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Namibia: The Perfect First Safari
written by Don Sangster

I believe that most serious big game hunters dream of two destinations: Alaska and Africa. So, when the opportunity arose recently to go on my first African safari, I jumped at the chance.
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Nambia Safari
The author and a 53-inch kudu bull. Like many African game, these large animals can be very tenacious. As a result, legal minimums for rifle calibers have been imposed in many jurisdictions. Absent this, many African guides would suggest the .300 family as the minimum. The author used a Ruger Model 77 in .375 H&H for his Namibian multi-species plains game safari.

I had never really thought that I'd be able to make my first trip to Africa before the age of 40, but I believe that far too many people put off trips like this until Father Time starts to catch up with them and prevents them from really getting the most out of these adventures. I was reminded of this while reviewing some literature sent to me by Jack Atcheson & Sons Inc., the hunting consultants I used to book my trip. Their motto is "go hunting while you are physically able." I decided I was going to heed that advice.

Although Cape buffalo is definitely on my "some day" list, most veterans of many safaris will recommend that you not pursue Cape buffalo, or any of Africa's "Big Five" dangerous game, on your first trip to Africa. While I have hunted various big game extensively in North America, I too felt that going after something that could get me before I got it was best reserved for my second safari, so I decided to stick to a selection of plains game. The big question, however, was where to go.

I narrowed down my choices to either South Africa or Namibia. Both of these countries are ideally suited to a first safari for a number of reasons. Perhaps the biggest reason is cost. The going rate for a 1x1 (one hunter with one guide) multi-species plains game hunt in either country averages about $500 per day. That includes all your food, accommodations, the services of your guide and all camp staff, ground transportation during your hunt and care of your trophies. Trophy fees are extra. That means you can do a 10-day multi-species plains game hunt for less than an equivalent length moose hunt in Alaska, which explains why Alaska is still only on my "to do" list. In fact, with the current global economic slow-down, there are some fantastic African safari bargains available, some even including trophy fees in a package price.

Nambia Safari
Many of the hunting "farms" in Namibia are vast, spanning tens of thousands of acres. Expect to spend lots of time travelling in a four-wheel drive safari vehicle in order to cover ground. Dry creek beds are great places to spot game tracks and even catch some animals napping in the shade of the larger trees lining the creek.

Another big plus for both of these countries is the abundance and staggering variety of game. Namibia offers close to 30 different species of game available, while South Africa offers even more. After careful consideration, I settled on a list of six different species of plains game that I wanted to pursue, with kudu and gemsbok being the two top priorities. Both Namibia and South Africa have both of these species in abundance in certain areas, and large ones as well.

TRAVEL AND ACCOMMODATIONS

Travel within (and to) both of these countries is generally simple as road networks and internal commercial flights are excellent, so hunting several different areas during one trip, depending upon how much time you have and what your hunting goals are, is possible. This contributes to the reasonable price of these safaris. Both countries also enjoy political stability.

Typical accommodations are far from primitive. Guest quarters on a ranch, a permanent safari camp, or very comfortable lodge-style accommodations, with separate rooms, a private bath and skilled chefs, are the norm. Many even have a swimming pool. Tsetse flies and malaria are generally not an issue, so these are also great trips for spouses and non-hunters to accompany you. I know my non-hunting wife enjoyed the trip just as much as I did.

Nambia Safari
The author and his 39-inch trophy bull gemsbok. Gemsbok, or oryx, are one of Africa's most striking antelopes and most popular hunting tophies.

In terms of logistics for the travelling hunter, both countries are serviced by major commercial airlines and neither country requires American citizens to obtain a travel Visa. South Africa's process and procedures for obtaining a temporary firearms import permit are considerably more complicated than those of Namibia, and although this was a factor in my decision to choose Namibia, it wasn't the main one. The biggest reason I decided on Namibia was the fact that almost all of the hunting lands in South Africa are high-fenced, private ranches. While most of these ranches are very large and extremely well-managed, with excellent trophy quality, the necessary by-product is game-proof fences that keep the ranches' valuable trophy animals in, while keeping predators, poachers and inferior genetics out. As high-fenced operations are simply not my cup of tea, Namibia was the logical choice for me.

HUNTING CONDITIONS AND AREAS  

Most of Namibia is also under private ownership with cattle ranching being the big business, but cattle are easily kept contained with traditional low fences, which pose no obstacle to the game animals. Most of the hunting is indeed "ranch" hunting, but these "farms," as they are locally called, are usually very large. Species like kudu, hartebeest, gemsbok, eland, springbok, Hartmann's mountain zebra, warthog, cheetah, leopard and ostrich occur naturally, undoubtedly made more plentiful by the permanent water sources developed by ranchers. That's not to say that high-fenced operations don't exist in Namibia too, because they certainly do, but they are not the only option. Instead, they provide the opportunity to also hunt certain species that are not generally plentiful on most free-range ranches.

Nambia Safari
The author with a 23-inch red hartebeest, his first African trophy. Hartebeest are herd animals and have excellent eyesight, making them one of Namibia's more challenging plains game species.

As I mentioned, cattle ranching is big business in Namibia, and Namibians make sure they protect that industry from threats such as beef-loving lions and fence-destroying elephants, but also foot and mouth disease, a deadly cattle disease. Unfortunately, two of Africa's classic safari animals, wildebeest and Cape buffalo, both carry this disease. To protect against it, Namibia created a Veterinary Cordon Fence or "Red Line" that cuts across the country from east to west, essentially a large fence that divides the country into two parts. Most of the country lies to the south of the Red Line, with only the northern-most part of Namibia, including the famous Caprivi Strip, lying to the north. Wildlife and livestock cannot be brought across the Red Line without going through quarantine. As a result, very few free-range wildebeest, Cape buffalo, lions or elephants exist south of the Red Line.

As you will be hunting on ranches, low fences and cattle are everywhere, and that may not fit the image many people have of the "classic" African safari. For that you would need to hunt the Caprivi Strip, which is considerably more expensive. Instead, you get an amazing variety and abundance of game, easy travel and low cost.

Nambia Safari
Photography opportunities abound for the non-hunters that may accompany you. The author's wife took this great photo of a young kudu that was part of a group of cows and calves being led by the trophy kudu bull the author managed to stalk and collect.

OTHER THINGS TO DO

Incidental bird hunting is always a possibility on a Namibian safari, as it offers some of the best seasonal bird hunting for various species of grouse and waterfowl available anywhere in Africa. Side trips to experience some coastal saltwater fishing can also be arranged.

In terms of tourist attractions, Namibia's capital of Windhoek is a safe and cosmopolitan city, with some great shopping and restaurants. From there, Etosha National Park to the northwest and the Kalahari Desert to the southeast are within a day's drive and are must-see destinations. For the beach-goers, the seaside town of Swakopmund is very popular.

If you are looking to plan your first African safari, have a multitude of plains game on your wish list, and some tourist attractions and luxury amenities are in order to make the non-hunters in your family comfortable and happy, Namibia is the best choice and best value in all of Africa.

Namibia Tourism
www.namibiatourism.com.na

Namibia Professional Hunting Association
www.natron.net/napha/english/index.html

Jack Atcheson & Sons Inc. Hunting Consultants
www.atcheson.com

Nick Nolte Hunting Safaris
www.nicknoltesafaris.com

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