This article is one of many from our Africa Hunting Safari Prep Series
1.) Going with the cheapest outfitter
Of course everyone wants to save money when booking a hunt. However, choosing an outfit to hunt with solely based off of price is not advisable. Hunting outfits in Africa are highly competitive and when one is drastically cheaper there is typically a reason. Look and ask about any “hidden fees”. The price they are telling you might just be the cost of hunting the animals and does not include a day rate. Do some research into the track record of trophies never arriving back into the United States or if they have a full time office staff. A lot of logistics go into getting the proper permits. A good outfitter doesn’t call the hunt over until your trophies are shipped back to you and in good care.
2.) Not learning while you are there
For many people hunting Africa is a once in a life time opportunity, so make the most of it! While you are there learn as much as you possibly can. In a ten day safari you can learn more about tracking then you have over your whole hunting career. Animal behavior and biology is drastically different than animals in the United States. Chances are your PH has guided hunters on more trophies in one year than you will harvest in a lifetime so they know a lot about techniques and gear that work and those that do not.
3.) Under gunned
We have all heard stories of people shooting animals with the largest of calibers and the animal never wincing and that it is shot placement that kills, not foot pounds of energy. While this is true, a larger and heavier bullet in the right place will kill an animal more ethically than a small light bullet in the same spot.
4.) Over gunned
On the flip side, larger calibers that deliver more energy down range, deliver more recoil to your shoulder. For those that can withstand a little more recoil, but still shoot just as accurately as with a small caliber it’s a no brainer to bring more gun. However, as soon as you begin to anticipate the recoil and flinch you know to step down in calibers.
5.) Save your ears
I have never been one to wear hearing protection while hunting because there was typically only one species we were targeting and hunting for a week, and then I went to Africa. Most people do way more shooting not just because the animals often times require more than one shot but because most safaris have at least four animals being hunted in a short amount of time. I prefer an electronic pair of hearing protection. The ones that block the large decibels but amplify the small ones. It is critical that you are able to clearly communicate and listen to the PH. If you really want to protect your hearing and your PH’s remove the muzzle brake. Sure it’s great to have some of the recoil reduced, but your PH will thank you as he’s standing next to you while you shoot. If you decide to rent a rifle it is very common to have them with suppressors on as well.
6.) Too high of magnification on optics
This one is probably the most common mistake on any hunt, specifically in Africa. The vast majority of shots are inside of 100 yards and rarely past 200. While every PH wants to get their client as close as possible to mitigate wounding, the bush (brush) is so thick that seeing past 100 yards can be very difficult. A pair of 10×42 binoculars is the highest magnification I recommend. I prefer the larger field of view in close quarters over more light gathering ability. As far as rifle scopes go, a 3-9 power is more than sufficient for 95% of all the plains game hunting. If hunting dangerous game, the highest power on a variable scope should be no more than 4x.
7.) Selecting the right bullet
I’ve seen way too many people spend countless hours researching what make and caliber rifle they want to bring with them and then go by the first and cheapest box of ammo on the shelf. While it is important to bring the ammo that shoots the best through your rifle, selecting the right bullet is even more critical. Choosing a quick expanding bullet that does not retain much weight is exactly what you do not want to bring. Sure, all the energy is spent inside the animal and causes a lot of internal damage, but not having an exit hole means little to no blood to aid in tracking. My favorite bullet is a barnes TSX.
8.) Practicing shooting off sticks
As soon as you book a hunt, one of the first things the outfitter will tell you is to practice on shooting sticks. In my experience, at least half of the hunters will miss an animal or make a terrible shot and blame it on their lack of experience shooting off sticks. I was a culprit of this myself. Hunting and guiding all over North America I never shot off of sticks and improvised some sort of rest. However, there is no laying down or kneeling in the African bush. The grass is too tall to lay down, brush is too high to kneel, and the trees have thorns on them to lean against, so the only option is shooting sticks. If you haven’t shot off of them before or have little experience with them make sure you practice. If you can, ask your PH what kind of shooting sticks he uses so you can practice with the same kind. Knowing how to balance your rifle, adjust the height, adjust left/right, or even how to use a sling wrapped around the sticks to steady the rifle are all critical in pulling off a successful shot.
9.) Not physically prepared
One of the great aspects about hunting Africa is that it is very accommodating for all levels of physical abilities. However, there can be a large amount of walking involved if you are physically capable of it. Days are typically spent cruising around on the truck spotting game or cutting tracks. Once you see what you are looking for, dismount from the truck and then the work begins. More often than not the first stalk is unsuccessful and you end up bumping the game. Well, before you know it you’ve gone two miles from the truck and have to walk back. The average amount of walking per day on a plains game hunt is around 5 miles and on a buffalo hunt you may walk ten plus miles a day. Depending where you hunt, there may be mountains that are 3,000 vertical feet or more.
10.) Over packing
I’m an over packer, and always have been, but do yourself a favor and save a few bucks on luggage fees and stick to the gear list. Double check with your outfitter on their gear list and make sure its right for that time of the year. Most African hunting outfits have a large full time lodge staff that do your laundry each day while you are out hunting. Most safaris I have been on I wear the same two outfits for the entire duration. While I’m out hunting in one days outfit, the previous days is being laundered, pressed, folded, and hung up by the time you come back in at the end of the day.
11.) Wrong attire
Describing the right clothing to bring based on climate is the easy part, and most hunters know if they get cold easily, get hot easily, or fall somewhere in the middle. However, choosing clothing that is quiet while walking through the brush is a different story. The majority of plants have some kind of thorn on them and want to attach to your clothes which pull the branches and causes a lot of movement and noise. Choosing tighter fitting pants and shirts work best and are less likely to get hung up. I personally prefer wearing shorts. The majority of PHs wear shorts as well and it’s not for a fashion statement or to keep cool, but because they are much quieter. Your legs do get scratched up easier but it makes you more conscientious of where you are stepping. When selecting color for your clothes, camo patterns work well as do neutral earth tones. Stay away from white and black. Although, bringing a pair of all black clothing is not a bad idea if you are going to be sitting in a blind. As far as foot wear is concerned, making sure you have comfortable shoes is key for walking long distances. However, beefy tread on the bottom is much louder than a smoother less beefed up sole. A thin soled shoe will allow the long hard thorns to penetrate right up into your foot, so watch out for those kind of shoes.
12.) The cold
When you show people pictures from your hunting trip one of the most popular question is, “Why are you wearing a jacket? I thought it’s hot there?”. It gets extremely hot during their summer months, but can get darn right frigid in their fall/winter months. On top of it hovering right around the freezing mark first thing in the morning, sit on the back of an open truck cruising around and you would think your’e hunting late season elk in the Rockies. Around mid morning it is usually warming up and dressing in layers is paramount!
13.) Caught up using your own rifle
I think every hunter looks for an excuse to buy a new rifle, and hunting a new continent is a great one! However, dependent on the outfit you choose to hunt with there is usually no need. Most outfitters have rifles that are available to rent and ammo to use as well. If you do not have the right size cartridge to hunt the species on your list save yourself some money and a little bit of hassle at the airport and rent. Your PH will most likely be more familiar with that rifle than if your brought one. They are typically very high end set ups and often have suppressors on them.
14.) Filling out the firearm paper work
If you do decide to bring your own rifle, which is encouraged because you have been practicing with it and hopefully comfortable shooting it, make sure to properly fill out the paper work to bring it into the country you are hunting in. It is by no means brain surgery to find the proper forms online and the necessary requirements. However, using a sportsman’s travel agency can save a lot of time, hassle, and worry. Check out www.TravelWithGuns.com
15.) Archery set up
If you are a die hard archery hunter and want to use your bow, don’t over think it. Chances are, the setup you are currently shooting is sufficient. Tell the outfitter your setup (draw weight, grain arrows, grain broad head, and draw length and they’ll tell you whether or not your bow setup is sufficient for the animals on your list. Where you may run into not having the proper setup is on some of the dangerous game and giraffe. In my personal experience on plains game, I prefer a broad head with three cutting edges over two cutting edges. A lot of these animals have much thicker skin than we are used to in North America and if the two blade broad head impacts horizontally the animals skin is so heavy that it can just fold over itself and block the hole from letting blood come out.
16.) Refusing to pick up a rifle
If you are a die hard archery purist, that’s awesome and more power to you. Although, professional hunters and outfitters take a lot of pride in trying to come as close to 100% success on the animals on your list. If you decide to hunt solely with a bow you need to have the understanding that harvesting all the trophies on your list is more difficult and that it takes longer. I personally believe that a lot of the African hunting experience come from the walk and stalk style of hunting. Attempting to walk and stalk with a bow is extremely difficult and requires the right PH and the right hunter. Often times, the PH is going to recommend sitting in a blind over a waterhole or feed, the whole time. While this gives an awesome up close and personal experience with a lot of game it does lack that element of the African adventure of walking through the bush. However, if you are ok with that, then no need for a rifle!
17.) Not having the right PH
Professional hunters go through a long screening process through the government and with the outfit they are working for. They are all qualified to keep you safe and have a successful hunt. As we all know, not every personality mesh well together and some just clash. PH’s are usually good at always being cordial but a successful trip is more than just crossing species off a list! Not having the right PH can ruin a trip. When you are talking with an outfitter about booking a hunt try to talk to the potential PH you will be hunting with. If the PH is going to be at an outdoor show make every attempt to be there and talk to them. If you don’t hit it off, don’t be afraid to ask for a different PH. It is much easier to switch to a different professional hunter before the hunt than once it’s started. If you are using a booking agent, they typically will have at least talked with you several times and have a good idea what PH would work for you specifically.
18.) Listen to your PH
PH stands for professional hunter, you need to listen to the professional. Chances are you may be older than they are and have hunted more years, but they do more hunting/guiding in one season than most people will in a lifetime. If they tell you to not shoot there’s a good reason for it.
19.) Do your biology homework
One of the most interesting things about African animals is the difference in their anatomy. A lot of animals have a hump above their shoulder blades and their spinal cord sits much lower in the body than our North American species. African animals vitals sit much lower in the chest cavity than our animals here. A shot that would double lungs on an elk often times will be above the lungs on a wildebeest and too low for the spine. My theory is that the animals there do not experience snow and super frigid temperatures. So at night when it is cold they want their organs as close to the ground to absorb some of the heat.
Tipping, I believe should not be a guarantee, and that good/exceptional service should be rewarded. From the hunters stand point, you must also remember that it is hunting and your PH can not control the animals but he can control how hard he tries. With that said, when tipping a PH the standard is $100-$200 per day of hunting. Every PH has a a tracker/skinner and they do a lot of behind the scene work; everything from cleaning the truck, stocking the cooler with drinks, salting hides, and obviously skinning and tracking. The typical tip for them is $300-$600. In the lodge there is a cook and they work their butts off! They are the first one up and one of the last to go to bed. A minimum of a $100 tip should be given to the cook. If the lodge you are staying at has lodge staff that help with cooking, cleaning, and laundry, a $20 bill goes a long way. I always like to bring a couple bags of candy along to give to the trackers/skinners/ and lodge staff each morning. Often times they will eat one piece and save the others to give to their kids back home, little gestures go a long way! If you know your PH ahead of time ask them if they need anything from the States. Hunting gear is three to five times more expensive there than here and very hard to get ahold of parts. They may need a new stock for their personal rifle, dies to reload ammo with, or components to reload. Bringing these items over are good gestures, but should not be considered part of their tip. The majority of a PH’s income is from tips!
21.) Enjoy it
If you have ten animals on your list and on the last day there are still two remaining, don’t sweat it! Enjoy that sunrise and camp fire, and if you go home without everything crossed off it just gives you a reason to come back! There are no consequences for not harvesting every animal so don’t put pressure on yourself!
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About Jimmy Oswald
Jimmy has worked on two privately owned ranches in Texas guiding deer and exotic hunts. He is operations manager for one of the largest wilderness outfitters in North America, guiding elk, mule deer, black bear, and mountain goats. Jimmy has also traveled to British Columbia with hunters for grizzly and to “The Dark Continent” where the African wildlife, culture, and beauty has captured his love for adventure.
Jimmy earned a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Science Pennsylvania State University.