The African Experience — An Overview Before You Go
Like so many of you, I used to read the hunting magazines and dream about some day going to the Dark Continent and trying to harvest some of its animals with their strange names and horn shapes. For many years Africa was only for the wealthy and they were the ones who did the 21 day safaris and took the Big Five and the plains game animals.
Fortunately being an archer has made it a more doable deal today than it used to be. Outfitters have come to realize that many of us do not have bottomless pockets of money in our jeans and they have developed packages the average guy can afford.
As you have heard, you really can go to South Africa, take four selected animals and spend less than you would on an elk hunt in the United States. Please notice that I said selected animals. That is an important distinction. Before you book one of these hunts, do your homework and find out which animals are included in the packages you’re considering and decide if there are other animals you may want to take. I’ll explain later what I did to identify the animals I wanted to hunt.
The ranch owners where you will hunt treat their animals much as our ranchers do cattle. The animals are inventory; they are the products that are sold to us. No license is required; you simply pay a fee for what you shoot.
Again take note, I said shoot not kill. You pay for unrecovered wounded animals. It is assumed that wounded animals die and you have just reduced their inventory of salable products, so you must pay. On the larger ranches natural reproduction replenishes the supply of animals. But if for some reason the supply diminishes, they buy animals from other ranchers. This is especially true with the smaller properties.
In South Africa the ranches are typically high fenced and can be quite large. They might range from 5,000 to 200,000 acres or more in size. These areas can be broken down into pastures with different animals in different areas. Or the animals can be free ranging and mix together in a natural environment.
The ranchers will tell you they have high fences around their property for two reasons. The first is to keep their animals on their property. That makes sense. Also, they high fence to keep poachers out. That makes sense as well. Both reasons are true and legitimate. Don’t get me wrong, the animals are far from tame. They’re simply managed.
If you’re like me, the African animals are strange looking and on my first visit there I had no idea what their names were or how to judge them as to size. To help out with this dilemma, I bought a Safari Club International record book. This allowed me to put names with faces, horns and body structures. After reviewing it I knew what a red hartebeest looked like and what horn length I should be looking for.
Some of the operations put you in a treestand or near a waterhole, hand you a radio and tell you to call them when you have shot something. And that’s fine with me. I took a tablet with me and made notes of the horn sizes I was looking for so when something approached I knew whether or not it was a shooter.
The one thing I did overlook on my first trip was snakes. I knew South Africa had snakes but I didn’t study them. I’ll tell you later about one of my close calls, but suffice it to say there are some deadly snakes where you’ll be hunting.
Pit vipers, cobras and black mombas are found in South Africa and you might encounter any or all of them. Being somewhat ignorant, I thought cobras were only found in India, but I was wrong.
Fortunately, the mongoose is also found in South Africa and that’s good. They are the snakes’ worst enemy and hold the snake population down. One day I had six mongooses near my stand and never have I felt so secure, it was such a good feeling. Did I mention that I am the world’s biggest coward when it comes to snakes? Any kind of snake makes me nervous.
Decide what animals are important to you and let the PH know your feelings. In a package deal you might get a blue wildebeest, impala, warthog and duiker for your package price.
The package might allow you to take these animals or their price equivalent toward other animals. So, as an illustration, let us say you’re allowed $2,000 in animal harvest fees. You might use it up on two animals. The larger, more exotic animals cost more than the smaller more common ones.
An impala is relatively cheap compared to a majestic kudu. The PH will have a list of the animals offered on the ranch and the price for each. It’s much like going to a restaurant; you pick the items on the menu you can afford.
Just because the animal is shown on the list doesn’t mean you’ll be able to harvest it. I have yet to take a nyala, eland or bushbuck although they were on my wish list.
I may have made your trip sound like a commercial project, and it is, but it’s still hunting. You still have to have luck on your side. The animal has to present you with a shot opportunity and you have to do your part with a killing shot.
Before you finalize your decision about the PH and the ranch you will hunt, talk to hunters who have been on the ranch you’re considering. Ask for their honest opinions, their success, and the success of others. Ask if they would return to the ranch, that’s a good indication of their true feelings about the property.
Decide when you want to go. Remember South Africa is on the other side of the equator, so seasons are reversed from ours. May through July in South Africa is similar to the fall, early winter time for us. The later you go the less vegetation you will encounter.
Most hunting is done from blinds, or hides as they call them. Some of the hides are in trees while others are on the ground. Usually your shots will be less than thirty yards. Remember you pay for wounded animals, if they’re not recovered. This will cause you to be sure about your shooting ability and hold off on iffy shots.
In talking to the PH ask if there are any restrictions on equipment. Some PHs don’t like expandable heads or two bladed broadheads. I know one hunter who went with two bladed broadheads and the PH made him use some three bladed heads he had on hand. It worked out ok, but if you’re like me, I like to shoot all of my heads before a hunt and this would have been a problem to me.
By no means am I an expert on Africa, but I have been there twice and I will give you my perspective on how things are as I see them. I have tried to cover all of the things you should think about before your trip. In the next two episodes I’ll share my experience and the game I’ve harvested in South Africa. I’ll also tell you my snake story. Did I tell you I’m afraid of snakes?