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Live The Dream: African Safari Planning & Execution
It’s never been more affordable for Canadians to hunt in Africa. But what does it really take to make this dream hunt come true?
Deciding you want to go hunting in Africa is like deciding you want to go hunting in North America. Within that huge continent exist 54 different countries that have vastly different geography, wildlife and political stability. It seems that when most hunters first get the notion of travelling to Africa to hunt, they don’t understand just how vast the continent is. Committing to an African safari is a good start — but from there the research begins. The success or failure of your first hunting expedition to Africa rests solely in your hands and the amount of research you do. The first step is deciding what experience you want from the hunt, what species you want — and ultimately, what you can afford.
Deciding on what species to hunt can present somewhat of a dilemma. Many North American hunters are not overly familiar with African animals, although it is important to do some research and decide what it is you not only want to hunt but what you can afford. Not all countries offer all species and there are some countries that definitely offer better opportunities for certain species.
Typically, hunts in Africa are like an a la carte menu in a restaurant. You pay a daily rate for the hunt and then you pay a trophy fee for each animal harvest or, yes, wounded. Some of the more common species may only set you back a couple hundred bucks but some of the more exotics can get into the tens of thousands. Outfitters will often package a number of species at a discount price but if it includes animals you aren’t interested in hunting, it may not be the most economical option. These packages often include a number of less desirable species to keep the price down and then they can charge you full price on the additional animals you take. The best advice I can offer is to make up a list of species you want and can afford and then ask the outfitter for a price on your individually tailored package. You can save thousands doing this.
Most first-timers to Africa start off with a modest list of plains game that can be found in a number of countries — and that’s exactly what Vanessa and I did for our first trip. Without question, South Africa and Namibia are the two countries where most hunters begin their African experience. These countries are easy to access from North America and can typically be done in two or three legs. And, flights are typically much more economical when compared to reaching other countries in Africa. When we flew to Namibia, there was a direct flight from Calgary to Frankfurt, Germany and then a direct flight into Windhoek, Namibia. We didn’t even have to touch our baggage until we reached Windhoek. It couldn’t have been simpler. The same cannot be said for all African countries. For the seasoned African traveller, the complexity of reaching other destinations is just taken in stride but it seems first-time visitors appreciate the streamlined approach of South Africa and Namibia. I know we sure did.
Once you’ve decided on a country and a species list, there is still one big step remaining. You must decide if you want to do a totally free-range hunt or if you are okay hunting on a fenced ranch. For many, our first instinct is to say free-range but be warned that this typically increases the cost and reduces the number of animals you can harvest. Not all fenced ranches are created equal, that’s for sure. Some encompass only small tracts of land and definitely stack the odds in the hunter’s favour, while others occupy massive areas and offer a true hunting experience. Fences serve a number of purposes in Africa. The first and most obvious is to keep game confined to the ranch you are hunting but they also serve to keep poachers out and in some instances to keep predators out. Many animals in Africa are worth a considerable amount of money and outfitters do what they can to protect that investment. True free-range hunts for indigenous animals are becoming scarce in South Africa and Namibia, but they still exist.
One other thing to be cautious of is the definition of fenced. Many ranches may not be high fenced but amazingly, most African antelope are unable to jump even a standard four-strand barbed wire fence like those found on cattle ranches here in North America. Kudu, eland and waterbuck are the exception to this but unless provisions are made for other species to crawl under the bottom strand of wire, a regular cattle fence easily confines many antelope species and even zebra. These are often referred to as low-fenced ranches.
When we went to Namibia in 2009, it was important to us that we hunted free-range, indigenous animals only and it was a real challenge to find an outfit that offered the hunt we were looking for in Namibia or South Africa. However, after attending the Safari Club International convention in Reno, Nevada, we were able to compile a short list of outfitters that met our criteria. Our choice of hunt really limited the number of species available and it did increase the price. One has to be careful here not to make any judgements on free-range versus fenced hunts as it’s ultimately up to the individual what experience they want. I just bring this up so you can make an informed decision before laying your hard-earned cash down for a hunt.
You must also look at the type of hunting you wish to do. We wanted a traditional spot-and-stalk hunt where we lived in tents and were free to travel across the hunting area, camping as we went. Perhaps I’ve read too many Hemmingway and Ruark books but we really wanted a bit of an old-fashioned safari experience. Again, this is not the norm and the price was reflected. Most of the plain game hunts in South Africa and Namibia offer some sort of permanent accommodation that can range from tents on concrete pads to full five-star lodges. Hunting can range from sitting at water holes to driving around in vehicles spotting to walking. Again, you need to decide what type of experience you personally want. While price will always be a consideration, many of the bargain-priced hunts may not offer the experience you desire. The first step in booking your first safari is to decide what type of hunt you want and all of the considerations above must be included. Price should be the final deciding factor.
While looking at outfitters on the Internet and speaking with fellow hunters about their experience is a great way to begin your search, nothing beats getting out and actually meeting the people you are considering hunting with. The sportsman shows in Canada typically have a number of African outfitters at them (also visit www.africanhuntingshow.com for Calgary and Toronto dates for this strictly African hunting trade show) and if you want to visit the ultimate hunters’ showcase, the SCI convention, this year in Las Vegas from February 1 to 4, is the place to go. You will be spending a lot of money to hunt in Africa and I couldn’t imagine going without first meeting the people I’ll be speeding a week or more with. While the above criteria will help you short list a number of outfitters, I like to meet each personally before making the final decision.
Once you have made a decision on what outfitter you are going to hunt with, the real planning begins. Your African connections should be able to help you with getting firearms into your country of choice. Typically it’s a fairly simple process. In Namibia for example, one simple form was involved. Be certain to obtain a temporary export permit from Canada as well. The information for obtaining this can be found at www.international.gc.ca. Obviously, you will need to take your PAL/POL and if it’s still required at the time of this printing, your registration certificate. Each airline has individual requirements for transporting firearms but typically it’s pretty simple. While most African outfitters do have firearms for rent, unless it’s going to be a huge hassle, I’d suggest taking your own firearms.
Anything you are comfortable shooting elk or moose with is a good choice for a plains game hunt. Most professional hunters rate the 7mm Remington Magnum at the bottom of the scale and go all the way up to the venerable 375 H&H magnum. Instead of being concerned about making big holes, I’d worry more about making accurate holes with a quality bullet. Vanessa took the majority of her animals with her .30-06 and I packed a .338. The real key was that we had shot hundreds of practice rounds before leaving and we studied the anatomy of the animals we were hunting extensively.
Before going, we were told that the majority of shooting would be done off of shooting sticks so we spent considerable time practicing off of them prior to leaving. It’s not something we normally shoot from and I must admit that our results were a bit humbling a first but with practice, we became not only accurate off of them but-quick. When hunting African animals on foot, things can and do happen fast. Our professional hunter warned us that from the time the sticks were set up, we’d have about seven seconds to find the animal in the scope and make the shot. As we found out, he wasn’t exaggerating. The vitals on African antelope sit slightly further ahead and lower than those on most North American game so we really had to condition ourselves the place those crosshairs in what felt like an unnatural spot. In the heat of the moment it wasn’t easy. You can’t practice enough before you go.
A final word of advice is that I would not consider a two-on-one guiding arrangement unless you really want to experience the hunt with your partner. Your hunting time and opportunity is typically cut in half yet the savings often aren’t that great. Having a professional hunter/guide for each hunter in your group let’s you maximize your time afield. Obviously, you may wish to hunt with a partner but just realize that the small saving will drastically reduce your hunting time and opportunity.
Hunting in Africa has never been more affordable and it certainly is one of those experiences that you will never forget. It is said, “you can’t just go to Africa once,” and there is a lot of truth to that statement. The species list is expansive and the hunting opportunities limitless. Just be aware that some of the bargain hunts that look too good to be true likely are. Spend your time establishing the criteria for your hunt and then start looking into outfitters that can fulfill your dreams. There are quite literally hundreds of them out there and with the American dollar so low right now and Americans reducing their overseas hunting forays, outfitters are hungry for business and looking to Canada as a lucrative market.
Just be certain you know what you are buying and what’s included and what the additional charges are. The extras can add up in a hurry. Obviously, you will have to pay for a flight to Africa but are additional charters required or is there a charge for airport pick up and delivery? Is trophy preparation included or must you enlist the services of a taxidermist in Africa to ready your trophies for shipping? Will there be a professional hunter for each hunter or will it be one professional for two hunters? Are there additional fees for licences or permits? Bargain hunts can become quite expensive in a hurry if there are numerous additional charges. You will also be required to pay to have your trophies shipped home and once you get them home, you will need to consider the taxidermy fees. There is the option to have your trophies mounted in Africa and I’ve seen some magnificent mounts but I’ve also seen a lot of total disasters. And, the money you save on taxidermy in Africa may quickly be eaten up in additional shipping charges.
If you’ve ever dreamed of going to Africa, now is definitely the time to do it. And, with a little forethought and planning, you can be assured your trip will be everything you want it to be.
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