Kiri Kythreotis of Athina Hunting Safaris offers some indispensable advice on hunting in Africa without breaking the bank
Your early shooting experiences are also your steepest learning curves. The same applies when moving out of your comfort zone and trying sport in a different way, such as a change of species or a change of continent.
One of the popular misconceptions that I have the pleasure of shattering each year is that African hunting is out of your reach unless you have a huge budget and a month to spare from your schedule. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.
I don’t believe in cutting day rates for the simple reason that your safari is also a holiday. The moment you start skimping on day rates, the quality of the accommodation, food and transport will be squeezed. My view is that if the infrastructure costs are set, you can reduce your hunting costs by following some of the points outlined below. For the purpose of this article I’m aiming for a budget of £2,500 for a full week of hunting with a bag of 10-20 core animals per hunter.
As much as I enjoy trophy hunting, the reality is that I don’t have the space on my walls for the mounts (my wife still hasn’t forgiven me for the shoulder-mounted eland that turned up seven years ago). I would rather spend money on hunting, not on taxidermy and shipping. For this reason, I find cull and management hunts to be a great way to spend a few days shooting game that is fully used and doesn’t cost the earth. All the while you retain the experience of hunting in the African bush. I’ve done blesbuck culls on the highveld plains and thinned out non-trophy impala rams, wildebeest and kudu cows in the bushveld. Each made a great hunt, both for the shooting and stalking skills required and the underlying job that needs to be done.
Species lists are overrated. Variety may be the spice of life, but focusing your safari on the needs of the ranch landowner can get you some great benefits. The cheaper end of the plains game menu is also the most numerous. When you put male plains game in the same place as female plains game, you end up with a surplus each year that needs to be taken off. This is a problem for many ranches because most of their clients are trophy hunters, so the excess ewes and small rams have to be removed to control stocking densities. It isn’t uncommon for us to take between 100 and 400 non-trophy animals a year from single properties.
If you are happy to go out for a week and shoot predominantly one species then you should be in for a good deal. With trophy blesbuck at £260, you could be looking at management hunts for as little as £50 per head. That’s not to say that you can’t take other species if the opportunity arises. Last year while on a kudu cow cull, we got a phone call from a local landowner who had a dozen impala ewes to cull. A quick change of plan gave the client a great opportunity and he took most of the cull for a couple of hundred pounds. When we know we have culling teams booked, we can often delay these opportunities until the clients are in camp and are able to take advantage of them.
Another way to reduce costs is to put a team together or join an existing group. We generally work with two hunters per PH, so having four to six clients in a team will give you a full camp and decent volumes culled. Any time I can go in and cull a large amount of game for a ranch, I have the power to bargain the price down.
We have just taken on a concession of several thousand acres of thick bush. They have more than 200 animals of various bush species to take off this season, so two to three culls for four to six guys will allow us to do the job efficiently, by either traditional tracking and stalking or spot-and-stalk methods.
To get the best deals, commit in advance. There’s rarely such thing as a last-minute bargain. Good outfitters, accommodation and PHs are in demand, so get in there first.
If I know I have a team committed to taking a large portion of our cull figures, they benefit in a number of ways. Firstly, dates are more flexible. As the season progresses and the diary fills up, you may find the dates that work for you are already taken or the ranch has made alternative arrangements like professional culling teams or game captures.
Secondly, an outfitter that is looking for bookings will be more likely to do you a deal at the early stage of the season because it helps him hedge his income. He can also forward sell the meat from the cull, which allows him to fix prices at favourable rates for expected culls. At short notice, your cull is more likely to clash with another, which leads to a surplus of meat or a total lack of demand, all of which goes against you getting a good deal.
Finally, there is a quid pro quo with your outfitter. If you can come out and commit early for a decent cull, you will find all sorts of other stuff coming your way, such as some free jackal lamping or some free animals that the ranch decides it suddenly needs taken off. Muck in, help out and you will soon reap the benefits.
Taking the above into account, and a £2,500 budget, it is easily possible to get out to Africa and have a great hunt. But believe me when I say that Africa is not a once-in-a-lifetime trip – it is an addiction that needs feeding, so the sooner you work out how to avoid unnecessary spends, the sooner you will be back out there hunting again.
Kiri organises custom tailored safaris to suit all budgets without compromising hunt quality. For more information, contact 07930 536386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.