Tips and Travel Advice
The thought of traveling to Africa on Safari is an exciting one, but all first-time hunters experience some degree of anxiety about making the trip. Thoughts of corrupt officials, equipment problems, lost baggage, bureaucratic snafus, tainted food and water, disease-bearing insects, armed bandits, and of course nasty creatures with teeth and claws enter the mind of the neophyte hunter. While each destination is a little different, here are some generic facts and tips that should set your mind at rest and prepare you for one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
Choosing a Destination
There are only a few countries in Africa that are open to adventure-hunting. For the first time hunter, the sensible choices are South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana for "Plains Game" and Leopard; and Mozambique or Zimbabwe for "Dangerous Game". Unless your name is Indiana Jones, you won't be going to Cameroon, Ethiopia, or CAR; and unless money is no object, Tanzania and Zambia will probably not be your destination either.
I am going to recommend that you not hunt Cape Buffalo or other dangerous game the first time out. These species require dedicated pursuit and you may come away empty-handed, particularly when hunting Leopard. Pursuit of the latter normally involves late nights in a blind, taking away from enjoyable evening camp time and exacerbating your jet lag. However, if you believe that real men on real safaris shoot dangerous game, then allow plenty of time, at least two full weeks on the ground, and plan to take plains game as well.
Of the plains game species, all are reasonably light on the pocket book and enjoyable to hunt. Kudu, Impala, Wildebeest (known as the "poor man's buffalo"), Oryx, Eland, Zebra, Hartebeest, Springbuck, Bushbuck, Reedbuck, Duiker and Blesbuck are all worthy quarries and fine trophies. Your best value is to purchase a "package" including four to six of these species and seven to ten days hunting. Beware, however, of very cheap package hunts, as this is usually an indication of poor trophy quality. And also note that package hunts are Alaskan-style: you pay whether you connect on every species or not. If you are really after record-book trophies, you are better off paying a daily rate plus trophy fees. That way, if you don't see a really big one, you aren't obliged to shoot or pay.
Of the common species, the Kudu is the most challenging quarry and also the finest trophy, so it should be on your list. Oryx and Hartebeest are probably the best value for money, esp. in Namibia. Bushbuck, another of the so-called "Spiral Horned" species, are a very worthy quarry, and quite dangerous when wounded. Warthog and Impala are found wherever there is adequate water; these inexpensive trophies are the bread and butter of a plains game hunt. Sable, Nyala and Roan are less common, more expensive to hunt, and not usually offered as part of a package. Some of the smaller species (eg Klipspringer and Red Duiker) fall into this same class and are among the most expensive species to hunt on a cost per lb basis. Don't overlook the small but challenging Grey Duiker and Steenbok...they make great full-body mounts and are inexpensive and fun to hunt.
Not in the trophy class, but nevertheless fun and inexpensive to hunt, are Jackal and Baboon.
Game birds are present wherever big game is hunted. The hunting is good but is best enjoyed as a separate exercise with an outfit that specializes in bird hunting. If you are planning to hunt for an extended time, you may have time to hunt game birds incidentally or after your trophies are in the bag, but in practice, most shotguns stay in camp for the duration.
Here I am going to disappoint those who are fascinated by hardware. Take one bolt rifle of a common medium caliber capable of pushing a bullet of between 140 and 250 grains at between 2250 and 2750 fps, and take an extra scope, pre-zeroed in the rings. Unless you plan to hunt Buffalo, anything between 270 and 338 is good, with 300 H&H/Win Mag/308/30-06 or 338 being the best choices. Avoid exotic calibers - you can't get ammo for them if yours gets lost en-route. High velocity magnums are a problem...bullets can break up without exiting, in which case you will spend lots of time following wounded game. If you are going after Buffalo as well, the 375 "Ouch and Ouch" is the best choice and will take Plains Game with authority. Most hunters can't shoot anything heavier reliably, so unless you have always hunted with a thumper, now is not the time to experiment. More buffalo are wounded by poorly-placed shots from the big boomers than by under-gunned hunters. (Note: most countries require a 375 or bigger for Buffalo, with the exception of Zimbabwe that allows the 9.3x74R or 9.3x62.)
If you must take two rifles, a 27 to 30 and a 375 to 416 constitute a fine battery.
Bullets are actually far more important than calibers. Unless you are shooting an old-fashioned slow caliber, you MUST MUST MUST use premium bullets such as the Nosler Partition, Barnes X, Swift A Frame, Trophy Bonded, or Woodleigh, especially if you are going after buffalo. Solids are essential for elephant as well as for follow-up shots on buffalo. "Normal" ammo is made for shooting deer and elk, not tough African species. Each country has a limit on how many rounds of ammo you can take for each caliber, and the airlines have weight limits too (11 lb or 5 kg). Two boxes (40 rounds) per caliber is a safe bet, and you won't need more than one. Ammunition must be packed in factory boxes or MTM/Midway plastic boxes, not loose, and should also be locked in a metal box (ammo can or Walmart cash box). It's a good idea to put some of your ammo in your companion's bag in case one of the bags does not make it. (Also a good reason to use a common caliber.) The headstamp should match the rifle caliber, unless you want to spend hours explaining that to someone with high school education and five hungry kids at home.
If taking a shotgun, 12 ga shotgun is the only gauge to take...you will be using local ammo and that's what will be in stock.
You won't need a handgun. You will get through customs faster without one, and some countries don't permit them (Namibia and Botswana). If you are a handgun hunter, stick to South Africa and Zimbabwe, although the former is now only allowing hunting handguns, which they seem to think must be scoped, and even then they need to see some kind of official letter stating that the handgun is for hunting. The rest of Africa is ruled by people who don't like handguns at all. Same applies to semi-auto rifles.
Choosing a PH
This is the most important decision you will make, and whether you like it or not, you must hire one to hunt legally. Worst case, your "PH" will take your deposit and that's the last you will hear of him. So get a couple of references and check them out, and use a booking service if you want extra insurance. (That way you can get your money back if the hunt is a bust.)
Outright fraud is rare. More common are misunderstandings regarding the style of hunting, the size of the concession or ranch, what's included and what's extra, and the degree of comfort and cuisine in camp. The way to avoid these is to establish, in writing, how you want to hunt (on foot only, combination of spot from vehicle/stalk on foot, from a vehicle, or from a blind), the size and location of the property or properties (1000 ha/2500 acres minimum to have any sense of fair chase, two properties max within 1/2 day travel time), the size of the trophies (if you want record class, say so, ask for statistics, and be prepared to pay more), an exhaustive list of what's included and what is extra, the camp and meal arrangements including any special dietary requirements, and how you will get from and back to the airport, whether there is a charter required, and how your trophies will make it back home. Very seldom is there a problem with game densities with fenced properties, but that is an issue with unfenced concessions which tend to have fewer animals and are sensitive to drought conditions.
Having said that, there is a risk that you and your PH won't get along, not because either of you is at fault, but because you just don't click. That's why I believe in hedging your bets with a relatively cheap plains game package first time out, leaving the longer, more arduous, and much more expensive hunt for the exotic beasts for a second trip. Most PHs are easy to get along with, or they would not be in the business. If you have a problem, remember it takes two to tango.
One final comment about PHs. You are better off going with a one-man or small operation than one of the larger outfits. The latter have several PHs, many of them trainees, they rely on advertising and glossy brochures more than word-of-mouth to get clients, and most of the people you are dealing with are employees not owners.
I would guess that over 95% of hunters are delighted with their hunts. Be in that majority by doing your homework. And read this http://bigfivehq.com/sevenways.htm so you don't create your own disaster.
There are some matters to take care of ahead of time.
First, your health. Hunting can be strenuous so get in condition to handle a stiff half-day hike with boots and rifle. You will be steadier when the time comes to make the shot if you are not puffing and wheezing. If you have a medical condition, or are not what you used to be, tell the PH that you can't hunt on foot. He will accommodate you.
Be aware that deposits are mostly non-refundable. If you get sick before or during the hunt, that's tough luck. At a minimum, try to avoid losing your airfare by getting a refundable ticket or buying trip insurance. This can be purchased from a number of sources on the internet, I have used Travelguard and on the one occasion I had a claim for stolen luggage, they paid up. Note, Amex offers cheap luggage insurance if you use their card to purchase your ticket. For most destinations, you will pass through Johannesburg International where pilferage from checked baggage, even locked baggage, has become an epidemic.
You will need to visit your doc or clinic to get shots and meds ahead of time, allow two weeks. Each area is a little different, and requirements change from time to time, and a good clinic (or the internet) will have the latest. Usually hepatitis A and B and tetanus are advisable. Plus malaria pills...be advised that the cheap ones (chlorosomething) don't work any more so make sure you get the stuff that works (Malarone). Malaria is curable although there have been cases of misdiagnosis by American doctors who are not malaria-savvy. Sleeping sickness, borne by the tsetse fly, is not. Avoid those areas. Take a supply of Imodium for the runs. If you get a really bad stomach, eg giardiasis, stronger medicine (antibiotics, eg. Cipro) will be needed.
If you exercise common sense, you won't need any of these medications. There is a very small but real risk that you will be injured and need blood. That's bad news as AIDS is rampant in Southern Africa. So be smart, get type-tested, and go with someone who has your same blood group if at all possible. Smarter yet, stay away from big cities (overnight at or near the airport if you have to), handle guns safely (know you partners), and buckle up in vehicles. If hunting dangerous game, it's also wise to buy Medevac insurance. Getting to a hospital in a timely fashion when leaking blood from numerous perforations is a good idea.
You will also need to register all firearms (and other spendy items) you plan to take along with US Customs ahead of time on form 4457, to avoid hassles on the way back. This is done by visiting the Customs office at your local airport in advance, with the firearms physically present. Some countries require registration and licensing in advance as well (Botswana and Zambia, your PH should do this for you), and it is advisable to take along some kind of proof of ownership. South Africa is now getting stickier and requires the US form 4457 for firearms permitting. You can complete your application for an import permit in advance for Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa yourself to save having to do so at the airport. Your PH will assist, and if going to or through SA, be advised that the permitting process has become rather bureaucratic of late so may want to use the services of a specialized firm to arrange your permits ahead of time, eg RIFLE PERMITS . Note also at Johannesburg International, you pick up your firearms and obtain your permits AFTER you pass through customs, so don't bother paying for a "Meet and Greet" service (as distinct from a service that will obtain a firearms permit in advance). For SA, you will need (listen up if you want to get on with your hunt): your luggage tag for your firearms; a letter of invitation from your host on letterhead stating the species to be hunted and the location of the hunt; proof of ownership for each firearm (US Customs 4457); your passport; your ticket; and a completed SAPS520 application, BLACK ink only. If you are just passing through, you must check the box for a "transit permit". If hunting in RSA, for a "temporary import permit". You can speed up the process by having photocopies of all of these documents handy, including your passport.
South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana don't require visas for US or Canadian citizens. SA, amazingly, DOES require 3 blank page in your passport or they will put you on the next plane bound for whence you started out. Check other combinations with the consulate.
Finally, do shoot the gun/load you are going to take along. Not only from the bench, but practice sitting, kneeling, offhand, and offhand from sticks. Cycle the actual ammo you are going to take through your action, each and every round. And let your credit card company know you will be using your card in Africa, or they may decline your card.
Packing ListIt's not a good idea to take the kitchen sink. Airlines have baggage limits and the domestic carriers are usually even more restrictive. Most airlines two bags (ie one bag and your gun case), each with a 50lb limit. Two guns are OK, some allow three if one is a shotgun. (Can you spell "Valmet"? In the USA, one receiver with three sets of bbls is one gun.) Don't buy heavy bags. Check with the airline and try to get the policy in writing. Some check-in clerks are self-appointed anti-gun crusaders.
1. Paperwork and Money: Firearms proof of ownership/customs registration form 4457 allowing re-importation of firearms; invite letter from your host on letterhead; passport, valid 11 months beyond your return date and with at least 3 blank pages; green card if you have one; driver's licence if you plan to rent a vehicle; blood group document; documentation of immunizations; credit card for overnight stays etc.; correspondence with your PH and/or the booking service to help resolve "misunderstandings"; airline tickets; frequent flier card; pen; $500 cash in small bills, for incidentals en-route, tips, bureaucracy-busting if necessary, and souvenirs; AT&T in-country phone number and calling card or equivalent; a pen and notebook; reading material; and the balance of your safari cost (in USD traveler's checks unless arranged otherwise with your PH). You can get local currency on the ground if you need it, but most folks you encounter will take greenbacks with a big smile.
2. Clothes. Nights can be brisk or even freezing, days hot and sunny, and it doesn't rain in the hunting season unless you hunt into late Sept. Layers are best, natural fabrics in earth tones. Carrhart pants and jackets are better than fancy "safari" duds that cost ten times as much. Most camps have daily laundry, so you don't need multiple changes of clothes. A hat is essential, preferably one that shades your ears as well as your face, but won't snag loudly on overhanging thorny limbs. Ankle guards (or high boots) are necessary in grassy savannah to keep the grass seeds out of your socks. Camo is not a good idea unless you know you will be on private property. You don't want to get mistaken for a merc in Africa. Shorts and sandals are good for lounging around camp, and will allow your boots to air out. Extra bootlaces. Deluxe lodges have pools, take a swimsuit for a dip. Take knee pads (Home Depot) and thin leather gloves if you are really serious about stalking.
3. Kit. Toothbrush, paste, shampoo if you are fussy about brand, shaving stuff unless you plan to return with beard, athlete's foot cream, headache pills, Imodium, malaria tabs, antibiotics, insect repellant, sunscreen, lip balm, moleskin, bandaids, antibiotic ointment, bandage, gauze, contact lens kit/spare glasses, prescription meds.
4. Hardware: Rifle(s) and DON'T FORGET THE BOLT, sling, rifle cleaning kit, ammo in proper boxes, spare scope in rings, best rifle case you can buy or borrow, soft guncase for vehicle travel, binoculars, sunglasses, pocket knife with screwdrivers (Leatherman best), fanny pack or daypack, camera WITH FLASH and film/batteries/extra memory, headlamp (xenon better), spare bulb and batteries, waterbottle (2 quart bottles pref), locks for all luggage WITH KEYS, and electrical transformer with adapter if you have anything that plugs into a wall socket.
Your firearms must be in lockable case. Each airline has its own rules about where you pack your ammo, so check ahead of time. If possible, pack your ammo in your gun case. That will even out your two bags and statistically, you have less chance of being unable to hunt with your own rifle that way. Coming back, SAA and Delta currently require that ammo be packed in your other bag.. It's a good idea to anticipate late arrival of your checked baggage by packing essentials and a change of clothes in your carry-on.
Since most destinations in Southern Africa require travel through Johannesburg, a few comments on flying to JNB (current as of
10/09). SAA no longer works with Delta, they now work with United. So you have
two basic options: Delta via Atlanta, or SAA via Dulles or JFK. The Atlanta and Dulles flights
are nonstop, avoiding a midnight visit to Dakar, and arriving at JNB earlier in the day.
These are your best bet if you are connecting onward to Windhoek/Namibia, Harare/Zimbabwe, or one of the regional airports in SA.
Note, Delta flies 777 aircraft, whereas SAA flies the more cramped Airbus A340:
some French engineer forgot to allow for the in-flight entertainment until the
last minute, so there is a metal box under every second seat where your feet are
supposed to go. Airfares have gone up commensurate with the price of oil, so shop around for the best fare. Popular travel agents with African hunters are
Gracey Travel, Wild Travel, African Oddysey (www.africanodyssey.net), and Cape to Cairo (www.capecairo.com). You can also fly via London (BA and Virgin), Frankfurt (Lufthansa), Zurich (Swiss
Air), and even Ethiopian (to Zim). These flights take a little longer, you will probably spend a day in a European airport, and you may run into firearms problems in the UK unless you check your bags all the way through (don't even think about switching from HTR to Gatwick, or spending time on the ground in the
UK, and you can't do this if you are going to Zim). Don't attempt any tight connections on the way over,
as your bags (and rifles) will never make it. Coming home, tight is right as you
will be anxious to get home and nothing is worse than sitting at JFK for hours
on end. Just put your customs form 4457 in your gun case so there won't be any
problem when your bags finally arrive.
If you are connecting in JNB to some other international destination, you will probably be beholden to SAA for your connecting flight. This is a good reason to fly SAA all the way, there is less chance your bags will be delayed. Most SAA flights stop in Dakar, but there are some Dulles flights that don't. If you fly DL nonstop to JNB, you can get your bags checked all the way through by showing the agent your connecting flight info at check in stateside, but note, your rifles will probably end up at the SAPS office in JNB anyway, which is on the other side of customs and immigration. If so, they will probably miss the connection and you will arrive at your final destination without your gun case. This is very bad news as they sometimes sit in SAPS quarantine for days. You can avoid this by making sure you have a enough time on the ground at JNB to go through immigration and monitor baggage claim and the SAPS office. You may want to capitulate and spend the night in South Africa, even if that means dealing with the SAPS, taking possession of your guns, and then repeating the whole process the next morning. br>
Make sure you get a reclining seat, near the front is better, and avoid window seats in the new A340s operated by SAA, due to the metal box the French engineer forgot. When you get to JNB, assuming you are not checked through to an onward destination, grab a cart and clear customs with your bags (but not your guns, they will be waiting for you at the SA Police Office in Arrivals). That's where you will find out if filling out the firearms permit forms yourself was a good idea or not. Used blue ink? Start over. There is no tipping of police officers, and if solicited, try to wiggle out of the request with a smile but if you must, get a receipt and a name and report the guy because he is breaking the law. After you get your permits, you need to find your PH or host. Keep an eye (if not a hand) on your gun case. I try to organize my baggage so I don't need porters (a Boyt bag with wheels will hold everything including my trusty Valmet with a set of double rifle bbls and a set of 12 ga O/U barrels. Overnighters at JNB should stay at the Afton Guest House (+27-11-391 7625, email@example.com), they will meet you and sort out any problems you might have getting your bags etc., and drop you off at the airport the next day.
It's a very good and practical idea to take a few days to acclimatize and see the sights before you start your hunt. You will get over the worst of the jet lag, and your bags will have time to catch up to you, before you start hunting.
Some words of advice. Listen to your PH. No matter how big a deal you are here in your home country, you should view yourself as a child under adult supervisions over there, at least for the first few days. Thereafter, your PH will have sized you up and he will start treating you like an adult.
Do resight your rifle before you start, most PH's will insist on this but if not, you should. Discuss the hunting protocol ahead of time. In other words, what kind of trophy will you settle for, and when is it OK for the PH to shoot. Some like to blaze away immediately following the client's shot (a practice they have learned from experience). I don't like this at all, I prefer to take responsibility for my own shot especially when hunting plains game. But don't make the common mistake of admiring your first shot...keep shooting until the animal goes down. If you don't, you may spend the rest of your day tracking it. Dangerous game is an entirely different proposition. Those big double rifles are made that way for a reason.
Keep a positive attitude. Things do go wrong. Vehicles break down, get stuck etc. That's all part of the experience. Blaming and ranting are not going to make the problem go away. Given that you will most likely be hunting on private property a long way from towns and cities, you really don't have to worry about two-legged problems. Keep your cash and valuables on you or locked in your rifle case to guard against petty theft. The risk, if any, lies in encountering trouble en-route to or from the hunt. This can be minimized by sticking to the beaten path, traveling in daylight, having your PH meet you at the airport and drop you off, and taking a charter flight if the distances warrant it. If, worst comes to worst, you are the object of some criminal act, remember that first and foremost, it's money and valuables they want, not your lily white derrier. Keep your mouth shut, Americans and foreigners in general are not given any favorable treatment. Keep in mind that regard for human life in Africa is a little casual, so don't try any heroics.
Some tips for a happy hunt: Stay out of cities. Keep a low profile and don't be loud. Don't try to make any political statements, verbal or otherwise. Stay close to your PH and heel when he says to. Behaviors that will get you into a mess include imbibing too much alcohol, using or attempting to purchase drugs, fraternizing (with intent) with local women, shooting when you are not sure of your shot, drinking or touching untreated water, and going off on your own.
Hunting in Africa is a little different. First, you will be hunting with company, ie the PH and one or more trackers. Be safe....no round in the chamber until the PH says to load, unload when the stalk is over. Second, they will all look like trophies to you, even the females of some species. Study up ahead of time and know how to recognize male from female; or rely on your PH to judge the trophy. And third, you will usually shoot standing, often with shooting sticks. Practice before the hunt makes sense, and don't shoot unless you can make the shot. African species are tenacious of life, and sitting round the fire in the evening is not very enjoyable when you have spent the best part of the day looking for a wounded animal. Not to mention the fact that you pay for blood, even the teeniest spot.
Your experience will be richer if you take an interest in flora as well as the fauna. Africa's great attraction is the overwhelming variety of species found in any given area. Birding is excellent. Get a couple of compact guides if you can.
Tipping is an awkward subject. The PH will expect a tip, as will his immediate team (on the vehicle with you), and then there is the camp entourage as well. PHs get between $40 and 75 per day; the vehicle crew about $10-20 per day each; and the camp staff (cook, maid, laundry) about $20 per day collectively. Of course, if you are treated poorly, a very unlikely scenario given that tips are at stake, you can tip less. A simpler method is to give one tip to the PH/operator to be divvied up as he pleases, amounting to 10-15% of the daily rates.
Each country has specific regulations regarding firearms and hunting, customs, and required immunizations. The style and cost of hunting differs, as does the risk of something bad happening to you. You should do some research ahead of time, and if possible speak to some folks that have been there recently. Bulletin boards on the net are pretty convenient for this. You will get better info from fellow hunters than you will from government officials or the press.
Generalizing, Botswana is the safest and friendliest destination, provided you stay out of hospital. Corruption is not a problem. Most of the country is Kalahari desert. Flat to undulating, sandy with low scrub brush and few trees. Plains game hunting is good. Dangerous game permits are limited and very expensive. Large Elephant are available but plan to spend $40K in total. Buffalo, which like cattle require water, are found in the the Okavango Delta. This unique ecosystem is worth a visit, even if not hunting there. The Central Kalahari Reserve, at the other end of the spectrum, is the least developed reserve in the world and is pretty much unspoiled. You can only hunt leopard in the reserve, and then only in hot pursuit with a permit. This is the surest, most exciting (and most dangerous) way to hunt leopard, but permits are very limited. Lion, Sable and Roan hunting have been put on hold, strangely, for the Okavango and the Central Kalahari have plenty of Lion. Elephant numbers are way up as well and trophy quality is the best in Africa. Firearms permits must be arranged ahead of time. Handguns and 22s are not allowed. And only 100 rounds of ammo in any single caliber are permitted. (As of 2009, it appears that most DG hunting in Botswana has been shut down, with the exception of some elephant hunting.)
South Africa is more diverse, better developed, and like Mexico, is very safe in pockets. To get to all other Southern African destinations, you have to fly through South Africa (Johannesburg or Cape Town), so it's the place to hunt if you don't like sitting on an airplane. All hunting is done in on private fenced ranches, although some tend to be on the small side. Plains game hunts are a bargain and infrastructure is excellent by African standards. Terrain can be rugged, the country is better watered, and hunting is done in all kinds of vegetation ranging from almost tropical to desert conditions depending on where you are. Popular areas are the Eastern Cape, Kwazulu-Natal (Zululand), and the Lowveld (Limpopo Valley). Leopard are reasonable if hard to fool, but the other dangerous game species are very expensive due to limited supply. SA is one of the few countries that now have a huntable population of White Rhino. While in South Africa, a side trip to Cape Town and the surrounding area is worthwhile. If you have time, you should tour the "Garden Route" (South East coastline between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth). Medical services are the best in Africa. Note, new firearms regulations now prohibit autoloading or pump shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, a second weapon in the same caliber, or more than 3 weapons in total. Handguns are permitted but only if they are bona-fide hunting handguns. Getting a firearms importation permit in RSA is a headache and is best done in advance, using a specialist service.
Namibia, formerly South West Africa, is a good and probably the cheapest destination for plains game. Some ranches employ the German "hochsitz" style of hunting, while others use the spot-and-stalk method or both. Hunting is on private ranches or on Tribal Trust Lands and good medical services are available. The Kalahari desert encroaches to the East, while the Namib (dune desert) encompasses the West. In other words, it's a dry country. This limits the species available to some extent. In the north (Caprivi), water and treed terrain are found. Kudu, Oryx, Hartebeest, Steenbok and Springbuck are the main indigenous species. Very few (desert) elephant permits are available. Leopard and Cheetah are offered but success rates are low and Cheetah cannot be brought back to the USA. Firearms permits are issued upon entry but handguns are not permitted. Hunting in Namibia is a pleasure, and it's an excellent destination for a first time hunter. While you are there, visit Etosha National Park in the North.
Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, is hard to pin down as the
situation there is very fluid. The economy has stabilized recently with the adoption of
the US dollar as the official currency, and consumer goods are again freely
available, at a price. The good news is there are still plenty of elephant and
buffalo, with lion and leopard also available. Inexpensive PAC Elephant hunts ("Problem Animal Control" are offered, the rub being you don't get the
trophy and you will probably be hunting on foot at night). Same applies to
"management bull Elephant" hunts, which are conducted by day. Both of
these are ridiculously cheap in comparison to Elephant hunts in other countries. Sable are present in good
numbers, but dwindling due to poaching. Zimbabwe, like South Africa, is good farming country but currently is
suffering widespread starvation and economic collapse following the forced
removal of white farmers in favor of "veterans". There is good and inexpensive
hunting for plains and dangerous game around the periphery of the various
reserves (Zimbabwe favors buffer zones that resemble traditional hunting
concessions vs. fencing the reserves), as well as hunting on the few private ranches
and conservancies that have not been resettled or taken over by the political
elite. Most private hunting ranches have been expropriated and the game populations have been depleted. In Zimbabwe, your PH can keep you out of trouble
if he knows the ropes. Here, one should fly in and out by charter if at all
possible, to avoid travel on the public highways, which are full of potholes,
livestock, and subject to numerous roadblocks. You can travel by road but expect to spend the best part of a day in each direction. Since the connections to JNB leave around noon, this also means a hotel night in Harare. First world prices prevail, unless you stay at a private bed & breakfast. Two excellent B&Bs are "The Cottage" (firstname.lastname@example.org or PHONES:- 02634-883004 (cell 091 2205 493) ; and Flame Tree Lodge (Cartwright
Mozambique has reopened for hunting and is a good destination for buffalo, sable, bushbuck, hippo and croc. Expect to charter in and out, and note that many hunting areas are subject to inundation in the rainy season, so you may be hunting in a swamp. Best to go in August or later, for that reason. In theory, you can hunt cats in Moz but in practice, they are hard to hunt. You can't export any elephant to the USA from Mozambique. Despite these factors, Mozambique is not cheap and most operators require 14 day hunts for anything but a buffalo quickie.
Zambia has reopened to hunting and is a good destination for cats, large ones at that. Buffalo hunting is good and this is one of the few destinations that offers both Roan and Sable au natural (ie not transplants). Trophy fees are reasonable but daily rates are comparable to Botswana, i.e. almost as pricey as Tanzania. Most hunting is done in concessions leased from the government, which is good news, but the flipside of that coin are the concession fees and licence fees that you pay in addition to your daily rates, and the minimum hunt duration (14 days for the more sought-after species). Oryx and Elephant are not available in Zambia.
Finally, for the old Africa hands, Tanzania. Here again, the government controls hunting safaris quite closely. You pay the PH for his services and you pay the government a licence fee depending on the species you wish to hunt. A 21 day hunt is required, at a stiff rate, if you wish to hunt for the Big Five. You can hunt buffalo and a few species of plains game on a special 7-day licence.. Plan to spend $25 to 50K on your hunt.
TaxidermyAlmost every outfitter/PH will cape and salt your trophies for you at no extra charge. These are then delivered to the local taxidermist for "dipping and packing", for which there is usually a small fee. Skins and horns cannot be exported unless they have been properly dipped by a licenced facility to eliminate disease or insects, and they must also be accompanied by papers signed by a licenced PH as well as the local game dept. You will also need a CITES permit for endangered species, ie leopard, elephant, and a few others. This must be arranged before the hunt in your home country. Once the trophies are crated up, it's up to you to get the trophies collected and shipped home. This is easy to do, just get the crate weight and dimensions from the taxidermist, and then email two or three shippers for quotes. If you don't care to manage the logistics, your PH or the taxidermy will do it for you but you will probably not end up with the lowest cost shipper that way. You will need to appoint a customs broker to clear your trophies with both customs and fish and game at the port of entry. Again, if you leave it up to the shipper to use their favorite broker, you won't have any control over this cost. The customs broker will charge you a fixed fee per hunter. It's possible to clear trophies yourself but only practical if you live close to the airport where the items will be cleared, and can take a weekday off work. Once you have your trophies, they must be delivered to your taxidermist. You can instruct your shipper to deliver them directly once they are cleared, you can deliver them yourself if you have a pickup truck or trailer, or you can appoint a domestic shipper to do it. It's also possible to have the trophies mounted in-country, normally at considerably lower cost than US taxidermists charge, and there is no dip-and-pack required by definition. Note, taxidermy is not an efficient market, and prices for a particular mount can vary from say $400 to $1000 or more. It seems that taxidermists sometimes get confused as to who the creator of the particular beast really was, and those with large egos charge as if the beast owes its existence to them. But if you do get your mounts done in the hunt country (see list of South African Taxidermists), it will be more expensive to ship them back because the crates will be much bigger. Air freight goes by volume, when it comes to light goods like trophies. It's still cheaper, overall, to have them mounted in the hunt country unless you get taken for a ride (and you wouldn't be the first).
The bottom line is your trophies will probably cost you at least half or two thirds again as much as you paid for your hunt. You can save a lot of money by going with "European mounts" (horns and skull on a wooden shield) and I recommend this for the lesser trophies (average horns, less memorabe hunts). And you will wait at least a year before you can hang them on your wall. That's a good thing as it gives your bank account some time to recover....the reason many hunters hunt Africa only every second year!
Good luck, keep your wits about you, and rest assured you can have a memorable and incredible hunt in Africa today, for a very reasonable price, and your odds of encountering problems are small if you pay attention. But then again, if it were perfectly riskless, it wouldn't be Africa, would it?
Copyright R. Gould 2004. All Rights Reserved
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