African Safari: During the Hunt

In the previous article in this series, we discussed planning and preparing for your upcoming African safari. In this installment, we’ll take a look at tips for what to think about during and after the hunt to help you avoid any unforeseen pitfalls which might tarnish your experience of a lifetime.

Expect the Unexpected

Hunting in Africa is much different from hunting in North America. You are allowed to shoot just about any game animal that you see over there … for a price. The outfitter will be banking on you expanding your list of trophies once you are caught up in the excitement of the safari.

If you have signed up for a package hunt with a certain selection of animals, you may think that you know exactly what your costs will be. But you will probably see many species that aren’t on your list, and you will be tempted to expand your selection. Make sure that you know the prices ahead of time for any other animals in the area that can be hunted and think about any species that you might want to pay an additional fee to collect. You don’t want to be finding out the price of an animal while you are looking down the barrel at it.

Trading for different animals in a package deal hunt is generally not allowed. For instance, if you were to shoot an extra impala, but didn’t shoot a hartebeest on your list, don’t expect to get any credit for the hartebeest. You will probably have to pay an additional fee for the second impala.

Shooting some animals may actually increase the overall daily rate of the hunt. If you are on a plains game hunt and shoot a leopard, you will pay the additional trophy fee, but your daily rate could go up as well. Make sure you understand any fees before hand so you don’t have to make an expensive decision under intense pressure in a matter of seconds.

Also, you need to prepare yourself on understanding trophy worthiness of the animals you plan to hunt. Spend some time exploring the SCI Record Book to learn about horn lengths and what are desirable trophy attributes for the different species, like the spiral curves of a Kudu horn. Your PH will help with this during the hunt and you will need to rely on his expertise. You might see a herd of 100 hartebeest, but there may only be three or four bulls in the herd that are trophy worthy. It may be difficult for you to pick out the good ones from the crowd. This is where an experienced outfitter can help by locating and pointing them out to you.

After the Shot

When it comes time to shoot, aim carefully. In Africa, wounded animals cost the same as the ones that make it to the skinning shed.

Photo by Larry Blomquist

Once your trophy is down, you can move in for the photography. The first photos you make should be close-ups of the face and head for reference while the animal is still fresh. These photos will be invaluable later when the taxidermy work begins. A good trick to establish scale for an impromptu reference shot is to place a dollar bill beside the head in the photo. From this, you can calculate any measurements if necessary, since American currency is approximately 6″ long.

Tom Cruickshank with White Blesbuck in Namibia 2012

Next, you will want to make your iconic hunter with trophy portrait. Proudly pose with your trophy, propping the head up if necessary. Try to position the animal to minimize any blood showing in the photo. Take several photos from different angles. It’s also a good idea to get some additional photos of your trophy with you and the PH, and more with your tracker or hunting companions. Some outfitters will take the time to set up the photos perfectly, pulling up grass and weeds, or even bringing along a five-gallon water bucket and siphon hose to clean up the animals for the camera.

It is also beneficial to immediately take vital measurements for taxidermy. Use a measuring tape and record the eye-to-nose, head length, and neck circumference. These three measurement will be required at a minimum. If you want to do some serious work or life-size taxidermy, you will need additional measurements, so take along some measuring diagram sheets and record all the pertinent data.

You may even want to make death mask reference casts of the eye and nose areas. It is easy to pack lightweight Alginate for your trip to make the molds in the field. If you plan to do this, ask your outfitter to provide the heavier plaster for the casting. After a few days in the African sun, your plaster casts will dry to about half of their original weight for the trip back home.

The Skinning Shed

You should ask to accompany your trophies back to the skinning shed. If you are standing there when the skinners do their work, they will probably be more careful knowing they are being watched. Most outfitters have excellent facilities and the skinners do an outstanding job.

The main thing you want to make sure of is that the ears and lips are being completely turned, the eyes and nostrils are fully split, and there is plenty of extra skin in the back and the brisket for a shoulder mount. You can also make sure your trophies are properly identified, with tags on both the skin and the skull.

The Hunting Camp

The accommodations at the hunting camp chalets are usually very nice. The food is good and plentiful, and whiskey and wine are flowing in the evening. The monkeys can be loud at night, but the birds are great to hear in the morning. Make sure you take the time to drink in all of the experience. Sitting around a campfire with more stars overhead than you have ever seen (and totally unfamiliar constellations as well) is something you won’t ever forget.

Be prepared for some serious culture shock, especially if you go into any populated areas. Everything will be different from your everyday American life.

As it is in many European countries, ice in drinks is not as much a priority as it is to Americans. If you ask for ice in your warm Coke, they may offer you a single cube which quickly melts. We Americans are accustomed to pouring our drinks over a glass full of ice, so if you want your drinks cold, you will need to request ice at your hunting camp ahead of time. They can get ice in large quantities if you let them know, but they probably won’t have any ice if you don’t mention it.

Be sure take some additional time for sightseeing. Africa is such a beautiful place with unique landscapes that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. If you ask, your PH can take you to places where you can get some authentic souvenirs, instead of the junk that is commonly peddled to tourists.

Stay in Touch

Once you are back home and the quarantine period for your specimens is over, you will want to start sending the outfitter or exporter polite e-mail inquiries asking when your trophies will ship. Let them know you are anxious to get your trophies and you want to be updated on their status.

If they send you any email questions regarding your specimens, respond to them promptly. If you don’t keep the information flowing, then the pack and dip service and the trophy shipping exporters can put your job on the back burner. Staying in communication with them is your best course for receiving your trophies in a timely manner.

All imported wildlife will be inspected by US Fish and Wildlife when it is allowed into the country (see “Importing Wildlife and the Law“). You should plan to keep the import paperwork for your trophies forever. It will be nice to be able to prove that all of your trophies were imported legally, even years after the fact, especially any species requiring CITES documentation. Your great-grandchildren may need the paperwork if they ever have to split up your trophy collection in the next century.

I want to offer my special thanks to Roger Martin and Larry Blomquist for their assistance in preparing this article.

Part 1 of this article can be found here: Planning for Your African Safari.

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