by Peter Ruddle
The first months of the year are traditionally the time when most hunters plan and book their future African trip. The year 2021, however, presents a few challenges and unanswered questions. Should I book my hunts now or wait? How am I going to book hunts if all hunting shows are cancelled? When will the lockdowns be lifted? When will international travel resume? When will the vaccine be available? How will the local hunting market react? Is 2021 going to be a buyers or sellers’ market?
To answer this question, let’s look back at the year 2020 and the effect it had on the South African hunting industry.
After the COVID-19 pandemic hit South Africa, various stages of lockdown and travel bans affected both the international and local South African hunting industries in a big way. Many landowners and professional hunters had to switch to survival mode. Most of the players in the industry turned to local trophy and meat hunting markets. Prices dropped; meat hunting offers became a dime a dozen and many of the approximately 13 000 game landowners turned their processing premises into mini venison packing factories supplying meat to all sorts of outlets and private buyers.
Venison is in high demand in South Africa. 37% of hunters that took part in a survey carried out by the Confederation of Hunting Associations of South Africa’s (CHASA) in May 2020 said they choose game meat because it is healthy (low fat), and 22% said they preferred free range venison because it doesn’t contain antibiotics. On the other side, the increased demand for meat highlighted an important problem.
Consumption and production of meat in South Africa is regulated by the Meat Safety Act of 2000, that specifies regulations for the safe handling of meat from producer to consumer. Unfortunately, these regulations are difficult to implement for non-conventionally produced red meat. The slaughter of cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens and even crocodiles is well regulated, but the South African game meat industry was left open to interpretation of these laws.
There were cases of poorly handled and poor-quality meat entering the industry – fortunately without any major incidents, but heaven help the hunting industry should such a catastrophe occur. Most hunters are aware of the problem, and, according to the already mentioned survey, 32% prefer to control the complete meat handling cycle from veld (field) to freezer in order to ensure maximum hygiene compliance. So are the regulators: an act regarding the trade of venison is under review.
Meat traders and hunters alike understand that the regulations must be prescriptive, without stifling the venison and meat hunting industries. But the regulations will definitely require an investment in new or improved meat handling facilities, pushing up the costs of processed meat and, consequently, the price South Africans pay for meat hunts.
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that all local hunts in South Africa are meat hunts. In 2020, without the international hunting market, prices plummeted and trophy hunting in areas which were previously too expensive for South African trophy hunters became more affordable. Areas that primarily catered to the international market were now catering for local hunters. The response from local hunters to grab these opportunities was phenomenal.
Read also: African Trophy Fees: The past century
So this is how things stand at present. The future is unpredictable, but it’s certain that international hunting opportunities will become available as soon as travel bans are lifted, and post hunt quarantine periods ended. It’s hard to say when exactly this will happen, but some sort of lifestyle normality is hopefully expected to return towards the middle of the year.
Prices for domestic meat hunts are likely to increase, both because of the above-mentioned new regulations, and because of decreased availability. Many landowners have been forced to reduce their wildlife numbers due to drought in the previous years, and/or to generate an income to survive the pandemic. This will definitely impact the number of hunts available in 2021.
The good news is that trophies have had an additional year to grow. This can only benefit the trophy quality but for meat hunters the converse may apply if hunting on a property where the landowner was forced to remove more animals than expected to survive the pandemic.
As for prices for international hunter, most outfitters have frozen them, and many special offers are still available. This means that if you book now, you can get a 2022 hunt at 2019 prices. With the cancellation of all the major hunting shows in 2021, next year could be tough for international outfitters not being able to travel overseas and market their product to their traditional markets. Many outfitters understand the volatility in the market and are prepared to work with clients on the changing of dates and guaranteeing prices where possible.
Online marketing platforms and virtual hunting shows are winning more and more of the ground. For some this is all new but so was the booking of hotels and airline tickets online at one stage. Is this set to become the new norm? Perhaps eliminating all those outfitting marketing costs could mean a downward adjustment in daily rates and trophy fees to the benefit of hunters in the years to come.
In short, the current situation creates a unique opportunity to book a hunt at a price that may seem like a steal a year from now. Shop wisely, stipulate a “COVID clause” for rescheduling the hunt in case of an unforeseen travel ban, but shop early and book your hunt now.