It all started from a seemingly innocent question: How do international hunters see hunting in Russia? To answer this, I did what I often do: create an anonymous questionnaire and post the link on Facebook. In addition, I asked our friends at BookYourHunt.com to send the link to their clients who’d booked a hunt in Russia with them. The results were surprising in many ways, starting with the numbers: I’m certain the posts reached at least 50,000 Facebook users, members of hunting-related groups, but the survey yielded only 5 responses. The same number was obtained through BookYourHunt.com. This doesn’t make the sample too representative, but the results are still thought-provoking.
Hunting and nature: Good
If you choose to take the results of the survey as representative, Russia is one of the best countries of the world to hunt. For example, Aaron Simser of Artistic Visions Wildlife Taxidermy Studio, who preferred not to remain anonymous, claims Russia is the best of the 35 countries he ever hunted. Most other respondents agree that Russia offers the most genuine hunting experience, “not like canned presentations on TV”, in true wilderness, and at half the price of comparable North American hunts.
Transport and service: Average
The survey does not support the common perception that transport and service are the biggest problems with Russian hunting. Moscow is a world class transport hub, getting there is no harder or more expensive than to any equally remote city; the leg from Moscow to the hunting ground can be a problem, though. The service values are all over the Likert scale from “worst ever” to “best ever”; the guides’ professionalism and discipline could use some improvement, though.
Ethics and legality: Uncertain
All respondents value the legal and ethical aspects of their hunt very highly. None reported serious problems with legal issues, but that should be taken with a grain of salt: there were hunters who ticked the “I’m certain everything was 100% legal” box, and then proceeded to tell how they rented a rifle from an outfitter (absolutely not legal in Russia). A lot of hunters mention serious problems with the guides’ ethical standards, with “Lack of ethics” as one of the leading causes not to hunt in Russia.
Drinking and red tape: Bad
The results of the survey say in so many words that alcohol abuse and the bureaucracy are Russia’s two greatest evils. Drinking and discipline problems of the guides, that compromise not only the success but the safety of the hunters, are mentioned by most of those responded on Facebook. Red tape is even worse. Problems at all levels, from getting a visa to trophy export, are mentioned by almost everyone, even those who are happy with their Russian hunting experience overall. The absolute nightmare is entering the country with a firearm, with some officers “seem to be unsure of their own regulations”.
Fraud: Very bad
At least one hunter reported becoming a victim of an outright fraud. He claims the hunt had to be cancelled after the first day because the guides did not have camping gear; the outfitter offered a discount for another hunt, but the hunter has yet to see either the hunt or the money. This is not an isolated case.
Correlation between answers is often more important than the answers themselves. In this survey the level of information was highly correlated to satisfaction. The more informed hunters were also the most satisfied, while those who rated the information level about hunting in Russia as “inadequate or misleading”, also experienced the most disappointment.
Tout va très bien, Madame la Marquise?
The apex question of the August 2019 issue of the Russian Hunting Magazine was: Why did the number of international hunters visiting Russia drop by 40 in the last 20 years? Of course, we’re talking about official figures, but even allowing that some hunts by “grey” and “black” outfitters don’t figure on the government’s data, the decrease is obvious. Is there anything wrong with hunting in Russia? Or are there other factors at work, such as domestic competition. 20 years ago, affluent Russians were busy exploring the previously unavailable parts of the world, and rediscovered hunts at home only in the “glamorous 2000s”. Can international hunters have simply been displaced by Russians, and if yes, does that meant that there’s nothing wrong with our hunting industry?
Do we need all these foreigners at all?
International hunting tourism is important because it sets the standard. We need the hunting industry to be as good as it can, because it is essential for wildlife management, and at present good wildlife management is the only alternative to having no wildlife at all. Without mutual information exchange we’ll never know how good our hunting industry can become – and have no reason to improve.
Room for improvement
One key to identifying possible room for improvement is comparison between responses from BookYourHunt.com clients and random Facebook users. The former are much more satisfied than the latter. They are also much better informed. In addition, BookYourHunt.com vets the outfitters before allowing them on the platform. The vetting process is nothing extraterrestrial: the outfitter has to be the ultimate provider of the service, and have all legal paperwork in order. Apparently, this is enough to fix 2 of 3 major problems.
An obvious solution would be to have an association of professional hunters and outfitters, such as exist in almost every country where there’s hunting tourism. Such association, in addition to informing international hunters and vetting its members, could also have the power to lobby some improvements in the laws and their application. The problem is, it has been tried at least twice, and both associations died quietly in their sleep. State certification of the services of outfitters might help, too.
A graver set of questions is do we really need more hunters? Are there as much wilderness and as many animals as our American friends think? With our imperfect wildlife management, we don’t really know. Will the development of hunting tourism be the last straw on our game populations, or a big boost to the decaying Russian countryside? Nobody knows. One thing is clear though: if we do nothing, we’ll soon have nothing left.
The story originally appeared, in Russian and in an extended version, in the August 2019 issue of Russian Hunting Magazine. Click here to read it.
Photo by Aaron Simser / Artistic Visions Wildlife