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Advice for the globe-trotting gun dealer.

Have you ever considered being a hunt-booking agent? If you have, you're not alone. Many a successful retail gun shop or gun-oriented sporting goods store has either thought about it or dabbled in it at one time or another.

Usually what starts the wheels turning is some firsthand experience booking hunts for yourself through an agent to the point where you start to feel you know what's involved. I'm referring specifically to learning that if you can get a half-dozen of your buddies together to book a hunt with a certain outfitter, you get to go for free ... or nearly so.

Put together two or three of those kinds of hunts and the booking game starts to sound real good! After all, as a successful store owner you've already got a ready-made customer base in those patrons of yours whom you know have either booked out-of-state (or country) hunting trips, or who are considering it.

Seems like all you'd have to do to get those juicy commissions is line up some outfitters in various parts of the country and the world, strike a deal to represent each (most outfitters have many individuals and agencies booking hunts for them), then put your customers into them. It's neat, clean, and profitable, considering how little work you have to do.


Sounds Like A Dream

Like all things that sound too good to be true, it is ... too good to be true, I mean. I'm not saying it can't be done. There are more than a few gun shops across the country who book hunts and do a good job of it, but to do it right takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and there are many serious pitfalls you must consider.

The absolute worst (yet most common) motivation to get into the booking business is thinking that by so doing you'll be able to glom onto all kinds of good deals on hunts around the world. That's like wanting to be a gun writer because you think you'll get free guns. In either case, it won't work, and you can take that to the bank!

Believe me, getting a bunch of guys together to go on a budget bear hunt to a fishing lodge in Ontario is one thing; booking serious-money hunts to far-off places for your valued customers -- customers (who are also friends) who you stand to lose if things go wrong -- is quite another.

I have a couple of close friends who have been in the hunt-booking business full-time for nearly 20 years and I have seen their side of the business "up close and personal" as they say, many times. It is an extremely competitive business that requires a great deal of dedication, time, and effort, to say nothing of a rather considerable amount of money.

I can honestly say that I know of few professions that are as tenuous or where you have to work as hard for your money.

The Serious Agent

To even begin to be taken seriously you really should be an accredited travel agency so that you can book and ticket all air and ground transportation, plus all overnight accommodations and other arrangements that will be needed en route.

You don't have to be an accredited IATA (which itself costs $25,000), but not being one means you're just a hunting consultant and must therefore split all applicable commissions with an agency, and that dilutes your profit by a substantial margin. It's usually that margin that makes the difference between making a profit and not.

Then there's visas, licenses, gun permits, customs requirements, and if inoculations are required, which ones and where to get them. These are just some of the other things that an agent is expected to handle. It's part of the package.

Then, too, you don't want to send valued clients (who are presumably good customers of yours) to hunt with outfitters you've met only in the artificial atmosphere of, say, the Safari Club convention. Anybody can come up with an impressive-looking brochure!

Rarely does a well-established, reputable agent (the two are synonymous because you don't become the former without being the latter) send clients to an outfitter he hasn't checked out personally; one whose camps, hunting areas, and equipment he hasn't seen first hand.

After all, as the agent, it's your tail on the line. It's you who takes the flak for so many of the things that can go wrong, even though many of them are out of your hands entirely. Many a hunt can turn into a disaster for any one of a dozen reasons, and when it does, you're the guy who's expected to make it right. That's one of the ways you earn your commission.

Many's the time I've seen agents and outfitters get together to refund substantial chunks of a client's money or arrange a "make up" hunt at some time in the future to compensate for something that went wrong. Often, whatever went wrong may not have been the fault of either one.

No sir, getting into the hunt-booking business is not nearly as lucrative or as easy as it sounds. To be good at it -- to be successful -- takes a singleness of purpose that few retail operators have time for.

Believe me, if you've got the kind of clientele that warrants it, you're far better off getting to know a full-time professional who does nothing but book hunts to whom you can refer your hunting customers. You can still work out a small commission and if things go wrong, you won't be the one the unhappy client comes looking for!
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Title Annotation:Special Intelligence
Author:Sundra, Jon R.
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:May 1, 1993
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