1001 Questions to Ask Before Booking a Hunt in Africa: Part 3

By Peter Ruddle

This is the third post in our “1001 Questions”. Part 1 covered general questions of safari booking, and Part 2 dealt with rifles, clothes, and other gear you might need. With Part 3 we finally begin to approach that which is the main reason to book a safari in Africa: hunting. Here are a few questions you might want to ask before you book a hunt. Answers to many questions will differ from one PH to another (especially as far as far as hunting ethics is concerned, which is hard to define, and definitions will differ from person). This is why we mostly give general guidelines of what to ask about. Only you will know what and what is not acceptable to you, so make sure you get your answers straight before making the first payment.

41. Do you hunt in high fenced areas?

Game ranching in South Africa has received some bad press over the years but in reality, high fenced areas exist in more countries than just South Africa. High fenced properties are also found in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia. In most instances, these properties are high fenced to contain expensive and introduced species that are able to jump over a standard stock fence. These high fences help to secure the game ranchers investment and is a legal requirement to either be classified as a private hunting property (Botswana) or to prevent the spread of disease (hoof and mouth) and prevent dangerous animals from coming into contact with domestic stock on a neighbouring farm for instance. In South Africa, a landowner with a high fence can be issued with an exemption permit that entitles you to hunt year round. In addition, stiffer sentences can be given to poachers arrested on this property. 

42. What do you mean by hunting concession?

In the African context, this normally refers to a huge designated unfenced land area for which the outfitter has the hunting rights. This concession (hunting lease) is normally bought on a tender process for contractual period of time. The outfitter is responsible for the maintenance and management of the area, this includes anti-poaching patrols and community upliftment projects. This may be government land or community owned land. The lease fee is paid to the respective owner. Similarly a concession In the South African context normally refers to privately owned fenced game ranches that vary in size. Outfitter’s may have the sole rights and lease these areas on an annual basis or just use them on a day to day basis, paying for the animals they shoot.   

43. Are your hunts fair chase?

This is an issue often raised when hunting in South Africa. South Africa does have free-range hunting (no fences) and the majority of outfitters offer fair chase hunts. Once again this depends on your interpretation of hunting ethics. Although you may be hunting in a high fenced area in South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe, these hunts are classified as fair chase when the animal has an opportunity to escape from the hunter. The hunting technique will ultimately determine if the hunt is fair chase or not. 

44. What are the styles of hunting expected during the safari?  

Various hunting techniques will be used; the most common being driving around in a pick up until a suitable trophy is sighted. Some provinces in South Africa allow the animal to be shot from the back of the truck. However, the norm and law in the majority of countries and some provinces in South Africa, is to hunt walk-and-stalk on foot. Many stipulate that no animal may be hunted within 200 meters of a vehicle. Depending on the species and area, this may also include tracking, glassing from vantage points, driven hunts and shooting from a blind or raised platform in the case of bowhunters. Hunting from the air or even the use of a plane, helicopter, or drone to locate an animal is illegal. Helicopters may be used in some instances to search for wounded animals. Sportsmanship plays a large role in the decision that in most cases should align with your ethical standards.  Hunters with physical conditions will be accommodated.  

45.  What do you mean by success rate?

This terminology is used to describe the successful hunting rate of a species with particular reference to the more rare and difficult animals to hunt e.g. leopard, bongo, etc. Hunting would not be described as fair chase if it’s 100% successful – in other words, had a 0% probability of failure, because that would mean the animal hasn’t got a chance. You can be guaranteed that your PH will give his all to get you the animals on your bucket list. It is illegal in most countries to sell you an animal species without having the legal rights for that quota or written permission to shoot such an animal on someone else’s land.  

46. How do you measure trophy size?

Trophy size is measured in numerous different ways depending on the species. The two most commonly used measuring methods correlate to the Rowland Ward and Safari Club International Record books. The respective measuring methods are used for those who are interested in entering their animals into the record books. A minimum entry level is required to enter your animal in the record book. Most PHs use this as a trophy quality benchmark. Many Professional Hunters would prefer clients to put away their tape measures and place the emphasis on the hunting experience.  

47. What is the typical shooting distance? 

This obviously varies according to the terrain. In densely wooded areas this ranges from 60 -150 meters/yards and in the desert and mountain regions this could be 300-400 meters/yards. For bowhunters, the average shooting distance is 25 meter s/yards, maybe pushing 45 meters/yards. Shooting distances are limited to the client’s capabilities.  

48. How does the weather affect hunting?

The cold windy conditions experienced when a cold front moves over the country does affect some species. Some species, like nyala and kudu just seem to disappear as if they buried themselves in a hole. When these types of conditions prevail, the hunting will be concentrated on other species that either live in the open grasslands or do not take cover in the thick bush. These fronts normally pass over within a day or two and then things return to normal. 

49. Does the moon cycle affect hunting? 

Full moon makes hunting conditions more difficult for the nocturnal predators, like leopard. Antelope are able to see better during full moon period, making it easier to escape from predators. This also means that grazing animals will spend more of their time grazing under the bright African night sky. Animals like reedbuck will spend more time bedded down during the day whilst other animals like buffalo can walk incredible distances feeding during the night making for a long walk and stalk for hunters catch up to them during the day. Dark moon has the opposite effect, the reedbuck will be hungry and feed during the day and the buffalo will spend a sleepless night in an open clearing on the guard looking out for hungry hunting lions. However, a rising full moon over the African bush is a sight to behold.     

50. Can we hunt at night?

Hunting at night on a high fenced South African game ranch is legal but in most countries, hunting at night is strictly illegal. Where night hunting is legal, outfitters may charge an additional fee. This is to cover additional fuel usage and cover the additional hours worked by the staff. Like a night drive, you will see all sorts of nocturnal animals and birds not seen during the day. Driving around at night in an open vehicle can be quite cold in the middle of winter, so come prepared.    

51. Can I change animals in the package and shoot additional animals?

Some outfitters are not negotiable when it comes to exchanging advertised animals in a package, others may be prepared to swing an alternative deal. Additional animals and days can always be added to a package deal but keep in mind that in many African countries trophy-hunting licenses need to be purchased before any hunting may take place.   

52. What should I carry in my daypack?

Probably the most important items are your glasses (if you use glasses), sun block, wet wipes (disposable disinfecting wipe) and any chronic medication you may require during the day. You want to sneak a candy bar or breakfast bar into your pack. It is also advisable to carry a copy of your firearm paperwork with you at all times. Water and soft drinks to your liking will be packed in a cooler box (or camping fridge) on the hunting vehicle. The staff will pack food if you are out hunting for the day. A first aid kit will be in the vehicle or carried by the staff and there is always a roll of toilet paper handy. 

53. Will we check our scopes on the range before hunting?  

This is standard procedure before the commencement of any hunt. Nobody wants to wound and lose an animal and it is the responsible thing to do. Sometimes, airline personnel treat rifles very badly and the scopes do get bumped or even come loose in some cases. This also gives your PH an opportunity to assess your shooting ability and see how confident you are with your rifle or bow. 

54. What can I do to practise and get fit for my safari?

The fitter you are the more you will enjoy your safari. Spend as much time as possible on your feet at office and take the stairs instead of the elevator if you do not have time to take a walk in the forest. Walk off the beaten track, over stones and logs to help get your balance. Another handy tip is to spend time practising your aim as if shooting of a log or rock, holding your rifle on the side of a tree or sitting on your behind and using your knees as a rest. Ultimately, your PH will adapt to your mobility and fitness levels.    

55. What can the non-hunters/observers do on hunting days?

They are welcome to come along for the ride on the hunt and experience nature in the raw. In many cases it is like being on an exclusive game drive. Some prefer to remain in camp, read a book, swim or just relax. Local day tours can also be arranged (at an additional cost) to places of interest in the area, scenic tours, beauty spas, souvenir stops and local trinket shops. In the more remote rural areas where there are limited to no facilities available, observers can visit interesting villages, clinic and schools projects sponsored from hunting income or even learn how to bake and cook some of the traditional dishes.  

56. Can an observer shoot an animal or two?

In Namibia or South Africa, this may be possible at the discretion of the outfitter. Most outfitters would probably allow an observer to shoot one common animal, but anything beyond that would require a full hunting daily rate. In countries where individual hunting licenses need to be prearranged it is not possible. 

57. Do you offer additional excursions?

Some outfitters offer in-house excursions to places of interest and guide their clients themselves. Others may arrange these trips and tours through a third party or advise you on who to contact in this regard. These excursions range from day tours to extended stays to some of Africa’s well-known tourist destinations. It is best to discuss your options with your outfitter, as there are so many fantastic options available

58. What type of all-inclusive accommodations are available on excursions?

There is a wide range in the types of accommodation available, from rustic self-catering to fully catered super luxurious accommodation with all the mod cons. For the more adventurous, there are both glamping and luxury tented accommodations for those wanting a more African feel.  

59. What are the taxidermy options for my hunting trophies? 

Some countries require a long drying period for veterinary disease control purposes before trophies can be moved to the taxidermist and these outfitters operating in very rural areas may only transport their trophies to the taxidermist at the end of the season. Once the trophies arrive at the taxidermist they will contact you to discuss how you would like your taxidermy work done. Your options are to have it done in Africa or sent home as raw prep. All paperwork requirements and payment processes will be made and discussed between you and the taxidermist. This will include taxidermy quotations and an indication of the possible freight charges. Freight charges are subject to quotations at the time of export as costs may fluctuate due to exchange control regulations and airfreight fuel prices. It may take longer to get your trophies home but an alternative is to investigate the cheaper costs of shipping by sea. Payment methods and schedules will be made between you and the taxidermist. Another option for handling your trophies is the 3D printing.

60. What is the difference between an outfitter and a PH?

All Hunting Outfitters or Professional Hunters must be licensed to legally operate in the countries or provinces in South Africa where they hunt in Africa. Non-citizen hunters must be accompanied by a professional hunter when hunting in Africa. A hunting outfitter is the like a “tour operator” and is the person who presents or organises the safari on behalf of the clients. In other words they make all the arrangements and responsible for the paperwork and money matters. Furthermore, only an outfitter can market or sell a hunt. A professional hunter is like a guide who agrees and offers his service to escort a client for reward. An outfitter, if licensed as a PH may act as both outfitter and PH. A PH is the person actually guiding and ensuring your safety while on safari.     

The best way to define a PH is to quote from Peter Hathaway Capstick’s ‘Safari: The Last Adventure’:

WANTED: A young active man interested in low and infrequent pay to play bwana in remote bushveldt. Must be proven raconteur and socialite without liver trouble, expert card player, bartender, caterer, barbecuer, philosopher, African historian. Experience in sanitary engineering, local architecture, labour relations, navigation, medicine and pharmacology, botany, zoology, ichthyology, mineralogy, entomology, butcher, taxidermist, dietetics, optics, photography and radio navigation essential. Applicant should speak at least two black African languages fluently as well as one other modern European tongue. A knowledge of mechanics, driving, gunsmithing, toxicology, ballistics, tracking, marksmanship, handloading, and experience as a bodyguard are required. Benefits are a twenty four hour day, unlimited fresh air, including rain, sun and dust, no medical dental or life insurance and no retirement benefits. Applicant should supply his own rifles. Vehicles on a per diem basis. The duties of a Professional Hunter on safari are essentially the same as those of a ship’s captain and with the same responsibilities. He’s everything from the social director to the ship’s surgeon, if needed. He’s the author of the strategy of the hunting plan, but also the tactician as to make each stalk. He keeps the peace among the staff, oversees the food and drink, translates and interprets, sees that the trophies are properly handled and is shooting coach, gunsmith, stand up comedian and diplomat any time he is called on to be so. A Professional Hunter is perhaps best summed up in the observation that he is the social equal of anybody while on safari, up to and including a duke.

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