Hunt Africa: Tips for the Kiwi hunter heading abroadBy Martin Auldist
- 8th Nov, 2019 Nov 8, 2019, 12:00 AM
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How to get more bang for your ‘bok’ on your first African hunt...
I once read a book by well-known American big game hunter Craig Boddington in which he described the phenomenon whereby hunters return from their first trip to Africa as instant experts. First time visitors are typically so enamoured by the experience that they are convinced their particular safari location and their particular outfitter are the best the Dark Country has. I can see how that happens – Africa is like that – but let me say at the outset that I don’t consider myself an expert on Africa. I have, however, hunted there in three different countries.
I hope this article will provide some tips that may help aspiring Kiwis optimise their first African hunt.
DON'T FORGET THE ON-COSTS
I know what it’s like when you’re planning your first African safari. You hop on-line and scan the price lists of the various outfitters. Your imagination is running wild and you make some mental calculations about how much your trip will cost. You swap this animal for that in your head until you come up with a total you think you can afford. You add this to your per-day costs and that is the cost of your safari. Right?
Wrong. The bad news is the amount of money you pay your outfitter is likely to be approximately half, or even less, of the total cost of getting your animals back to New Zealand and up on the wall. I call these on-costs.
On-costs include the costs of processing your animals for export, freight costs, the destination charges involved in getting your animals inspected and cleared by customs, GST on the cost of any overseas taxidermy and, of course, the taxidermy itself.
“Most plains game like kudu, bushbuck, eland and gemsbok will be occupying your thoughts in the months leading up to your trip.”
There are two ways your trophies can be prepared for export out of Africa into New Zealand. The first is to have them fully mounted in Africa. This is advantageous in that it is likely to save you money on taxidermy but it will cost you extra in freight (although the taxidermists do have a couple of tricks for packing them in as small a crate as possible, like detaching the horns).
The alternative is the process known as “dip and pack” or “pre-tanning”. This involves having the capes tanned, horns cleaned and skulls bleached by a taxidermist in Africa, shipping them home, then having the animals reassembled by a taxidermist in New Zealand. Doing it this way, taxidermy costs will be greater because you’ll have to pay two taxidermists, but shipping costs will be reduced. Another benefit is that you’ll be able to collect your trophies from your local taxidermist one at a time as they are completed rather than having to wait for them to be finished prior to shipping.
It’s difficult to say which is the most cost efficient but do some research before you decide. Compare the cost of shipping with air freight. Shipping can be cheaper, especially if you can share a container with other Kiwi hunters, but it will take a lot longer. If you are travelling with one or more mates, another trick for reducing costs is to ensure your trophies are sent as a single consignment to one consignee. If your crates arrive addressed to multiple hunters you will all pay destination charges – and believe me they are nothing short of extortion.
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Most plains game like kudu, bushbuck, eland and gemsbok will be occupying your thoughts in the months leading up to your trip. But bigger game involves bigger price tags and for many Kiwi hunters there is only so much room in the budget. Thankfully there is a way to cram more into your African hunting experience without breaking the bank.
The African continent is flush with medium and small game species that can be legally hunted at little or no expense. Most obviously there are the common medium game species like impala and warthog that make great trophies. Most outfitters list some of the smaller antelope species too, especially the duiker, as a cheap option for securing a unique memento. Moving further down the list, many outfitters also offer species like baboon, black-backed jackal, spring hares and some of the smaller cats for a very low price or even free.
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“Despite what you may read, African hunting is not like shopping at a supermarket. You will often have to work hard for your trophies...”
Bird hunting is another activity that is usually offered as a free add-on to your daily rate. Usually, for example, there will be populations of guinea fowl on your hunting concession, often quite close to camp, that can provide a memorable diversion for filling in spare time at the end of a day – not to mention a tasty filling for a pie or casserole. High volume shotgun shooting for other bird species like doves and francolin can also be organised by arrangement with many outfitters – that is something I’d love to have a go at one day.
The other great thing about taking the chance to hunt smaller game is that they often don’t attract the on-costs of larger game. Even if you want to take home a duiker mount, jackal skin or a baboon skull for your man cave, the processing and shipping costs won’t be anywhere near the equivalent costs for larger game. Sure, these smaller species won’t provide the magnificent trophy head on the wall but they will provide cool hunting experiences and an impressive array of memories and photos from your trip – and surely that’s what it’s all about?
Although not a small animal, zebra are also a great species to include on your wish list if you’re looking to reduce on-costs because you will almost always want to get its skin tanned as a mat for your study floor, which is a much cheaper option than a shoulder mount.
Everyone who travels to Africa to go hunting has a wish list of species that they dream of taking. Some hunters want to shoot a lot of animals, some only want a handful. That’s fair enough. My advice, though is to be flexible, especially on your first trip. If you’ve chosen to hunt free-range animals in unfenced areas there is a good chance that you won’t get a shot at everything you originally wanted.
Despite what you may read, African hunting is not like shopping at a supermarket. You will often have to work hard for your trophies and sometimes Lady Luck will frown on you. That’s hunting though, so don’t ruin your experience by stressing about it. The good thing is that you will almost always get an opportunity at other species, animals that you may not have thought of – so take the chance to swap animals depending on the conditions. The aim of most hunters on their first African trip should be to have an enjoyable and memorable experience and come away with some representative mementoes.
Don’t worry about the tape measure either. Putting pressure on yourself to shoot a 60 inch kudu on your first trip can only lead to disappointment. Trust your guide to put you on to good representative animals and just enjoy the hunt. Most of your trophies will be about average, some will be better and some will be just representative – that’s another insight I got from the Boddington book and in my experience that’s exactly the way it goes.
If you have a choice, when booking your flights for the hunting adventure of your dreams opt for longer layovers, even if that means overnight stays, especially if you’re travelling with firearms. The reason for this is to ensure that there is plenty of time for your firearms and luggage to be loaded on to the same plane as you. My hunting mate Sean O’Farrell and I had two experiences to prove this point on our trip to Namibia in 2012.
First, in her infinite wisdom, our travel agent booked us on a domestic flight that allowed only a one hour layover before our international connection to Johannesburg. That would have been okay except that the airline staff refused to check our rifles all the way through to Africa even though we had a Customs officer standing right next to us saying it was good to go. By the time we sorted the paperwork our international flight had been closed. The only thing that saved us from missing the flight was that our suitcases – containing our ammunition and bolts – had been checked through and were sitting on the plane without us. When the check-in staff realised this they miraculously re-opened the flight and let us board.
When we finally arrived in Windhoek, having stressed all the way about whether or not our rifles would make it, we found that our rifles had arrived but the rest of our luggage had not. To make matters worse, by the time we had cleared our firearms with the Namibian Police there was not a single person in the arrivals hall except our guide Dirk Smit, from Orpa Safaris. Every single representative from the airline had packed it in and gone home so there was no way to report that our luggage was missing. So there we were, with our hand luggage and our rifles, but missing all our other gear including our rifle bolts and ammunition!
Standing in the airport carpark discussing what to do, Dirk was firm in his opinion that a four hour layover at Johannesburg airport was nowhere near long enough to guarantee that the local staff would be able to transfer our luggage on to the connecting flight on time. To cut a long story short, we eventually used a mobile phone to ring a number for South African Airways in Jo’burg – which was answered by a bloke from Qantas in Melbourne. He looked up our luggage and told us it would be in Windhoek the following day – which it was – but the debacle still cost us a day’s hunting.
DON'T FENCE ME IN
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Many outfitters in Africa offer hunts on concession land that has game fences around the perimeter. This style of hunting is more prevalent in some African countries than others. Some of these ranches are very large, perhaps many thousands of hectares, and the animals and the habitat they live in are effectively wild and the hunting can be terrific. They behave like truly wild animals and the landscapes are as scenic and rugged as anywhere in Africa.
For me though, I just don’t like the fact that the quarry is ultimately contained within a designated area no matter how big that area is. It’s a personal choice and I wouldn’t denigrate anyone who wants to hunt on a game ranch or hunting preserve. A South African mate of mine makes a compelling argument that at least their game is native to the country, even if it has been relocated, unlike much of our game that was introduced just for hunting. I hunted a game ranch on my first trip to South Africa. It was a great experience but I couldn’t shake that sinking feeling I got when we drove through the big gate in the fence.
“The aim of most hunters on their first African trip should be to have an enjoyable and memorable experience and come away with some representative mementoes.”
Happily, in spite of all the rubbish you hear in the media about so-called “canned hunting”, there is still plenty of free range hunting in Africa. On our 2012 hunt to Namibia for example, the boundary fences were so run down you could step over them. The game could come and go as it pleased, but mostly chose to stay because of the water supply points, improved habitat and salt licks the landowners had provided.
We stalked down creeks to see the fresh tracks of elephants which made me understand I really was in Africa. Similarly, in Zimbabwe there are ample opportunities to hunt in areas where there are no game fences.
My advice is that if free range hunting is your preference be sure to ask the right questions of your outfitter before you book. Free range hunting in Africa is entirely possible, so shop around until you find what you are looking for.
So there it is. For true hunters a trip to Africa will be one of the best things you will do in your life. It will set you back some money but that money will buy memories that last a lifetime. Hopefully some of the tips above will help you maximise the memories and minimise the cost. If you have the slightest inkling to hunt in Africa, I urge you to do it.
I guarantee you won’t be sorry.
Read this book!
If you are contemplating hunting in Africa you should read this book first. “African Experience” by Craig Boddington is packed with tips for hunters to help them organise a successful first safari.
With a purchase price of under $45, if it saves you from making a single mistake it will have paid for itself many times over.
You can read my review by clicking on the title here: African Experience
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