Sell the Experience: How to Take the Hunting Industry to the XXII Century

A hunter and a scull of an antelope dead of natural courses

For years if not decades the hunting industry in many countries, especially in Africa, relied on the so-called “trophy hunting”. In spite of criticism, “trophy hunting” scored a number of big wins, for both conservation programs and local communities, and has successfully acted as the backbone of the hunting industry until recently. But now, with new challenges presented by the new times, the question arises: is there a better model that can ensure the survival of the industry well into the next century? 

Every successful hunt brings the hunter three kinds of fruit. The first is meat and other parts of the animals that can be consumed or turned into a commodity, e.g. the hide. The second is what we call the trophy: the parts (horns, antlers, tusks, scull) that are valued not as a commodity, but as a monument in honor of the animal and the hunt. The third, non-material result of hunting, is the emotions that the hunter experiences, and the memories of the hunt.    

Moose antler shed

It is only natural that from the start the safari industry was focused on the trophy side. You can’t take meat home with you if your home is on a different continent, with it instead being consumed locally, and the commodity value of the animals taken on a safari is of no importance to an overseas hunter. On the other hand, memories may soon fade away if there aren’t any material symbol to support them. A “trophy” – the antlers or horns, the skin, or a taxidermic mount of the animal you’ve harvested – is arguably the best reminder of the hunt. Dedicated trophy hunters, to whom size matters, are most willing to pay premium prices or put out extra effort to hunt for a large specimen, and so form a natural core of the customer base. While many hunters wouldn’t go the extra mile to kill an antelope with horns that qualify for a record book entry, the trophy-based model worked for them, too. 

Sustainable utilization provided the foundation and the power for many wildlife conservation success stories, in particular in South Africa and Namibia. Vast tracts of marginal agricultural land have successfully been converted by private enterprise and communities into prime wildlife habitat driven by the demand for hunting and protein production. On the strength of this demand the wildlife breeding and ranching industry has also flourished. But the new times bring new challenges. 

For example, the U.N Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has recently passed another controversial decision to uplist giraffe to Appendix II. In doing so, it disregarded the voices of reason and the scientific data presented by the affected Southern African government delegates. Similar decisions negatively affect the lives of rural community members in Botswana, who suffer from human-elephant conflicts. National parks in Zimbabwe can no longer sustain the funding required for their rhino anti-poaching programs, as they sit on stockpiles of unsellable ivory and rhino horn that could be sold to fund these efforts.

A deer hunter coming home with a trophy

As the stakeholders in the industry know all too well, attempts to stop, one way or another, the practice of “trophy hunting”, are not limited to international trade of the objects usually classified as “trophies”. More and more restrictions are placed on the hunting industry. More and more airlines refuse to carry trophies and/or firearms. Aggressive anti-hunting campaigns rage on pages and screens and continue to “name and shame” assaults on social media. Even though we all know that in a protein impoverished continent like Africa, the only body part from a trophy hunted animal that is not eaten or utilized is the bitter tasting gallbladder, “trophy hunting” is now mistakenly understood as if only the animal’s skin and horns are used, the rest being left as waste, and thus acquired a stigma.

Focus on the “trophy” could also explain why the industry struggles with marketing itself to the new generations. All over the world, outfitters and other stakeholders in hunting are concerned about the lack of new blood and ageing customer base. But is it because the millennials are losing interest in hunting – or because they’re not too inspired by the old, conventional hunting models and practices? Starting with the fact that lots of millennials simply have nowhere to hang antlers in their rental apartment, this group in general attaches less value to material possessions, and more to inner happiness, impressions and emotions. Small wonder, then, that millennials sometimes seem immune to the traditional trophy-based marketing approach of the hunting industry. 

A new approach that might attract the new generation of hunters, and quite a few of the old ones at that, and will make the industry much less vulnerable to international regulation and hate campaigns, can be summed up in six words: “Sell the experience, not the trophy”. 

And there’s a way to do just that., and other companies that are focused on the latest development in technology and society, are noticing a proliferation of management and cull hunts being sold to international hunters, a trend we strongly believe is just the start of a mindset change that will help the industry enter the XXII century stronger and more successful in every way than it is now or ever was. 

A hunter and a scull of an antelope dead of natural courses

One option for bringing in these new hunters or those without the trophy hunting mindset are “non-trophy” cull or management hunts. With these there are many advantages for both the hunter and the territory owner:

Hunter Territory Owner
The hunter gets to shoot more animals incorporating an ecologically more balanced mixed bag of both male and female animals. The landowner is paid by a hunter to cull these animals and still makes use of the outfitters accommodation and services.
Hunters do not have all the firearm import and export issues and problems associated with some airline firearm travel bans. The landowner can hire you a rifle and supply ammunition for which they are paid as an add-on service.
Makes international travel much easier being treated like a regular traveler. Pick up and drop off of clients without firearms at the airport is a much simpler procedure.
There are no taxidermy costs, a cost which significantly increases the price of a hunt, so clients can shoot more. It is the private territory owner’s responsibility to find a market for the hides, horns and meat which remain the outfitters property.  
No trophy exportation means additional cost savings on shipping, clearing agent’s fees and CITES permits. This ultimately reduces the paperwork, red tape, licenses and permits to be arranged by the outfitter.
Instead of a mounted trophy your memories will be digitally stored and selectively shared. The landowner will also have his/her digital records and references for marketing purposes. 

Admittedly, the change of paradigm is easier pronounced than achieved. A different approach not just to marketing, but also to the content of the tours, as well as extras, will have to be developed. Bush experience trips, with a lot of ground covered on foot, and spending a few nights in the wilderness in tents or around the fire, should be very popular. So will reconstructions of canoe trips à la voyageur in Canada or Boer-style treks in oxen-drawn wagons. And an opportunity to experience the original hunter-gatherer lifestyle through hunting with indigenous peoples could become as irresistible as the Big Five used to be. 

Hunting with Bushmen

Even with a focus on the experience many will still choose to hunt for trophy animals and proudly enshrine their mounts in a place of honor to be admired for lifetimes, and there is room and a need for both, but even without the traditional trophies, some material sentimental mementos to remember the hunt with will still be necessary. Examples of which could be rugs, knife handles, and other smallish objects made of the trophies of the hunt. Professional photo and video service will become even more important than now. Last but not the least experiencing the utilization and consuming some of the meat or, even though currently impossible, it would be a great advantage if a way to bring African meat products to the hunters’ home countries could be found.

The shift to “sell the experience, not the trophy”, will probably require changes in every aspect of the way safari industry works – and a lot of trial and error on behalf of the pioneers. But the pioneers that learn how to market hunting to the new generation will reap good fruit in the long term, both for themselves and for the industry. This will encourage a greater investment in the wildlife sector leading to more land being transformed into wildlife habitat and creating a product with a value that will be properly managed and safeguarded for generations to come. The world will not stop changing, and one of the changes we should seriously consider is shifting the focus from selling the trophy to selling the experience. 


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