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Hunting Africa on a Budget

With some imagination, flexibility and patience a hunter may be able to save a few bucks when planning an African hunt of a lifetime.


It’s been said that man’s ability to dominate the large predators due to the invention of tools, or more specifically weapons, is what finally started our species down the road to civilization. Once the large predators learned to fear man instead of considering humans as food, we became the dominant species.

From there we progressed to farming, building cities, hospitals, the Internet and I suppose ultimately “Occupy Wall Street.”

Clearly every plan has its flaws. But for those of us grounded in reality there is a residual effect. Buried deep in our reptilian brain, probably as a result of being prey for so many years, is an instinctive desire to hunt the critters that can stomp, gore or chew us into a bloody puddle.

Hunting dangerous game is far removed from hunting prey species. It’s an entirely different mindset and a much different set of emotions before, during and after the hunt. Dangerous-game hunting and its motivation are often called into question in today’s emasculated society, but it remains the ultimate challenge for those true to their genetic calling to be hunters.

There is one big problem for most of us on that front. Our expanding civilization has made it all but impossible for average hunters to go to where the dangerous animals live and hunt them on their own.

Modern dangerous-game hunting will usually require that you travel to exotic places, primarily Africa, and pay for a professional hunter to take you hunting. The opportunities are limited and the demand is very high. So, with the simple economic concept of the law of supply and demand, the price to hunt dangerous game today is extremely steep.

There is no getting around a lot of the costs. Things like airplane tickets to Africa, charter flights into the wilderness and the cost of operating a camp are pretty much fixed. But with some imagination, flexibility and patience a hunter may be able to save a few bucks. This is particularly true if your goal is the experience more than a huge trophy to hang on the wall.

I contacted booking agent Keith Atcheson about some of the possibilities. Here is some of what he emailed from his elk camp. It’s good advice on how to get started.

Do Your Homework/Make a Plan
“I’d say the best way for a regular Joe to find a good hunt he can afford is to have a relationship with a good agent and develop a plan, budget, etc. The best values on DG come later in the hunting seasons (say September thru November) when the operator has a clear picture of what quota he has remaining for the season. This is the most likely time that the operator will have interest in reducing day rates and trophy fees on potential DG hunts. It’s going to be hotter then, but this is when you can find real value.

“A good agent has many contacts in Africa, which gives the client far more resources to find the right hunt. Remember, it does not cost the client any extra to use an agent and there is great value in an agent who has real leverage when something goes wrong.”

Another option that they can help with is a cancellation hunt. Often another hunter will book something and then cancel last-minute for whatever the reason. Most agents will have a waiting list of clients for this situation. Often you can get the hunt for the balance of what is owed, sometimes as little as half price. You’ll need to be able to move on it very quickly. So you will need to have all your gear ready and your passport in good order. You also must be flexible enough to go on short notice and be away from home and work as long as a month. The plane ticket might be more expensive due to the shorter notice, but you will still save money in the long run.

In addition to working with an agent, do your homework and network with every reputable hunting operation you find. Make sure they know who you are, how much money you have to spend and that you are available on short notice for late-season hunts. Work the Internet and the advertisements in magazines like this one.

It’s also smart to attend the big hunting shows, particularly Safari Club International’s annual convention. Most of the top hunting operations and booking agents are there, so it’s a fantastic place to network.

Be Realistic & Know the Risks
Another option is becoming a salesman for the agent or PH. If you can find several other hunters for them, you will be able to negotiate a reduction in your hunting costs. You also need to be realistic about what you want to hunt. Some species of dangerous game are just not going to be on the table.

Rhinos are impossibly expensive unless you want to dart one, which I think is harassment and not hunting. It will be a white rhino anyway, not the truly dangerous black rhino that is part of the “Big Five.” It’s one of the most endangered species in Africa and is extremely protected. There has been at least one black rhino tag auctioned off in recent years to raise funds for more protection, but I think it went for more money than I gross in a decade.

Forget cats, too. Leopards start at $15,000 and go up, with a waiting list and few bargains. There is a lot of international pressure to stop lion hunting and the hunting opportunities are shrinking every year while demand continues to rise. You could buy a nice, foreclosed house in most parts of the country for the price of a top lion hunt today. Keith says a decent lion hunt starts at $25,000, but most hunts are double or triple that price.

A lot of African PHs say that of the Big Five, buffalo hunting is the most dangerous. The buffalo is big, fast, tough and often comes with a very bad attitude. Sometimes the least little thing will set one off. My friend and fellow gun writer Chub Eastman was in a truck when a buffalo attacked it as they stopped to glass. Another buddy, Randy Luth, was hunting bushbuck in Zimbabwe when a Cape buffalo came out of nowhere and attacked him. It got close enough to hook his shirt as he dove out of the way. When I was in Zimbabwe hunting leopard a few years ago a buffalo attacked one of the game scouts. The guy was bruised and battered, and the bull ripped off his clothing so he was left naked. But he survived after his partner shot the bull in the butt with a load of buckshot and it ran off. It was later tracked down and killed.

These were unprovoked attacks. Buffalo, of course, are legendary for turning mean and vindictive when wounded. In Tanzania, my hunting companion wounded a bull. Sensing it was hurt, another bull attacked that one, then the two of them decided to come after us. Then it got very noisy! After something close to a dozen shots we were all still standing but the two bulls were down for the count.

Hunting the Cape buffalo might well be the epitome of African dangerous-game hunting—and the good news is the price to hunt it is much lower than for any other of the Big Five. If you shop around you can find a good trophy hunt for about the same price as a top elk hunt, or perhaps even less. With the poor economy a smart shopper can find hunts starting under 10 grand. Compared to any of the other Big Five that’s chump change.

Cape buffalo are also the most common of the dangerous big game, which means you might also be able to find even more bargains. There are a lot more tags available for Cape buffalo than for any other dangerous game, which increases the odds of finding leftover quota late in the season. If you don’t mind hunting when the weather is hotter, you can often pick up a leftover buffalo hunt at a bargain price.

Be Flexible
A hunter looking for the dangerous-game experience should also consider some flexibility in the game pursued. Don’t overlook the possibility of doing a hunt for a cow buffalo. This can be every bit as exciting as a big bull, but for a fraction of the cost. Keith Atcheson says to expect trophy fees for a cow to run $800 to $1,200, which are about half, or lower, than the fee for a bull trophy fee.

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1 Response to Hunting Africa on a Budget

Wade Murphree wrote:
February 13, 2012

I hunted elephants 25 years ago and managed to stop a charge at 18 paces. It is incomprehensive to me that you stoped a charge from 12 yards. They are'nt slow!