An African safari is one of the last great adventures. It should not be sanitized or watered down, but consumed, drop by precious drop, like a fine, gritty wine; a blend that sticks to your teeth, tugs at your stomach, and ultimately leaves you a little richer for consuming it.
Safaris are a tradition rich in culture, history, and mystique. Undoubtedly, the life, the experience, and the culture will rub off on you…if it doesn’t, you’re one of the unlucky few. If even the tiniest shard of an adventurer’s spirit is alive in your heart, this “once in a lifetime” trip will likely become a passion, an obsession, a quest that will pull at every fiber of your being to return again and again until you experience all that Africa has to offer.
And while a safari should be an adventure in every sense of the word, it is not to be taken lightly or embarked upon haphazardly. Before you book that first trip, learn what you need to know and travel with a touch more confidence. Extracted from nearly two decades of beating around the Dark Continent, from the Cape to Kenya, this guide of the top gear for Africa will start you in the right direction.
The Blaser Professional
There are lots of great African rifles, but few equal the Blaser R8. This rifle is incredibly accurate, extremely well-made, and handles like a sports car, but what really makes this rifle shine for Africa is the easy take-down feature, which makes traveling much more convenient. Not lugging a full-size rifle case through airports makes your life easier, because the tiny case doesn’t scream “gun” to thieves and gets thrown into the luggage hold when bigger gun cases get left on the loading ramp for the next scheduled flight. (Which in Africa may be several days away.)
The Professional package is set up and ready to hunt and comes with a Zeiss Conquest scope, quick detach saddle mounts (which, after extensive testing, return not “close to zero” but exactly dead-on), a quality neoprene sling with shell holders, and a fitted Pelican case. There is enough room in the case to store an additional barrel, too, making for a dangerous-game and plains-game package that is half the size of a conventional case. The Professional package is available in six basic caliber configurations from .270 Winchester to .375 H&H, but there are nearly 40 different calibers/barrels that will also fit.
The Blaser Case
What really makes this rifle shine for Africa is the easy take-down feature, which makes traveling much more convenient. Not lugging a full-size rifle case through airports makes your life easier, because the tiny case doesn’t scream “gun” to thieves and gets thrown into the luggage hold when bigger gun cases get left on the loading ramp for the next scheduled flight.
From cameras to iPhones, on today’s safari you need a source of power. I bring a combination of adapters and 12V/USB chargers. A small Brunton Restore works well for times when you are off the grid or away from a vehicle.
Like clothing, you generally need just the essential personal items on safari. Most camps will provide the towels, washcloths, soap, shampoo, and lotion. Must-have items to bring are a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, and any required medications.
Traveling with ammo Inside the United States, traveling with ammo is a relatively easy process. But go to Africa, and the rules change by the country, the airline, the day, or the particular person working the counter. Sometimes ammo in its original packaging is fine inside your gun case or inside other luggage, but other times they will require the ammo not only to be in its original packaging, but also locked inside its own separate hard, lockable container, separate from luggage or gun case. To ensure you have all bases covered and are prepared for any eventuality, package ammo boxes inside a small lockable hardcase and bring a small padlock. In the United States, you will be going above and beyond the requirements, but in Africa it may be a necessity to ensure your ammo arrives at your final destination.
After the safari is over, the work of getting trophies back home begins. To ensure this goes smoothly and costs as little as possible, it is best to devise a plan well before you go to Africa.
Start by contacting a customs clearing broker specializing in wildlife trophies. We have used Coppersmith and Fauna & Flora with good results and let them handle the details. You can still decide if you want to have the taxidermy work done in Africa or stateside, and there are pros and cons to either method.
Taxidermy is generally cheaper in Africa, but shipping mounted heads is more costly than just shipping capes and horns.
Regarding quality, there is good and bad taxidermy, both in Africa and in the United States, but it has been my experience that, on average, the quality of taxidermy is better in the United States. Don’t feel pressured to have the work done there. If you have a taxidermist back home you want to use, just tell the outfitter up front. There are generally three charges to getting trophies home. As part of the hunting service, the field preparation of trophies in camp is often (but not always) included in the hunting price. This means skinning, caping, and salting of hides and boiling skulls.
What you will be charged for is generally referred to as “Dip and Pack” as well as crating. This is the process of sanitizing the trophies for export and preparing them to be shipped. You will then be charged for overland transport to a shipping terminal. The biggest bill comes next; it is air or ocean cargo shipment from Africa to the United States. When it lands in the United States, your customs broker will take control and pick it up, store it in a warehouse, fill out the paperwork, and organize the shipping company to deliver it to your door. Your final payments will be to the customs broker and the trucking/delivery company.
It is a time-consuming and expensive part of any safari, but the good news is that most of the bills won’t come due for a year after your hunt, allowing some time to save up the extra money.
The Saddleback Briefcase is the ideal vessel for the one-bag safari. It simply looks the part and screams adventure. Panache aside, this heirloom-quality luggage is made to last several lifetimes. It is large enough to carry all your gear yet will still fit into the overhead compartment of even the smallest commercial plane. The main compartment is divided into two large compartments with multiple small pockets. Crafted from a combination of 100% full-grain cow leather and pigskin, I have yet to find the Kalahari sun or the tropical moisture of the African coast deter it. Several thousand miles of red African sand have only given mine more character.
I like clothes that pull double duty for hunting and travel. I prefer Filson Safari Cloth shirts and pants for most safaris. For footwear, have a pair of Russell PH boots made. They are super-comfortable, easy to take off going through security, and are excellent for most African hunting. Pack two sets of underwear and socks, an extra hunting shirt, one pair of Cabela’s 2-in-1 pants, a pair of short gaiters, and an Eddie Bauer MicroTherm Feather- weight Jacket.
Pentax Optio WG-2
While a full-sized digital SLR is nice, the size of the body and the additional lenses kill the one-bag safari concept, and besides, digital pocket cameras can do everything a hunter needs. The Pentax Optio WG-2 takes great photos, is shock-, dust-, and waterproof, and takes up no space—ideal for safari. Include a spare battery and card for an extended trip.
A Good Read
Like not hearing a lion roar or hyenas cackle as you drift off to sleep, there is something missing if you go to Africa without a good book. Top picks include anything by Robert Ruark or Wilbur Smith. Also, throw in a small journal and pen to jot down your own impressions; you’ll be glad you did.
Most of rural Africa is relatively safe for travelers, but like anywhere in the world, there are some rough spots. This is especially true of large African cities with International airports and an influx of tourists. There are plenty of horror stories about unsuspecting travelers getting pickpocketed, mugged, or items stolen from a hotel. A few years ago, a friend got his wallet (which had $3,000 in it) lifted outside of Johannesburg’s airport…but he had broken a few key rules that would have kept his stuff his.
Lock up your stuff: For several years now my travel luggage has been Pelican Hardcases. I lock the cases when en route or when I leave them in camp or a hotel. Of course, someone can steal the entire case, but this is highly unlikely as most thefts are of the small, opportunistic nature. If your stuff is locked up and out of sight, it stands a better chance of being there when you return. In addition to remaining secure, your gear stays dust-free and exceptionally protected from damage over rough African roads.
Create a dummy wallet: Take an old wallet and stuff it with a few outdated credit cards, library card, gym membership, etc. Add a small amount of spending cash in both native currency as well as U.S. dollars for purchases on the road. By using small denominations of native currency, you can give the wallet the appearance of looking flush without it actually containing lots of cash. If you get pickpocketed or mugged, the worst you will be out is the price of a cheap wallet and less than 50 bucks. Keep your passport, real stash of cash, valid credit cards, and other documentation in a secure front shirt pocket or moneybelt.
Back up documents: Before you leave home, take photos of all of your credit cards, front and back, passport ID page, drivers license, gun permits, and U.S. Customs Declaration Form with gun and valuables info and burn onto a secure (fingerprint readable) USB jumpdrive. Keep the jumpdrive on your person at all times in a secure pocket. Have a trusted source back home keep a duplicate copy. If your real documentation does get stolen, contacting the credit card companies as well as establishing your identity becomes much easier.