By Peter Ruddle
Many hunters are dreaming of a hunting adventure in Africa, but quite a few are reluctant to take the plunge, even though they can afford it. They suspect they don’t know enough about the continent and are concerned that their lack of knowledge will lead to disappointments. These concerns aren’t totally unfounded, and so we prepared a list of questions that you’ll probably want to have answered. Each question comes with an answer where we can give it, or with tips re: why you should ask it, what information to look for, and where to get it.
Some of your questions and concerns may sound dumb, others obvious, but do not feel shy to ask those questions. The list is very long, obviously, and will be published in instalments. Here is the first part.
1. Is all Africa the same?
There are 53 independent countries in Africa, each with its own government and its own rules and regulations. Some countries, most notably South Africa, are made of different provinces, which may also have differences in regulations, and the climatic and geographical conditions may vary greatly even within each province. It is best to make sure where precisely the hunting grounds are located.
2. Is it dangerous to hunt in Africa?
Many client’s greatest concern is their safety. There are no guarantees wherever you travel in the world but keep in mind that your professional hunters will be with you 24/7 and he/she has no reason to put their own lives at risk or in jeopardy. With this assurance in mind, your security is also their high priority.
3. What language(s) will be spoken during the hunt?
Within each African country, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of diverse cultures with their unique and beautiful languages. However, the bureaucratic and official communication is usually carried out in one of the European languages, and so will be the conversation in your hunting camp.
All the East African and Southern Africa hunting countries speak English, and all official communication is in this language, with the exception of Mozambique, which is Portuguese speaking. South Africa or Namibia, the countries that first-time hunters presumably prefer, both speak English. Many outfitters speak German in Namibia, compared to only a handful in South Africa. Further north and in West Africa the predominant language is French.
4. Do I need a Visa?
Hunters from the USA and the EU sometimes are so spoilt for visa-free travel that the fact that they do need a visa to enter some places catches them by surprize (see here, for example). This all depends on your nationality and differs from country to country. If you require a visa, make sure you apply timeously. The application process also varies from country to country. Some countries issue the visa at the border but you will need documentation to prove that you are booked on a hunt or a letter of invitation from your outfitter. Also, make sure that your passport does not expire within 6 months of your arrival date and that you have at least two unstamped pages in your passport.
5. Should I book a package hunt or hunt “a’la carte”?
Being your first hunt to Africa, we highly recommend you book a package hunt. These hunts clearly indicate what is included and excluded whereas booking a hunt from the daily rate, à la carte menu menu as I refer to it, comes with many unknown permutations. The best choice for a first-time African hunter is to book a plains game ranch hunt in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia or South Africa.
6. How can I protect myself from fraud or misunderstanding?
As previously suggested, when booking your first safari to Africa it is recommended that you book a package hunt. This way you will know what is included and excluded in the package and the expected costs. Ensure that you have a written contract with your outfitter, which is a legal requirement in most African countries. It is very important to do some research on your outfitter, check out the outfitter’s reviews on BookYourHunt.com, ask for additional references and make the effort to contact these clients.
7. What is included in the price and what is not?
This is one of the most important questions to ask your outfitter before booking a hunt. Make sure you know exactly what is included and excluded in the safari. Ask what the costs will be for the exclusions to the hunt. Outfitters may or may not include government taxes (Value Added Tax, Sales Tax) which may come as a surprise at the end of the hunt. The daily rate is taxable, and the taxes vary from 15 – 17%. Trophies are exempt from tax as this is an exportable product. However, government laws require that tax should be charged on wounded and lost animals because in this case the trophy will not be exported. BookYourHunt.com encourages outfitters to include everything from start to finish of the hunt but this is not always the case.
8. What are “Travel days” and are they included in the price?
You don’t normally go hunting straight from the airport; some time will be required to reach the game lodge or camp, and some time margin should be allowed for unexpected circumstances. The majority of the safaris require a travel day on either side of your hunting stay. This service price will be listed as included or excluded in the safari. Snacks and soft drinks may be provided during this trip but normally meals bought while in transit will be for your own expense. Some safaris may even require a nights hotel or guesthouse accommodation before and after the safari or additional domestic flights. These costs will be borne by the client but your outfitter will advise you where you can find the best deal.
9. Do the trophy fees include the license fees?
Once again, this differs from outfitter to outfitter. This information is usually included in the terms and conditions of the hunting contract. Numerous African countries require prearranged hunting licenses that will only be issued on the strength of your firearm importation certification.
10. Should I travel with a waterproof/soft exterior or hard luggage bag?
The norm today is to travel with a soft exterior luggage bag and it need not be waterproof. If you are taking a charter flight you will be requested to use a soft bag, weight and size restrictions will apply. It is best to lock your luggage bag using cable ties or a conventional lock to prevent any potential theft. Many clients also use the plastic luggage wrapping services available at many of the airports. Duffel bags are more popularly used when flying to the more remote hunting countries in Africa.
11. What is the arrival procedure at the airport?
This varies according to the country. The basic procedure is to first proceed through Immigration, collect your luggage and rifles before proceeding through the red route (something to declare) or green route (nothing to declare) at Customs. If an airport service provider or the outfitters representative has not yet met you, you should best take the red route if travelling with firearms. Let the officials decide on whether you need to declare anything or not. Once cleared, you can set off for the arrivals hall where your outfitter or their representative will meet you. They will then take control of the situation.
In South Africa, your firearms can only be collected from the South African Police Services after entering the arrival hall. Ask your outfitter to familiarise you with this procedure before you arrive at the destination as these procedures may change from time to time without any notice. It’s also a good idea to inquire how much money they recommend that you exchange at the airport so that you can buy odds and ends or pay tips in local currency at the end of the safari.
12. Will there be anyone to meet me at the airport?
On entering the arrivals hall, you will be greeted by a friendly face so look for someone holding up a welcome board with your name on it. This will either be your outfitter, PH, company representative or in some cases a VIP meet and greet service provider. With the hard yards done, you can now relax and enjoy your safari once in their safe hands. During the journey, you will be treated like a VIP and in most cases arriving as a client and leave as a friend. The most difficult part of the journey is getting to the airport on time, getting through the airport security and then on arrival at your destination you need to clear Customs and Immigration, collect your luggage and find the exit door into the arrivals hall.
13. How far is the drive from the airport?
This obviously varies on how far the hunting area is from the airport and the state of the road infrastructure. The further north you go in Africa, the more the roads deteriorate and in these cases, most hunters charter into camp. The drive to camp is often in the dark if your flight arrives in the early evening, and as often as not it goes as a blur depending on the jet lag and your overall fatigue after the flight. On the return journey, you can enjoy the scenery and appreciate the country for its many varied sights, passing villages, third-world towns with open markets, hawkers selling goods at traffic lights. International visitors always comment about what seems like an endless stream of pedestrians walking along the roads in the middle of nowhere.
14. Do you accept more than one hunting party at a time?
This important question for some discerning hunters is answered in the BookYourHunt.com listing. Some outfitters offer exclusivity whilst others accommodate mixed hunting parties. Ensure that you ask the right questions to ensure that the hunt meets your expectations.
15. What kind of accommodation can I expect?
There is a wide range in the types of accommodation available, from rustic self-catering to fully catered super luxurious lodges with all the modern comforts, and everything in between. For the more adventurous, there are both glamping and luxury tented accommodations that promise a more African feel. One and the same outfitter can offer different kinds of accommodation, especially if they operate on a number of territories. For example, the hunt for the most common plains game species could be carried out of the main lodge, while a hunt for a more rare animal, one of the Big 5, hippo or crock, might necessitate a drive to a different area further into the wilderness and a stay at a tent camp. Most outfitters mention such things in their hunt descriptions, but if you have preferences one way or the other, it’s best to make sure in advance.
16. What do you mean by an outdoor shower?
The lodges, hunting camps and most tented camps even in the remotest of areas have en suite bathroom facilities with flushing toilets, hot and cold running water. Outdoor showers are a popular feature in the warmer climates. This is an enclosed private facility that you gain entry to from your ensuite facility to enjoy an open-air shower under the African sun or night sky. Some showers are built with beautiful scenic views.
17. Is there a safe at the lodge or camp?
Many lodges and camps have gun safes and/or smaller safes where you can lock up your cash, passport, travel documents and other valuables. It is recommended that all valuable jewellery and watches are best left at home as you will not need them while in the bush. Cash can always be locked in your gun case while you are in camp if no suitable facility is available.
18. What power adapters do I need?
The power grids in Southern Africa are all 220 volts as opposed to the 110 system in the USA. Many camps provide power adapters but it is always handy to have your own travel adapter set. Many of the power plugs are three-pin plugs and vary from country to country. If there is a shaving socket in the bathroom, there is quite often a 110-volt option from which you can charge your electronic equipment. The photos below are the most popular power adapters and can be found for sale in all international airline terminals
19. Do I need to bring soaps and shampoos?
Many lodges and camps provide complimentary soaps and shampoo. The more remote the hunting area is, like in Tanzania, you will most likely need to provide your own. Washcloths are not always available but many camps do supply them nowadays. Shower or bath towels are always supplied and the lodges with swimming pools in most cases supply swimming towels as well.
20. How long have you been in business?
Many outfitters are third or fourth-generation owners of the privately owned hunting areas. The founding date of the company can be found on the BookYourHunt.com listing. Like everything, some companies have been in business for many years and come with excellent reputations. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should shy away from companies who are new in the trade. The need to attract clients and build a reputation often translates into substantial reductions in price and going out of their way to please the client. Newly established companies need to rely on client references to sell their product. The reviews found on the BookYourHunt.com listings are actual and honest hunter’s reviews and as good as a quick reference. Make an effort to check out the references.
… to be continued
Check out these blogs for more information about planning and booking your safari: