Most Bang for Your Buck: How to Do an African Safari for the Price of a Guided Elk Hunt

rainbow and antelopes

by Peter Ruddle

So, you’ve always thought an African safari was always out of your league. Think again and start saving for a hunting adventure of a lifetime which will whet your appetite for many more African safaris to come. South Africa and Namibia offer a wide selection of affordable options. Let’s compare the cost of a $5000-$7000 out-of-state elk hunt with what you could get on a hunt in Africa for the same price. 

First of all, shopping for your safari online with is free and allows you to search for a hunt of your choice whilst sitting in the comfort of your own home. No need to travel to a hunting show paying entrance fees, flights and hotels. For a start, the money you save on these hidden costs can be put towards your first safari.  

This being your first trip to Africa, you do not want any surprises, so my recommendation would be to look at a package hunt. Package hunts may not necessarily give you the freedom of choice of what animals you might want to hunt but if you have a windfall before your safari you can always add animals to your bucket list.   

In the $2,000-$5,000 price range you will be able to find a 7-10 day package safari that will include 5-9 animals. 

Let’s look at some examples:

(Warning: not all of these hunts may be available by the time you’ve read the blog, but by checking the “Package Hunts” icon on the search page you’ll be able to find more hunts like that. Scroll down to the widget at the end of the blog for more offers in this category). 

It’s a long flight so I do not recommend any hunt under 5-7 days. Most hunters depart the US on a Friday and return home the following week on Sunday, giving them 7 nights in camp and 6 full hunting days. The flight will cost you $2200-$2500. Add the flight to your hunts costs and you can see that you can enjoy an all inclusive hunt for around or even under $5000.

A Backcountry Hunt in Southern Africa? Yes, You Can!

Many American hunters assume that all hunting in South Africa is a stereotypical game ranch experience, where you get your trophies almost without rising from your lounge-chaise at the poolside of a luxury lodge. Yes, indeed, South Africa is known for its lodges and quality catering services, a countrywide phenomenon.  However, scattered throughout the country, including in such provinces as KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern and Northern Cape, are some free-range hunting operators where you can work your arse off to shoot your trophy. 

Some outfitters even offer very luxurious (trailers with kitchens, bar fridges, etc) spike camping in big fenced hunting areas. Others offer true backpack or horseback hunts (click here to read the description of one such hunt, done by James Reed, Director of BookYourHunt – North America a few years ago). So yes, if you want a true rough “pioneer” experience, similar to your elk hunt in Idaho or New Mexico, you can have it in South Africa and Namibia, too. Just make sure you read carefully the reviews on the outfitter, and when discussing the hunt with them, be perfectly clear about what kind of experience you’re looking for, and where you stand on the controversial issues like shooting from vehicles (this is sadly legal in some provinces). 

Choose your Species Smartly

Trophy fees make up a considerable part of your safari costs, and if you are not particular about which animals you want to hunt, you can impressively optimize it in your favor. For many species trophy fees have dropped remarkably, and the quality has increased significantly due to selective breeding projects. Good examples are buffalo, sable and roan – price is down and quality up. Even nyala prices are on a downward spiral. On the other hand, kudu prices are increasing, and then there are always the market-related dynamics in pricing, affected by such factors as drought, restocking, breeding and trophy size. 

Speaking of size, South African hunters and outfitters are a little spoilt for selection, and their definition of a “mediocre” set of horns may well be your definition of “excellent animal”. That is to say, you probably don’t have to pay a premium for extra trophy quality – a good trophy of any species remains a good trophy. 

Personally, I like to hunt animals in their historical habitats and not areas where they have been introduced to or where they are artificially fed. So, for instance, I would like to hunt nyala in KwaZulu-Natal and springbok and gemsbok in the Kalahari Desert. I envision springbok or gemsbok standing on a red sand dune or a nyala in the Sand Forest only, and hunting them anywhere else just won’t be as natural and satisfying. You can get information about the proper versus introduced ranges of game animals on their pages, both general (e.g. kudu hunting), and specific (Eastern Cape kudu hunting; kudu hunting in South Africa). An extra bonus is that the trophy rates are normally cheaper where the animal historically occurred.

Now, most importantly let’s look at the potential pitfalls. When buying cheap there is always a risk, so let’s minimize your risks and make sure that you cover all your bases. You need to ask the following questions and address the following potential issues that must be taken into account:

Safari Details

  • Duration: Make 100% sure that the package you purchase covers the time period you are planning to be in the country and covers you from the time of your arrival until your departure. Some hunts require an overnight stay at your cost before the hunt starts due to the distances to be travelled.  
  • Flights: Some hunting destinations require additional commercial flights which will be an additional cost to you. 
  • Transfers: Numerous outfitters include the cost of airport transfers. If these costs are not included do the math and see how it may affect your budget.
  • VAT: Value Added Tax is normally included in the package. If not included make sure you know exactly what this 15% extra amount will be and it should only be charged on accommodation and services. 
  • Trophy Size Limitations: Certain species (like Kudu and Sable) are sold by the inch. The size of the animal will be a good representation of the species. Make sure that your Professional Hunter (PH) knows up front that if they make a mistake on their trophy judgement call they will be responsible for the additional cost. 
  • Rifle Hire: Many outfitters offer rifle hire and ammunition as part of the package and if not, make sure you are aware of the additional costs. I highly recommend hiring a rifle on your first safari to do away with all the firearm travel hassles.
  • Includes & Excludes: Take note of what is included and excluded, some outfitters include drinks while on the hunt but exclude drinks whilst in camp for instance.
  • Contract: Sign a contract with the outfitter which can be used as a reference in case of any discrepancies.
  • Taxidermy: Taxidermy costs are not included in any packages but do not need to be paid immediately on completion of the hunt. You will be required to pay the taxidermist directly once they receive your trophies. This will give you a good few months to recover financially after the hunt. Work will only start on your trophies once a deposit has been paid.      
  • International Flights: You can shop online and look for flight deals. The longer in advance you book the better the price.  
  • Clothing: It is not necessary to buy a whole new wardrobe for your safari. Dark clothing and jeans will suffice.
  • Tips: If you plan on paying a tip, discuss this upfront with your outfitter who will give you an indication of what may be expected for satisfactory service.  
  • References: Make sure and do this important research. Contact the outfitter’s most recent references and find out more about their experience.   
Learn more about planning your first African safari

As you can see, this safari is highly doable and well within budget. You may still have more questions like high fences and language issues. Both Namibians and South Africans speak English making travel in these countries easygoing. If you are concerned about hunting behind high fences, get some feedback from the references in this regard, or, better yet, there are numerous free-range properties where you can hunt in both countries. 

One of the best things about plains game hunting in Southern Africa is that you don’t need to trust your luck in the draw, or pay extra for an outfitter-guaranteed tag. So, next time your draw application comes back as “unsuccessful”, why don’t you take the money you’d spend on that hunt and head towards Africa? These hunts are real and there is no need to compromise your expectations. You will be treated like royalty and planning your next trip before you even fly back home. 


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