Packing for your African Hunting Safari
It’s a good thing that most African safaris are arranged months in advance as there is quite a bit to do before getting on an airplane. The very first thing you need to do is get all the paperwork in order. For a safari in South Africa, if you are taking your own firearms, you will need to obtain a South African Police Service (SAPS) Form 520 which is an application for temporary import of firearms into South Africa. This needs to be filed with the SAPS at least five weeks before you arrive in South Africa. Next up involves a visit to your local US Customs office with your firearms to obtain a Form 4457 Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad. The customs officer will check the serial number of your rifle and list it on the form. The 4457 acts as a gun license when entering African countries. You can also list other items of value as long as they have some sort of identifying number on them.
Make 3 copies of the front page of your passport. Keep one in your carry-on, one in your gun case, and, if using a meet and greet service, you will need one for them. Copy your Africa travel insurance policy and it goes in the carry-on also. Other items, like your itinerary, vaccination certificates, medical history, prescriptions, and emergency phone numbers should be copied and put in your checked luggage and carry-on.
Most of the international airlines allow two bags per passenger with a weight limit of 50 lbs each. You also may carry one carry-on bag and a personal item. After arriving in Africa, the luggage allowances and allowed weights may change. Many of the airlines that fly internally in South Africa only allow one bag and it will likely have a weight linit of 44 lbs. You will end up paying an additional charge for your second bag, even if it is a gun case.
The main idea about packing for a safari is to pack as lightly as possible, you really don’t want to lug around a lot of items that you won’t use. I learned how to pack for safari a long time ago. Make three piles of what you want to take on safari. The first will contain what you really will need, the second will consist of things you might need. The third holds things that would be nice to have. Only bring the first pile.
When it comes to clothing, here are a few mistakes that hunters make when packing:
Stay away from the “great hunter” clothing you see in movies. Avoid bright colors.
Khaki, light brown and olive colors are your best bet.
Don’t take blue or black clothing to Africa. The tsetse fly is attracted to dark colors, and you definitely don’t want to get bitten. Camouflage is legal in South Africa and Namibia. Check with your agent about wearing it in other countries, but it is always best to travel in normal clothing and keep the camo for wearing in the bush.
Pack a light jacket for the early mornings and late nights which can be cool to cold.
Pack a full brim hat that can be squashed in a suitcase. Baseball-type hats won’t give you the protection from the sun. (Yes, I know your PH will probably wear one, but he’s lived there all his life.) This author’s personal preference is a Tilly-style hat. It has a strap that fits under your chin, and keeps the hat on your head when riding in the back of a safari truck.
Don’t pack too many changes of clothing. Two or three complete changes will be enough. In camp, laundry is done daily.
Don’t pack all your clothes in check-in luggage. Carry at least one change of underwear and socks in your carry-on.
Don’t forget your sunglasses. The African sun is harsh. Polarized lenses work best at cutting glare and allowing you to see game animals in the bush.
Carry at least two sets of keys for the TSA locks on the suitcases.
In Africa, you hunt with your feet. Comfortable boots are a must. They need to have covered quite a few miles before you wear them on a safari. Mine are Danner Gortex with ankle support. They are heavy-lugged and have been dragging my carcass through the brush for more than 15 years. They are only semi-waterproof, but that has never been a problem. If you think your feet might have a blister problem, bring a piece of moleskin to pad your boots.
When it comes to meds, make sure your prescription drugs are packed in your carry-on. In general, you should bring aspirin, anti-diarrhea pills, Band-Aids, allergy remedies, lip balm with a high SPF, bug spray, and sunscreen with an SPF of 50, or greater. Take a book or Kindle for reading on the plane, and during down times in camp. Knives are a personal matter, but I’ve found that a Swiss Army knife and a multi-tool will accomplish anything I need to do.
At least two months before your safari, you should visit a travel clinic and get whatever shots/pills are recommended for the countries you will be visiting.
I guess the most important item is the rifle you will be hunting with. Lately I’ve only been bringing one rifle for my African safaris. Right now, that rifle is a Ruger Hawkeye in .416 Ruger with a short 20-inch barrel. It’s flat shooting enough for the occasional 250-yard shot, and hard hitting enough to take down the largest game animal. It wears a fixed 2.5 x scope, but if my game bag included plains game I’d mount a 3-9x40 optic. TSA rules state that your rifle must be in a lockable hard case. You will have to provide a non-TSA lock (s) and the key will remain with you. If TSA wants to re-inspect your guns, they must find you and have you unlock the case. I use an aluminum 2-gun case with a rod that feeds through five clamps, and locks at the end of the case with a good Master, or Yale, padlock.
Most safari shooting is done off shooting sticks. You should procure a set, and practice using them at your range. Bog Pod makes a set that is adjustable from 22 inches to 68 inches. They will easily fit into an average suitcase. Ammunition can be carried either in the factory packaging, or in a hard plastic or steel box. Some airlines don’t object to packing the ammo in the rifle case, but to be on the safe side, I’d recommend packing it separately in your check-in bag.
No matter how many rifles you take to Africa, you will have to limit your ammunition load out to eleven pounds per person. Only carry ammunition suitable for the rifle you are using. It’s against the rules to carry ammunition in a different caliber than what you have listed. In other words, you cannot bring extra ammo for use in a different gun.
As an aside, both Zimbabwe and South Africa allow handguns to be imported, but they have to be for hunting purposes only, and a permit is required ($125.00 at last look.). I’ve taken my Smith & Wesson M500 to both countries with little, or no, hassle. The biggest problem I’ve encountered is my PH wanted to shoot it. (So did every other hunter who saw it.)
Binoculars – bring what you would use on a deer hunt. Anything around 8x42mm is adequate as long as they have excellent light gathering properties. Good optics can add another 30 minutes to hunting time.
Miscellaneous Equipment and Clothing
You may want to bring a rangefinder, flashlight, voltage transformer, phone charger and other accessories that you might need. An ozonics unit is handy if you are bow hunting or will be sitting in a leopard blind or hunting night-time animals. I have found a thermocell and some refills to be a standard part of my safari gear, especially in the warmer and higher rainfall months.
If you are hunting in the winter and will be sitting in a blind or riding in the back of the truck while spotlighting, a set of warm gloves, some insulated underwear, warm socks and a warm facemask or scarf can be a misery saver!
If bowhunting from a blind, a set of lightweight black gloves and a black facemask and jacket will help keep you concealed.
Some modern hunters prefer wearing a fishing-style face mask in lieu of using sunscreen. Just be sure that it is in a neutral green, tan or brownish color.
The basic idea about female clothing for an African safari is to layer everything. Mornings can be very chilly (under 40 degrees), so a pair of leggings will come in handy. As with men’s clothing, stay with the neutral colors, Khaki, olive, or light brown. You only need to pack three sets of outer clothing. Whatever you drop on the floor at night will be cleaned, folded, and on your bed the next day. Bring a good jacket; Colombia, or similar. Pack two tank tops to use as undershirts. Again, get a full brim hat. Sunblock works, but the African sun works harder. You can be out in the safari truck for eight hours, or more. A good pair of thin leather gloves is important – saves the wear and tear on your freshly-polished fingernails. You will need one pair of trainers and one pair of flip-flops to wear when in camp. Your underwear and pjs are entirely up to you.
Take whatever you need for personal care, but my recommendation for a hair drier is one that folds up small, and is rated for dual voltage; 110 volts and 220 volts. Bring all your meds and keep them in the carry-on. My wife carries a Streamlight ProTac 2L flashlight with rechargeable CR-123 batteries and a charger. Great for finding your way back to the chalet after dinner.
Far be it from me to recommend what shoes a lady should wear, but they should be closed-toe and have some ankle support for walking through the bush.