For many hunters the dream of hunting in Africa remains just that, a dream. Whether it be down to finances, work and family commitments or simply not even knowing where to begin and how to actually book a hunting safari.
I have over eight years as an Outfitter and fifteen years as a Professional Hunter, I have zero experience in being a family therapist and don’t hold a degree in finances so I can’t help you with the first reasons for not booking a hunting safari, but I certainly can help in guiding you through the process of booking one.
Within this blog I will outline the processes, steps and factors to consider when booking a trip but for those hunters like me that simply struggle to stay focused for more than two minutes while reading, I have put together a simple Safari Booking Checklist that you can download >> HERE << and use it to get the ball rolling on putting together that dream safari.
Think of booking an African hunting safari the same way you would go about purchasing a new rifle or bow. You’re not going to buy the first one you come across or simply pick the cheapest option. Your rifle will have to serve a purpose, perform to the best of its ability and achieve the goal you desire.
So, you are going to research all the aspects of that rifle, read reviews, chat with others that have a similar rifle or considered buying the same one, see if there are any bad reviews about this particular model and compare its specs against that of other rifles. Doing the research beforehand will give the confidence going into the field that you have made the right choice. It really is no different to selecting a hunting safari business.
Ok great, you caught your wife on a good day, maybe even had to treat her to a night out, take the kids for a day while she pampers herself or finally did those DIY jobs round the house that she has been nagging you about for the past eight months. Either way you got the nod of approval for an Africa trip and can now begin the planning phase of your safari. Let’s break it down into a step-by-step process and briefly explain why each step is so important and what factors need to be considered during the process.
Step 1: Which African Country?
Africa is huge, made up of many different countries, cultures, habitats, climates, governments, wildlife and hunting opportunities. Not all African countries have hunting available and the ones that do vary greatly. I could write pages and pages on each country with their pros and cons but that is a blog for another time and without wanting to drift off topic I will list the top eight countries for hunting.
- South Africa
To help with your decision on choosing which country, I would suggest using these three questions as a guide and ensuring that the country fits your criteria.
- Which countries offer the top 5 animals of my hunting wish list?
- Does this country offer the non-hunting activities that I (and maybe your family) am wanting to add to our trip?
- What are the requirements for entry into the country in terms of visas and is it generally considered stable and safe for tourism?
Step 2: Choosing a hunting Outfitter/Business
It is crucial that you get as much information from your prospective Outfitter as possible. This moment before sending any deposits, finalizing dates and making confirmations is your chance to ensure that the hunting trip you are booking is exactly what you are wanting and expecting. It saddens me to say it, but yet necessary to do so in this blog, with so much happening online these days it is very easy for unscrupulous people to create bogus hunting outfits in the hopes of stealing a deposit or two. Be cautious and always remember the phrase “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”.
Before you contact an Outfitter directly take your time to work through various websites and social media profiles. If a hunting business cannot put the effort into maintaining their website, for example still having the 2018 Pricelist up, or providing sufficient information about themselves, then I would take that as warning signs and move on because chances are they will put that same energy and care into your trip.
Typing “Hunting South Africa” into Google is going to bring up many hunting operations and I know it may seem like an overload at first, but I would suggest working through as many websites as you can, making a list of the top 10 operations that appealed to you and then contact the Outfitters directly.
Below is a list of questions any hunting Outfitter worth their salt would gladly answer and provide the details on. These questions should be enough to use it as a means to sort through your list of ten operations, get the answers that will give you peace of mind and also help build that relationship with the hunting Outfitter.
(Copy and paste these questions into the email you sending to your Outfitter)
- Could you provide me with a brief background into your hunting operation and what makes it unique from the rest?
- With regards to the pricing of your packages, day fees and trophy fees, can you provide me with a detailed explanation of everything that is included and excluded?
- Here is a list of the animals I would like to hunt and the number of days I was thinking of coming out for, can you provide me with an itemized quote?
- With regards to the animals that I am interested in hunting, can you describe the hunting method you usually adopt, average trophy quality we can expect and the habitat/terrain we will be hunting in?
- Is there more information and photos on the lodging we will be staying at?
- Do you hunt on numerous concessions and if so, what would the average time and distance be between the areas?
- What does a typical hunting day look like? Wake up time through to sitting round the fire after dinner etc…
- Could you provide some information about the Professional Hunters that guide for your business and if possible, the PH that I will be hunting with?
- Is there a taxidermist you recommend that we use in the area? Will they be able to assist me with arranging the shipping of my trophies and if so, can I please have their contact details?
- Once an animal is hunted, do you have a recovery team that can assist with the loading of the animal, and will it be caped and salted on the premises? Are there additional fees for you to deliver my trophies to a local taxidermist or even a storage fee?
- Will we be able to sample meat from the animals we have hunted? What does a general menu consist of at the lodge?
- I would like to hire a rifle from you for the hunting safari, what rifles do you have available (make, caliber, optics…) and what is the hire fee with ammunition included?
- What airport will we need to fly into? Will we be greeted at the airport and is pick up/drop of included in the daily rate?
- Do you perhaps have a Deposit/Returns Policy and also a Terms & Conditions statement which highlights issues such as wounded animals, non-hunting activities, final settlement of the bill, liabilities etc...?
- Can you provide me with a list of past clients that will be willing to act as a reference and provide some insight into their trip with you?
- Will we require anything such as vaccinations or malaria medication? And what would be your suggestion with regards to travel and medical insurance?
- Are there any non-hunting activities in the area or at the lodge for those of us that may not want to hunt on a particular day?
Step 3: Research
This won’t be the longest section to explain but it certainly is one of the most important. Right now, before you have sent through a single cent, is your best chance to ensure that the Outfitter is not only legit but is offering the experience and adventure you are looking for. Now is the time to do your homework and make sure there is no unforeseen expenses, issues that may put a damper on your dream hunting safari or any skeletons in the outfitters closet. Google is your friend, use it.
The outfitter that you are contemplating booking with by now should have answered all the questions you sent through and would have provided you with a list of references from past clients. Be sure to contact each reference and ask them to share their experiences with you. What they enjoyed, was there any issues, what would they do differently and most importantly is there anything that came up which they did not expect.
Next will be some social media stalking. I know not everyone is on Facebook and Instagram but to be brutally honest, if their business is not active or at least listed on some social media platforms then I would take that as a negative. An active social media page shows that the business is active, up to date, relevant and also that the Outfitter cares about how his business reflects to potential clients. This is another place to find reviews about the safari company and can give you great insight into how they operate.
Remember social media isn’t just Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube there is some great hunting related forums out there with a ton of information. Forums are a great place where hunters can speak candidly about their experiences not only with outfitters, but booking agents, travel agents, taxidermists and shipping brokers.
The internet has come a long way and for good reason. The more developed it becomes, the more people use it, and the more people rely on it for business, then it makes it a lot harder for those bad eggs in the industry to hide their dirty dealings.
Step 4: Deciding on dates and flights
Ok so you have completely vetted your outfitter of choice, and all checks out. Things are picking up and your excitement is building but there is a few more things to do before calling your bank and asking them to wire a deposit to Africa. You need to find dates that not only suit your busy schedule and the outfitters availability but also you have to consider the best time to fly. Airline ticket prices vary throughout the year and the cost can make up a considerable portion of the safari price. Unless you have an abundance of air miles, I would highly recommend working with a travel agent that books extensively for hunters and can assist you in getting the best possible prices. A few things off the top of my mind when looking at flights:
- Are there any big holidays that will coincide with the dates of your trip which may increase airfare?
- Will you need to take a connecting flight to your final destination?
- If you are bringing your own firearm does the airline carry firearms? What paperwork do they require? And should you be transiting through another country; do they allow firearms?
- An important factor to consider is what time will your flight land at your final destination and then how far do you have to travel to the lodge? Most outfitters charge for the arrival day, so it makes sense to rather land in the morning, so you have the entire day ahead of you.
- Of course, visas and now recently Covid regulations is another thing to consider when booking flights and getting entry into a country.
Step 5: Send the deposit and hunting contract
Crunch time! Making it all official by sending through a deposit to book the dates and let your outfitter know that you are committed to coming to Africa. I am sure your outfitter will be just as excited as you are, and they will ensure you have an incredible time.
Each safari business is different in how they handle deposits and what their returns policy says, likewise each client is different in how they would prefer to pay their deposit. Just remember that Outfitters in Africa truly appreciate the business and are willing to work with a client to make the booking official, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions or suggest an alternative option. Over the years of running my own safari company and discussing the topic of deposits with many clients, I compiled a few pointers that should be covered before sending the money.
- Ask the outfitter how much they require for the deposit. It is usually a percentage of the total quoted safari amount, a fixed amount such as $2,000 for example or the full daily rates amount.
- What options does the Outfitter have available to make the payment? Direct wire transfer, PayPal, Credit Card facilities or can they accept cheques (this is generally unlikely in most African countries)
- Request a copy of their Returns Policy before sending through the money and bring up any points in the policy you may not feel comfortable with.
- Should the deposit be a percentage of the entire quoted package, then find out from the Outfitter where that percentage will be deducted from at the final bill. Does it come off the daily rate or the animals hunted. This will help you to better budget for the trip.
- Again, this is something each outfitter does differently but get clarification as to when the full amount for the safari needs to be paid. Does it happen on the last day of your trip or upon arrival at the lodge?
- By law in South Africa the Outfitter is required to compile a hunting contract. This outlines all that you have agreed upon with them and a detailed explanation of the pricing for the trip. Both parties should sign the contract.
- You can and should request a deposit receipt from the Outfitter for your records.
Step 6: The follow up and finalizing plans
Once dates have been decided and you have booked your hunting trip with a deposit, your final step is to ensure that as your departure date draws near you have all the necessary ducks in a row and formalities sorted.
It is important to stay in regular communication with your Outfitter, finding out how their season is going, maybe they can send some of the latest hunting photos and should anything arise, you will be the first to know.
I could, and most likely will, write blog pieces on the below sub-sections of other things to consider when booking your trip but for the sake of keeping this one streamlined and on point I will just list them below.
- Bringing your own firearms to hunt with. There are many great businesses that specialize in handling the application and permit process for you. Give yourself plenty of time and reach out to them early enough as to ensure you get permits in time. Believe me arriving at customs with the incorrect paperwork on a firearm is not a fun experience.
- Meet and greet services at the airport are invaluable if you are coming to Africa for the first. Going through customs or making your way through a bustling African airport can be dazzling but a meet and greet service helps to ease that process.
- Any pre-safari accommodation you may need. As mentioned earlier, most Outfitters charge the full rate for an arrival, and should you have to take a connecting flight you are cutting into valuable hunting time. Booking into a nice bed and breakfast or small hotel before your connecting flight is a great idea.
- Notify your bank that you will be travelling to Africa. I have had personal experience on this one and banks may block any transactions you are trying to make with your card because they view it as a security threat.
- This is always a tough one as it seemingly adds to the overall cost of your trip yet is so essential should the worst happen. My suggestion, get it and sleep easy.
- Trophy import broker. I have done two podcast episodes with undoubtably the leading import brokers in the hunting industry. In most cases the recommended taxidermist will be able to pass you onto shipping and clearing agents that can bring your trophies to you, but this can be a drawn out and confusing process. For a minimal fee either one of import brokers that I interviewed in my podcast will be able to handle this entire process for you. Be sure to reach out to them long before you leave for your hunting trip.
- A suggested packing list from the Outfitter
I know there is a lot to process and digest in this blog, it may even come across as a little over whelming, however a hunting safari in Africa is such an incredible experience and you will want to enjoy every minute of it and have nothing but incredible memories long after it is over. Enjoy the planning process, it is half the fun of the trip. Take a minute to sit back and say, “I am actually planning a hunting trip to Africa, this is awesome.”
REMEMBER to download the Hunting Safari Booking Checklist
Happy hunting and see you round the fire with a cold beer.