I'm going to open a can of worms here and I realize that. Before I start I want to say that I'm speaking from my own personal experiences and from talking to others that have hunted both fenced areas in SA and "open" concessions. My conclusion is there is good and bad about both areas and you need to understand this when going to both the fenced and wild areas.
Let me start with the obvious, no matter how large the fenced area, you are still within a fence. No way around that in SA and much of Namibia. My first hunt like many of us was in SA on a large and very well known ranch. When I say large it was right at 40,000 acres. We saw tons of animals, good quality trophies, and the animals were super spooky. They didn't stand there and let you shoot them. We took long hikes, stalked our animals, and shot nice animals. My hunting partner shot a nice average hard boss buffalo with a bow after a long stalk. We walked away very satisfied and we had a great time. The only animals I ever saw at a feeder of any kind were Rhinos. Still, I said to myself I'll never hunt behind a fence again, no matter how large.
Fast forward a few years and I plan a trip to Zimbabwe for buffalo. Not knowing it at the time, I booked with a crook and was badly taken. I wrote a report about it on this site which you can find if you dig a little. Lets just say I only saw a couple buffalo in 12 days and ended up shooting a Zebra on the last day which took three years and a lot of dollars to get home because they didn't fill out the paperwork. This trip almost made me avoid Africa in the future. My own fault, I didn't dig deep enough before booking. The references he gave wrote glowing reports, but had I dug deeper I would have found other very disturbing reports.
Now I decided I'm really going to do it right and went with a very well known PH in Mozambique. It was brutal getting to camp but I honestly didn't mind that because it was wild Africa! After 4 plane rides and three truck rides and two boat rides I made it to camp. To say I was pumped was an understatement. We were on buffalo every time we left camp and on the third day we shot an average buffalo which I was told to shoot by the PH. It was the first shooter bull I had ever seen and I took him at his word and shot. Had I known what I know now I wouldn't have shot. So I got my first buffalo. However, after all that travel, we would be out hunting and we would continually see locals walking around, riding bikes, etc. There were poacher snares and gin traps everywhere, and we even caught some poachers while out on a hunt. It was 115 degrees and of course no air conditioning, but after the second night we were given a small battery operated fan which at the time was wonderful!. I was in "wild" Africa but I saw more people on this trip than on my other two trips and far more than my trip in SA. The animals seemed to be accustomed to seeing humans and really didn't react in the same spooky manner that they did in SA.
Now I decide I'm really going to go overboard, do my homework, spend more money than I had before and book with a very well known PH in Zambia. We land at the airport and a PH is there to pick us up but not our PH. On the way to camp I ask if our PH is in camp and he said no, he was in another country and not feeling well so they wouldn't let him on the plane. No one had taken the time to tell us this even though we all had email and texting and they had know this for some time. Then we get to camp and we go to sight in the rifles. I was going to bring my Blaser R8 but my PH says don't bother, we have a Blaser R8 here in camp with a Swarovski scope that you can use. Well guess what, they forgot to bring the rifle to camp. I now have a CZ. Bad start but we were determined not to let it ruin our trip. The PH we now had was great, hunted hard, long days, for 10 days. Saw tons of buffalo and I mean tons. On one herd I stopped counting at 600 but not one hard bossed bull. Once again, we saw tons of people walking around, hiking riding bikes, farming, etc. Animals seemed accustomed to seeing people and my friend killed an average bull with a bow that allowed us to drive up and get close to so he could get out and shoot. That was the only decent hard bossed bull we saw in ten hard days of hunting. It was his first bull and he was happy. Two days we drove 2 1/2 hours each way to hunt a certain area, so 5 hours of our day was wasted driving. We saw lots of other animals but nothing of trophy quality. Not a decent Impala, warthog, Kudu, etc. My friend did shoot a nice Croc and there was no shortage of Crocs or hippo. I left there after 10 days and didn't fire a shot. I honestly had a great time hunting with the PH and would hunt with him again anytime, but not in that area. There is nothing we could have done any differently to give ourselves a better chance. It just wasn't in the cards for me on this trip and that is hunting.
So now I'm eating my words and going back to SA on another large fenced area this May. This one is 50,000 acres. Hunting with a young PH who's family has been in the business but has had mostly European clients and wants to break into the American market. I chose to go back to SA for several reasons. The first being, while I like to see the villages and meet the local people I don't like running into them while I'm hunting. I don't like all the poaching that goes on in many of the wild areas and not being able to find decent trophy quality no matter how hard you hunt. To be honest, it feels more wild to me in SA than it does in some of the other so called wild areas. Animals seem more wary because they are hunted, you don't waste time driving to distant areas to hunt, and trophy quality and cost are better. I want to say, money factors in to all my decisions as I'm a retired school principal so when I take these trips it is because I've saved to take them. If I had unlimited funds sure I'd go to Tanzania or some of the other places, but I just can't justify double the cost and believe me I've tried. I know this is going to rub people the wrong way, and some are going to say if you'd done your homework you would have had better hunts. Believe me I did my homework. The guy in Zim was a crook and a very slick crook who conned many people. The others were just tough luck.
I'm writing this to see if any of you feel the same way as I am beginning to feel. Many of the "wild" areas aren't really that wild, and if you choose the right place SA can be a very positive and challenging experience. Believe me I'm not looking for easy. I'll hunt as hard as the PH will allow. I don't need a guarantee to kill something, as I said I had a great time last year in Zambia and I never fired a shot and honestly was never tempted by any of the animals to fire a shot. I would just not like to deal with the extra stuff that you can run into in some of these "wild" areas. I just want to go to an area with a reasonable expectation of finding some quality animals and hunt with someone that will hunt hard and make things enjoyable and at the same time not spend all of my life's savings. Am I the only one who feels this way?