A Safari for the Average Guy, Part 2

Selecting the Right Safari

You can go to almost any hunting expo and there will be several Safari Companies there trying to sell you on hunting with them. If you Google a Safari Company, hundreds of results will come up. Facebook ads pop up talking about how great a deal this Safari is and how they have a limited number at this price so book now. So how does one choose a Safari without being able to visit the Lodge and Hunting Grounds?

First, you should set a rough travel date. Usually one to two years from now and pick a month. The best hunting times are from late May to the middle of August. Having a plan for when you would like to go makes things a lot easier when talking to a Safari Company, and it shows them you are serious about going so they will spend the extra time talking to you about their operation. Make sure the dates work with your spouse. I would also recommend going with another couple or other family members. Africa is a truly life changing experience and watching how people react to it is priceless.

Second make a list of the 3 to 5 animals you would want to take most. When I went on my trip last year my top 3 were Kudu, Nyala, and Gemsbuck. I was able to see several Kudu and a few Nyala. Also, make a list of animals you and your spouse would like to see, but maybe not hunt. For example, when my Mission Trip Team went on our Safari everyone really wanted to see Giraffes. The Professional Hunters made sure we saw as many Giraffes as possible and always stopped and allowed us to take pictures of them. Another animal we all really wanted to see were Sables. The lodge we stayed in overlooked the breeding pasture for the Sables, and I got several awesome pictures of them. Also, make a no shot list with your spouse. For example, my no shoot list was Cape Buffalo, Sable, Giraffe and Zebra. My wife did not care that they were cheaper than Kudu, she simply did not like the idea of me shooting a Giraffe or Zebra at all. The Cape Buffalo and Sable were simply way out of our price range, and would have put me in a lot of debt for the trip.

Third, make a realist list of animals you would like to take. I dreamed big and got lucky to see Kudu, but it would have been a large financial burden if had taken one. Kudu average between $3,000 and $6,000 USD depending on the size of the Bull. Where as the 2 Impalas I took totaled at $950 USD, and my Baboon was free at the place I hunted (other than permit fees from the South African Government, which were around $30 USD if I remember right). Keep in mind that taxidermy, shipping, and import fees will apply to all animals. Plan on at least $1000 USD per animal in taxidermy fees if doing shoulder mounts. Add another $500 USD per animal in shipping and $600 – $800 USD per animal for import and US Customs fees. To help with importing your trophies, find a Transport / Shipping company that handles that. I had excellent luck with the Gallagher Transport International. They are local to Denver.

The Author, Tim Berges, pictured above

The Author, Tim Berges, pictured above

Fourth, now that you have a realist budget and list of animals you’d like to take, go to your local sportsman expo or show and visit with all of the Safari companies there. See if any them have donated any hunts to Local Conservation Organizations. The safari my family has planned for next year was purchased at a local Pheasants Forever Banquet. We paid $1,100 for the trip which is for 4 hunters and 4 observers and includes $4,000 toward trophy fees and $2,000 toward taxidermy. It also includes airport pick up, meals, drinks, lodging, and airport drop off. If none of them have done anything like that, check with your Local Conservation Organizations to see if they have any opportunities. If you have a local chapter of Safari Club International or Dallas Safari Club, they probably have several safaris to offer. Plus, some or all of the money you spend for the trip will be used for conservation by the organization you bought the trip form. Get a list of regular prices for all animals from the Safari Company you are considering, along with a list of prices from the taxidermist they recommend.

Fifth, if no conservation organizations have trip you would be interested in, the Safari Companies will have show specials while they are at the shows or expos. They are usually fairly deeply discounted packages of certain animals. One thing to be aware of with those is usually taxidermy is not including and any additional animals taken are probably at full price, so research the full price of other animals before buying. When talking to the Safari Company, also ask about food and if you can request to eat some of the animals taken. Usually this is standard, but always good to ask. My favorite meat while in South Africa was Ostrich, followed by Wildebeest, and Kingklip (fish).

Sixth, you have now booked your trip and are looking at airfare. Delta offers reasonable non-stop service from Atlanta to Johannesburg. United usually flies to Germany then to Johannesburg. So if you’re trying to convince your spouse, it might make sense to go to Germany and have a long layover on each trip so you can be a tourist for 7-12 hours each way. Two other airlines I have been told to look at when going to South Africa are Qatar and Emirates. Both have nice economy rates, similar to Delta or United with trip time being about the same as United.

Seventh, you are now thinking about bringing a rifle versus renting a rifle there. Lots to think about here. First, you probably get 2 checked bags per person on your flight, so you should be able to bring your rifle with no extra cost there. You should bring 40 to 60 rounds of ammo in your other checked bag, packaged in factory ammo boxes so there is a bit of room used up. There is always the chance your rifle gets lost or damaged during the trip. If you do choose to bring your own rifle, check with your Safari Company about caliber requirements. It is usually 270 or larger for plains game and 375 or larger for dangerous game. Also make sure the Safari Company has a person that can help with the import paperwork. If you rent a rifle, it can be kind of pricey. Usually $20-50 per day and $3 to $10 fee per round fired. Most rifles in South Africa have Suppressors attached, which that makes the shooting more fun. Also, it allows for a better chance at a second shot if the first is a clean miss.

Eighth, you are now packing your bag for South Africa and trying to figure out what all to bring. Most Safari Companies will have someone do your laundry daily as part of the lodging fee. Temperatures will range from as low as 40 to as high as 90+. I would recommend 2-3 pairs of hiking / hunting socks, 1 pair of lightweight hunting pants, 2-3 pairs of cargo shorts, 3-5 t shirts, 2-3 loose fitting button down short sleeve shirts, 2 ball caps or 1 floppy style hat if you like those, sunglasses, glasses (if needed), pair of tennis shoes, and a pair of flip flops. Bringing your camera with extra batteries, and an extra memory card is super important. I would also recommend bringing binoculars. I did not have them on my trip and really regretted it. I am planning to bring mine next summer. You will also need a power plug in converter. These can be found on Amazon for around $15. I would recommend 1 per person, plus 1 extra for your camera batteries.

Ninth, you are traveling to South Africa. No matter which way you get to OR Tambo International Airport, you will quickly realize it’s a big airport. Everyone that works there should speak English (it is the common language in South Africa) so feel free to ask for help. If getting picked up, find the people picking you up and they will take care of things from there. To get cash in South Africa, I recommend going to an ATM and using your debt card. Fees are way lower than doing a currency exchange at your bank or in an airport. Just make sure to tell your bank that you are traveling. Most everywhere you go in South Africa will take Visa, and very few take American Express (I learned this the hard way). South Africa is 8 hours ahead of Mountain Standard Time, therefore 6 hours ahead of Eastern. Plan your phone calls home accordingly. Usually the best time is in the evening for South Africa, as it is the morning in the US. Talk to your cell phone provider about international data. If you have T-Mobile like I do, it is included in South Africa and super awesome as I could FaceTime, text, and use the internet for free the whole time I was there. If it’s not, ask the Safari company about WiFi at the lodge. You will be busy most of the day, but having it in the evenings could be nice. Another tip I have is to bring a notebook and pen or two. Spend 10-15 minutes each night writing about what happened that day. The stories of this trip you be will telling the rest of your life. Also make sure to take tons of pictures.

Tenth, you are now on your Safari having the time of your life. Remember the realist budget you set for yourself and animals you really want to take a see. The Safari Company may offer you a deal on an animal if you take another animal they have too many of. A friend of mine had this happen on his first safari. He was offered a Giraffe at around 40% of the cost because they had too many. He chose to take the Giraffe and now has a beautiful rug from it. Keep in mind your no shoot list (if you have one). The last day is when tipping the staff would occur. This is really up to you on what you want to do. Many people do not tip at all. Others tip the trackers, laundry help, kitchen help, and the Professional Hunter. Tips should be done in cash, or Rand (South African Dollars) when ever possible. When I tipped after my 2-day hunt, I only tipped the Professional Hunter.

Eleventh, you are now home from your trip. Send a thank you email to the safari company and ask about when you should hear from the taxidermist (if you have not already). If you have not, figure out what kind of mounts you want, whether they be full, half, shoulder, or euro mounts. Next, contact the import company you plan to use. If you do not know of one, ask the taxidermist if they do. If not, you may begin to reach out to other local taxidermists in your local area. I recommend having your animals completely mounted in South Africa because it makes the import process easier. Your animals will take 6-14 months to get to your house, so plan where you want them to hang and clear the space now so its easier when they arrive.

Finally, your animals arrive home, and you can pick them up from your importer. Make sure everything looks perfect on them. If so, hang them up, invite your friends to come see and enjoy them with you. If they are not perfect, contact the taxidermist and safari company to figure out how to correct any issues.

-Tim Berges, Fall Obsession Field Staff