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The first seven steps in planning any type of South African adventure safari.


Planning your Safari

So, you are busy planning an African hunting safari? Congratulations on making such a lifestyle-changing decision. Please browse this Planning section of my web site and be guided on the how and why of the planning, and the basics of what you may expect on such a safari.

Any planning have five steps that are common to all types of vacation planning. These steps are sometimes intuitively followed, but are described in some detail in below. Once your interest has been properly aroused as a first step, to the point where as the second step you admit a real desire to go the third step, which involves making a firm commitment to go. Then it is a simple procedure, as the fourth step, to get dates and finally get to the fifth step which involves deciding on how you intend to plan the trip, with the help of a booking agent, or by the do it yourself method. 

Step 1: Interested? Andrew McLaren Safaris Offer to Help You Plan Your Own South African Hunting or Touring Safari.

The document is primarily intended to assist those who have an interest or desire to hunt or tour in Africa for a first time.  It is also intended to assist Andrew McLaren Safaris to attract and book a certain type of client; those that have a hunting ethic and life value systems more or less like mine. 

What type of hunting or adventure is offered by Andrew McLaren Safaris? 

The short answer to this is: “That which I can arrange very well”.

To do anything well you need experience, and I prefer to only offer those activities for which I have the required experience myself. Arranging affordable ethical hunting by individuals or groups for plains game and wing shooting for groups of like-minded hunters is what I claim to be able to do very well. Varmint shooting, plains game culling and dangerous game hunting as well as sightseeing and game viewing tours can be done very well also. In special cases, and only for special clients, and only if I know that a trustworthy friend with the required experience will be available at the time of the safari to assist; some other safari or adventure will also be arranged.

This document may be studied by anyone who wants to go on a safari to Africa, and specifically to South Africa. I believe that there is a wealth of information and useful suggestions stored on these pages, even for hunters who have been here before.

To make this web easy to use we have tried to reflect the content in each document in the name thereof. The sequence in which the interested web visitor reads these files are an own choice, but the document names have been so chosen to reflect at least some logical sequence in which the documents could be read.

I can and do offer to arrange any:

Plains game hunting safari for groups or individuals using your choice of weapon.
Wing shooting excursions for terrestrial game birds and water fowl. 
Varmint shooting and participation in plains game culling operations.
Dangerous game hunting safaris. Salt and freshwater fly fishing expeditions and deep-sea spear fishing and scuba diving adventures. Guided tours through 
National Parks, like the Kruger National Park and others. 
Any combination of the abovementioned.

In addition to this I will also arrange almost any other tour or activity on request.

Accept my invitation to explore the next document in this planning guide to assist you to plan a successful South African adventure. Please also ask any question by sending an e-mail message to andrew@mclarensafaris.com 

Now write on your "My Safari Planning" sheet, or copy and edit if you wish the following text: "Step 1. I am interested enough to follow the instructions and see where it brings me!"

Step 2: Admitting: The Second Step of Planning a Successful Hunting Safari Adventure is Admitting the Desire to Go.

Africa, just thinking or hearing the name can bring goose bumps on real hunters,  those who harbor a deep desire to visit the Dark Continent, be it for a first time or a repeat visit.  The thought of traveling to Africa on safari is an exciting one, but all first-time hunters experience some degree of anxiety about making the trip. Thoughts of long and expensive flights, bunches of vaccination shots, having to deal with corrupt officials, overcoming equipment problems out in the bush, dealing with possible lost baggage, bureaucratic snafus, not knowing the extent of possible tainted food and water, being unsure of how to deal with disease-bearing insects are some immediate problems. Then thoughts of the possibility of running into armed bandits or getting caught up in military insurrections or tribal conflicts or landing up in a war zone in a strange country far from the influence of your own embassy my bother you. Lastly thoughts of big and nasty creatures with teeth and claws or big stomping feet and pounding horn bosses enter the mind of the neophyte African hunter. Then snakes and scorpions come to mind! And then some other nasty beasts like disease causing ticks and mosquitoes!  But, if you are one of those for whom these negative thoughts fade into insignificance when compared to the adventure of hunting in Africa, this document is meant for you.

There are only a few countries in Africa that are open to sport hunting. For the first time visiting hunter, the sensible choices are South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana for "plains game" and leopard; and Zimbabwe and Tanzania for "dangerous game". While each destination is a little different, this document will provide you with some generic facts and tips that should set your mind at rest and prepare you for one of the most rewarding experiences of your life

To plan a good hunting trip to Africa requires a lot of work, or luck, or a combination of luck and lots of money! In a few short pages I hope to guide all of those rather cash strapped hunters and huntresses aspiring to actually go on a hunting trip to the dark continent how to plan their trip to ensure maximum enjoyment at minimum cost. I personally have little experience, and that was mostly bad, about hunting in any African country other than in South Africa, so the guidance is restricted to this country only.  A lot of the general procedures will however be basically the same, be it for a trip to South Africa or any other hunting destination in an African country.

 Now write on your "My Safari Planning" sheet, or copy and edit if you wish, the following text: "Step 2. I do admit that I'm really interested in a South African hunting safari." 

Once you have admitted to yourself that you are really interested in hunting in Africa, please read on to learn how to plan your trip.

Step 3: Committing: Make a Commitment to Hunt in Africa.

I cannot imagine any hunter or huntress who has not read at least some records of hunting in Africa, or seen some documentary on African animal behavior, who has not seriously wondered about hunting in this Dark Continent. “But can I afford it?” is one of the first questions most working people will ask. In partial reply to this I want to quote from the foreword of a little book on African hunting written by Alex van der Post, a noted South African author and formerly famous professional hunter. It says:

“African hunting is within the reach of any person who really wants it. Don’t just dream about it.

Make it become a burning desire within you. When this desire is really hot it will motivate you and when you’re fully motivated, you will find a way to make your lifetime dream come true.

Make it your goal. It is a worthwhile goal not only for you but for conservation as well”

If you really want to go, you can afford it, or you will make sure that you can afford it! A good South African hunting adventure cost about the same as a mid-range four-wheeler or a good single species guided trophy hunt in North America. The important issue is that you must decide that not only do you want to go, but that you are willing to make the sacrifices required and undertake the tasks required to actually get you there.  With careful planning and customizing your safari to exactly what you want, as opposed to just  doing what others have done, you can get a wonderful experience for a very limited budget. Make a note now of how much, or how little, money you are regarding as your budget. This has to include all costs, travel in your own country to international airport, overseas airfare, accommodation costs for the duration of your stay, trophy costs, incidental costs and at least the deposit for your taxidermy, but preferably the full taxidermy costs  as well as shipping costs.

Once you have decided you want to go, there are going to be a lot of questions, besides the obvious one about cost, that may keep you from making a final commitment of: “No matter what, I want to go, and will go!” Once you have made up your mind so far (even if it is only “provisionally”) the next steps in the planning process follows logically.

Commit yourself to going by telling someone, a spouse, parent, child or hunting buddies/ Better still, write down your intention to go and then read it aloud to yourself, make the full commitment to go on a South African safari.  Now write on your "My Safari Planning" sheet, or copy and edit if you wish, the following text: "Step 3. As from now I'm committed  to do everything required to go on a South African hunting safari as soon as practically possible!"  

Congratulations on making the commitment to actually plan to go hunting in Africa. You should now decide about possible dates for your intended safari.

Step 4. Deciding on the dates when you want to go.

You may decide that you wish to do an Africa hunt in a few years’ time, or the bug had bitten you so bad that you want to go as soon as possible. How soon this could be will depend on the amount of time you feel you need to plan to make your dream come true! It should be quite possible to plan a good hunt to start from within a month, and certainly two months from starting your planning. Is there any real reason why you cannot go and hunt in South Africa next year?  Then change the plans and arrangements so that you would be able to go!

Once you have decided on the year, next is the month or period. If you have been thinking about it for some time you will have some perspective of the good months from the hunting point of view. At most of the concessions that you are likely to hunt on hunting will be allowed throughout the year. Generally May through August is the good months to be trophy hunting in South Africa. But you should also consider personal commitments, weddings, graduations and the like, and ignore them all, decline invitations, set new dates and do whatever is required, if they don’t fit in with your hunting planning! Hunting in South Africa should get a higher priority than mere social events! 

More serious for the budget restricted nimrod is to consider flight cost seasons, as airfare is a major cost item for a safari, and leaving the USA one day later or earlier may result in very significantly different airfare being charged.  Seasons change, but considering the latest information available you should try to leave the USA before 31 May for a “low season” fare. For best airfare costs it is also advisable to have all your dates fixed some time before actually purchasing a ticked, many airlines give much better prices for tickets bought 21 days and more before the flight commences.

For a number of reasons you are advised to plan to stay for at least 14 days, and a minimum of 6 full hunting days at any hunting destination is recommended. 

To help you plan the dates I have published an Excel spreadsheet calendar in my calendar page in which the flight cost seasons for South African Airways are shown. 

Select your most favored two weeks, then the next choice of two weeks and even a third choice. Write down and mark on a calendar your choice two week periods.

At this stage of your planning very little consideration should be given to selecting a hunting outfitter to use. This decision is only made much later in the planning process.

 Now write on your "My Safari Planning" sheet, or copy and edit if you wish, the following, or similar, text: "Step 4. My first choice  for the safari date is: The two weeks starting on Friday 28 April 2005 (my last work day) and ending Sunday 14 May - so that I can be back at work on Monday 15 May 2005.    My second choice  for the safari date is: The two weeks starting on Friday 12 May 2005 (my last work day) and ending Sunday 28 May - so that I can be back at work on Monday 29 May 2005."

With a basic set of possible safari dates noted on your planning sheet please read on. Your next crucial decision to be made is planning step five, in which you must decide if you are going to plan everything yourself, or are you going to make use of a booking agent?

Step 5: Planning? Use a Booking Agent or ‘Do It Yourself’?

It is not the intention here to list the pros and cons of the two basic approaches. Both have their disasters and their wonderful successes! You will, or should, know very well what your real capabilities for planning, e-mail communication and deciding for yourself are.  So you will know deep within if you need to go through a booking agent, and risk getting what they offer as “standard”, as opposed to planning a safari for what you really want.

The decision on which hunting outfitter to use is the single most important success or failure step in the whole process of planning an African hunting safari. The bigger and better booking agents will in all likelihood represent a number of hunting outfitters, from which they get different %’s as a booking commission. Other booking agents may represent only one or a very small number of hunting outfitters to the extent that you have to decide on which hunting outfitter to use, and then be forced to use the booking agent who represents the particular booking agent. In the final analysis you will have to choose one, and only one, hunting outfitter to work through at the recommendation of your chosen booking agent. So deciding to use a booking agent is really critical step in the planning process. 

Can you imagine where the loyalty of a booking agent lies? Yes, you are quite right: It is all about money! Their recommendation is likely to be influenced by knowing where they get the biggest fee in the form of booking commission earned from you actually making a booking with XYZ-outfitters versus their fee by you booking trough ZYX-outfitters! They are in the business for their benefit, not for yours! But at least the booking agent should have checked out both XYZ and ZYX operations thoroughly and have eliminated the real bad sharks from the list from which you have to choose.  There are certain advantages when you work through a booking agent, but also some disadvantages, but I do not intend on discussing these in any detail.

For what it is worth, here are the contact details of a true gentleman, a friend and former client , a very satisfied client, who is quite capable of and approved to acting as a booking agent for Andrew McLaren Safaris: Mr. Dave Mansfield, telephone in Baton Rouge LA: 225 261 8371 wdmansfield@yahoo.com

But how do you contact a good hunting outfitter? Go to some Internet search engine and enter “Booking Agent African Hunting Opportunities” or "Hunting Outfitter African Hunting" or almost any similar search words, and start from there. You will be totally overwhelmed by the number of responses. Some of the top listed agents or hunting outfitters are listed there as they have professionals employed, or are just very good at  SEO themselves, to increase the search ability of their web sites.  That is why they rank tops, not because they are good hunting outfitters. You will now be faced with the very pleasant task of reading the offers from any number of hunting outfitters or booking agents and based on what you read and your gut feel you can decide which one to use. 

An alternative would be to ask some trusted friends, who have actually been there and done that, for advice!  One is likely to say ZZ-outfitters or booking agent and another will swear by YY-outfitters or booking agent, and so in reverse through XX-outfitters or booking agent and, if you ask enough people, the rest of the alphabet to AA-outfitters. or booking agent.  You are most likely to get totally and horribly confused by the number of offers and the way in which these offers are presented! 

Please do not be tempted to simply accept the advice or recommendation of the friend that you like or know best. Remember, is your money that is to be spent, and your time to be wasted and your dream trip to possibly be ruined! You simply have to do very much better than make a “gut-feel” decision on whom to listen to! Decide for yourself! But, before deciding, gather the required information so that your decision is an informed one, and not based on gut-feel!

I would like to advise to start doing your own safari planning yourself. If at some stage you start feeling really insecure and unsure, then you are always free to contact a booking agent for help and assistance. At least then you will know a bit about why you are paying for their services. If you decide not to work through a booking agent and go the DIY route and do the safari planning yourself, there are a vast number of alternative ways to find a suitable hunting outfitter. I advise to refrain from even beginning to decide on which hunting outfitter to use until you have done quite a bit more planning homework.

In the next sections  I will attempt to help you decide what you really want in a hunting outfitter by explaining a bit about the offers you are likely to be confronted by. First and foremost you have to decide about your desire to hunt in our  “bush veldt savannah” or the major alternative of hunting in “open grass veldt”, as the two types can simply not be directly compared.  Secondly you must decide on how “true to real life” the experience you will have must be, as some outfitters will offer some or other form of  “canned hunting” dressed as the real McCoy, and you should know if you are prepared to accept such a “staged hunt” as your South African experience. Lastly you should also know what type of offer is being made, as it is unwise to try to compare a “package deal” with an offer of a “custom safari”.

I advise against “looking for a suitable hunting outfitter” until you have made a lot of self study and have written down some of your wishes. Do not be led to making your wishes from the glossy brochures or web page material displayed by many hunting outfitters. 

 There are many more hunting outfitters than possibly required in South Africa. This means that there is an oversupply of arrangers of hunting opportunities for foreign hunters. As even arranging hunting is none other than a service, the market laws of supply and demand determine that the cost for such a service is low. The current cost for a foreign hunter to have his hunt arranged by a hunting outfitter can be considered as remarkably low. It is a hunters market now, so climb in and benefit! 

As there is fierce competition amongst the oversupplied number of hunting outfitters, to a great extent those firms who employ the best advertising methods gets more new clients than those with less appropriate advertising.  Let the would-be visiting hunter be aware that the firms with the best advertising are not necessarily the best firms! The really good firms do not need to advertise at all, word of mouth from satisfied clients is usually sufficient to fill their hunting calendars.

 Now write on your "My Safari Planning" sheet, or copy and edit if you wish, the following, or similar, text: "Step 5. I will  first go through the planning steps to see if I can plan my safari myself, before even thinking of getting help from a booking agent!"

So if you intend planning your first (or second or ?) safari to Africa yourself without a booking agent. Good. The rest of this web based document is there to guide you. Even if you do intend using a booking agent to plan your safari, you may still benefit from knowing a bit more about what you want in such a safari. 

The hunter planning a plains game safari must now first and foremost decide how true to real life he/she wants the experience to be. The rationale is described in the Authenticity section. Once you have decided that you only want to hunt real wild game in their natural environment the next step is the choice in which type of terrain you want to hunt. The alternatives are explained in Step 7 in the Biome section.

Step 6: Authenticicty? Fake or Real South African Hunting Experience. How Authentic do you want your Safari to be?

If you are prepared to accept a “fake” African experience, the cheapest African experience may be to go and hunt a gemsbok in Texas! If you are happy with a “fake” experience, but insist that it must be in South Africa, there are literally scores of hunting outfitters that will let you hunt game that have been artificially introduced into an unnatural environment. These may actually breed and even prosper there, but to hunt a blesbok in Zimbabwe where it has been introduced into an unnatural environment, is in my opinion just as “fake” as hunting it in Texas! Here is a link to a recent web forum discussion of this aspect: http://www.huntandlodge.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=8;t=000134

I believe that it is essential and the right thing to do is that you should decide to only hunt animals that are in a natural environment. Not only animals that are in a typical habitat, where they do well, as do gemsbok in Texas, but in the area in which they historically occurred. 

Then there is the fake of actually “hunting” an animal that was artificially recently released into a relatively small “cage” in which the so-called hunter can easily get a trophy, which is really just a brag-about-object. The animal canned for hunting may be in a natural environment, like a bush veldt species in a small area of pristine good quality bush veldt habitat. Or it may be totally artificial, like a kudu in a small Free State grass veldt enclosure. Perhaps the best publicized of this type of hunting is the so-called “canned lion” hunting offered in many provinces. This type of “put-and-take” hunting is quite common amongst the well heeled and is usually quite costly.  If you are into such canned hunting, there are many hunting outfitters who would gladly take your money. I won’t. But I would like to convert you to brighter insights.

In South Africa there are very few hunting concessions where you can still get the true feeling of ”wilderness” and “undisturbed by man”. Fences are but one of the reasons, and destruction or alteration of the natural habitat by past farming practices is another. The bush encroachment in large areas of the savannah habitat is one unfortunate legacy of past ranching practices. There are many places where a hunting outfitter can offer you the hunting of truly wild game in their natural, even if somewhat altered, habitat. These areas may be fenced, yes, but in an enclosure of such size that the animals’ natural, and particularly escape, behavior is totally unaffected by the fences.  Fences are a fact of South African hunting and you will always hunt on a fenced area in this country. In some rare instances the area will be so vast that you will only see the fence on entering and when you leave.  The majority of hunting concession areas are of such size that you will often see an about 6 feet high perimeter fence which keeps game in and helps keep poachers out.  What you need to look out for is a little enclosure of just a few acres in which a "canned" animal is offered for hunting!

Here is a link to a discussion on this aspect: http://www.accuratereloading.com/ubbthreads/showflat.php?Cat=&Number=686099&page=&view=&sb=5&o=&fpart=all&vc=1

To complete the sixth step of the planning process you should now write on your "My Safari Planning" sheet, or copy and edit if you wish, the following, or similar, text: "Step  6. I  have noted that in South Africa some outfitters will try too sell me a fake hunting experience, and will not even consider using the services of any outfitter that attempts to do this.  I will insist that any animal that I'm offered to hunt must be fully wild, not recently delivered from some other place where it was bred, and I want to only hunt animals that naturally occurred in the area where they are offered to me."

Step 7:  Ethics? Define Your Own Hunting Ethics.

Ethical considerations is always a very personal ‘thing’. Do not fall for the saying of: “When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If you know beforehand that the Romans are going to expect you to do things that absolutely go against your grain, well, don’t go to Rome! As a single visitor in Rome you have no hope of changing their ways. So, be pragmatic and simply just stay away! Find out what people do in Alaxandria, or anywhere else, and if you can live happily with what they do there, you go there instead!

In the final analysis hunting ethics boils down to the requirement that before the hunter adds that last bit of pressure to the trigger, or releases the arrow, or whatever, that hunter must have a sure expectation that his action will result in a perfectly legal in all respects, quick and humane kill of only the one animal that he is aiming at!  All the actions, like method of search, before the start of the aiming and shooting are secondary to the hunter being very, very, VERY sure that his action will result in a quick kill. 

The fact that I say the method of search and ambush is secondary to the confidence about the shot, must not be taken as my saying that these aspects are unimportant. On the contrary, for many people the method of searching for an animal to shoot IS ethics. The fact that some buffoon has slowly and painstakingly on foot stalked his trophy to within the distance at which an expert bow shot can make a clean kill may be enough for this complete bow hunting novice to attempt  or risk an, in his view ethical, shot at the poor beast which is still far to far for him to make a sure clean kill. But I have described his warped ethics! Not mine! 

At Andrew McLaren Safaris the basic point of departure is that you will walk in search for game, then stalk until you tell the guide or professional hunter that you are quite comfortable with the shot. In certain special cases, and for some animals other methods, like sitting in ambush at selected points may be used for some hunters. Driving around in search of animals to be shot from the vehicle is simply not the preferred way for us to hunt.

But as prospective visiting hunter, it is your duty to communicate your views on what may, for you, constitute ethical hunting in South Africa. Then you must demand that the hunting outfitter and professional hunter honor these requirements.

Now write on your "My Safari Planning" sheet, or copy and edit if you wish, the following, or similar, text: "Step 7. The only way that I will allow any guide to let me hunt is in an ethical and fair chase manner. I want to communicate this fact very clearly to the hunting outfitter and want no later misunderstandings about what I regard as ethical and fair chase."

A real hunter will know if a ‘new’ hunting method is compatible with their sense of ethics. Discuss hunting methods with every possible hunting outfitter long before you make the choice of which one to use for your hunt. 


Go to  Step 8.

For any comment and questions e-mail andrew@mclarensafaris.com