5. How to book an Africa hunt


Oct 20, 2004
copyright 2002 Jim Dodd

Booking the Hunt


In earlier chapters we looked at some basics: budget, travel, firearms, and where to go and generally what to hunt. So far I have been doing the work, and you have just been sitting back and reading the magazine. I did recommend that you get some firearms training, and do some practice. All those who have done so, please raise your hand. Remember, you shooters it is perfect practice that makes perfect.

Now it is time for you to really begin the work of hunting Africa, and actually select a hunt and get it "booked". Booking has many interpretations, but here it means that your name and "Deposit Paid" are entered in the outfitter's Book.

What Year to Hunt?

Your first chore is to figure out what year you are going to go hunting. Generally, you will be booking this year for a hunt next year, but some hunts are booked in the same year as they are taken -- just as some hunts are booked for the out-years.

Frequently family milestones define the year to hunt: such as graduations, retirements and marriages. New additions often work the other way. Some outfitters are very popular, and you may have to wait a year or two to hunt with them.

If you do book a hunt for next year, you will then pay your deposit this year. The remainder of the daily rate charge is paid in the year of the hunt along with the fees for your trophies, and the trophy handling charges will come following along later still. The net of planning ahead is you can phase your payments over more than one year. You should expect to pay a deposit equal to 25% to 50% of the daily rate total quoted for the hunt.

I recommend that if budget is your primary concern in selecting a hunt, that you put the hunt off for a year or two while you accumulate the funds for the hunt you want. I also recommend that you don't take the cheapest hunt you can find, or the one that you can just afford. Besides, it gives you more time to anticipate the hunt!

When to Go?

Southern Africa lies south of the equator, or antipodal to the Northern Hemisphere. As such their seasons are the opposite from ours with respect to the calendar.

There is in general no hunting season per se as is common in North America. You can pretty much hunt the year around, but hunting during the rains of their rainy season can present immense practical problems. Hunters and outfitters too usually avoid hunting in the rains. Mud just does not facilitate hunting.

So the actual hunting season is largely the time after the rains quit until they start again for the next rainy season. For practical purposes hunting in Southern Africa begins in March, and extends through October. You will find some local differences though. In Tanzania it is common to hunt through December (but Tanzania is really East Africa).

March, April and May are thought of as the early season, and the hunting is characterized by lots of greenery in the bush. Some hunters like to be first out of the chute, and like to book the early period to get the first crack at the animals that year. The downside is the difficulty of seeing animals in thick bush, and of judging trophy quality.

The coolest and driest weather months are the months June, July and August, and many hunts accordingly are booked for these months. South African Airlines ups its airfares to their "high season" rates then, and the high season rates last to about September 15. Many hunters from the USA hunt in this period because it is summer vacation time, and easier to schedule a vacation. For one reason and another, all of my African hunts have been in August and September.

September and October are the late season, but it is also a time when some bargain hunts can be had due to cancellations. The bush is also thinner and less extensive, and animals are more visible. It is also the longest since the rains and thus the bush is drier, and the animals are concentrated around water points. The thinner bush means the animals are easier to see. They may also be spookier, depending on the hunting area and its history.

What Animals to Hunt?

The next question to answer is what do I want to hunt? Generally people going hunting in Africa for the first time book a hunt for plains game; this means antelopes and gazelles. This may be thought of as the entry level hunt for Africa. You get all the exposure to the wonderful environment and to great African hunting, and you leave a bit of the experience for the future. I guarantee that if you come once, you will want to come again.

It is not always true, of course, that first timers only hunt plains game. The other category of game to hunt is dangerous game, and some first time hunters start with the hard stuff. Dangerous game hunts are usually longer and more expensive in terms of daily rate and time required than plains game hunts. Dangerous game now a days includes elephant, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard. Black rhino are not now hunted; they were originally the fifth animal of the Big Five. If the black rhino conservation programs prove as successful as the white rhino, then we will once again be able to hunt black rhino. However, it will not be cheap.

My most frequent request after a first plains game hunt is the combination of Cape buffalo and plains game. Cape buffalo hunts can even be as short as five days, although I recommend you book a longer hunt to find the animal you want. There are really good numbers of buffalo available in Africa, and hunting Cape buffalo encapsulates what African hunting is about. Try it, you will like it!

Not all African animals occur in all hunting areas. Some areas have animals that are not found anywhere else. If you are after one of these species, then your hunting area will be defined by that choice. If you want other more widely-distributed animals, a kudu for example, you can hunt them in a wide variety of locations.

Who Are You Going to Hunt With?

Many, many hunters end up hunting with an outfitter chosen by a friend; "Hey, I'm going hunting in Africa, why don't you come too?" from a hunting buddy being a powerful invitation. Others book a particular outfitter because friends have done so, or perhaps other Safari Club International local Chapter members or members of other hunting organizations have hunted with and recommend that outfitter.

If you don't have those resources to fall back on, how are you going to locate the outfitter you want to hunt with? You can take advantage of industry publications, Internet resources and you can attend shows and exhibitions where outfitters and agents exhibit.

Since you are reading African Hunter, you obviously already know about this magazine, and also about the outfitters written about and advertising here. There is also the website.

Don Causey publishes The Hunting Report, a monthly subscription-based newsletter "serving the hunter who travels". Subscribers can also get an electronic edition of the newsletter, and can access special sections of THR's website. Don also collects hunt reports from subscribers, and as well as the monthly reports on the industry and outfitters offers a reprint service for past information. H also offers special reprints, such as a file on all Cape buffalo hunt reports. Subscriptions are $60 per year.

Safari Club International also collects hunt reports from members, publishes them in their publications, and offers those reports to other members as well. SCI has a flock of chapters: most are in the USA, but there are chapters in Canada, Mexico, Africa, Asia, Europe, the South Pacific and South America. Membership starts at $30 per year ($55 overseas from North America); Chapter memberships are extra. There is also a youth Membership (17 years and under) for $10.

Both THR and SCI have ads from booking agents and outfitters in their publications (some also call themselves hunting consultants, but I like to call myself a booking agent to emphasize that I help you, but I work for the outfitter). SCI also hosts an annual convention, and its various chapters also host meetings and fund raising meetings that outfitters attend to exhibit their hunts.

The Internet has a lot of websites of outfitters, but more interesting are the forums where hunters gather to discuss hunting experiences. My favorite is Accurate Reloading. Sponsor and very experienced Africa hand Saeed Al-Maktoum has recently added a forum "Hunting Reports -- Africa" where hunters write and submit hunt reports. AR also has PHs, outfitters, agents and a bunch of experienced African hunters posting on a wide variety of hunting and shooting subjects. Of course being the Internet, it also has the usual chaff such as armchair hunters -- even some teenagers pretending to be hunters. You can find other sites by using Internet search engines.

The SCI Annual Convention is the most important hunting gathering in North America, at least as far as African Hunting is concerned. For 2003 it will be held in Reno, Nevada, January 29th through February 1st at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. SCI says that there will be more than 1,000 exhibitors in the 700,000 square feet of the Convention Center. Dallas Safari Club also draws well for its annual convention.

There are also exhibitions in Europe and in the Middle East that draw African outfitters. African hunting is truly an international experience in more ways than one. For example the Namibian Professional Hunters Association said that Namibia drew 3,500 foreign hunters from 35 countries in 1999 (the last year for which I have statistics).

Regardless of who you select, you will want to have a common understanding with the outfitter of where you will meet him in Africa, and on what day and what time. The outfitter takes over then. It is your responsibility to get there, it is his responsibility to return you to whatever location at whatever day and time is specified for the end of the hunt. Also both of you need to agree on which days are hunting days, and which (if any) are non-hunting travel days. It is also important to understand how far in advance you may cancel your booking with deposit returned, and in what period before the hunt cancellations mean your deposit will not be returned.

Because of the political situation in Zimbabwe it has been common recently for outfitters to waive the normal 12 weeks in advance cancellation policy, and to allow hunters to cancel right up to the hunt date if the local political situation warrants.

Hunting in Africa is a tremendous experience, and a great part of that experience is in the hunt preparation. Do it right, and have a great hunt.


Web Resources

African Hunter

The Hunting Report

Safari Club International

21st Century Safaris

Accurate Reloading

Dallas Safari Club



A Bit of a Discount on Your Hunt

There are a couple of ways to potentially save some money on your hunt. One strategy leverages hunts donated to fund-raising, while the second leverages cancellation hunts.

If your outfitter has donated a hunt to lets say SCI, you may be able to get the hunt you want with him at a discount. Perhaps the outfitter has donated a shorter hunt with several head of plains game to be auctioned by the organization. Let's say you want to hunt with him for two weeks, and you would also like to hunt additional animals, even dangerous game.

This strategy works because the donated hunts frequently sell for less than face value at auction -- unless of course more than one bidder really wants that hunt; then the sky can be the limit.

If you are successful at the auction, you can arrange to extend the donated hunt in terms of hunt length and additional trophy fees for the other animals you add. You cost will be less than if you bought the hunt for full price; unless of course you pay higher than face value for the donated hunt!

For example my wife and I bought an auction hunt at the San Diego SCI Chapter auction in '99 for $1,000. The hunt was for five days with Danie van Graan of Engonyameni Safaris. Danie is a friend, and has in the past hunted with several hunters from San Diego. We wanted a two-week trip to hunt leopard and plains game, so we extended the hunt at Danie's normal $480 per day rate. Our hunt then cost $5,320 for the 14 days instead of $6,720, so we in effect got a discount on the daily rate. It was a win-win for all the parties: we got our hunt at a discount, Danie booked additional hunting days and the Chapter got some money for its conservation projects.

If you have some flexibility and can travel at short notice, then you might be able to save some money by picking up a cancellation hunt at the end of the season. Cancellation hunts occur when the hunter who has booked the original hunt cancels. This is generally hunting in the late season, and September and October can be hot in Southern Africa. I have hunted two cancellation hunts the last two years in Zimbabwe, and they have both been excellent hunts. Temperatures did get to 40 degrees C, but mostly were lower. October is usually hotter than September. Cancellation hunts usually sell at a discounted daily rate; the outfitter figures that it is better to make some money than not to make any.

The down side of cancellation hunts is they do not necessarily occur with the outfitter you want to hunt with. You might wait for the hunt to come, but then have the experience that the call never comes.