The following article taken from Man Magnum Magazine, is published on this website with Man Magnum’s approval.
A successful hunt is a result of careful planning. This starts with detailed communication with the farmer or land owner. Ensure that all your questions are answered satisfactorily before booking your hunt. Follow up with a phone call again nearer the hunt to confirm the arrangements.
There is however no way of ensuring a successful and enjoyable hunt. Unless you have booked to “shoot a fish in a barrel”, you should realize that it is quite possible to hunt for days without shooting huntable game; and even if your mate had a successful hunt on the same ranch the previous month. Just a change in the weather can do that. Any landowner can have unexpected problems which might disrupt the good service they normally provide.
It isn’t always possible, but it may be best to hunt on venues recommended by someone you trust, and who has hunted there recently. Alternatively, check the references game ranchers should be happy to provide if they have clear consciences. Phone these people and have a prepared list of pertinent questions ready. Members of KZN Hunting & Conservation Association can, of course, obtain first-hand, up-to-date information on a range of venues.
Find out in advance what constitutes a trophy-size animal. Also find out what species and gender you may (or may not) hunt.
Most complaints from hunters are about money. Some land owners quote one price on the phone and then raise it (or add VAT) only when the hunter arrives (or when he gets the bill).
Every reasonable seller of hunting should have at least a tariff/game list with some basic conditions and details of the ranch which can be the basis for a sound written contract. If you get such a document go over it carefully, make a note of the questions it does not answer and then get the answers. Baring in mind that it is law that a hunter obtains written consent to hunt on that particular farm.
Make sure you know exactly what is provided in terms of accommodation, caring and retrieval of game as well as slaughtering facilities.
Another regular complaint is that there was little or no game on the farm – nor any sign of it. Or, that the species the hunter particularly came for is not in evidence. Tell the farmer you want to shoot a Nyala (or whatever species) and ask him how many adult males he estimates there to be on the farm where you will be hunting. Ask how many were shot by paying clients over the last two seasons. You could even ask for some of their names and telephone numbers. The next question should be to confirm if he has different prices for trophy and non-trophy animals and what constitutes a trophy. He must at least give you a minimum horn length. Ask if the price includes VAT and if it is subject to change. Ask if he expects the animals to still be available at the time of your hunt.
Determining the type of accommodation and what facilities are available is of great importance. Get full details – where exactly you will you be housed, the type of dwelling, whether it has electricity/gas lamps/cookers, braai facilities, etc, and precisely what is provided in terms of kitchen and dining utensils, firewood, bedding, hot water, rifle safe, slaughter facilities, coldroom facilities, etc, and whether there is any extra charge for these facilities. Is a refrigerator provided? Deep freeze? Cold box? Ice? What sort of ablution facilities are available? Is any staff provided (skinners, butchers, camp attendants, etc); are their services included in the daily rates or is the hunter responsible for paying and feeding them, and if so, at what rates? May the hunter use his own vehicle? If not, what type of vehicle will be provided? Is the driver provided, and what charges are made for vehicle and driver, mileage etc? If no vehicle is provided, and the hunters hunt on foot, what arrangements can be made for recovering game carcasses from the veld and at what cost?
Are there different daily rates for hunters and non-hunters? How are the rates calculated – per day or per night? If a hunter arrives in the afternoon, is he charged for that full day? Are ‘trackers’ (hunter guides) provided? Are they capable of finding the required game and getting the hunter in a position to take a safe shot, or are they simply monitors, there to ensure the hunter does not get lost, cross boundaries, or wound game without reporting it? Are they adequately capable of spooring a wounded animal? Are their services included in the daily rates? Is skinning/butchering part of their job description? Is there someone available who is capable of caping an animal to taxidermists’ specification? For meat hunters, are there any limits on the number, gender or species that an individual or party may shoot? Are there ANY extra expenses that may be incurred, over and above the daily rate, animal prices, etc, quoted in the brochure/advertisement?
These questions should help to ensure that you don’t get any unpleasant surprises. Of course, there are other, common sense questions you should ask about road conditions, malaria, climate, terrain.
Most Important: phone ten days prior to the hunt to confirm that everything is still in order. (The rancher may have failed to record your booking, run out of game, sold the ranch or suffered one of the many setbacks that can cause the last-minute cancellation of hunts.) Then Phone Again the night before you leave – it’s not impossible that the landowner may have suffered an accident, a death in the family, or floods, fires etc.
Make sure you get proper directions to the ranch – it does happen that hunters get lost. And be sure you have taken care of all the legal details: letters of permission to hunt, hunting licenses, special permits for hunting protected species, etc. And don’t forget to carry your firearm licence and driver’s licence.
On the other side of the coin, landowners do have legitimate reason to complain about some people who ‘hunt’ but do not deserve the title ‘hunters’. So “do unto others.” etc. Don’t abuse the landowner’s hospitality, burn his carpets and furniture with forgotten cigarettes, chop firewood on the floors, shoot around the camp, or abuse his vehicle and other equipment, or anything that is his. Do not take liquor into the veld, do not litter, and do not shoot bottles. If you are staying in a communal facility where there are other hunting parties, do not make a noise (including load conversation) after a reasonable time at night (say ten o’clock) – other hunters like to rise very early and be fresh for the hunt. And, if you must take a radio, don’t play it loudly – most hunters are there to get away from all that.
Do not shoot at non-game targets unnecessarily- it spooks the game. Enquire beforehand as to what you may or may not shoot, and in what numbers/genders, and don’t violate this agreement. Do not shoot carelessly so that the game is wounded, and if you wound something do not try to bribe the tracker not to report it. Don’t abuse the staff, or expect trackers to do anything that is not part of their job. If they are willing to do extra jobs for extra pay, and the landowner approves, fine. Give them a decent tip at the end of the hunt if their service has merited it. Observe all the safety precautions involving loaded rifles in camp, in vehicles, direction of fire, positive identification of target etc.
You have bought neither the farm nor the staff. You are buying time in the bush, a chance to hunt like a gentleman and prove to yourself that you are worthy of that privilege- nothing more. Let’s have a good season, and let it be a season of goodwill.