How To Organize A Dream Hunt

Whether you’re headed to Africa, Mongolia or just one province over — a successful dream hunt requires planning and dedication.

Over the past 40-odd years I have been fortunate enough to hunt in 14 different countries that pretty much covered the four corners of the globe. On these hunts I have walked the plains of Africa and hiked the alpine vistas of Mongolia in search of game as diverse as mountain zebra to ibex. All of these hunts required a good deal of planning and organization to become a success. Along the way I can assure you that I encountered more than a few bumps that over time I have written off as achieving a higher plain of learning through the school of hard knocks. This column will lay out a strategy that should not only help you avoid some of these pitfalls but also lay out a plan of action for organizing your dream hunt.

Where, When & How

I’m going to make the assumption that you know precisely what you want to hunt and that it is just a matter of when, where and how. It may be a hunt in another province or territory for caribou or Stone sheep or it could be an African safari or even a trip to New Zealand for red stag. Irrespective of your destination or quarry, the essential elements of planning are the same. Once you have decided on the species you wish to hunt, the next step is to determine where, when and what the costs for this hunt will be and then determine if all will fit within your time availability and budget. The reason I raise this question is twofold.

First, many reputable outfitters are booked well down the road, particularly when it involves some of the more sought after species and second, costs for some of these hunts can run quite high. Subsequently, it is best to determine right up front if you can wait a while to save up for the trip, or if the costs fall within your planned budget. And, while it is possible in some areas to take on a self-guided hunt, I certainly don’t recommend it. A quality outfitter and seasoned guide will pay huge dividends in not only your success but also in your enjoyment of the hunt. They have both the local knowledge necessary for a successful hunt and the equipment required to make it happen. If this is to be your trip of a lifetime, don’t short-change yourself, do it right and book with a good outfitter.

One of the best places to start is by calling a number of well-known booking agents to seek their advice as to where they would recommend you hunt and with whom. Make sure that you let them know your goals, time constraints and roughly the price range that you are looking for. Another terrific way to make contact is to attend large outdoor shows that often have outfitters in attendance from all over the globe. Or use the method I most often use these days and that is to surf the Internet. It is often just a matter of typing in key phrases such as  “African lion hunts” and you can spend the better part of the day just looking over your options. Adventure stories and advertisements in magazines such as Western Sportsman are also a good source for seeking out outfitters for species that you are interested in hunting. And, finally, local hunters who have already gone on hunts for your target species are another great resource. It’s all about location and timing so use every avenue available wherever and whenever possible.

Booking A Hunt

Now that the decision about where to hunt is behind you, the next step is to book a hunt with an outfitter/guide/professional hunter in that area. This, in my view, is one of the most critical elements in the entire planning exercise. So here is the process I use. I first narrow my choices down to a half-dozen outfitters that offer what I’m seeking in the area that I know should produce the quality of game I’m looking for. I then contact each requesting the following information:

  • Availability of hunts during the peak season for the species I seek
  • Name of guide/professional hunter
  • Guide’s experience in the area to be hunted
  • Success rate for species being hunted over the past five years
  • Trophy quality that can be expected
  • Primary methods of hunting
  • Type/quality of camps to be expected
  • Potential number of sightings of species being hunted
  • Type of weather and terrain to be expected during the hunt
  • Physical condition required for the hunt
  • Mode of transport to camp and during the hunt
  • Listing of all licenses, permits and trophy fees and the costs of each. Pay special note that is some countries, especially in Europe, trophy fees can escalate dramatically as the quality of trophy increases.
  • A listing of all costs both for the hunt and outside the hunt such as trophy care including crating and shipping costs. Ensure that any additional transport costs such as pick up and return to the airport or extra flight costs are also quoted.
  • A list of references of hunters that hunted with the outfitter and, if possible, the specific guide/professional hunter in previous years.

Once I have acquired this information from each, I contact four or five references and carefully jot down key points of information they provide. The reason is simple as once you have talked to a whole array of references it soon becomes difficult to remember just who said what. I have found that most hunters are only too willing to take the time to pass on all the information you will need to make an informed decision. At times I have even gone through the process of setting out all this information on a spreadsheet prior to making a final selection. Most often one or two outfitters will evolve as the clear winners based on any number of factors from their success rate to trophy quality, or it may even be based in part on the camp life you seek or the area to be hunted.

For many of us, costs will also play a key role in this decision. However, if you do your research, bargains can be found — particularly if you can jump in on a hunt cancellation. Any one of these elements can be the ultimate deciding factor. But once you have made your selection, send your deposit and sleep well based on the knowledge that you have done your homework.

Preparing For the Hunt

My initial and primary step is to prepare a to-do list that includes all the things that must be done prior to my departure, such as:

  • Make all necessary flight arrangements and ensure that you advise the airline company that you will be traveling with a firearm. (Also determine your baggage limitations.)
  • Acquire all the necessary permits for travel such as a passport, gun import and export permits. Most countries today not only require an import permit but also will additionally inspect the gun on both entry and departure. Start this process well ahead of time as in some cases it can take months to obtain documentation. And don’t forget that if you are hunting abroad you will now have to obtain an export permit for your gun, scope and ammunition from Canadian Foreign Affairs.
  • Develop an equipment list. Ask your outfitter for a suggested equipment list and use it as the basis for your list.
  • Get physically prepared for the hunt. If it is to be an arduous hunt, I can’t stress this enough and if it involves riding a horse for 10 hours a day spend some time on a horse before you get there.
  • Chose the right calibre and rifle for the hunt. Once again, seek help from your outfitter but do some additional research to ensure that your rifle and ammunition will match the game being hunted. This research should also include your search for the right optics. On many a trip I have even packed a spare scope just in case of a mishap.
  • Plan and book any additional touring you may want to do in your country of destination. I find that a tour through some of the great cities, game parks or to a spectacular natural feature can significantly add to the entire hunt experience. I have booked many a tour on both the front and back of hunts; either approach seems to work well.
  • Choose your cameras well ahead of the hunt so that you can become completely familiar with their use prior to your departure. I never leave home without at least two cameras, one as a primary use camera, and the other as a backup.
  • Select your clothing with care. Once again your outfitter can be of help but regardless, ensure that you account for any potential foul weather. If you don’t have the right clothing and footwear to match your hunt, it can potentially be a miserable experience. So plan well.
  • Plan for how you want your trophies cared for and shipped. You should speak to your taxidermist prior to your departure and seek their counsel. Most will even provide you with identity tags to attach to your trophies at the end of the hunt. Also discuss shipping with them as your trophies may require special permits and or handling.
  • Spend a lot of time on the range practicing with your rifle and ammunition of choice. Make sure you are totally comfortable and confident with both prior to your departure. The same can be said for a bow hunter.
  • If you don’t already have one, purchase a quality gun or bow case. Airlines are notorious for mishandling gun cases, so err on the side of quality.
  • Determine well in advance if you require any special medical attention such as inoculations or prophylactics for such diseases as malaria, hepatitis (A and B), Japanese encephalitis or other serious illnesses. Talk to your doctor and/or your public health nurse.
  • Last, trial run packing your bags to ensure that everything you plan to take will not only fit but also that your packed bags will fall within the baggage restrictions of not only the major airlines but also those of any secondary airline you might fly on. And don’t forget to throw in a book or two for that down time at airports or on flights and at camp. Check off each item on your list as you pack.

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