2. African Travel


Oct 20, 2004
HUNTING AFRICA copyright Jim Dodd 2002

Getting There is None of the Fun


I say that because international travel means sitting in an airplane seat, eating airplane food, enduring the travel bureaucracy and generally being uncomfortable for an interminable period of time. Its saving grace is the great experience on the other end. If you let it get you down, it will. So be advised to take up a positive mental attitude, study what is going on around you, and make it a pleasant part of the trip. The only thing you can do about an airline seat is to buy a bigger one, so fly business class or first class if you are able or can come up with an upgrade.

Hunters going hunting in Africa are just full of questions. The prospect of actually going hunting in Africa is tremendously exciting, and that excitement is going to spin you up too. A natural consequence of all those thoughts whirling around is you want to ask questions.

After questions about what things cost and how to get a hunt booked, the subject of travel seems to be naturally the next thing to consider.

The travel area covers getting you, your companion, your baggage and your firearms and ammunition to and from Africa, hopefully all together at the same time and in the same place. Before September 11, there were indeed lots of questions about travel. Since the Attack on America there are many more. What we want to do in this article is to address most of your common questions. Individuals will always have special circumstances that we perhaps won't cover here, but the article will equip you with the means to find those answers too.

Your travel team comprises your booking agent or hunting consultant, your travel agent and your outfitter. Each has an area of expertise, although they do overlap. Your agent or consultant is closest to you, and the easiest to contact. Your travel agent may be somewhat more remote, while your outfitter may be very remote and very busy. In modern parlance your booking agent is your user interface into the hunting system, as your travel agent is your interface to the international travel system. Your outfitter is your user interface to the systems of the hunting country, the animals there and your hunt. If you think of them in this way, then you have a natural lead of where to go for a particular question.

Today's communication with your team means telephone, facsimile and electronic mail. Surface mail and air mail are good for such things as sending brochures or maps, but timeliness naturally suffers. Each will have their favorite communication means, but faxes and email have the advantage of leaving a paper record.

If you are not using those folks on your team, then you will have to provide their capabilities yourself. If you don't use a hunting consultant for example, then you will have to become one with a clientele of one -- yourself. If you are thinking about going hunting on your own (and hunters still do this), then you become an outfitter with that same clientele. You could buy your tickets from an Internet source, but then you would be a travel agency with exactly one client -- again yourself. My advice though is to use those professionals to your maximum advantage, so you can concentrate on going hunting and not learning a new trade.

We are talking commercial air travel to get to and from the African continent and air travel to get to your hunting country and region, but mostly ground transportation to get to your actual hunting base. Air transportation to a defined airport is your responsibility, the outfitter will meet you at that airport and take over from there. Your outfitter will define that place, and also tell you when to arrive.

There are a variety of ways to make your air reservations and actually buy your tickets. I work with a travel agency that specializes in taking hunters hunting in Africa. I recommend to hunters that they do too. The agency staff worry every day about the details of hunting travel, and hunting travel is different. That is why you are reading this article! The average travel agency knows the basics of international travel, but they are just not up on the details of getting hunters to hunting destinations and traveling with firearms. You can buy your tickets from an ordinary travel agent, and they will provide good service as long as everything goes along normally. When a wheel comes off, you will need the services of specialized professionals.

I book my hunting travel with Gracy Travel International, Inc. of San Antonio, Texas USA. Other agents work with other travel companies too, but I found Debbie Gracy and her company by referral from other hunters and I have been using her for 8 years now (edit: up to 15 years now in 2009). During the hunting season she will have hunters in most of the African hunting countries each week, and she has a network of useful contacts to retrieve situations and solve problems. And problems such as lost bags and missed flights will happen.

You will want to work closely with your agent, outfitter and the travel folks to get you properly booked. Not every airport in Africa is served daily from America, Europe, South America, Asia or Australia, so you the traveler need to plan ahead. The same flight routes will not be flown every day. The basic input to the travel agent is where you are going, and the date and time you must be there. The second data point is when you will be available to return home, while the third consideration is any side or tourist trips you might want to take.

The travel agent and the outfitter will generally have the most up to date information on any passport and visa requirements, medical requirements, firearms entry and exit requirements and such details.

I advise hunters to avoid any travel route passing through London, England, especially on British Air. It seems as though many airline and airport employees are Animal Rights Fanatics (ARFs), and they take a positive joy in mis-routing gun cases; some have even been destroyed by having aircraft tractors driven over them. Some bureaucrats in London even interpreted United Nations sanctions on small arms in war zones as applying to firearms belonging to traveling sportsmen. Don't go there.

I also recommend planning at least one day on the way to the hunt laying-over to work on jet lag. It serves the dual purpose of letting any late baggage catch up to you. Traveling east seems to have the harder adjustment to the local clock, while traveling west is easier. Of course flying to Africa from Europe is best of all, and the European hunters have a definite advantage there. The major destination airports all have facilities nearby to host travelers.

Most African countries require that foreign nationals entering the country have a passport with a date of expiration date six months or more in the future. Some countries require a visa to enter, and you may have to obtain it in advance. Some countries allow the hunter to apply for firearms entry permits or licenses on arrival, but some require advance application.

You can get general medical information from your local government sources. Both the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control have extensive libraries of travel health information. CDC's for example is available on the Internet, and is also accessible by fax. Your travel agent will have supplemental information generally at a country level. You outfitter again will have the finest grain information on local conditions.

Fortunately most hunters are coming from the so-called first world countries with excellent medical systems, and will have already received many of the common vaccinations growing up. Medical professionals will advise you from a conservative position, while your outfitter is the best source of the real picture. He lives there.

The government sources are going to tell you that for example the Republic of South Africa is a malaria area. But not all of South Africa is equally blessed with malaria-bearing mosquitoes ("mozzies" to the locals); your outfitter lives there and knows the fine grained details of the malaria risk. After all, they live there! I had a chance in 1999 to examine the provincial government's malaria zone map of KwaZulu Natal Province in RSA. It was very finely detailed, and resembled a topographic map. In some ways it is because the mosquitoes need water, which is usually found at lower elevations.

You should have your shot program for your travel defined at least six months before you travel, as some inoculations require time to become effective.

As far as what to pack, there are lists available almost everywhere it seems. I like to bring more stuff than I think I might need, because you can always leave it in Africa, and those people there will be very happy to relieve you of your burden. If you are taking things that depend on electricity or batteries, then you will need to bring a travel transformer and the physical converters to "plug in" to the local grid or generator. Your outfitter will know what you need, and might even have it already. If you are taking a portable computer expect to provide power for it, but also expect to be able to prove to the customs people that it is not for import. Obviously new things packed in cardboard boxes are going to draw their attention. I recommend going heavy on cameras and film to capture your trip.

I like to wear long sleeve shirts and trousers in "dirt colors", and lately I am using the Filson Safari Cloth shirts and pants. They are 340 thread count cotton, and so tight that water beads up on the surface and mosquitoes can't get through them. They have proved cool in the hot and warm in the cold, but they are not cheap. I like to wear a ball cap in dark colors too; just remember to tilt the bill up for the trophy photos. It can be down right cold in Africa in the winter; we wore long underwear in the Central Highlands of Namibia. Generally you can get by with a jacket and gloves. The gloves also work to keep the thorns out when stalking. Africa is dry and dusty in the hunting season. Your skin can take a beating, so take lotions and lip balm. Eye wash helps too.

On the plane I like to keep hydrated and keep moving. A doctor friend who hunts Africa recommends a walk around the plane every two hours, and exercises while seated. You can do several helpful leg motions to keep your circulation up on the long flights. I recommend dressing to be comfortable on the plane, and carrying a bag in which you bring your creature comfort items for the flight. Sound canceling headsets are becoming popular. Your travel agent can also help by getting you into the right seats, they know which seats in coach are the most comfortable.

Immigration control is what governments do, and all of them have bureaucracies to implement their policies. You are going to be subject to them going and coming, and the only way to handle bureaucrats is to have your staff work done, and done early. I am usually leaving the United States, so I am most familiar with exit and entry rules there, but I have traveled most of the world.

At the airport outbound, you will need your passport and any required travel documents. In the USA it is best to obtain Customs Form 4457 "Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad" so you can show that your firearms are indeed yours, and you will not have any problem bringing them back. You can get this form at any Customs office, and it is way better to get before you leave that to try to get one at an airport on the day of travel. It involves showing the firearm to a Customs officer, filling out the small form (Customs says it takes 3 minutes), and having the form signed and of course stamped. You take the one copy with you.

You generally are limited by international travel agreements and airline rules to two or three firearms, and to five kilograms or just over 11 pounds of ammunition (this is just about 100 founds of .375 H&H). Unless the gun case is made to accept stored ammunition as determined by the airline, you must pack the guns and the ammunition in separate containers. Recently I have used the Tuffpak Gun Case, and it has proved superior to my previous case. It does not look like a gun case for starters, and it is wheeled and balanced to make it easier to handle. You put your gun in a padded soft case, slide the case into the Tuffpack, then pack other gear around the soft gun case. Arrange the soft case so the butt is near the top and you can slide the rifle part way out to show the serial number, and not unpack the whole shebang. I knew I had made a good choice when I hit the airport last September 16 -- five days after the Attack on America -- and the Sky Cap asked me "What do you have in here, golf clubs?". His eyes got big when I said "No, two guns and I am on the way to Africa".

The airline will also want to examine your passport, of course your tickets, and they will ask you to certify that your firearms are unloaded. I have done two international trips since September 11, 2001,and only the African government people have wanted to examine the serial numbers of the firearms. (edit: well, more do now)

On the African end of the trip you will have to fill out entry forms for yourself and for the guns and ammo. It helps the process if you have the serial numbers written down so you don't have to unpack to get to them. You will encounter the government bureaucracy in layers: first immigration control (passports and visas), then customs (firearms and other imports). Immigration is not usually difficult, but expect to stand in lines. Customs is usually more lines, and the customs agent may want to examine your ammunition. Firearms and ammunition get you secondary inspection some places. I was behind an Austrian hunter in 1995 in Namibia who had his rifle ammunition and shotgun shells examined individually for headstamp to check that he was not importing ammunition for possible sale. If you shoot a wildcat caliber, it is better to have no headstamp than to have the "wrong one" as compared to the marking on the rifle.

Leaving the country usually is the reverse of entering. You usually surrender your firearms and ammunition paperwork to show that you are leaving the country with what you brought. It is very difficult to give someone a rifle today, it can be done but it takes the seemingly inevitable paperwork, time and money.

Re-entry into the US is usually straight-forward, except for the agricultural inspection. They are concerned with keeping hoof and mouth disease out, and of course it is endemic in Africa. Pack your boots so it is easy for your to get to them for the inspector to spray the soles with disinfectant.

All in all, take up that positive mental attitude and enjoy the trip. Africa has a way of getting into your blood, and that trip of a lifetime often becomes the first of many.


Sidebar Travel Check List
This check list is courtesy of Gracy Travel and modified by me, they print it on the outside of your ticket envelope --thank you, Debbie Gracy!

General List
Vaccination certificate
Wallet & cash
Credit card
Travelers checks or certified checks
Phone Numbers
First Aid supplies
Batteries & power supplies
Business literature
Calling cards
Camera & film
Headache pills
Needle & thread
Pen & paper
Plastic bags
Prescription (duplicate)
Safety pins
Soap, laundry & bath
Spot remover
Sun glasses
Suntan lotion

His Check List
Bathing trunks
Personal jewelry
Handkerchiefs, scarves
Raincoat or topcoat
Shaving supplies
Shoes & socks
Slippers or thongs

Her Check List
Handbag, dress & travel
Hygiene supplies
Raincoat & boots
Robe or beach coat
Scarf, handkerchiefs
Shoes dress & waling
Shower cap
Slippers or thongs
Swim suit

Hunting gear
Firearms & Ammunition
Gun case
Cleaning Supplies & Canned air
Swiss Army knife
Combination tool
Cough drops

Web resources

Gracy Trevel International site

WHO International Health and Travel site http://www.who.int/ith/english/index.htm
USCDC travel site

Tuffpak Gun Case

C.C. Filson