This past September we opened a new little business, “Craig Boddington Endorsed Outfitters.” Although it has parallels in fishing and bird hunting, it’s an entirely different concept in the world of big game hunting that I’m most familiar with. It’s not a booking agency. I was in that business briefly back in the 1970s, and I’ve been approached many times to go back into that side of it. I have friends who are successful and trustworthy booking agents, and I rely on some of them for my own hunts…but it’s not for me. What I learned during my brief stint was that I’m a rotten salesman…and I didn’t like the responsibility and pressure of having hunters’ dreams in my hands.
So, no we don’t arrange hunts. Instead we are, literally, an endorsement; a group and network of outfitters that I know and trust, with the goal of matching potential clients with our members. At inception I was extremely nervous about how this would be received. We’ve just come out of the convention season, and I am truly gratified—and relieved—at how positive the response has been. The system is intuitive and simple, and I don’t think it’s all that common in our world for the most frequent response from hunters to be “thank you.”
There are, however, questions. One of the most common is “What makes a ‘CBEO Outfitter’?”
On the one hand it’s simple. These are outfitters that I know personally and trust completely because, first and foremost, CBEO is an unqualified personal endorsement. These are companies I’ve known for years, and in most cases I’ve hunted with them several times. Mind you, we don’t imply that these are the only good outfitters in any given area…and we don’t pretend that we have all areas covered…yet. Hey, we just started! But, seriously, we don’t know everybody and for darned sure haven’t hunted with everybody. So the fact that a given outfitter isn’t a member implies nothing. In the case of a member, it is not only implied that I know the outfit, but, perhaps more importantly, I have absolutely no reservations about recommending them to my friends for the species they offer in their area.
This doesn’t suggest perfection, if such exists, or suitability for everyone. By the nature of the business some hunts are tougher than others, some species are more difficult than others, and camps range from backpack tents in the rain to well-appointed lodges. By the same token, some hunters are both willing and physically capable (the two aren’t the same!) of undertaking really tough hunts…and others are not. Some hunters prefer a comfortable camp and want to bring their families; others are perfectly happy in a pup tent in the rain. Determining what you want and can handle is up to you. The various outfitters on our website offer a variety of options with one thing in common: I know them, I trust them, and I’m comfortable and confident in recommending them.
Let’s peel the onion back a little farther and use one CBEO member as an example, J.P. Kleinhans of J.P. Kleinhans Safaris, hunting in South Africa and Mozambique. Okay, so why J.P.? Well, that’s story in itself. We held a little internal contest to see which of our outfitters could garner the highest increased number of views of his CBEO video. Turns out J.P. is a pretty good marketer: He took the bull by the horns and won.
So, who is he, and why is he a CBEO member? J.P. is a second-generation professional hunter who apprenticed under his Dad, J.P. Kleinhans Sr., regrettably killed by lion. Based in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, he hunts in all nine of South Africa’s provinces (depending on the game sought); and also hunts at Mahimba in coastal Mozambique, north of the Zambezi.
At this writing we have eight South African operators who are members—not a high density in a country with some 1500 outfitters—and three members who hunt in Mozambique (out of a much smaller field). I would never suggest that J.P. is the best of eight (or 1500) in South Africa…or the best in Mozambique. Every outfit is slightly different, and individual desires and personalities come into play. I can say that he’s very good, with a proven track record. His is a family-run business, aided by his wife, Natia, with their two children, Louise-Mari and J.P. III coming up fast.
Donna and I first hunted with J.P. at Mahimba in coastal Mozambique. Mozambique is a whole different kettle of fish from South Africa’s excellent lodges (including J.P.’s home base). Logistics are much more difficult (read: Herculean in overcoming!), and conditions are challenging. Hey, that was J.P.’s first year at Mahimba, and he had all kinds of legacy problems to overcome! Was it perfect? Heck, no…but we had a fantastic buffalo hunt with a good selection of plains game along the way. And here’s the most important part: With any unfamiliar outfitter or PH you start the hunt as strangers, but you hope to end as friends. That was a decade ago, and J.P. Kleinhans remains a good friend.
That first hunt wasn’t easy, but here’s the really cool part: J.P. made it fun! Here I’m going to issue a warning: J.P. Kleinhans is the master of the practical joke. His pranks range from simple to extremely elaborate, but if you don’t have a sense of humor he’s probably not the guy for you. Underneath the prankster, however, lies an exceptionally competent outfitter and professional hunter. I look forward to hunting with him again later this year. If you’re looking for a hunt then, hey, I know some good outfitters…and J.P. Kleinhans is one of them!