Are Hunters and Outfitters at Odds with Each Other?
Author with Lion Hunted in South AFrica
I think the underlying issue is the escalating cost of international (or any) hunting at a time when hunter numbers are going down and the global economy is in a recession.
I am a "client." Therefore, I determine my hunting budget. Hunting is recreational - although at times I feel like its why I live. But I have kids, a wife, home, cars, sports, etc. Hunting is not essential. As everything else goes up my disposable income (used for hunting) goes down.
Outfitters make there living from taking clients hunting. Hunting therefore is their life. The only way to make more money (and we all want more money) is to raise prices. On top of what the PH makes is the government costs, taxes, quota/trophy fees, export fees etc.
I have heard time and again that PH's are not getting rich by hunting. I am sure that is true. Herein lies the problem, the cost is going up but the people providing the service are not seeing it in their wallets. So to make more they must increase their prices on top of the increasing concession/quota/trophy fees.
From what I have been told, "most" African clients are Americans. The average hunter age in the US is now over 50. Baby-boomers are the largest segment of the hunting community. As the economy goes down, so to does our disposable income. And once they have done it (that is, the hunting), or done it several times, the justification for spending the money goes down. So to keep hunting we must look for the best prices we can get, or not hunt at all.
Dangerous game is more affected than plains game hunts. The reason is pure cost. The "average" American family lives on $50-$60K a year. That is about the cost of a Botswana Elephant hunt. At times I think that too many people think that al Americans are rich. Our general standard of living is pretty high but we have the largest personal debt of any Country in the world - most Americans are living on credit.
So PH's must realize, as a pure statement of fact, that their "average client" is not the "average guy" in the US. Its only the very wealthy who can afford these hunts. There is a continuing trend in he United States where the divide between the wealthy and middle class is growing larger every day. Right now there is less than 5% of the total US population that earns over $250,000 year. And only a fraction of them are hunters. Those within the hunting community are guys who are growing older, have been there and done that and are now hunting less.
So what does his mean. Essentially what it means is that prices are going up while demand is going down. The Plains Game safaris that cater more to the "average guy" still has an abundant hunter pool. But there is tremendous competition among PH's for that group of hunters. South Africa is quickly taking over the PG sector because of the cost comparison between PG hunts in RSA and other, more remote countries, like Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, etc.
What it means for DG game hunts is that it is a buyers market. At the big shows over the last 2 years is was easy to see PH's competing with each other over clients. Prices were falling as a guy would walk back and forth between outfitters looking for the best deal. I see that trend continuing.
I will use myself as an example. I love Africa. I hunt evey year. A DG animal is now always part of my hunt. I have a friend and PH is RSA. I also have a PH that I love to hunt with in Zim. But even with these "regular contacts," I still look around the market place before booking my hunts. I want to know what options I have in the different countries that I can hunt. It's not just cost, its the opportunities.
For example, I will hunt elephant in 2012. I have been very upfront with 3 or 4 guys that I am hunting in 2012. I have asked these guys to see what interesting things, additional opportunities or price specials that they can offer me. For my part I have to make my dollars go further.
So what I am looking at are things like later season hunts to fill out quota's to get better pricing. I am looking for outfitters who will let my wife come at the best observer rate possible (does an extra person really cost $250, 350, ???,50 per day?) and if she wants to take an animal or 2, I do not expect her to be upgraded to another hunter for the duration of the hunt. If I am on a PG hunt and a Sable on quota is available, I will try and get that animal (for the full trophy fee) without upgrading from the day rate I booked at to the "Sable rate." (Why is it that PG rates are between $450-$650/day but if you want a Sable it goes to over $1,000/day for the whole hunt?)
THere may be great Lion hunting in Zambia but I will not pay close to $60K to hunt lions in the Luongo Valley. I will hunt them in Zim for 1/2 that price. I will hunt the border concessions in Zim or in the Caprivi for elephant rather than paying double the cost to cross the border and shoot the same elephant in Botswana.
My concern with all of this is that PH's and clients are becoming at odds with each other because of cost. Hunters pay for conservation. They also boost economies. But Governments and Counsels who establish certain rates like concession fees and trophy fees must see the trend of advancing hunter age, declining hunters in the global hunting community, the realities of the economic crisis and have a price correction on the higher end hunts. There are just to few hunters to justify the increasing costs of hunting abroad. But it is almost impossible for governments to go backwards - hey never look for LESS REVENUE.
I have taken the Big 5 (no PAC hunts for me) and will do it again. My wife is on her way as well. We are the exception in that we are at the tender age of 40. But as prices generally go up each season, we have to look for better and better deals each year. The fact is, in a supply and demand marketplace, there are more hunting oprotunities than hunters and I feel like I have to look for the best opportunities for my money.