Reality Check: Time to grow up. “I can't afford to go to the Dark Continent,” you think. “It's dangerous.” You worry about malaria, ISIS and crocodiles. But let me tell you from experience, if there is a will there is a way! I'm a fisheries and wildlife technician by education and a plumber by trade. I've hunted and spearfished in many places around the world, and it can be done by a working man! Maybe you need to save for a couple years to go - but do it!
And this is what I have learned over a few safaris to that Dark Continent. Important: Consider who might go with you. Your wife, girlfriend, buddy or just yourself. If you can, go with someone who has been before. They can show you the ropes. Going with someone you know gives you a sense of security as well as comradeship traveling to a new destination.
First of all, do your research! Read everything you can on Africa, whether in printed form, like the African Hunting Gazette, or on the Internet. Watch hunting videos. Go to the African hunting shows like the one in Calgary, Alberta, and join SCI, Safari Club International. I asked David Little, Calgary chapter SCI president, what would he suggest to first-time hunters going to Africa. He said try to pay for your flight in points; that way your safari will cost about as much as a whitetail deer hunt in Saskatchewan. Don't worry about jet lag; try to sleep on the plane so you can hit the ground running! Meet the outfitters and PHs at the hunting shows. Go to the SHOT show in Los Vegas, USA.
Talk to everyone, ask questions about everything. How far are you from the airport? What kind of animals might you see? Who are the indigenous people? Why are there bomas around camps? Do I need malaria pills? What caliber do you recommend for plains game, for dangerous game? What are the most challenging hunts you have done? What are the meals like? Speak to people who went there about their experiences. Savour what Africa has to offer. Learn about the different languages and cultures.
Make time for sightseeing and some shopping. I always enjoy going to Cape Town, visiting Two Oceans Aquarium, Victoria and Albert Market for curios, and seeing the views from Table Mountain! I always try to go great white shark diving when I'm in Africa - shark cage diving in Gansbaai near Hermanus, up close and personal! Experience one of the apex predators of the sea - that's my rush!
Think of Cape Town as San Diego with a Dutch accent. I love hearing the Afrikaans language. Try new foods like sosaties, biltong, boerewors and meat pies. Visit Kruger or any of the other national parks.
Get in shape. Your hunt will be much more enjoyable if you are in good physical condition. I hate running, so I ride a mountain bike to get fit. My hunting buddy and I even used our mountain bikes to get into position far from the roads during our pronghorn antelope hunt in southern Alberta, and bikes can also be used in Africa. Note to self: Stay on the game paths. I had to push my bike back to the bakkie (pick-up truck) a couple of kilometres because of a plethora of cactus needles in the tires. Oh, by the way, everything in Africa has thorns, horns and stickers. If you don't believe me, let me introduce you to the wag-'n-bietjie (wait-a-bit) creeper and acacia tree full of spines!
Shoot. Shoot. Shoot! Are you taking your own gun or borrowing your PH’s?
If you decide to take your own rifle, make sure you have ALL your permits ahead of time before you fly. Know the rules each airline requires and have copies of your documents! There are hunting consultants who can help you through these hurdles.
I heard about a Canadian hunter who booked his flights himself, and when in Europe picked up his luggage from the carousel in the airport and proceeded to carry his cased rifle and luggage to the next flight terminal.
“Your EU gun papers, please,” asked the airport police. “No? Don't have any? Then you will be our guest for a while!” The hunter missed his flight to Africa, was a guest of the state for about a week, and had to pay about $12,000 in fines and legal costs. Needless to say, he didn't get to go on that safari!
What kind rifle does your PH have for you to use? Do you have one like it or do any of your friends? When I was hunting in South Africa I hunted with my friend Jeff Lester's rifle, a Musgrave which is a Mauser 98 style rifle in a .30-06 Springfield caliber. We took this fine rifle to the range and I got to prove it and myself on multiple targets! The Musgrave rifle is the alpha and omega to the South African hunter, and I got to shoot it. It was true, and I only needed one bullet to bring down my springbok on a farm belonging to Jeff’s friend. The Mauser rifle is very familiar to me and I own a few of them. I also hunt most of my animals with a .30-06. You can use your favourite elk/ deer hunting rifle and caliber for hunting plains game such as kudu, waterbuck and gemsbok.
If you bring your own firearms make sure you ask your PH what bullets he recommends and practice with them. John Sharp told me he uses tried and true bullets on the hunt. When you want to see what the newest wizz-bang bullets do to your game, shoot the carcass to see the results. Too many times wild game is lost using experimental bullets and marginal shots!
Listen to your PH, because if you shoot at an animal and there is a blood trail, then you are paying for that animal whether you retrieve it or not!
Practice. Practice. Practice! Learn to use steady sticks, and practice using them! Learn to shoot kneeling.
Don't be afraid to learn the lingo – we all enjoy a sundowner or two and a braai after the hunt.
Study the animals you want to hunt, and know the location of the kill zone. The heart is lower on most African antelope. Read Kevin Robertson's book, "The Perfect Shot: Shot Placement for African Big Game”. Check out africahunting.com for diagrams and targets.
T.J. Schwanky, of Outdoor Quest TV, told me to be careful of your muzzle direction. While you’re hunting, your PH, game scout, trackers and possibly government representatives are all milling about around you. With T.J., firearms safety is very important because he is trying to make a TV show as well as hunt.
Hunting in Africa is enjoyable but will cost money, and you will want to hunt with a reputable outfitter. Mark Zimmermann told me to make sure you talk to the outfitter, ask for references, and find out how much land the outfitter has, and whether it is his property, leased property, hunting concessions or tribal land. See if all the species to be hunted are in one area, or must you travel hours to get one or two animals on your list. Does he have the Big Five on his property? Nothing says “Africa” like the sound of lions roaring at 5 in the morning near camp! You know you are no longer in Kansas!
Remember you are paying for each animal, so make sure it's in the budget. Also consider how much it will cost to bring your trophies home. I've stuck to hunting a single animal on a trip to save money, up to taking three when I could afford it. You can go on culling hunts and package hunts to save money, or come with a group. Start with one premium animal like a kudu, and add others to get a package deal.
I love to braai, so I try to do my hunting at the beginning of my trip so I can share my game with my friends there. Remember you can't bring the meat back to Canada! I've found that even strangers are very happy to eat some of your venison.
Bring a camera – better two or three! TIA – This Is Africa. You won't find a Wal-Mart nearby, so when you drop your camera into shark-infested waters, or from the horse you are riding (both have happened to me!), you will still want to take as many pictures of this glorious continent as you can. iPhones, iPads, go-pros, digital and video cameras are light and are worth their weight in memories! With the digital age you can take lots of pictures – you can erase the crappy ones when you get home. I bring a laptop so I can save the pictures each evening after a day's shoot. Bring extra memory sticks, rechargeable batteries and don't forget the charger. Remember the electrical system is different over there, so make sure your equipment can take 220 volts, and have the right adapters.
Thomas Schwanke is a life member of Alberta Hunter Education Instructors Association, plus 25 years as a volunteer Hunter Training Instructor, a Canadian Firearms Safety Instructor, non-restricted and restricted. He is a Fishing Education Instructor, and Fish and Wildlife Technician. Thomas has barbecued wild food and hunted and/or fished on five of the seven continents. He lives in High River Alberta, Canada.