Obviously, the more important the hunt is to me, the more trouble I take to ensure that I book the right area, at the right time of year, with the best possible outfitter and professional hunter. Each year, there are a number of hunting conventions in North America and Europe at which all the top safari outfitters and professional hunters are represented. It is well worth attending one or more of these conventions. For example, the biggest convention of its kind in North America is the one held by Dallas Safari Club in January of each year in Dallas, Texas and, in South Africa, it is Huntex held in April half way between Johannesburg and Pretoria. These conventions allow you to do a large amount of comparative shopping and reference checking in a short period of time. Apart from anything else, these conventions are run by hunters for hunters and offer you everything that you can possibly think of which relates, directly or indirectly, to hunting, under one roof.
Having decided on where I am going, what I am going to hunt, what time of the year and with whom, there are a whole slew of other questions to which I need answers and it is a good idea to develop a second checklist of questions to ask the booking agent, outfitter, professional hunter and one or two chosen referees. Incidentally, when asking questions it is not a bad idea to send them off in writing and ask for written replies. The more of the correspondence that is in writing the better, particularly the correspondence with booking agents, safari outfitters and professional hunters and, in this regard, I always take a folder along on my hunt with the correspondence in it. This can really help to eliminate misunderstandings, particularly, if there are different home languages involved. This was really brought home to me at a French restaurant in Bangui in the Central African Republic. I ordered roast chicken in what I thought was impeccable and grammatical French. Fifteen minutes later, when the owner and his waiter had stopped laughing long enough to dry their tears, I found that I had ordered a roasted prostitute.
The one and only time I failed to correspond directly with the outfitter cost me a lot of time, money, pain and suffering. I had booked a 28 day hunt in Tanzania. In my written correspondence with the young professional hunter, who had quite literally begged for the opportunity, I specified that the object of the hunt was to try for a good quality lesser kudu. Hence I wanted to hunt for two weeks in Masailand, one week to explore along the Rungwa River in the south-west, and then back to Masailand for a week, where my wife was to join me before we travelled to the Ngorongoro Crater for a few days of game viewing.
Well, he never forwarded one bit of the correspondence to the outfitter. Not knowing my requirements, the outfitter assumed mine were the normal Tanzanian priorities of lion, leopard and buffalo and shipped me off to the Rungwa River. He had allowed me three days, in total, in Masailand.
Eventually, as I managed to sift through the fog of fabrications spewed forth by the duplicitous young man, I spoke directly to the outfitter. He was not to blame as I had been led to believe. In fact, he could not have been fairer or more obliging when he discovered my predicament. He allowed me a further two days, free of charge, in Masailand. Unfortunately, the five days were insufficient to obtain a lesser kudu and I had to book a second safari, which I did with the same outfitter, two years later. This time I shot a good representative lesser kudu in Masailand on the 12th day of the hunt.
So, at last, it’s off to the races. The questions that I now want answered relate, essentially, to clothing, equipment and medical matters, for example:
- What kind of hats are best?
- What colour clothing is best?
- Is camouflage allowed, if so, what type works best?
- Should I bring shorts and short sleeves or longs and long sleeves and, in what quantities?
- Is washing done daily?
- What kind of footwear is recommended and how many pairs should I bring?
- What about gloves, scarves, jerseys and jackets?
- What will I be sleeping on and in?
As regards equipment, it is not sufficient to ask advice merely with regard to calibres and cartridges. For example, when hunting in the Central African rain forests, it may be a good idea to take a pair of stout, garden secateurs to help cut entangling creepers. Duck tape may be needed to wrap around metal gun sights to prevent them snagging on the undergrowth. Boots with protruding metal eyes or catches for bootlaces must be avoided as they catch on the undergrowth and can cause the unwary to stumble and trip. On the open plains, a bipod or monopod may work best as a rest and, if hunting in the savannah, before the grasses are burnt, a pair of clear glass spectacles to shield eyes from the head high grasses which constantly flick in the face may be an idea.
What kind of luggage to take – hard or soft? Many hunters travel with soft duffel bags of various sizes because they pack easier in small aircraft. I never do. I always take a good quality, hard shell, lockable suitcase. The one I use is dust proof and waterproof. It provides much better protection for my clothing and equipment and, being lockable, is much more secure and not only from two-legged thieves. I always take glucose sweets for energy, much loved by mice and rats, who think nothing about gnawing through duffel bag canvass. If absolutely necessary, I pack a fold up, material duffel bag in my suitcase. I also always take a thin, waterproof gun sleeve. This takes up very little space and is useful protection for firearms, particularly when travelling in open hunting vehicles in dusty or wet conditions.
I try to establish the number of people that are going to be in my hunting team. For example, on some hunts the team may be quite large and consist of two trackers, a professional hunter, game scout, baggage man, driver and myself. The role of the baggage man is to carry food, water, first aid kit, GPS, cameras, spare footwear, socks and rain gear. On the other hand, it may be only myself and the professional hunter. In the former case, I may be able to take a video camera and a 35mm stills camera. In the latter event, I may be hard pressed to carry a pocket sized, ‘point and push’ camera in a moon bag on my back. In the case of cameras, video cameras and torches, I establish whether there is a facility to recharge batteries in the camp or from the vehicles that I use and, if so, what type of connections are required. And my equipment check list includes spare batteries for my stills camera, flash and distance measuring binoculars. For one reason or another, it seems easy to forget these tiny, little blighters.