Ultimate Big 5 Safari Hunting Guide
Posted On : May 27, 2015
Posted By : DAH
Ultimate Guide to Hunting the Big Five in Africa
For many hunters, bagging Africa’s Big Five is a lifelong dream. Testing your skills against some of the most difficult prey on Earth, connecting with your inner Teddy Roosevelt, or simply building once in a lifetime memories are among the common reasons for choosing a Big 5 hunt. Yet some people shy away from fulfilling this dream because they feel overwhelmed by the process of making it a reality, while others undertake this life-changing journey without proper preparation. Hunting the Big 5 in Africa is a big deal, but like all goals, preparing for it requires a series of relatively simple steps.
Understanding your quarry
The Big 5 consists of five dangerous animals that are generally considered the most challenging to hunt. While most game has the ability to harm the hunter in some way, the Big Five can turn the tables in an instant. The danger adds to the thrill, and a good hunting safari will take all precautions to keep you safe. Nonetheless, this is not a beginner’s safari. You should be a competent and confident hunter before you set out. In addition, the more you know about each of the Big 5, the more likely you are to find success.
- Cape Buffalo: Powerful, fast-moving, and extremely cunning, the Cape buffalo is often considered the most dangerous of the Big Five and one of the deadliest African animals to human beings. Unlike most game, the buffalo will play an intentional cat and mouse game, doubling back to lie in wait for the hunter. Good instincts, powerful firearms, and excellent aim are required to take down the mighty buffalo.
- African Elephant: Massive in size, with thick hides and an uncanny ability to hide, African elephants are also known to charge when they feel endangered. Coupled with the fact that they cannot be killed by shots from long distances, this tendency to charge increases the danger of the hunt. You must be comfortable with your gun and confident that your first shot will be a success. Pursuing an elephant requires a great deal of walking, as well as fending off other members of the herd that put themselves between you and your prey.
- Lion: Lions are predators that stalk their prey. This gives them a tremendous natural advantage in the hunt, as they are highly skilled at hiding in the grasses and shrubs, and then charging without warning. Lions are hunted using three methods: baiting, or leaving an animal carcass for the lion to find while the hunter waits in a blind; stalking, or following tracks and other signs; and hounding, or hunting with dog packs. Which method to use depends on local laws, terrain, and the preferences of your outfitter.
- Leopard: Considered the most difficult of the Big 5 to hunt due to its reclusive nature, the leopard is solitary and more likely to flee than to stand and fight. They are most often hunted using baiting techniques, and it might take several nights for you to spot a leopard at all. Some countries allow hounds to be used when hunting leopards.
- Rhinoceros: Once critically endangered, white rhinos are now flourishing thanks to population management techniques. Although controversial among non-hunters, tightly regulated and controlled rhinoceros hunting is permitted in countries where the populations are doing well. Many hunters expect the rhino to be the easiest of the Big 5 to take down, but the animals are smart and cunning, with tremendous hearing. Despite their immense size, they are experts at becoming nearly invisible to hunters. Great patience is required for a successful hunt.
Costs of hunting the Big Five
A Big 5 hunting expedition is not cheap, due largely to the costs of permits and trophy fees. Yet it need not be out of reach. The key is to make a detailed budget that includes all of your actual and projected costs.
- Pre-safari expenses: Well in advance of the trip, you will need to secure your passport, visas, immunizations, and travel insurance. Airfare to Africa can be quite expensive, but trying different itineraries and layover cities can reduce your costs. You might also want to secure at least one night of lodging both before and after the hunt to minimize jet lag.
- Safari costs: A hunting safari package typically includes lodging, food, and so-called “daily rates,” or the price of hunting with a skilled guide each day. Airport transfers and taxes are sometimes included and sometimes not. Trophy fees and CITES permits are often excluded from the package rate, although you must look at the outfitter’s line item details to be sure. Other potential costs include firearms rental or importing fees, gratuities, and personal items such as liquor and African curios.
- Post-safari considerations: After your safari, your trophies will need to be treated, mounted, and shipped to your home. “Dip and pack” is the process of cleaning, chemically processing, and certifying the trophies, and crating them for shipment. Dip and pack fees, as well as the costs of transporting the trophies from the hunt site to a dip and pack agent, are not typically included in the price of the safari. You will also need to pay for shipping, customs broker fees, and whatever taxidermy and mounting services you desire. Note that it is illegal to import elephant trophies from certain countries including Zimbabwe. Instead, you can pay a local artisan to create a custom replica of the ivory.
Advantages of using a hunt broker
For most hunters, a Big 5 safari in Africa is a once in a lifetime experience. Choosing the right outfitter, coping with the difficulties of international travel, ensuring that all permits are properly filed…these are just a few of the concerns many people have. An experienced hunt broker has expert knowledge of the entire process and can provide you with valuable advice. Here are just a few advantages of working with a hunt broker.
- Price breaks: Although a Big 5 hunt will never be “cheap,” hunt brokers use the economy of scale to offer their clients the lowest possible prices. If your schedule is flexible, a hunt broker can connect you with very steep discounts due to last minute openings and cancellations. Even if your schedule is tighter, a hunt broker allows you to comparison shop and find the best deals.
- Personalized recommendations: A good hunt broker knows the market, and is familiar with all of the major outfitters. Armed with information about your budget, your schedule constraints, and the type of experience you envision, your broker can help you find opportunities that would be tough to discover on your own. In addition, brokers know the countries where Big 5 hunts occur. They can recommend everything from a place to stay on the night you arrive to off the beaten path tourist sites for the days after your hunt.
- Travel advice: Trying to piece together a long international itinerary can be daunting. Your hunt broker can give you a realistic estimate of how long a plane change might take at a particular airport, suggest routes you might not have considered, provide critical information on how to legally transport your firearms, and even tell you what to expect on a very small plane.
- Trophy transport advice: Do you know the ins and outs of CITES permitting? Have you chosen a dip and pack agent? Who will you use as your customs broker to clear your trophies into the United States or Canada? While a good hunt outfitter will help as much as possible, an experienced hunt broker has seen and done it all. Having a single, unbiased person to advise you on all the particulars can save you a great deal of time, effort, and money.
Planning your hunting safari
Most people do not simply hop on a plane and head for Africa with little notice. Indeed, for many hunters, planning is an important part of the fun. If you are feeling overwhelmed and unsure where to begin, start with these simple tips.
- Work backwards: Once you choose the safari you will take, mark it on your calendar. Then work backwards to set timeline goals. Determine how long it will take you to get to your destination, using the travel itinerary that provides the best balance of time and money. Mark the date of your departure on your calendar. Count backwards from there to place each important date on the calendar, from the day you will get your immunizations to the date of each payment you must make.
- Consider the practicalities: Make a to-do list that includes every practical task you must complete. Do you need to buy hunting clothes? Put it on the list. Are you planning to acquire new firearms? Write that down, along with a reminder to get the proper import permits. Have you requested vacation time from work for your safari? If not, write yourself a memo. Work back and forth between the to-do list and the calendar to make sure nothing is forgotten.
- Don’t forget the fun: Although quite a few practicalities must be attended to, you never want planning your safari to feel like a chore. Grab your guns and go hunting locally for a weekend. Practice your aim and improve your endurance. Find fun ways to get in better shape, using methods that you enjoy. Some people might want to hit the gym, while others are more naturally suited to early morning jogging, late-night dancing, or some other form of exercise. If you start feeling overwhelmed by preparations, take a break altogether for a few days to focus on something else.
What to expect on a Big Five hunt
Every hunt outfitter has its own ways of doing things, but Big 5 hunts typically follow the same general patterns. You might visit different countries or take parts of the hunt in a different order, but the basics are usually the same.
- Timeline: Big 5 hunting safaris usually last for around a month. Your first and last day are considered travel days, along with at least one day in the middle. The rest of the time is spent on daily hunting.
- Accommodations: Most Big 5 hunt outfitters use comfortable, well-appointed hunting lodges that range from moderate to incredibly deluxe. You will be sleeping in style, not roughing it in the jungle. Hunting package fees typically include three hearty, freshly prepared meals per day, including boxed lunches that can be easily eaten in the bush. Daily maid service and laundry service are often provided as well.
- Guide services: Your Big 5 hunt includes the daily services of an experienced, knowledgeable guide. Although you are ultimately in charge of your own success, and trophies are never guaranteed, your guide’s expertise and instruction will provide you with the best possible foundation for a successful hunt.
- Optional plains game hunting: Most of the time, you will pay trophy fees for one specimen from each of the Big 5. If you happen to bag your trophy early, you will likely have the opportunity to hunt more common prey while your fellow hunters continue to search for that particular quarry. Keep in mind that you will be required to pay the trophy fees for anything that you bag.
Special considerations for dangerous animal hunting
Always keep in mind that hunting dangerous, exotic animals is nothing like hunting deer at home. The Big 5 got their reputation for a reason. Hunting outfitters set their customers up for success, but there is no guarantee that you will bag all five trophies. Although the reasons for success or failure are as individual as the hunter, there are a few things you can do to help increase your chances for success.
- Confidence: As every hunter knows, a lack of confidence practically guarantees a lack of success. You have to know your firearms, know your skills, and genuinely believe that you will bag your quarry. This is especially important when hunting the Big 5, as every shot matters and you might not have a lot of opportunities with the more elusive prey.
However, overconfidence can also be a tremendous problem when hunting exotic game. These animals are huge, and some of them are hunters themselves. The terrain is unfamiliar, you might be using rented firearms, and even simple jet lag can wreak havoc on your skills. Listen carefully to your guide, stay highly alert, and assume nothing. Maintain the utmost respect for your game and for your surroundings. Remain confident but avoid bluster or the tendency to believe you know it all.
- Quarry knowledge: Reading about something is no substitute for practicing it day in and day out. Always defer to your guide if something he says contradicts something you’ve read. However, knowledge is always a good thing. Study your prey. Learn the animals’ habits and tendencies. Read other hunters’ accounts of successful Big 5 hunts. Try to develop an understanding of the places you will be hunting, the style of hunting your outfitter uses, and the common problems and pitfalls of hunting each type of trophy.
- Hunting skills: Big 5 hunting in Africa is not a beginner sport. No matter how good your skills may be, you are taking on some of the most challenging trophies in the world. Take the time before your trip to hone your skills. Practice different methods of hunting. Try to improve your aim. Learn to work in different types of blinds. Challenge yourself on each of your pre-safari hunts to learn something new rather than continuing to hunt the way you have always hunted.
Hunting the Big 5 in Africa is a dream trip for many hunters, but the opportunity window may be closing. Waning public support for hunting in general, and especially those animals considered endangered, has led to a flurry of new legal restrictions and even hunting bans in some countries. This, in turn, has caused prices to rise, and many hunting outfitters to turn to specialization in one or two types of quarry. If you dream of hunting the Big 5 in a single, epic trip, now is the time to do so. As the years progress, the ability of the average Joe to follow in Teddy Roosevelt’s steps may be nothing more than a collective memory.