NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The brochure at the booth for Watts Trophy Hunting at the Safari Club International annual convention featured a selling point reading “Your Dream, Our Mission.”
A banner hanging at another booth inside the Music City Center advertising Cloete and West Safaris read, “Experience the Traditions of Safari.”
The word “safari” conjures up a mystique in the hunting world of a past era, of adventure living in tents by night and tracking across dry, rough country by day in pursuit of elephants, lions, leopards, rhino and Cape buffalo – the so-called Big Five.
For a hunter who has spent his entire life in the local woods of Indiana or another Midwestern state, pursuing whitetail deer, turkey, waterfowl and the like, Africa represents the big time, the Super Bowl of hunting.
For many it may not be practical to take time off from work for a vacation halfway across the world to Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia or Tanzania. For others, the cost of a safari may be prohibitive since trips may range in cost from a handful of thousands of dollars to many thousands of dollars.
Those area hunters may be armchair safari dreamers, subscribing to magazines such as Sporting Classics and Sports Afield and rather than being able to roam the bush of South Africa, may never get closer to big-game animals than a visit to a zoo.
After putting pennies in a jar, however, to save for a heart’s desire goal, that hunter might one day wake up and realize he can pull everything together for the safari of a lifetime. There were a few dozen outfitters at the Safari Club show to talk a novice through how to make that safari a reality.
Reality can be harsh when it comes to evaluating the bank account because it is pricey to fly to Africa, spending a week or longer at a high-end lodge with first-class food and being led into the field by guides who know what they are doing.
Discussing a safari for an Indiana hunter who has set aside the bucks to pull it off, the No. 1 piece of advice offered was for the hunter to make certain to do his research.
“You have to know what animals you want,” Brian Van Blerk said. He guides in Tanzania and Zimbabwe for a minimum of seven-to-10 days, or three weeks.
Van Blerk encounters many hunters whose desires have been fueled by reading hunting literature, from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa” and Robert Ruark’s “Horn of the Hunter” to Peter Hathaway Capstick’s “Death in the Long Grass.”
The romance of African life and the exotic nature of the countries far from home pique interest and long-time hunters with only homegrown experience might dare to aim too high.
Van Blerk and others suggest the beginning African hunter first pursue plains game, such as eland or kudo rather than going after “dangerous” game. The Africa of a century ago is much different today and guides and hunters cope with more regulations.
“Everything is very restricted and controlled on a quota system,” Van Blerk said.
Similarly, Deon West of Cleote West agreed plains game would be a get-your-feet-wet hunt.
“I would recommend they start with plains game before they get into the heavier game,” West said, “so they know what it is all about.”
Researching rules about transporting guns into a country also is recommended and making contact with a guide directly is wise since they will spend so much time together in close quarters.
The problem for a first-time African hunter may be that he may be an only-time African hunter and might not be able to afford a warm-up hunt.
“If you are going to do one safari in your life, you should go to Tanzania,” West said. “It is a very, very traditional place.”
Think the movie “Out of Africa,” he said. “It’s just like it was 100 years ago.”
Christian Weth speaks up for Uganda Wildlife Safaris and was one of several outfitters who said a safari built around taking plains game often includes harvesting buffalo. Buffalo is dangerous game, but can be hunted near the other species and will provide the thrill of taking one of the Big Five with the cost being more inexpensive because they are more numerous.
While older hunters read the literature, Weth has found “the young ones” do their research online.
“You first must decide for yourself, what do I want to do?” Weth said. “What is my budget? What can I afford? What is my African dream? I wouldn’t rush it.”
When asked what advice he would give to the beginning safari hunter, Jono Joseph of JWK Safaris, based in South Africa, immediately joked, “They should find me.”
Beyond that, Joseph said the hunter should prepare himself with the right clothing, equipment, practice at a shooting range and read up on “what could happen in the field.” He did not mean Capstick’s alarmist stories about getting killed while hunting, but that the experience will not resemble going to a friend’s farm for deer. “It’s going to be completely difference. Perception is very important.”
Joseph said at his “luxurious” camps even the laundry gets done. “You don’t have to pack a massive suitcase.”
As a reminder, the meat from the kills goes to the nearby community. “Nothing is left behind,” Joseph said. “The whole animal is used.” A safari can be arranged to suit the individual. “Everything is attainable. You have to be in shape a little bit. It’s within everyone’s grasp. The sunsets, the sunrises, the romantic old East Africa safaris.”
Steve Konieczny, the American representative of South Africa-based Watts, who has hunted not only the Big Five, but the so-called “Dangerous Seven” (add in a hippo and a crocodile) with bow and arrow, said while being cost conscious is an issue for many hunters, his company “gets the best quality. It’s not, ‘There’s an impala, shoot it, shoot it, shoot it.’”
Konieczny said he began his relationship with the outfitter as a client before becoming an employee and said they treat people like family. There have been many hunters who return with children and grandchildren.
“You make your experience,” he said. “Every hunt, they’ve all got something special about them.”