3. Africa Cost


Oct 20, 2004
The numbers below are a bit out of date, but they are good for comparison purposes...jim


copyright Jim Dodd 2002

Jim, what is an African safari going to cost me?” I get that question a lot from hunters who are looking to book a first hunt to the Dark Continent; it is often the first question I get. And of course there are as many answers to the question as there are hunters, as each hunter’s wants, needs and desires will change the calculus.

Some ask for bargain hunts, others ask about hunt packages because they have seen them advertised. Still others have a laundry list of animals they got from reading Capstick, and want one of each of them.

Let’s look at what variables affect the cost of a hunt and their ranges so you can understand my answer, and the answer can help you develop a budget. The numbers I am giving are U.S. dollars, the common currency for safaris. They can be priced in other hard foreign exchange currency as well such as Euros, but it will be a hard currency.

The hunt costs can be divided into three parts:

Getting you there (and you and your trophies back);
The daily rate to hunt; and
The license or trophy fees you pay for your animals.

For all practical purposes traveling to hunt in Africa means flying to one of the international airports in Africa, and then flying a domestic connection to your country of interest, and then perhaps a charter flight to camp. Usually we can talk about flying to Johannesburg, South Africa via South African Airways or one of the other international carriers which is the major cost component of going. Right now you will be looking at about $1,500 round trip economy from the U.S. east coast to Jo’Burg. Connecting flights to other countries such as Windhoek, Namibia or Harare, Zimbabwe add only a few hundred to the price. Taking a charter flight into the bush, however, can add significantly to the price – perhaps $1,500 per aircraft.

Usually you pay for all air travel, and the outfitter will pick you up at an airport and will pick up the bill for any ground travel until he drops you back at an airport.

The daily rate is what the outfitter charges to operate his firm. It is what he pays to provide the infrastructure that you will use to hunt. Food and lodging, vehicles, laundry service, trackers and skinners, and the pay check of the professional hunter who will actually take you hunting. It ranges from $150 per day on the low end to about $1,500 per day on the high end. Much of the variation is due to the difference in infrastructure found in the country that the outfitter hunts, and how much additional civilization he must provide. South Africa has numerous hunting ranches that have existing first-world level lodge operations; this means much lower cost to put on a hunt. A government concession -- in Tanzania for example -- will only have what the outfitter has carried there usually overland by truck; the remainder is “Survivor”.

The daily rate for plains game hunts which means for antelope are lower than the daily rate for dangerous game, Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard and lion because these animals require more experience and attention to detail from the outfitter and from his staff.

Trophy fees commonly are charged for what you shoot, but this is not always so. In some areas you must buy the license in advance as we do in North America. Shoot means just that, if you wound and lose an animal you must pay the trophy fee.

The trophy fees usually go to a landowner, which may actually be a private owner, a government agency or a tribe or local tribal district, and these people or agencies set the fees. The outfitter collects for the owner.

Relative scarcity usually means higher fees, and relatively glamour always does. Lions are more expensive than leopards for example. Sable and roan antelope are the most pricey plains game. Elephant are the most pricey dangerous game. Not all animals are found in all areas, and you might have to move hundreds of kilometers to get to shootable samples of some trophy animals.

The daily rate is one half of the equation, it must be multiplied by how many days you are going to hunt to get to the final number. You can expect to see hunts offered for as short as five days to as long as 28 to 30. You can do a five-day hunt for plain game and a Cape buffalo on the dangerous game list if you are not picky about trophy quality.

I have one outfitter in South Africa who puts on a specialty hunt for over 60” kudu. He has told me that in the area he hunts you have to do this hunt during the kudu rut, and you have to book the hunt for at least 10 days. If you only go for five days, you can only expect a 55” kudu. To get the real monster bull kudu you have to expect to look at over 30 kudu bulls, and you have to hunt the full 10 days.

A Namibia outfitter I book for takes about 50 mature kudu bulls in a really great and very large area each year, and he finds that between one and three of those bulls will break the magic 60” mark. I hunted with this outfitter myself and took a very fine 57&6/8” bull that is a gold medal animal in the Safari Club measuring system.

The Namibia Professional Hunters Association (NAPHA) staff told me that Americans hunting in Namibia are more picky that the European hunters, which means that the outfitter has to work harder and longer to get the trophy.

Hunt packages are set up by the outfitter usually on a game ranch which will have relatively high populations of shootable animals of the species listed in the package. He can expect that you will shoot one or two animals every day. You will be happy with this kind of hunt if you are not picky about trophies, and if you don’t mind riding a lot in the safari car to scout for them.

Look to be realistic, it takes 3 or 4 days to get rid of the jet lag from North America to Africa. European hunters have a real advantage over us there! It just doesn’t make sense to fly 14 to 18 hours in a jet to only hunt for 5 days and then turn around and go get in the airplane for the same 14 to 18 hour trip home. The booking agency I work for recommends that hunters delay for a year or two and save more money to take the hunt they really want instead of taking the hunt they can just afford this year.

I had a hunter last year who insisted that I find him a bargain Cape buff hunt. Bargains are of course relative things. Cape buff trophy fees in South Africa are approaching $10,000 while this year in Zimbabwe you can get one for $1,750. Even the poorest quality Cape buffalo bull can mess you up badly, and it costs as much to organize and put on the hunt as it does to hunt the old dagga boy bull. I did what I thought was my best to convince this hunter to make a realistic plan.

The daily rate component of the hunt cost will include skinning and field preparation or your animal, and the outfitter will assist you in getting your trophy to a local taxidermist. It will be up to you to decide if you want the trophy parts treated for shipment to your taxidermist in your home area, or if you want to have it done locally and they mounted trophies shipped to you. (The actual cost of taxidermy of course varies widely, and the subject could be an article itself.) I have done it both ways, and both work. I have very nice trophies at home, some done here in North America and some done in Africa. You will have to pay the cost to ship and clear customs on your end. I usually tell clients to budget about $1,000 to $1,500 for these costs in aggregate. The good news is these costs arrive weeks to several months after you settle the bill!

Usual practice is for the outfitter to ask that you pay a deposit when you book the hunt. The deposit guarantees your dates and your quoted prices. You and your outfitter sign the hunt contract that holds the terms and conditions of the hunt. The deposit is usually in the range of one-fourth to one-half of the projected daily rate total for your hunt. Usually the hunt contract or the outfitter’s brochure will quote the terms for any cancellation with respect to the deposit. I had to cancel a hunt in Zimbabwe in ’98 just before I was to go, and lost the $2,500 deposit. The outfitter did offer me a later date, but I could not make that opportunity (Yes, we are still friends). The remainder of the daily rate and the trophy fees are usually paid at the hunt’s end. You need to have an understanding with the outfitter on what financial instruments he will accept.

Settling up is when you tip the staff as well. Don Causey and The Hunting Report did a study a few years back on tipping PHs, and he reported that there was a peak at around $500 and one around $1,000, correlated to client wealth. Back in the old days you could give someone a rifle, but that can be a total hassle in most countries today. Money equal to the price of a rifle works a lot better. Don’t forget the food service and laundry staff, and the camp help. Also the skinners. You won’t usually forget the PH and the trackers because you are with them daily. I usually give a lump sum to the outfitter with distribution instructions for the general staff, but I like to tip the PH and the trackers directly. I don’t tip outfitters unless that person is the PH as well. I bring some small envelopes to hold the currency, and I write the persons name on it. This works well for me. I calculate a daily amount I think appropriate for the tip and multiply by hunt length to get the amount tip.

So let’s build a budget for a 10-day Cape buffalo and plains game hunt in Zimbabwe for you and a non-hunting companion. It would look like the table. This will be an outstanding hunt that you will remember fondly for the rest of your life, and your companion will have a super experience as well. Yes, you can do it for cheaper, but this type of hunt will put you in territory that will remind you of those stories you read of the Old Africa. I was in Zimbabwe in September, and I got to listen to the lions roaring at 4:30am every morning, and the "lodge leopard" doing his thing too.

Travel (two persons) $4,000
Daily rate (10 days@ $500/day, and non-hunting companion @$250/day) $7,500
Trophy fees (Cape buff @ $1,750, kudu @$750, eland @ $1,000, impala @ $100, warthog @ $200,waterbuck @ $1,500, blue wildebeest $750 $6,050
Tips $ 500 to 1,000
Trophy processing and shipment $1,000 to $1,500
Souvenirs $250 - $500

Total is $19,300 to $20,550, so call it $20,000. The only problem is Africa gets into your blood, and this much of a hunt is enough to hook you for life!
Great write up Jim.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

Thanks guys!

My wife and I were talking this week on which country and which outfitter we like to hunt with again, or maybe we would go off in a new direction. I don't think we came to a conclusion, at least she didn't tell me we did. ;)

Jim, Enjoyed reading about your experiences. I will have to live it out vicariously through you. Thanks for the write up. CL