Your First Overseas Hunt – Craig Boddington

It’s a big world out there with almost limitless opportunities. Transportation has never been faster and remains fairly affordable. It’s a fact that many international hunts are beyond the financial reach for many of us. However, it’s also fact that a lot of amazing adventures lie within the reach of average working folks. To some extent this is a matter of priority, and we’re all entitled to our own hunting dreams. Honestly, good old North America is a pretty cool place, with a wide variety of habitats and game animals. Also, because of our vast public lands, North America offers the greatest opportunity in the world for DIY hunting.

African sunset: Yes, the African sunset is just as magnificent as you’ve heard!

It’s okay with me if you’re content hunting close to home. North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, but according to surveys, most American hunters rarely hunt far from home. Your hunting goals are your business. Hunting is hunting and hunters are hunters; it doesn’t make you less skilled if you prefer to do all of your hunting in your back 40. In fact, I humbly submit that good old American “DIY” public land hunters are among the world’s most skilled.

Because, North America has the world’s largest hunting culture, we dominate the market, and although the percentage is small, we also have the world’s largest group of traveling hunters, tens of thousands annually, including both veterans and first-timers.

Every year on the convention circuit, I run into hundreds of hunters who dream of expanding their horizons. Some are serial dreamers, folks I talk to year after year, still thinking about a long-range hunt, but they just haven’t gotten around to it. Trust me, there are always good reasons: kids in college, job took a downward turn, illness in the family, you name it. Making an international hunt is discretionary: nobody’s going to make you do it, and there are always other things to be done with money. So, it seems to me that the first hurdle is deciding you want to do it badly enough…and, by God, this year (or next) you’re going to get it done!

The larger hunting conventions such as Safari Club International and Dallas Safari Club are great places to meet outfitters face-to-face.

As to whether it’s worth it or not, well, I’m the worst person to ask! In my 20’s, I worked three jobs and saved every penny I could so I could get to Africa just once! Like all first safaris, it was a life-altering event that I’ve never regretted. However, one’s first costly international hunt is sobering and, let’s be honest, a little bit frightening. For me, every hunt has been worth every penny, every drop of sweat, and every tingle of fear. But that’s a personal judgment that can only be made in retrospect.

In many destinations, and definitely in Africa, trophy fees are a major portion of the hunt cost. It’s important to study the animals available in the area you’ll be hunted and find out which interest you. This is a red Cape hartebeest, widespread in both Namibia and South Africa.

I can say this: I have never met a hunter who regretted investing in new horizons. Odd choice of word? No! The investment is in your book of life; the dividend in your memories. As a gun-writer, I justify this stuff as “business” which it is. But I do not delude myself that I can purchase a safari and expect to directly amortize the cost against articles sold (at outdoor publication rate, really?). Fortunately, I’ve never been afraid to invest in myself, and the memories and photos are still there, often used for articles and book chapters a decade down the road. And, if not, they’re still there.

Sticks in field: Although luck is always a factor, how well you shoot has much to do with overall success. Shooting sticks are almost universal in Africa…get a set and practice with them frequently before your safari.

Unfortunately, I have lost a lot of friends who left us with “bucket list” hunts unfulfilled. For some it was the “one big hunt” he or she wanted to do; for others it was one of many, but an important goal left unfulfilled. Amid the mysteries that await us beyond we cannot know if it matters, but as my own time grows shorter, I am increasingly convinced that we should try to acquire memories we desire to possess while we can, before it’s too late.

As for the trepidation factor, trust me, it’s there when you embark on a first international hunt…and on any trip to an unfamiliar destination. In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt said, “nothing to fear but fear itself.” When traveling internationally apprehensions are normal. I would never say there are no reasons for concern…but in the insulated world of international hunting, which almost universally means an outfitted hunt, worries are remote. On arrival you will be greeted by your outfitter and escorted to a safe camp, and you will have a wonderful experience.

Camp options range from comfortable tent camps to amazing lodges…decide what you want before booking your hunt and shop accordingly.

This principle applies across the worldwide spectrum of outfitted hunts. I’ve done a dozen hunts in Central Asia. Is this a stable and “safe” region for Westerners? Of course not! Would I grab a backpack and go hiking alone? Are you nuts? As a visiting hunter, however, I’ve never felt threatened.

Actual risks are minimal, and in the most common hunting destinations almost nil. When considering a first international adventure most hunters probably look to Africa, where 20 countries offer organized hunting for visitors. Namibia and South Africa have the two largest safari industries and are the most likely choices for first-timers. In either country a typical “plains game safari” is, in my view, the best bargain in the hunting world! Some animals are more difficult than others, and it always depends on straight shooting, how selective you are, and how your luck runs. On a seven or ten-day hunt in good country most hunters will average about one animal per day.

The most typical pricing is a daily rate plus “trophy fees” for game taken. Trophy fees depend on local availability and “desirability,” so a kudu commands a higher price than common antelopes such as blesbok and impala. Some outfitters, especially those who own the land they operate on, offer inclusive “packages” which can be good deals. Costs vary among outfitters and depends on game taken, but very good plains game safaris including a good selection of animals range from around $5000, similar to a basic guided deer hunt. Not included are usually tips, trophy shipping, taxidermy, and travel, all of which must be factored in as you do your planning.

Boddington and Frederick Burchell with a southern greater kudu bull taken in southern Namibia. The greater kudu is plentiful in both Namibia and South Africa, and is at the top of many hunters’ “wish list” on plains game safaris in both countries.

You can expect comfortable camps, great food, and the time of your life, but don’t expect that a first safari will get this out of your system once and for all. Most hunters find themselves planning a return even before they get on the plane home. Now, let me throw out another idea. On a first overseas hunt it’s common to think of Africa first…but it doesn’t have to be that way. Every continent save Antarctica has a wide variety of hunting destinations, but two other areas strike me as very good options to start with: Argentina and New Zealand.

Outfitter Chris and Caroline Bilkey and Craig Boddington with Caroline’s red stag, in New Zealand’s Southern Alps above the Rangitata River Valley. As in Argentina, red stag is the premier game species in New Zealand, but most areas offer about a half-dozen varieties of big game.

Both are extremely safe and “user friendly” beautiful countries with good outfitters operating from excellent camps and lodges. Neither country vies with Africa for variety, but it always depends on what game interests you the most. Costs for basic hunts are similar to a plains game safari, and both countries need to be on your “bucket list.”

Once you’ve made the decision to take the plunge the hard part is choosing exactly where to go and picking your outfitter. This can get confusing, since there are lots of great outfitters. Word-of -mouth is always a good referral, but keep in mind that nobody knows all the good outfitters and we are all limited by our own experience. The major hunting conventions offer good opportunities to walk around and meet outfitters face to face. Just keep in mind that their purpose for being there is to sell their hunts.

No outfitter can control weather or game movement, but they can control food and lodging, and good outfitters the world over take good care of their clients. In South Africa, eland steaks on the grill…the best game meat in the world

Donated hunts are often offered for auction at fundraisers for various conservation groups. These sometimes go for ridiculously low prices, which breaks my heart. Depending on the group, these hunts may or may not be well-vetted, but are donated for a good cause. That’s why I hate to see them go cheap, but it takes at least two bidders to make an auction.

Just read the fine print carefully and make sure you know exactly what you’re bidding on! Booking agents are also a good source, and are especially useful for first-timers because they’re available to answer questions while outfitters are in the field. The limitation is booking agents only represent certain outfitters, and some outfitters don’t use agents.

I am not an agent, but I have a network of Craig Boddington Endorsed Outfitters (CBEO), in the outfitter section on my website (www.craigboddington.com). Our limitation is CBEO is restricted to folks I know and recommend to my friends, but we have members in all the likely areas for a first-time hunt.

By whatever means, locate an outfitter who appeals to you, do a “google” search, get references, and call them! Understand that most references will be satisfied and successful clients, so don’t just focus on their hunts. Ask about other hunters in camp, and about hunting conditions and “what a typical hunting day is like.”

The good news, there are very few bad apples in the outfitter barrel! Try to get a handle on the experience you’re looking for, not just the animals. Do your due diligence as if booking your hunt is a business transaction! It’s exactly that for the outfitter, while it’s dream fulfilment for you. Put emotions aside, know what you want, and check things out carefully. With just ordinary caution chances are very good that your hunting dreams will come true!