Affordable Hunting in Africa
Affordable Hunting in Africa
by Craig Boddington
Many people think the glory days of African hunting were from the 1950s to the 1970s. Efficient air travel made Africa reachable in a relatively short time, making a safari a practical vacation rather than an expedition requiring many weeks. The truth, however, is that the real heyday of African hunting is right now, certainly in terms of availability, accessibility, and affordability. Participation in African hunting is at an all-time high, with more than 20,000 hunting safaris conducted annually, many times more than was the case in those “glory days.”
This level of interest stems from several factors. In the 1970s and 1980s Peter Capstick’s exciting books, aided by great cinematography in movies like Out of Africa, helped rekindle interest in Africa. Romance and adventure aside, there are practical factors. In terms of availability, there are more African countries open to organized, regulated hunting than ever before.
Accessibility? Jet aircraft revolutionized travel a generation ago, and today there are more flights and more carriers than anyone dreamed of just twenty years ago. And while an airplane ticket to Africa costs more than a ticket to destinations in the Lower 48, the truth is the cost of international travel has gone down considerably. In actual dollars I don’t pay a whole lot more for a plane ticket to Africa today than I did in the 1980s. This is especially true if you plan well ahead, like nine months or so. If you compare 2008 dollars against 1980s dollars it looks even better.
A Great Value
But the real driving factor, especially in southern Africa, is the hunting itself is affordable--probably the best bargain in the hunting world, and certainly the greatest adventure you can have for the cost. For something like fifteen years I’ve been part of a “first African safari” panel discussion at the Safari Club International convention. We always have a full house, and we always ask how many people in the crowd are in the process of planning their first safari. Consistently, more than a hundred hands shoot up.
For the past several years, I’ve also done seminars on Africa at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. This is a different crowd, with different questions. Some people have been to Africa, others are planning on going—but many are simply curious. I’m always amazed at how many extremely knowledgeable shooters and experienced North American hunters have the opinion that an African adventure is simply beyond their reach.
Now, I understand fully that any hunting out-of-state, let alone international, is unaffordable to many. But I sincerely hope that, in my writing, I have never taken an elitist approach. Every year, in airports, on planes to southern Africa, at the favored overnight hotels in Johannesburg like the Afton Guest House, and in hunting camps, I run into hunters from virtually all walks of life. Sure, there are doctors and lawyers and bankers. There are also carpenters and truck drivers and farmers and factory workers. There are guys in their seventies and even eighties. There are also young people in their twenties who managed to scrimp and save and put together a safari.
Young or old, the excitement of a first safari is a wonderful thing to share. The youngsters remind me very much of myself, on my first safari when I was just twenty-four. But I have to admit that I envy each and every one of them. The founder of SCI, C.J. McElroy, said it far better than I could. In a long career he hunted virtually everything in the known world, and in his later years he said that the only people he envied were hunters going on their first African safari, because they would spend the rest of their lives trying to recapture that sense of awe, excitement, and wonder.
So is it really affordable? Well, it isn’t like hunting in a nearby National Forest for the cost of gas and a hunting license. But it is very cost-effective. My partner and TV show producer, Tim Danklef, likes to talk about African hunting as a pyramid, with the very tip being the most limited and most costly safaris that have the least participation. Right now this is a lion safari, wherever lions are hunted. At the bottom, the broad base of the pyramid, the safari with the most availability, the least cost, and the greatest participation is the plains game safari, generally seven days to two weeks, with a ten-day hunt probably the most common.
These hunts are most available in South Africa and Namibia. These two countries together field perhaps sixty-five percent of all the hunting safaris on the African continent, and the vast majority of these safaris are for plains game only. There are many good outfitters in both countries, so competition is stiff and this keeps basic costs within fairly similar parameters.
The basic scenario for most outfitters is a daily rate, which seems to vary from a low of perhaps $300 per day to a high of about $500 per day, often considerably less if two buddies (or family members) share a professional hunter, what we call a “2x1” arrangement. For most dangerous game safaris sharing a guide is a fool’s game, begging someone to be disappointed. For plains game it is perfectly viable, and provided the two hunters are compatible in desires and ability, both can expect similar results. That is the basic cost, perhaps three to five thousand dollars for a ten-day hunt.
Then there are trophy fees, but please note that these are only payable for game actually taken (or, God forbid, wounded and lost)—and, obviously, you control these costs by how often you squeeze the trigger. The scale slides up and down depending on local availability, but is still within a general range. Zebra and kudu average up to $1,000. Gemsbok and hartebeest are usually considerably less. Common animals like impala, springbok, and warthog are perhaps $400. Animals like eland and nyala are considerably more, but trophy fees are not based on size or beauty, but on availability. For instance, some diminutive local rarities like oribi and blue duiker in South Africa, and Damara dik-dik and klipspringer in Namibia, command fairly high trophy fees.
So, in this common “a la carte” arrangement, you can add to the basic hunt five to seven nice animals for three or four thousand bucks. Add a couple hundred for dipping and packing (preparation for trophy shipment), a little more than that for tips, and any way you slice it you can have a great hunt for somewhere between a low of $7,000 to a high of possibly $10,000. Add airfare and an average of $1,500 for shipping your trophies from southern Africa.
Another option is the “package” safari, a set rate for a safari that includes trophy fees for specific animals, typically the animals that are most common in an outfitter’s area, and thus have the highest quota. Package hunts, not offered by all outfitters, can save a couple of thousand dollars, but lack the flexibility of an “open” game list. Any way you slice it, you can have a great plains game hunt for half-a-dozen nice trophies for less than the cost of a guided moose hunt in Alaska, and less than the cost of a good elk hunt in the western USA. This is why South Africa fields about 8,000 hunters annually, with Namibia hosting about 5,000 hunters annually. And there is room and enough game for many more. I submit that this is the greatest hunting bargain on the planet, certainly not affordable to all, but with a bit of planning definitely affordable to a great many.