Speaking over Skype from his home in Norman, Oklahoma, Scott’s voice cracked with emotion as he recounted the first time he ever killed an elephant while on a hunting trip in Namibia.

“Here’s an animal that’s older than me, it’s sentient, it’s intelligent,” said Scott. Another time, he hunted a Cape buffalo with a bow and arrow. “There had only been a hundred white men who had done that.”

While exhibitors like Oelofse are interested in the financial rewards of China’s fledgling hunting industry, Scott—like most hunters—believes that a well-regulated commercial hunting industry can ensure the survival of species by giving communities a financial incentive to protect them, in addition to providing revenue for conservation programs. In Scott’s words, “a billion people” could give a much-needed boost for conservation efforts around the world.

The economic clout of the industry is undeniable, but there is still no general consensus among scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and governments on how much it actually benefits wildlife conservation in practice—and whether it’s ethical (paywall).

“This is the opening of the largest potential [hunting] market in the history of the universe,” he said. “This is the D-Day for hunting on the biggest beach there will ever be.”

Translators and gun babysitters

Though China Hunting Show attendees were intrigued by the booths and taxidermy displays— including a polar bear—very few of the 85 outfitters made any bookings at all during the four-day event. Oelofse himself signed on one client for a photo safari, but none for hunts.

A stuffed polar bear at the China Hunting Show.
A stuffed polar bear at the China Hunting Show.
Image: Jerry Li

Remi Donnelly, who exhibited at the show, is part of the fourth generation to work on his family’s cattle ranch in La Pampa, Argentina, which also opened a hunting lodge a few years ago. A week-long hunt on his ranch, where clients can shoot boar, buffalo and red stag, costs around $7,500.

“It is difficult to say [the show] was a success,” said Donnelly. “We made a lot of contacts, but we haven’t made any bookings yet.”

Even optimists like Oelofse are aware of the difficulties ahead in the Chinese market. Translators will be needed, while he and his guides would have to adapt to dealing with first-time hunters likely to have little experience handling guns. American or European hunting clients tend to be familiar with firearms and usually carry their own guns, but Chinese clients would require a guide to carry the firearm and only hand it over to the client once there was a clear shot, Oelofse explained.

“As time goes on and we get [Chinese] clients with more proficiency with weapons, they would go more American-style,” he predicted.

Scott said that he expected the lack of bookings, and that it could take years before many Chinese will be ready to shell out for costly and entirely new experiences.

“What I was selling was first access,” Scott said. “It’s the potential that’s there. That’s what brought people. That’s what’s going to bring people by the droves next year.”

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.