How to Plan a Hunting Trip to Africa

No longer just a dream, Africa can be a wide-awake experience of a lifetime for North American hunters--far less expensive than a brown bear hunt in Alaska or a trophy-bull chase on an Indian reservation.

But as a longtime visitor to Africa, and as an occasional Professional Hunter there, I've seen plenty of first-time Americans who didn't plan adequately. Here are some lessons from their experiences.

Expectations: You will almost certainly be hunting a high-fence property. The reasons are varied. Sometimes game is stocked to ensure a satisfying hunting experience. Other times, properties are fenced because the landowner is responsible for the game, and should a kudu wander onto a roadway and cause an accident, the landowner must pay the bill. Try to ignore the fences. Hunting will be tremendous and the animals wild.

Passport: Get one now. And don't ever allow it to leave your possession, from the time you leave home to the time you return.

Outfitters: Reputation is everything. Go online. Call Africa guides. Require references. And beware of "bargains," which always have hidden costs. Get rates on paper. And know the full price--to the penny--before sending a deposit.

Airfare: If you're traveling with family or friends, ensure that all members of your hunting team travel together--same airline, same itinerary. And try to book direct flights.

Customs Forms: Bring your gun, optics, cameras, and any other high-value possession you'll be taking to Africa to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office prior to departure. Ask for a Form 4457--"Certificate of Registration for Personal Effects Taken Abroad." Fill it out and have it stamped by an officer. The form confirms your ownership of these expensive items and allows you to bring them home without paying duty.

Gun Permits: Contact your outfitter regarding whether to rent or bring your own guns. If you bring your own, request all paperwork required to bring a gun into the country of your destination. Return signed originals to your outfitter, but place photocopies inside your gun case.

Gun Types: Speaking of guns, forget anything with a semi-automatic action.

Letters of Invitation: Have your outfitter fax or email a letter stating that you are invited to hunt in Africa.

Health: Inoculations are painless, fast, and available for a nominal fee from your local health department.

Taxidermy: It sounds blasphemous, but consider leaving your trophies and bringing home photos instead. Taxidermists in Africa are much better than they were a generation ago, but they're no bargain. If you do ship hides and horns, plan to pack an entire container, as the cost of shipping multiple animals is not much more than shipping a single trophy.