A successful hunting trip is one of life’s great experiences, and the better you prepare for it, the greater your chances of making it truly memorable. Going on safari is an opportunity to put your everyday worries aside and immerse yourself in an adventure. Hunting trips are essentially about testing your abilities against magnificent game in new surroundings, unfamiliar country, and fickle weather. But before your safari begins, you need to ensure that you have your travel arrangements sorted and the right equipment lined up.
Attitudes to hunting, as well as hunting customs and ethics, vary from country to country, and cultural and social differences can also impact your trip. Fundamentally, it’s a question of making the right choices at the right time and being well prepared. For anyone looking for the ultimate experience, we offer 10 handy tips to help you on your way:
Choose the right outfitter, the best travel agent for your needs or a recognised hunting estate or grounds, and book your trip in good time.
Once you have decided on your destination, game and type of hunt, seek out the best terrain and a serious outfitter. Travel agents specialising in safaris can help you find the right outfitter, but there are also plenty of options for contacting dependable outfitters via the internet. Whatever type of service provider you choose, the best estates and outfitters are often booked up well in advance in high season, so booking early is a sensible aim.
Before you book, some basic questions need to be asked:
· When is the best season for hunting?
· What has been the success rate of this season in previous years?
· Can you obtain contact details of some independent references?
· What additional expenses are there, beyond the cost of the hunt itself?
Contact 2-3 outfitters and/or safari agents and choose the one that seems most professional. The price and the quality of the package are often closely related. If you are a relative newcomer to safaris, only use outfitters or agencies you have been recommended by other trustworthy hunters who know the area.
Create a network for exchanging experiences.
If, like most hunters, you want to go on several trips, it is a good idea to expand your knowledge and extend your network via membership of an organisation with an international outlook. Such organisations offer a means of swapping stories between members, along with first-hand reports from other hunters, which are always preferable to the more subjective advice that retailers offer. Membership of an organisation, whether online or through a newsletter, will answer most of the questions that come up about safaris.
Useful addresses include:
· Safari Club International
· Nordic Safari Club
· Grand Slam Club OVIS
· Dallas Safari Club
· Wild Sheep Foundation
Choose the best time to go, if possible.
The animal’s rutting season often offers the best hopes of a successful hunt, but the weather is another decisive factor for choosing when to go. Note also that the full moon can be a hindrance, since, at that time, game is more nocturnal and less active during the day. Clearly, the chance of success is greatest during the optimum times for the species you are after. If you cannot book that period for whatever reason, better to delay the trip until the following year. It is important to investigate the best period by asking a variety of independent people in the know.
Choose the ideal weapon, sight and ammo for your target.
Always take a weapon in which you have total confidence. For the calibre, follow the advice of other hunters or your service provider. Do not use too hard a bullet, because a shot just off target may allow the quarry to take flight, whereas a moderately expanding shot is far more effective and ensures the animal drops on the spot or nearby. Use a variable magnification sight, since you’ll need to alter the magnification to match the terrain. In the forest or the bush, where you will often be shooting from less than 100 metres, you have to be able to reduce the magnification down to 2 or 3. But in open terrain, 9-12 times magnification is necessary.
When hunting at dusk, a high-luminosity sight with an illuminated red dot is preferable, whereas a beat or drive, for example, requires low or no magnification. For a rifle, make sure the trigger weight is suitable for the hunt you are going on. For example, a precision shot at long range requires a light pull of around 800-1,000 grammes. Discuss the recommended calibre and sights with your service provider.
Know your weapon, its ballistics and ammo, and visit the range often.
A prone position with a fixed mount is only for sighting on the rifle range. Once the rifle has been sighted, you should practice with a variety of shooting positions that are relevant to shooting in the field. It is a good idea to train at distances greater than those you will normally experience on the trip, which will put you in good stead for the actual distances you encounter.
For example, if you are going to Africa, you should train at shooting from a standing position off a shooting stick at 100-200 metres, if possible at targets with animal motifs. Practise making rapid, deadly shots. For mountain hunting, you should know your ballistics out to at least 400 metres, so you have the option of firing a finishing shot if that becomes necessary at longer distances.
Make sure you are in physical shape to meet the challenge you have set yourself.
Poor physical condition can easily be the factor that turns a dream trip into a nightmare. You should train enough to get yourself into the shape required to complete the hunting trip. Ask your service provider if in doubt, since being in good shape will often give you more chances to make shots – you will be more agile and sure-footed, and your shooting will be faster and more accurate.
If you’ll be carrying a rucksack while hunting, train with it before travelling, by filling it and taking it on some long trips. This will allow your neck, shoulders and back to get used to the strain. In general terms, it is obviously good to practise wearing and using the gear you will be taking on the trip. Long distances over rugged terrain, through snow, swampland or on very uneven ground put a lot of stress on your leg, stomach and back muscles.
Bring the right clothing and use it correctly.
The correct clothing for any particular hunting trip is essential for enjoying the experience. It is always a good idea to check the weather outlook for the area before travelling and to pack accordingly. Maybe ask your service provider for a packing list for the clothing they recommend. Often, the clothing you will need in a foreign country can be slightly different from what you wear when hunting at home, but in any event it is always a good idea to use the layering method. Multiple layers of lightweight garments make your clothing flexible in response to changes in the weather.
Take the best quality clothing with you. It is important that your outer layers and any camouflage you wear are suitable for the natural habitat you are visiting.
Choose the right boots for the trip and wear them in before you leave.
The correct footwear might seem like a small detail, but its importance mustn’t be underestimated. You should select footwear to suit the type of hunt and which you have worn well in before travelling. If you are safariing in Africa, for example, your boots need to have ventilation, while the right lining is crucial in cold climates or when sitting still. In the mountains, you need ankle support, whereas in wet weather a waterproof membrane is essential.
Walk in your hunting boots the week before you leave, to minimise the risk of blisters. If you are going to be doing a lot of walking, take plenty of pairs of socks, to change every day and whenever your feet get wet.
The final mark of success for a hunting trip is to have your trophies, meat and hide properly treated and shipped home.
On a hunting trip where trophies, meat and hide will be coming home with you, it is always good to know how the game you have felled will be treated after the kill. Before you travel out, learn how to skin the animal for mounting, how it is butchered or how the hide is salted. You can then join in this work, or at least check it is done properly. The head skin, like the entire hide, must always be treated with fine salt.
Before travelling, you should sign up with a freight company with experience in sending hunting trophies to your home country. Always check with the carrier before you go concerning which documents must accompany the trophy.
These might include:
· Veterinary certificate
· CITES forms
Another key piece of advice concerning safe carriage of your trophy is to bring laminated name tags to attach to your trophies and hides with zip ties after the hunt. On the laminated tags, enter the animal species, your contact details, the name of the freight company transporting the trophy and the name of the outfitter – this will help prevent trophies getting mixed up.
Embrace the knowledge you gain, learn from your trip and use the experience on your next trip.
Hunting with local guides in another country is a special experience, and they are often absolute experts in the type of hunting and the game in question. Many of them have a lifetime’s experience of living close to nature, wildlife and game. Embracing this knowledge will make you an even better hunter. Immerse yourself in the culture of the country and local hunting customs and ethics before you set out, and have your expectations of the trip realised ‘on the ground’.
A hunting trip is about encountering new cultures and they should evoke your respect and interest. A hunting trip is not simply a trip to go hunting, but a journey to meet fascinating and engaging people of different cultures.