eland Bulls. (Lots of females, etc.) Where I hunted was not a "target rich environment.

    My first trophy in Africa was a free range Gold Medal Eland bull. In fact, the herd of Eland I hunted was and is actually the largest free ranging herd anywhere. NGARANGOMBE Conservancy Namibia.

    I passed on the first Kudu bull I ever saw in my life. I attempted to get the second bull but he outsmarted us and was watching us during the stalk and I refused to shoot him in the butt as he ran away. I officially love Kudu hunting.
    I shot the only Oryx I saw. It happened to be a Male and was also Rowland Ward.
    Lucky beyond belief.
    The outfitter was very concerned that I did not get my Kudu Bull. I reassured him that I was quite pleased with my hunt and experience. It was what I expected.

    I learned:
    That trail cam pictures can be taken any time of year.
    Weather patterns change from year to year. (Coldest year in memory, including snow.)
    Kudu, Oryx and Eland can migrate off a property.
    Rabies can reduce huntable populations. I did expect to see more Kudu and Oryx.
    Thick bush in Africa is just as tough to hunt as thick bush at home. (worse with thorns)
    I can sit in a stand (Never believed I could)
    You can successfully stalk, Eland, Kudu and Oryx.
    Eland, at least mine, are tough as hell.
    Money does drive decision making (switching concessions, etc.)
    Small operations can be great places to hunt.
    Basic, is basic.
    A hunt can be booked by email and internet research and come out fine.
    (I only spoke to the outfitters wife once on the telephone before I arrived).
    Trust goes both ways. (Small deposit and final payment after I left for home.)

    I have noted several individuals, some more experienced folks, discounting wholesale any hunt reports from first timers because the rookies have nothing to compare the hunt to. I think this is rather cynical, but not completely devoid of merit.

    Does that immediate post hunt euphoria tend to cloud the judgement somewhat? I think it must. After all, who is heading to Africa to do an objective review. A review is not our goal.
    The first time hunter report is valuable to first time hunters. Who else can provide that novel perspective? No one.

    On that note, I almost laughed myself silly when I saw the latest pretence of trustworthiness with "Visited and Verified." Really? Someone paid for advertising and the ad confirms what? This is not a review. It's like a superficial star rating from a local tourism board.
    I would trust a current first time hunter report long before this.

    The hunt reports that do not present any substance, although providing some entertainment value are akin to the visited and verified label. You can determine from that type of report that the hunter was present, the outfitter exists and they recommend them.
    Everyone is not a budding novelist, nor do they have to be, but some substantive material about the experience, beyond "the food was great".

    The best method to start gaining advantage in your planning is to read as many reports as you can and sift through and find the facts. That will provide you with a basis to analyze the outfitter against your needs. (Pay back your fellow hunter by posting your reports)

    Something else to consider:

    You have been exposed to Hunting Magazines, National Geographic (magazines and shows), specific Hunting Shows, books, TV shows, Movies, hunting forums, etc. that promote "the dream".
    That you have been watching and fantasizing about this for many years, if not decades, sets you up to want to get there and just do it.

    To save yourself the sorrow, this is the point at which you have to wrestle with yourself and make yourself do the homework before you book.

    Impulse buying a trip to Africa is STUPID!!!
    Practice whispering before you leave for Africa!
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    I am not sure if not getting something or not even getting the size you want equals a bad hunt.Hunting is not just killing and some luck is needed to get all the animals and size you may want in africa on just one trip.I am not even big on the reference myself.I want someone that fits me and my likes and boy oh boy am I diferent then must.lol

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    Quote Originally Posted by billc View Post
    I am not sure if not getting something or not even getting the size you want equals a bad hunt.Hunting is not just killing and some luck is needed to get all the animals and size you may want in africa on just one trip.I am not even big on the reference myself.I want someone that fits me and my likes and boy oh boy am I diferent then must.lol
    "Did the outfitter do what they said they would do. No false promises, no misdirection, etc."

    Would you be upset or call it a bad hunt if you were told that you were hunting a "free range lion" and you were never out of sight of the fence on all four sides?
    or just as bad, you never asked the question and find yourself in a small enclosure just "shooting" something and you wanted to "hunt"?

    I have no issue with fences. I have come to terms with them for myself. I just make sure the property meets my criteria. I ask the questions.

    Be as different as you like. Just find someone who can tolerate you.
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    Quote Originally Posted by KMG Hunting Safaris View Post
    Mtgoat,
    Great thread! A couple of years ago I had a prospective hunter contact me for a safari. Questions were asked and answered, and so we moved along. We got to the topic of references. The prospective hunter, asked me for some US references, but wanted me to supply him with both good and bad references. After informing him that I did not have any bad references, his response was, " Well, that's not good."
    Well, if he contacted me again today, I still would not be able to help him. Just can't keep everyone happy, I guess.
    You are right. You will never keep everyone happy.
    That type of linear thinking is not going to save that potential hunter from a bad hunt.
    It is not an effective screening tool.
    It is obviously based on the notion that Outfitters hide bad reviews.

    The nice thing about hunting forums is that ANYONE can post a report.
    Good bad indifferent.

    Next time Marius you can give the guy your bad list along with your good list. See if the guy catches on that they are the same.
    Practice whispering before you leave for Africa!
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    Offering a free range hunt that is not and then getting a fenced hunt would not be cool.I have just come to realize if I am hunting SA there will be fence most of the time.The lion sold one way then hunted another would not be cool but you would real need to be stupid to fall for that one.

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    Brickburn,
    Thanks for the excellent posts. All great points.

    I agree that in the end, chemistry between the hunter, the outfitter and the PH is important.

    Trust is an important piece as well. A couple of months ago, I booked a lion hunt with an outfitter that I've hunted with before. I haven't sent him any money and won't give him any until the final day in camp. I don't recall having a contract for my previous hunt with him. (There might have been something.) Could he have screwed me? Sure. However, I felt sufficiently comfortable that I trusted him.

    Craig Boddington's book, The African Experience, is a good starting point for learning about African hunting. He, in turn, recommends learning as much as you can. Consume all the books, articles, blogs, tv shows, etc as you possibly can.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BRICKBURN View Post
    Leaving your hunt up to dumb luck is insane.

    Impulse buying a trip to Africa is STUPID!!!
    +1.

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    Sorry to be a pain, just a bit uncertain. So are you saying that no deposit whatsoever to the outfitter/ph has been made to book the hunt? Just wanted to clarify your last post. Again, please forgive me if I am mistaken. Thanks for your patience. Just wondering.


    Quote Originally Posted by Mtgoat View Post
    Brickburn,
    Thanks for the excellent posts. All great points.

    I agree that in the end, chemistry between the hunter, the outfitter and the PH is important.

    Trust is an important piece as well. A couple of months ago, I booked a lion hunt with an outfitter that I've hunted with before. I haven't sent him any money and won't give him any until the final day in camp. I don't recall having a contract for my previous hunt with him. (There might have been something.) Could he have screwed me? Sure. However, I felt sufficiently comfortable that I trusted him.

    Craig Boddington's book, The African Experience, is a good starting point for learning about African hunting. He, in turn, recommends learning as much as you can. Consume all the books, articles, blogs, tv shows, etc as you possibly can.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BRICKBURN View Post
    Small operations can be great places to hunt.
    Basic, is basic.
    A key to having a great experience is knowing what you want before you book your safari and then being careful to pick an outfitter who is a good fit for your expectations. Do you want a luxury lodge, or a tent in the bush? Fine dining, or just the basics? Spot and stalk or blind? What species of animals? Size? And so on. How do you prioritize these things? Is it more important to only take SCI gold animals (and possibly go home with nothing) or do you want to take one of everything, even if some are on the small side?

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    Quote Originally Posted by billc View Post
    Offering a free range hunt that is not and then getting a fenced hunt would not be cool.I have just come to realize if I am hunting SA there will be fence most of the time.The lion sold one way then hunted another would not be cool but you would real need to be stupid to fall for that one.
    I differentiate between stupid an ignorant.

    Ignorance of the realities of hunting in Africa is an easy place to find yourself in.
    Everyone started out there. Including me.

    I have people talking to me about hunting in Africa and telling me about their buddy who hunted a lion and how great it would be.
    Of course I ask "Where did he hunt it?"
    I get the quizzical look from the fellow I'm talking to that shows that he thinks I am asking a stupid question.
    "What would that matter?"

    So, his buddy has never explained the details, nor will he ever.

    Watch a Hunting TV show and see what they are presenting!
    Euphemisms....

    I don't care where you chase a lion. Just be honest. Otherwise everyone is in the dark and can be taken for a ride.

    There are people willing to "sell" hunts in an unscrupulous manner.

    The famous line of a problem (PAC) Lion that escaped a National Park needing to be hunted.

    Hunting on land with owners that are on A Treasury Department banned list.. Zimbabwe.

    etc etc.

    It takes a lot of learning to make sure you are up to speed.
    Practice whispering before you leave for Africa!
    A Legend in my own mind!

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    Quote Originally Posted by gi jane View Post
    Sorry to be a pain, just a bit uncertain. So are you saying that no deposit whatsoever to the outfitter/ph has been made to book the hunt? Just wanted to clarify your last post. Again, please forgive me if I am mistaken. Thanks for your patience. Just wondering.
    Jane, for my first hunt I put down $500.00. That was it.

    Because of banking issues in Namibia I was unable to pay before I left to RSA. I intended to pay the balance at the bank on departure. It just never worked out.
    The Outfitter also ended up taking CAD vs USD for me. Saved me $ and he got a bonus of a few bucks.
    Exchange on that day. A plus was that we kept money from the banks.

    My wife transferred the money for me while I was away at PH school in RSA.
    I found out 1o days later the outfitter had been paid when I called him to make sure.
    Practice whispering before you leave for Africa!
    A Legend in my own mind!

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