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Free Range Hunting Safari

Free range hunting safaris in South Africa… Really!?

This specific topic of free range hunting safaris has been the proverbial “stone in my shoe” for quite some time now.

It is with an ever growing sense of unease that I see a tendency among many hunting outfitters that market “free range hunting” as part of their hunting packages in South Africa. To be honest, it’s making me a little hot under the collar, to put it mildly.

A Quick Definition

As the expression goes, one man’s truth is another man’s lie, and none more so than in this case.

Now, depending on where you’re from as you’re reading this, I’m sure that everyone will have a different perspective and understanding of the meaning with regards to the usage of thus ever-increasing marketing claim here in South Africa.

So, for more clarity on the subject, I offer the following definition to you as reader:

The English Oxford Dictionary defines free-range as: (of livestock, especially poultry) kept in natural conditions, with freedom of movement.

Similarly, the English Oxford Dictionary defines free-ranging as: The action or practice of allowing farm animals free range; unrestricted roaming by an animal, especially as part of a system of free-range farming.

With some clarity, my biggest problem with this type of marketing and the use of the phrase “free range hunting” is that 1.) we do NOT hunt “poultry” here in South Africa, and 2.) we hunt African wildlife, NOT farm animals, which 3.) does NOT have “unrestricted roaming.”

An Example

Let’s compare this: a hunter from the USA will interpret free range hunting as hunting game animals whose movement is completely unchecked by any man made barriers. Someone from Europe will interpret it as species that occur on relatively “open”, UNFENCED areas that span thousands of acres .

I believe that using the words “free range” is simply a very blatant way of strengthening their marketing by selling hunting trips and safaris to hunters from abroad who do not have ample knowledge of South Africa’s hunting scene. I feel it’s a vague, wide term that’s being used in a very misleading way.

The REAL Hunting Scene in South Africa

South Africa is the most developed country on the African continent. It has more man-made barriers (low-and-high fences, freeways, cities, larger towns, etc.) than any other country in the continent. Because there are large areas of undeveloped land doesn’t mean that “free-range hunting” exists. Well, that’s how I see it.

Along with this, there is the often used claim that fences (either low and/or high) are in place “…to keep poachers out.” This is hogwash.

Let’s be clear: there is no PUBLIC HUNTING available or allowed in South Africa.

The majority of land is private land, belonging to individuals, groups of individuals or even companies. Land is registered in a title deed, and if it isn’t, that land will almost always belong to the government or to a community. What this means is that each and every game animal judicially belongs to a landowner.

Hunting as a Business

Let’s face it: hunting and wildlife in South Africa is an industry and a business.

Professional hunters, hunting outfitters and landowners all run and conduct business within a developed hunting industry. We have a saying: if it pays, it stays. Those words should put it into perspective. Due to this, wildlife has a value to everyone involved and are bought and sold based on the value of each species within a free form market.

Because of this, it makes send for landowners to build high fences on their properties where game animals occur: to them, it’s an investment and requires management that can benefit the people and the habitat involved. These fences don’t keep people out, but keeps game in. It is after all a property, which shows that game animals are not unrestricted.

This should make people realize that there cannot be anything like “free range hunts” available.

Yes, there are large game farms and game ranches that is of such a large scale that the animal will use its instinct and surroundings to evade the hunter, but somewhere there still IS a fence that encloses all of this. Many of these farms may cover hundreds of thousands of acres, but they are still fenced, which makes the term “free range” a lie even more.

Freedom of Movement

Many properties that are used for hunting are so big that the species of game living on them have such well established territories on them, that there isn’t a need to move out of it. Many game farm properties also do not have internal fences – except for a larger one encompassing it all. The lack of internal fences allow game freedom of movement within their territory.

Most African species of game have a home range they will return to even when they’ve been pushed out of their own temporarily, be it by hunters or by predators. Once the danger has passed, they’ll successfully return. This is also completely ignored by many of those who accuse the South African game industry of “canned hunting.”

Come to think of it, this may be the reason why so many outfitters are reverting to the free range hunting claims.

With that off my chest, check back soon for more articles about hunting.

I tip my hat to you.
-Willie Vermaak