A few years ago I had the choice of either going on my first African safari or doing a moose hunt in the Yukon. After analyzing both options, I found that Africa seemed to be a better value.
Don't get me wrong, Yukon moose is very much still on my bucket list, but when I did a side-by-side comparison I realized that I could do a 10-day plains game hunt in Africa, with my wife along as an observer, for less money than an equivalent length hunt in the Yukon by myself. When I considered that Africa is half-way around the world, and the Yukon, although thousands of miles away from my home in Ontario, Canada, is nonetheless still in my own country, the choice was easy.
There seems to be a lot of bad news coming out of Africa these days in terms of hunting opportunities. Zambia has closed lion and leopard hunting indefinitely, and 2013 may be the last year for all sport hunting in Botswana outside of private ranches. There's little doubt that these closures will sooner rather than later lead to higher safari prices in other parts of Africa, but there are still some great bargains to be had, relatively speaking. There may not be a better time than now to plan that first safari. Here's what you need to know.
The cost of your safari will largely depend on whether you want to hunt plains game or dangerous game. Plains game includes the various antelope species, such as kudu, gemsbok, wildebeest, springbok, impala, etc., along with things like zebra, warthog, etc. Dangerous game means the "Big Five" of elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino, perhaps along with crocodile and hippo. Although hunts for some of the more desirable and rare plains game species such as sable and eland can also get quite pricey, generally dangerous game hunts will run two to three times the cost of plains game safaris, so we'll just deal with strictly plains game hunts this time.
The two biggest African countries in terms of plains game safaris are South Africa and Namibia. The big difference between the two is that most of South Africa is private farms or ranches, many of which have game-proof fences. Although most of these are rather large, encompassing tens of thousands of acres, the thought of hunting in an enclosed area is not everyone's cup of tea. If it isn't yours, Namibia may be your better choice, as it has many ranches that have no fences at all or just low cattle ranches that don't impede the movement of game.
Pricing for plains game safaris usually consists of a daily rate of about $400 per day (observers are about half that) along with "a la carte" trophy fee pricing for each specie of game taken, starting as low as a couple hundred dollars for things like warthog and springbok. Provided you don't go crazy in terms of how many species you wish to take, you can see how a 7- or 8-day safari of this type can be done for well under $10,000. Some outfitters also offer fixed price packages that include the daily rate and trophy fees for a set list of species. Prices for 2-for-1 hunting with a friend or relative and one professional hunter (guide) will also save you money. Generally all food, accommodations and guiding are included. Of course airfare will be a significant additional cost of such a hunt, and there are always extras charges such as tax, tips, trophy preparation and shipping, etc., but this is true of all hunts away from home.
Both South Africa and Namibia are very hunter friendly, and most lodges and outfitters offer deluxe accommodations that even the most discerning spouses and children will appreciate, with many also offering family-friendly options such as fishing, excursions to game parks, shopping, etc.
Although tasks like shopping for hunting clothing for such a trip can be part of the fun, you can also let someone else do most of the planning for you, for no additional charge. I used a booking agent, Jack Atcheson and Sons, to arrange my hunt with Nick Nolte Safaris in Namibia, and my wife and I had a fantastic experience.
But be warned, the Dark Continent gets into your blood and you will likely start dreaming about your next safari before you've even returned home from your first.