Friday, July 6, 2012

I'm getting questions from a few people who would like to plan a safari of their own, so I decided to ad a section with tips and information in hopes of making someone else's trip a little easier.

Choosing a Safari Outfit

My recommendation is to do your homework! There is NO SHORTCUT for this part. SCI fundraiser banquets are a great place to start because you can actually meet with and talk to the people you will be hunting with. Making a list of questions in advance will help tremendously. Remember, outfitters attending an SCI function (or any outdoor show) are there for a reason, to promote their business. They may be busy trying to please many potential customers so be patient. The SCI Chapter that I belong to has what we call an "Outfitter Cocktail Party" the evening before the fundraiser. This is an excellent time for serious hunt buyers to do a little one-on-one with a potential PH in a smaller, quieter atmosphere. 

Once you have settled on a safari company, you inevitably have to talk price. Be honest with your PH about what you can and cannot afford. Be reasonable about your expectations regarding trophy size. If you are looking for record book animals, be prepared to work a lot harder and pass up many shots at respectable animals. Most hunters, myself included are looking for a "good representation" of the species hunted. This is a very common term in the safari business these days and your PH will know exactly what your looking for. 

With the animal business out of the way you will need to ask your PH what IS and IS NOT included in the price. This is where your list will come in. Most of this will be answered in the company's sales brochure, but some may not. Some things to keep in mind: 

Is airport pick-up and drop-off included? 
In most cases it will be.

How will your trophies be handled?
Most safari outfits will skin your animals at no extra charge, but you will have to decide if you will be having your trophy's mounted in Africa, or "Dipped & Packed" and then shipped home. Dipping & packing will in most cases be done by a local taxidermy company and will cost you a fair amount of money (most in shipping back to the US). Your PH should be able to give you a price list for this as every animal is priced according to size.

Are alcoholic beverages included?
Most outfits include drinks (in moderation), but it never hurts to ask. 

Will your PH assist with getting your weapons into the country?
Some will and some wont. Some may refer you to a service that handles this or send you the proper forms to fill out and handle this yourself. I did my own and it wasn't as bad as many say it is. In fact, while on a shuttle bus to our "safe house" (more on that later) a fellow asked the group if anyone besides him hired a company. No one else did, and he noted that we all got through SAPS (South African Police Service) in the same amount of time. Bringing weapons into Africa isn't hard, it's just time consuming. My recommendation is to be prepared to wait. It's all part of the Africa experience and there's nothing you can do about it anyways.     

Hidden charges...
Ask your PH if there is ANYTHING that you will need to pay for that isn't listed in his brochure. I found that Kimberley Airport also checks in your weapons when arriving just as was done in Johannesburg. With one exception. They charge $30.00 (U.S.) PER GUN. They do this BOTH WAYS. Kimberley is a small airport and as such, do not have police on site. Your PH will arrange for someone to be there just for you and this cost covers this service.
ANY weapon that comes into the country MUST leave the country with NO EXCEPTIONS.
This charge was not listed in any of my paperwork and they don't take credit cards.

Is sight-seeing or fishing included?
My PH did not charge for a local tour of the National Park, nor other museums or tours we took. In fact, he paid all of our entrance fees. Generally anything that was a day trip was no charge. Several days were needed for tiger fishing as it is a 4-5 hour drive and would be charged  at the regular daily rate.

All of your plans are made...
Get it in writing. Get EVERYTHING in writing.
I can't stress this enough. Get a folder and start filing away ALL correspondence that you will print out between you and the safari company. This folder will contain everything up until the day you leave, and then will travel with you. As I stated early on in the blog, I recommend a 7-8 slot file folder with the following headings:

Passport copies
Gun & camera registration 
Safari general
Firearms permits
Airline info


It will be up to you to make airline reservations. You can hire this out and use a travel agency or you can do it yourself using one of the many websites available such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, etc. Be advised that you will pay more to use a travel agency regardless of what you may have heard from your buddy. I used Orbizt because they were the only one that came up with a round trip package to where I needed to go. I also sent my info to a travel agent that was recommended by a friend. When I received my price quote (four days later) it was the same EXACT itinerary that Orbitz came up with, except the travel agent had tacked on another $250.00 per ticket.

You can also go directly through the airlines and book your flights. This may be a better option as you will have more choices as to flights and lay-overs. Speaking of lay-overs, make sure you give yourself plenty of time between flights. I know that sitting around an airport can be a real drag, but so is missing a flight due to unforeseen circumstances. I would recommend a minimum of two hours between flights. We had an overnight in Joberg with an early morning (5:55 AM) flight to Kimberley. The ticket counters open at 4:30AM and we were in line by 4:15. Unfortunately the people working the ticket counter decided to sit around to chat and drink coffee until 4:45AM. By the time we got our tickets, were sent to a different counter to pay baggage fee's, cleared security and got to out gate, it was 5:30 and our flight had boarded (a buss that took everyone out on the tarmac at 5:25.) We were dumped from our flight and South African Air wanted us to buy two new tickets to Kimberley (at over $800 per ticket) The problem was resolved, but not until I agreed to pay a "penalty fee" of $485.00 USD.

The fiasco above is just one example of unforeseen problems that can arise. You can have the best laid plans, but you can't plan on a guy taking an extra 15 minutes for a coffee break. 

A lot of people are concerned about taking cash to Africa and it is understandable. Some recommend a money belt, but be advised that I witnessed airport security making people remove their money belts (you still get to hold them) and walk through the x-ray machine.
I did bring some cash (not more than 1k) for tipping of guides, trackers, etc.
Surprisingly, I was able to pay for everything including the balance of my hunt with my Mastercard. This is the safest way in my opinion. Just make sure you let your credit card company know you will be traveling to Africa so they don't flag your account and shut it down. Travelers checks are another way to go, but are not as welcome as you may be lead to believe. Even the safari outfit frowned upon them but said it would be "ok" if I really wanted to use them to pay off my balance. When I asked them why they were so reluctant to take travelers checks I was told that it can take up to six months in some instances for them to finally see any actual money in their accounts. In the end, just as I was getting ready to pay my bill, I noticed my PH had his PayPal account up on the computer. This made life very simple for both of us because my credit card was linked directly to my PayPal account and I simply used his computer to do a direct deposit into his account.

Travel Safety 

Safe travel to another country should be a high priority for everyone in your party.
Here are some tips that should be followed:

  • Don't drink the water!
  • Avoid wearing fancy jewelry.
  • Don't flash your money around in public.
  • Dress casually and comfortably, no high heels.
  • Don't leave the secure area when in airports (especially when in other countries) 
  • ALWAYS carry your information folder with you at all times.
  • A small day-pack / backpack is better than a purse for the ladies and will hold everything including your information folder.
If you have an overnight lay-over in Africa, contact your PH and let him know. He will have a list of recommended "safe houses" and will in most cases make the arrangement's and reservations for you. A safe house is exactly what it sounds like. South Africa has a 40% unemployment rate and as in most places around the world, crime goes hand-in-hand with unemployment. To put in mildly, crime is bad in the big cities of Africa.  A safe house is basically a B&B with the exception of being in a gated community with an armed guard standing watch. In addition to this, our B&B had a 10 foot wall around it topped with electrified razor wire. Once there, do not leave! Once out of the city and in the bush, crime is pretty much non-existent.

Packing for your safari 

As you can tell, i'm big on making lists. A packing list in my opinion is a must and I suggest making it in the early planning stages of your hunt. You will find yourself going back to your list on many occasions and adding or deleting items. Making this list six months in advance is not to early. Pack light, all safari outfits offer a daily laundry service. Keeping this in mind, you should pack one set of cloths (pants & shirt) to travel in and two sets to hunt in. The same goes for undergarments. I did bring a few extra pairs of socks as I like to change them and let my boots air out while on our afternoon lunch break. Depending on the time of year you decide to go, it can get downright cold. Remember, South Africa is in the southern hemisphere and on the other side of the world, our summer is their winter and vise-versa. When I was there in June, we had temps go down to 28 degrees F at night which make for some chilly mornings. You will definitely want to pack a warm cap and jacket that has some type of wind blocking capabilities as you will be riding in the back of a safari vehicle in the high seats. I also recommend a pair of sunglasses (and even a comfortable pair of clear safety glasses) for use when in the truck. A bug or twig in your eye can ruin your hunt. 
I recommend using a soft-side type of duffle that has wheels on one end for getting around the airports easily. These will also fit better in smaller planes and trucks. Get one that is sturdy and has heavy-duty zippers as it will take a lot of abuse with all of the flight changes you will be making. If traveling with a family member or friend, consider dividing your clothing between your pieces of luggage so if one persons baggage is lost, the other can survive until he is re-united with his bag.

Below is the check- list I made for my hunt:


.300 Win. Mag
.264 Win. Mag.
.300 ammo (40 rnds)
.264 ammo (40 rnds)
Compact binocs
Bug Wipes?
Soft gun case

Gorp (snack size bags)
Snickers (snack size, 1 bag)

Batteries (123)
Books & Magazines (Kindle)
Iphone & charger

BDU pants (2 pr) (woodland & ASAT)
Cargo pants (1 pr)
Safari shirts (2)
BDU shirt
Fleece shirt
T-shirts (3)
Travel vest
Ball Cap (camo)
Warm cap
Hiking boots
Rocky boots
Camo jacket (my favorite)
Fleece Vest (camo) 
Gore-tex jacket 
Underwear (3 pr)
Socks (4 pr)
Under-Armor  (2 pr)
Day Pack (use as carry-on)
LED flashlight - Poly-Tac
Soft gun case
Reading glasses
Money & credit cards

MEDS & Toiletries

Antibiotics (z-pack from doc)
Deodorant/no scent
Sport shield
Hand lotion (Neutrogena)
Razor/shaving cream

There were a few items that I brought that I didn't use, such as my fanny pack a pair of low cut hiking boots and a Harris Bi-pod for my rifle (the brush is to high) But for the most part, I packed light and came in "under-weight". You may want to keep this in mind because you'll want to bring back some souvenirs from your trip and that bit of extra leeway will allow you to do it without worrying if your going to be hit with an $85.00 overweight charge. can bring as much as you want, but you'll pay dearly for this in baggage fee's. Most airlines allow one free bag of 50 lbs. on international flights, one carry-on bag, and one personal item such as a lap-top, purse, etc. You will pay extra for that double gun case.

 Traveling with weapons

 Traveling to South Africa with weapons is not difficult, but there is a fair amount of paperwork that must be submitted. You will need to fill out the U.S. customs form 4457 (Certificate of Registration For Personal Effects Taken Abroad.) This is a very easy procedure. They will sign a customs form that includes the manufacture, model and serial number of each firearm (or bow.) The reason for this form is to show the US Customs people when you return to the USA that you owned the weapons prior to your departure and that you are bringing back these same weapons that you took out of the country. Be sure to have that form available on your return. Since the United States does not require your sporting rifles to be registered you must have this form to show the South African Police. This will suffice as proof of ownership for the required SAP Form 520 that will be discussed below. Also, one quick note. Make sure you ad any expensive camera equipment onto the Form 4457. You don't want to be forced to pay duty on equipment that you already own and as with the weapons, this proves you owned the items before you left the country. 

Upon arrival in South Africa you must have filled out an SAP Form 520 for the South African Police in order to receive a temporary firearm import permit to be issued to you. This form is not required for archery equipment. The SAP Form 520 should be sent to you by your safari outfitter but in any case it will be easier to simply go on-line, Google SAP 520 and print them out yourself. I even found one that let me fill out the form on-line in a PDF and then printed it out. (I suggest looking for this at In any case, there will be areas on the form that will require your signature. This is to be done In Front of SAPS officials. Don't even think about using ANYTHING but a BLACK pen when filling out your SAPS 520 form. If you do not follow this simple instruction, the form will be handed back to you (all eight pages) and you will be made to re-do it all from the start. Registering your guns at SAPS is not difficult, but some folks are uncomfortable with this process. There are companies that will do this for you (for a fee of course) such as These companies will have your permits pre-approved and cut down on your waiting in line time. Costs vary from $89.00 to $150.00 per form.
By the way, the registration service from the SAPS is a free service. There are signs on the walls stating this and ask that you do not give any money in order to help prevent corruption  of the South African Police Service. If you are asked to pay, I was told to ask for a receipt. This will usually be followed by something like "The receipt book if full, you can go for free today", say thank you and walk away.

If Johannesburg is your last stop, you will take possession of your weapons after your permit has been issued and your good to go. However, if your catching another plane to go further into the bush like I did you will need to hand your weapons over to the police once again in a different area of the airport. These are the people that are responsible for getting your guns to the airplane. Now I leave this next step entirely up to you, but when the guy asked me "if I had any tips for him" I was more than happy to flip him a five dollar bill (which is equal to $40 rand) and asked him if he would take good care of my guns. He replied "yes sir...I will take good care of your guns, no problems." I brought handful of five's and greased everyone that helped me including the "self employed" guys that hang around the airport and offer to take you and your baggage to where you need to get. They were very helpful and well worth it. Just don't leave them alone with your guns or bags.


As I stated before, DON'T DRINK THE WATER!  When I was in Joberg for our overnight lay-over I asked the nice lady that ran the B&B if it was safe to drink the water. Her response: "I wouldn't...I don't drink it". That's good enough for me. On our shopping trip before our ride into the bush my PH asked me if I wanted anything. I asked him to grab me 3-4 cases of bottled water. He told me that "our water is safe" and "it comes right out of the ground from our well" I politely told him I'll take a pass on that and offered to pay for the water (he wouldn't let me pay) I would HIGHLY recommend you to do the same. Your only going to be there 7-10 days and you don't want to spend it sitting on a toilet with a case of Montezuma's revenge! This also means taking care not to use the ice, eat raw vegies washed in water (such as lettuce), etc. As a rule of thumb, if it isn't carbonated or contain alcohol, don't drink it. As for the water bottles, make darn sure that you are the first one to open it.

I found that the best place to buy souvenirs (believe it or not) was the airport in Joberg. They know what tourists are looking for and will have tons of it in stock at reasonable prices. We found a fantastic two story store by the name of "Out of Africa" with great deals. They will bubble-wrap all of your goodies for travel and get you in-and-out fast.

Air travel can be enjoyable or downright miserable and being prepared both mentally and physically can help make your flight a pleasant one. There's no getting around that fact that you'll be doing a LOT of flying. The flight from Atlanta to Joburg is 16-1/2 hours. We had two connecting flights before we even got to Atlanta, and then another from Joburg to our final destination. By the time you have made your round trip, you will have logged almost 20,000 flying miles! And speaking of flying miles, don't forget to join the frequent fliers club. Deltas is called "Skymiles" and at 25k you will be eligible for a free ticket to anywhere in the continental US including Canada and Alaska. If like me, you are taking your child or significant other, make sure you sign them up for the Skymiles plan also, otherwise you will not get the miles (even though you paid for their ticket). The miles are easily transferable later on down the road, but as always, there's a  catch. Delta charges you 1-cent per mile to transfer them. Transferring 20k miles will cost you $200.00.
    Travel comfort is number one when flying for long hours. I highly recommend picking up a neck pillow. Don't get a cheep blow-up pillows either, spend a few bucks and go for the nice one. You'll be grateful you did.
    Choose your seats wisely. On a 16-1/2 hour flight you'll want to get up to stretch and move around. That window seat may sound good at first, but there won't be anything to see on a trans-Atlantic flight anyways. Get an aisle seat so you can get up whenever you feel like it without bothering the person next to you. 
    Some people like flying, and some don't. I happen to be in the first category. But for some reason I am unable to sleep on a plane. If your the nervous type, don't like flying, or like me, just can't sleep, give your Doc a call and ask him what he can prescribe something for your flight. He will be more than happy to help. My Doc recommended a couple of Zanex and I slept like a baby for nine hours. 
    Dress for success. Wear comfortable, sensible clothing. I wore my cargo pants that had plenty of pockets for items such as passport, money, etc. The use of a travel vest isn't a bad idea either, it can hold a lot of your "stuff" (camera, phone, I-pod, passport, etc.) and can easily be taken off and put on the belt when going through security.

Bring a good pair of high quality hunting boots that have been broken in. This is not the time or place to be breaking in boots. Having to deal with sore, blistered feet can ruin a trip.

Wear sun block. The African sun is HOT!!! Get something with SPF 30 at the very least.

Don't go "over-gunned". You don't need a cannon for plains game. Anything from .270 to .300 Win. Mag. will be fine. I've known many hunters that have even used a .243 for all but the largest plains game. A gun that shoots well and that you can shoot well is the best possible combination. 

Bring a back-up. A second rifle or bow is a good idea. It doesn't take but one slip and fall to destroy a scope (or knock it out of alignment.) I had to swap out rifles at the very end of our safari due to an inadvertent problem that I believe happened while climbing down a rocky ledge. I was grateful that I brought the second weapon and was able to finish the last few days of my safari without using a borrowed gun.

Be sure you let your PH know of any physical limitations before your safari. It will make life more enjoyable for everyone involved. Also, if you have any food allergies or are allergic to anything (including medications), let them know. A good outfit will send you paperwork asking all of these questions. Fill it out honestly because if something happens and your rushed to the nearest hospital (which won't be near) it can mean the difference between life and death.

If you have any food preferences let them know well in advance. Your safari outfit want's you to be happy and want's to pamper you. Let them! Remember, there's not a grocery store on every corner and at best, your outfit will send someone to get supplies once a week.

Shots or no shots... Depending on where your hunt is to take place, you may or may-not need shots. Most of South Africa is in a non malaria zone. If your going to travel to other countries such as Zimbabwe, Tanzania, etc, you should talk to your doctor (and do the research yourself). Aside from malaria, common sense dictates that you should be up to date on all your other shots such as tetanus, etc. 

Prescription medications. If you must travel with meds, make sure they are in the original container with YOUR name on the script. You can bring along a travel container and fill it when you get there.

Most PH's recommend darker colored clothing as opposed to the typical light tan safari shirts and pants. I pants I used my ASAT camo BDU's almost exclusively and my son used US military BDU's in woodland camo pattern. These offer six pockets and make life a lot easier (I carried a water bottle in a cargo pocket at all times and I recommend you do the same no matter what you choose to wear.) As far as camo shirts/tops, I mostly wore a green or grey T-shirt covered by a khaki safari shirt which was usually covered by an olive drab safari vest. The vest carried everything I needed from a pair of compact binoculars, ammo, snacks, etc. and I wouldn't leave without it. On most days I found myself stripped down to just the T-shirt and vest.

Bring a good pack. Something light and comfortable. Most of the time this pack stayed in the safari vehicle, but you never know when you may need something. my pack contained the following:
A warm jacket
Warm hat
Extra ammo
GPS & compass
Water bottles (which I froze the night before)
Gloves (which I wore almost all the time, the thin Mechanix brand gloves are great)
A good high power compact flashlight (I like the Polly-Tac by Streamlight)
A good knife
Anything else you may need for the day

Practice. practice, practice! You WILL be shooting off of the famous African style shooting sticks. It would be in your best interest to purchase or make a set of these and practice shooting from them. There is without a doubt a learning curve with these and once you figure it out it seems to work just fine. One tip: If your using the "bi-pod" type sticks (just two legs) you'll want to lean them on as far of an angle towards you as possible (so you yourself act as the third led of a tri-pod) This makes for the most stable platform possible. 
If using the tri-pod type (three legs), set it up as high as possible so your standing comfortably upright and place your hand over the top of your gun where it rests on the tri-pod sling. 

I always carried a good knife with me wherever I went. You never know what can arise in the bush. On that note, I read somewhere to never lend your new skinning knife to the local skinner... unless you want it sharpened on a rock. I can attest to this personally.

Bring a good camera that you know how to use. Take pictures of everything!

Consider bringing bug repellent. We didn't encounter much in the way of mosquitoes and really had no need to use it, but depending on the time of year, how much rain they received and the area you'll be hunting,  it would be wise to include this item.

Tipping: The question of tipping your guides and staff seem to be the most asked and everyone will tell you that although tipping is not necessary, it is certainly appreciated. This to me sounds like a way of dodging the question at hand. My recommendation is to tip a minimum of 10% the cost of your safari package. I believe this to be more than fair. Also, always ask your PH before giving money to his staff. Many PH's like to split the tips up between the staff to how he see's fit. If he tells you it's ok to tip his local staff, by all means, go for it. Just don't give them travelers checks or US dollars. This may be fine for your PH (and he would probably rather have US dollars) but for the locals, it is difficult for them to cash travelers checks or convert US dollars to Rand. Therefore, tip them in the local currency.