No. of Recommendations: 15
This post is ridiculously long. I've read informational articles on planning a safari that were half as long. However, I wanted to include all my LBYM experience for interested parties. All others, thanks for stopping by. :)

I've tried to keep this as LBYM related as possible and keep the hunter pr0n to a minimum. Note this is about a hunting safari. You can do a photo safari that's not too dissimilar in price from a trip through Yellowstone for much less.

The timing of the trip to South Africa was for my brother in law's wedding. My wife is originally from Cape Town and her family is now in Jo'burg. We worked out a budget for the trip including plane tickets, spending money, and tourism. We divided that amount by the estimated number of months over a couple of years until the trip. It helped that her brother kept putting the wedding date off. We reduced the amount per month at least once for delays. When the DOW bottomed around 8,000, I took a few thousand from that account and put it in a DIA index fund. I pulled it out somewhere over 10-12,000 and made enough to pay for one plane ticket (about $1700), even counting capital gains taxes.

I made a similar budget for the hunt. I was only toying with the idea until we visited the International Sportsmen's Expo. I spoke to several outfitters who were very near my wife's 94 year old grandmother who we wanted to make sure to see while we were in the country. Most offered packages with 4-5 animals for as many as 10 days, even including airfare. For a few thousand dollars, that's not too bad execpt: a) I had nowhere to put that many trophies, b) I didn't need a week taken out of my trip just to wander the bush, c) that price would be for me; my family as non-hunting observers would be extra, d) I was darned sure my wife could beat their airfare. A couple of thousand dollars for myself was one thing, $4-5000 per person was something else entirely.

I looked online for outfitters who had daily rates, but most of them had minimum stays. I only had a few days in between seeing relatives. The daily rates for many outfitters were for their longterm hunts to stalk elusive prey or to add on extra days to a package. I finally found one outfitter whose daily rate was lower than the others, with no minimum number of days listed, but even better, kids under 18 were free. The next best thing I'd seen was a reduced rate for kids under 15. Also, most outfitters don't include your pickup or departure day as part of the number of days. So, the 1-2 days I wanted to spend hunting would actually be a 3-4 day stay. I confirmed the information with the outfitter. Since he was part owner in the reserve, he noted that saved him 25% on his prices straight off. What was a $16-20,000 pipe dream, was now a doable $900 plus trophy fees.

The clincher was that since I would be staying in South Africa, he'd arrange for me to be able to take some of the meat. Ordinarily, since you can't take meat to most countries, and it's largely impractical to transport for the 20 to 30 hours anyhow, the meat is used to feed the staff, guests, or sold to supermarkets and restaurants. Most outfitters won't want to part with the meat because it will cut into their profits. I knew the meat wouldn't go to waste, but I had an ethical motivation to consume as much as I could. I couldn't reconcile LBYM with paying just for the privelege of shooting a trophy. It crossed my mind several times to just go on a photo safari and buy skulls and skins stateside.

We considered renting a car and driving to our destinations around the country, but the commuter flights with smaller, no-frills airlines were very well priced. For just a little more money, it saved time, and we didn't pay for the days the car would be sitting idle at the lodge. It is Africa after all, though, and one flight double charged us and couldn't resolve it in their system. We got the money returned by disputing the charge with the credit card company. Another airline for a different leg is liquidating and we're hoping for a refund from them. We had to book another flight that was slightly more expensive. It wasn't the stop for the hunt itself that added the intracountry plane tickets so much as visiting relatives and hanging out in Cape Town for a few days.

Most outfitters have rifle rental available. Some were $100 for the whole trip, this one was $25 per day plus $40 per box of ammo. Taking my own rifle would cost me $100 plus varying "administrative fees" (bribes) of +/-$20 at every stop to make sure it got where it was going. That usually works well for people going straight through to their outfitter, but going to my in-laws meant I'd need to fill out additional paperwork documenting that they had a gun safe and their own firearm possession license (they didn't). I love the bureaucracy that ensures firearms don't get into criminal hands by drowning any legitimate purpose in paperwork. The rampant bribery and astronomical crime rates demonstrate how effective the laws are. I opted to rent from the outfitter.

We were able to discuss final details by phone with an old cell phone from my in-laws and a prepaid SIM card while we were in the country. I arranged for pickup at my wife's grandmother's house rather than the airport, which saved us a taxi trip. Most people fly into East London, but the outfitter was thrilled to hear I'd be in Port Elizabeth as it was a closer drive for the pickup. Our PH (professional hunter/guide) picked us up and had no problem fitting us, his tracker, our car seats, and luggage into his truck.

The PH handed me a a folder with price lists for the different animals, side trips, taxidermy, etc. One price list was for "add-ons" if I were getting a package. Since I was only getting 2-3 animals "a la carte", it didn't apply. Shame though. The add-ons were less than half what I was paying for each of mine.

When we stopped for fuel, I heard the ethnically South African English PH was fluent in Xhosa while he was chatting with the staff at the gas station with whom he obviously had a long rapport. I asked him about it and he said he grew up speaking Xhosa with his nanny, then his playmates, and then managing his parents' farm. He pointed out his Xhosa was better than his Afrikaans.

We arrived and were shown around to the pool, dining hall, and to our chalet. We had a choice between two chalets with two twin beds each or one with three. We opted to have my 5 and 7 year old daughters share a twin bed so we could be all be in one room. The lodge grounds were not far from the gate of the 23 square mile reserve. The service that was included added to the ammenities. My wife was looking forward to lounging around the pool, but without having to do laundry, prepare lunch, or make beds, she was getting antsy. When she brought a pineapple back from a visit to a farm, the staff even insisted on cutting it up for her rather than letting her lift a finger.

After settling in and having a lunch of ground game wraps the PH and I headed down to the range to sight in on his rifle. He set me a target at 150 yards and a steel gong at 200. The rifle was zeroed for 200 yards, so he advised me of the drop at 150. I had a 2 inch group of 3 shots at 150 yards and the guide asked me if the trigger felt sticky. It was tighter than what I was used to and the safety engaged between shots, which broke my rythm. He asked if I wanted to try some more on the 150 yard or try for the gong, saying that if I could hit the gong I was ready for the hunt. I took one shot at the gong and he said I went right. I was certain I was jerking the trigger because of its tightness and made sure to squeeze it on the next shot. I hit the gong dead center and sent it swinging. The PH asked if I wanted to practice some more or head out for some scouting. At $2+ a round, I was ready to go out.

I collected my wife and daughters and loaded into the truck. The herds of impala we saw were all ewes and young males. The girls did as well as they could for their age (even better) keeping still and quiet in the truck. I didn't know what the terrain would be like and if there would be a possibility of one of them to be out with me while I was shooting, so I had them dress for it just in case. The brush ended up being too thick and we were moving too fast for them to keep up. Looking back, I would have packed lighter. Just sneakers for the girls, and I would have left my camo overalls at home that I'd brought mainly to deal with thornbush. At least I thought better of bringing my down vest as even the pre-dawn temps were going to be in the 70s. By contrast, the guide told us stories of hunters stepping off the plane in South African winter in shorts and tshirts and needing to hit the sporting goods store.

The spot and stalk approach we took was to drive to vantage points to find game through the binoculars, then get within half a kilometer or so with the truck and stalk through the brush to within shooting range. I had expected to be taking 200 yard shots, but that average is for the more elusive kudu, etc. that are harder to get close to. Particularly with it being late summer before the fall hunting pressure made the animals skittish, we were able to get within 50 yards many times. Good thing too, because it was a pain in the neck to see through the brush before the game spotted us.

Dinner the first night was grilled game sausage (boerwors) and marinated kudu steaks. There's a restaurant that I was debating to go to when we got back to Jo'burg. It's like a Brazilian steakhouse, but the meat is on swords and it's all game meat (and tons of it). Prices had gone up and the exchange rate wasn't helping, so it was going to pinch at $25/person and half price for the kids. I decided I'd get my game meat itch filled at the lodge and the girls could get their experience out of the way as well, so that saved me $75. Dinner the subsequent nights was a blesbuck stew and then a roast duiker. Lunches were lighter fare with cold continental breakfasts.

I asked the PH about shot placement and if he had any anatomy charts. He advised me to shoot through the shoulder for African animals versus behind it on deer and elk, noting the vitals were further forward in the chest cavity and the last thing I wanted to do was hit a wildebeest in the gut and have to track it for miles while it took days to die. I had decided on an impala ram and a wildebeest cow. The cows were nearly half the price of the bulls, had decent horns to take home, and I expected the meat would be better. The cows also cost just a little more than the rams of the more plentiful gazelles, but had much more meat.

The second day while the family relaxed at the pool, we hunted from early in the morning, taking a break for lunch while the animals hid and rested during the noon day sun. We got very close to several targets but got made before getting a shot off. Stalking the herds was more difficult with 60-80 eyes watching you. I thought the wildebeest cows would be easier, being more plentiful, but the game manager had noted the calves were still young so we needed to find a cow without young.

As the sun was setting, we found an impala ram that was far too curious for his own good versus the rest of his herd. I was behind the PH under cover while he scouted the herd. He pointed out the ram to me and I had trouble placing a shot with the odd stretch he was doing after his herd had skulked away. He was broadside but, I couldn't make out his body line to pinpoint his vitals and a touch of buck fever wasn't helping. I finally found his shoulder bone and squeezed off my shot. I swore as I saw him run off and chambered another round. The PH said my shot had gone behind him. I knew I hadn't made a great shot, but I was shocked that I could have missed by that much. Particularly, to the left rather than pulling to the right from jerking the trigger. He said my shot was on, but that he was peeing and had finished and run off just as I fired. I laughed.

We stalked on to where the herd went and at literally the last light the PH pointed out a ram ridiculously close and curious. He quartered toward me and his shoulder filled my scope. I had to fight my muscle memory to not aim left behind the shoulder. Then I had to mind overcompensating lest I jerked the trigger to the right. I fired and only saw a cloud of dust. The PH said he knew I'd hit the ram. He saw him spin around and had heard the distinctive "whump" of the shot. We followed a set of tracks we could see down the hillside to a patch of thick brush we couldn't see through. We came back at first light the next morning with the tracking dog and found a blood trail going the other direction. He had actually gone down behind a bush 20 yards from where he was shot. The shot was just millimeters behind the shoulder bone, and I was pleased he had gone down quickly. The PH theorized that he was the same ram as we had seen below with the same bad habit of looking at noise rather than running with the rest of the herd.

While we were driving up to a peak to scope out the landscape for wildebeest herds, the PH spotted a kudu bull he wanted to check out. He and the tracker were oohing and ahhing in Xhosa and he asked me if he could twist my arm into taking a kudu. I laughed and declined. He kept on, and it was sounding less like a sales pitch and more like genuine excitement. The kudu would be twice the cost of the the wildebeest cow. Their horns are huge and I just don't have anywhere to fit one. The larger horns would siginificantly increase the shipping costs on trophies. The PH was still salivating and I said, "Sounds like you're saying it's a record."

"I'll eat my hat if he's not 46 inches," he said. I considered that I was willing to take a pricier wildebeest bull if we couldn't find a calfless cow and that it would be a better trophy with plenty of meat. It would also leave us the rest of the day to relax or consider stalking another animal. I could also take only the horns or skull plate to reduce the shipping. "Okay," I said.

We stalked another 50 yards and I still couldn't see what he was looking at. He was watching the horns poking out the brush where the bull took cover. I had remarked earlier how lousy I was doing at spotting game and how long it took to see what he identified. He responded that's what his job was and that it always takes a few days to adjust to the terrain, vegetation, and animal shapes.

I still had the rifle slung on my shoulder when the bull and his friend took off from not 100 yards away. I remarked to myself that if I had seen where they were, I could have taken the shot without getting any closer. We tried to get over the mountain to literally head them off at the pass as they ran around the base. Even with a truck, the roads were sparse, the brush was thick and high, and the terrain rocky, the bulls clearly had the advantage in the chase. The bulls flushed and ran from us without giving a decent shot. The PH whistled, hoping they would stop and look back, but no such luck. While I panted, I was actually a bit relieved at saving myself several hundred dollars in an impulse purchase.

We found a wildebeest herd that was traveling with a single zebra stallion. Since the zebra was on his own, he was much more skittish and he kept alerting the rest of the herd when he ran off. After several attempts with the zebra ruining it for us every time, we broke for lunch. After lunch, the PH and tracker found another herd. I stalked with them and waited behind cover while the PH checked things out. He whispered to me that there was a cow standing broadside and he was going to set up the bipod and I needed to step out and take her. I took too long and her companion(s) left while she turned toward me. The PH admonished me again about hesitating but advised me to take the chest shot. I hit her and she ran leaving a blood trail a blind man could follow. The tracking dog was keeping up with her and we pursued at a full out run. We caught up to her again and I aimed for her shoulder, but was too low to take her vitals. She ran again and I reloaded the rifle while running. We caught up again where she layed down and the PH finished putting her down with his knife.

The PH said that it was early and asked if I wanted to hunt anything else. I smiled, shook my head, and said I was done. "What do we do with the rest of the afternoon?" I looked at how far we were from the truck and said, "Get her back?"

I had a good PH who took his time picking out animals for me. The problem there was that I kept habitually taking too long to verify my target after he had already checked it was a safe shot. I missed several opportunities by trying to creep out and scout for myself rather than just popping out and taking the shot he had already confirmed. In hindsight, a couple of times I probably should have taken a shot from my knee rather than trying to aim a standing shoulder/bipod shot. I rented his personal rifle from him, and he only charged me $20/day rather than $25. He charged me $2.50/round rather than $2, but he didn't charge me for full boxes.

I had researched standard tipping rates and found a survey of averages. It was about 6% of the entire safari or 10% of the trophy fees. To make things simple in round numbers, I gave my PH one of my $100 traveler's cheques. That was about 6.25% of the package including my family, 7.5% subtracting them out, or 13.8% of my trophy fees.

I gave the cook and maid 100 rand each (~$13) and the tracker 200 rand, R100 for each full day/animal. I had seen reference to a separate tip for the skinners, but my tracker did the skinning. Retail skinning fees at US outfitters are around $10, so I feel comfortable with that as a decent tip without overpaying for a service that was already included.

OT - CONSERVATION: These animals basically don't exist in South Africa outside of national parks and game reserves because of the rampant poaching rates. The trophy males are often past breeding years and they need to be culled so the younger males can take over propogation. The cow I took was not only calfless, but she had a broken foot that hadn't healed properly. Her hoof would have rotted off in a couple of months, so it was just as well we put her down. By reserving the land for game, the natural ecosystem is maintained rather than being converted for livestock ranching. This ranch in particular was 23 square miles, but we passed another that was many times the size. The trophy fees go to stock and maintain the game. There isn't public land like in the US for hunting. By contrast, the national parks are maintained by the government with specifically contracted hunters for culling when necessary.

Big 5 game like cape buffalo, elephants, and lions are much pricier than the animals I took. They have a minimum number of days to stalk and just the trophy fee can cost you thousands more than an entire safari of other animals. Those fees go to maintaining the reserves and keeping the animals flourishing.

This particular reserve has a herd of 5 rhinos they are trying to calve. The farm manager is part of the local Rhino Watch, which coordinates between the various game reserves to keep a look out for poacher helicopters. He talked about phone calls he got from people claiming to be police phishing for info on his herd. The national parks are suffering with the syndicates of poachers. The syndicates send agents on game drive tours and then will text message the GPS coordinates of rhinos seen on the tour. The helicopters can land, kill a rhino, skillsaw off the horn, and be gone in minutes. Kruger National Park is the largest in South Africa at twice the size of Yellowstone, so it is a huge area to try to protect. The actual shooter takes all the risk and is paid the least of the supply chain. The workers in parks get paid more in bribes to disclose info on the rhino than the shooters make in the poaching operations.

I was impressed with the ethics of this particular lodge. There were several subscriptions to conservation magazines in the lounge areas. Even if someone came in with a bloodthirsty attitude, they'd get at least some education with their stay. I've seen the same educational messages and antipoaching information on African hunting programs on sports channels.


All in all, it was a great experience. I got the "African safari" experience with my entire family for a fraction of the price. The US agent I went through was EAI Outdoors (Eco Adventure Incorporated). The local company was Kubusi Safari and we stayed at Glen Boyd Game Reserve. The larger reserve was Pumba game reserve, but it's pricier and my PH didn't speak well of their ethics as far as treatement of their customers and staff. Besides the good price from EAI, I'd reccomend going through a US based outfitter for ease of booking. I was able to talk to Ed on the phone and discuss all my questions in detail. He's often busy at expos, etc., but still likes a personal touch. Some of the outfitters I met at the expo didn't return my emails when I told them the details of the short trip I wanted, but were happy to add me to their spam lists. The daily rate I took is at The prices have gone up since I booked, but they're still good for safaris.

If you have multiple hunters in the family, particularly kids, I highly reccommend the family/couple package at It includes four animals, which can be divided up between the family. Some of the animals have "bulk prices" (i.e. they are plentiful and/or aren't difficult to replenish) and can be added for half or more off of the listed a la carte cost. With a reported average of one animal taken per day, it's a good option to have. You get your PH for the 7 days which makes having him help kids/teens as a freebie an incredible bargain. One adult hunter with kids isn't worth the full price of the PH for the whole stay, IMO.

(The PH did note there are more women coming through, mostly from America. (YEA! USA! USA!))

EAI has other non-hunting day trips on their site, so if you extend your stay, there's opportunity to see the rest of the country. I find those trips a bit pricey, but that's from navigating around with my family of native South Africans knowing the way. One mistake I made was to leave my itinerary too open. I didn't decide on my animals until my PH picked me up. I had discussed with Ed that I might like to add a horse riding trip from his website if we bagged my game early. But since I didn't confirm, it wasn't in the package he gave to the lodge. When I arrived, it wasn't in their regular tours so they weren't sure what I was referring to. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, it wasn't like I could go online to his site and point at it.

Pay as much as you can ahead of time in wire transfer or credit card. The lodges usually accept cash or traveler's checks onsite for the balance and deposits on taxidermy. I'd paid my PH and accomodation costs in full, but none on my trophy fees since I hadn't decided what to hunt. If I had to do it over, I would have paid enough to cover a minimum of game and some toward taxidermy and shipping. If you get a package, pay it in full so you don't have to deal with carrying so much cash/traveler's checks. (EAI notes that your trip is fully refundable right until you step on the plane. Another plus over other outfitters.)

Taxidermy and shipping is where the real costs are. The LBYM way to do it is to get your picture with your kill (or even better a friend's, shhhh...) and then just buy your trophies at Bubba's Online Bone Shop. Or just skip the trip running through the bush, buy the hides online, and use Photoshop. The prices for taxidermy are listed. You can buy the stuff online from wholesalers for about what it costs just to taxidermitize your own kill. I thought of getting parts and pieces partially processed and trying DIY, but decided that's more effort than I want to deal with. This outfitter has their own taxidermist shop, so that saves some costs on middlemen. In the end I decided on european skull mounts and full hide tanning. Much cheaper than shoulder mounts and takes up much less space in the room.

Shipping rate is a big question mark. There's a standard crating charge from the outfitter. Despite seeing so many warthogs, I declined to take any as the meat is hard to prepare and the USDA requires "pork products" to be packaged separately. I.e. it would incur another crating charge. The actual costs will depend on how much space the crate takes up (shipped by volume, not weight). Don't know mine yet. I've read some forums about this outfitter and charges weren't too insane for those with many more trophies, but I'll still be sitting on tacks until I see it.

OT - EXCHANGE RATE: This isn't specifically about the safari and you can do one without even thinking about it if it's your only stop, but I wanted to include the info. DO NOT buy more than a few dollars worth of the local currency. You can probably do without that as most places will take credit cards, there are ATMs in the airports, and anyone is happy to get USDs as tips. Drawing in the local currency from the ATM will get you the "bulk" exchange rate your bank gets. Buying from a bureau de change means you pay a ridiculous commission (around 14%) that is worked into their rate. is a good site to track exchanges. Most places will also have no problem with your credit card. However, you'll probably pay a foreign transaction fee. Our Costco Amex charged us 2.6% and our credit union charged 1%. Even with Costco's cash back it wasn't really worth it, except maybe the 0.4% on restaurants and hotels. I've watched the Rand for over a decade and it fluctuates between 5 and 10 rand to the dollar, but for the past 3-4 years it's stayed between 6-8. Right around 7.5 for the past year. (A few years ago, it skyrocketed to 13 for a few days and I sent my mother in law some money for my daughters college fund for her to stick in a CD at their stably high interest rates.)

And the meat, oh, the meat. It. Was. Divine. I went into the walk in cold room next to the skinning area with the farm manager and my PH. They cut the backstraps out of both animals for me and the tenderloins from the wildebeest. My bullet took my impala's lung, but also pierced his gut and spoiled those two little muscles inside the rib cage. They bagged them for me and asked how much else I wanted, suggesting a hindquarter off the impala. I said it was tempting but I couldn't transport it, and even if I left some clothes behid, there there was no way it would fit in the aunt's freezer in Cape Town where we were headed.

I grilled up one wildebeest backstrap for a BBQ for a reunion of my wife's friends. I made one impala backstrap into fajitas when we got back to Jo'burg and cut the other wildebeest into filet mignons for a BBQ the following night. I showed my brother in law where the remaining meat was in the freezer. He was an assitant in a Vail resort kitchen, so I knew he'd know what to do with it.

Happy hunting.
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