Timing is everything! Here in North America we’re accustomed to the autumn and early winter months as our primary hunting season. Spring is turkey season and, in some areas, spring bear, but there isn’t much going on in the summer months. This isn’t true everywhere. South of the Equator the seasons are reversed, so spring and summer are primary hunting months…but in every place, for almost every animal, there’s a “best time.” Continent by continent, here’s a look at some ideal hunting for spring breaks and the long summer doldrums.
We’re doing this alphabetically, but Africa is the right place to start because our summer months—their winter—comprises the primary safari season in much of the continent. There are two important caveats to this. First, the Equator runs across Africa from Kenya to Gabon, so much more than half the continent is actually in the Northern Hemisphere. Second, much hunting in Africa is dependent not on winter or summer, but on dry season versus rainy season!
These can have a combined effect. For instance, if you wish to hunt Benin, Burkina Faso, or the northern savanna regions of Cameroon and C.A.R. then you want to go in our winter or early spring, which is also their winter and early spring. These are hot countries, but it’s comparatively cooler then. Perhaps more importantly, this is also their dry season, when the areas are most trafficable.
On the other hand, if you want to hunt the forest zone, you probably want to go a bit later. This is not because it’s cooler (it isn’t!), but because forest hunting is at its best when you have at least occasional rain showers. This makes the forest quieter, and forest animals tend to move well just after a rain. Too late when the heavy rains come in and the roads can become impassable, so it’s striking a balance, hoping showers start early but the deluges hold off. Hunting the smaller forest animals in Ghana and Liberia conditions should be good January through May. In southern Cameroon and C.A.R., however, you really want frequent showers to effectively hunt bongo. April through June is considered ideal, with July getting a bit too wet.
In North Africa—Chad, Morocco and Tunisia—it’s pretty simple. Their seasons are much the same as ours, late autumn through late winter, simply because the summers are just too hot. The other two important hunting countries in the Northern Hemisphere are Uganda and Ethiopia. Uganda is Equatorial, so it’s primarily a matter of hunting between the rainy seasons. Winter and spring are very good times. Ethiopia is a huge country with a theoretical year-’round season. This means that, due to rains, not all areas are accessible throughout the year. Late fall, winter and early spring are generally good. The great prize, mountain nyala, lives in high country where it never gets brutally hot, so hunting is very practical throughout the spring and summer months.
Just south of the Equator, Tanzania’s season opens July 1st, just after the primary rains. Early can be good for many species, but in some areas tall grass can be an issue. The season runs on through December, but the “short rains” usually start by mid-November, and some areas quickly become inaccessible. Farther south, Mozambique has no set season, but hunting is very much dictated by the rains, which control access. Some operators start in May and June for certain species, but for general hunting Mozambique’s prime season runs a bit later than the rest of southern Africa, really kicking off in August and running on into November.
The rest of southern Africa is a bit simpler: our summer months—June, July and August—are prime safari season. This is their winter and, more importantly, their dry season, so conditions are good and the weather is great, cool mornings and evenings and generally warm and sunny middays. Across southern Africa, these are the months you can count on. September is also very good, but getting warmer…likewise October, but getting hot, especially in low-lying areas.
Springtime depends a lot on the area, and also the species to be hunted. In Zambia, May is on the shoulder of the season, often plagued by long grass. This is also true of northeastern South Africa and Zimbabwe…except that early spring, during the cropping season, is a good time for elephant, and April and May are good months to hunt leopard. South Africa’s Eastern Cape tends to have a longer season, likewise the more arid country in the west and northwest. Namibia is a very arid country, and much of it can be practically hunted year-’round. It gets very hot in their summer (our winter) months, and in the far north, the rains interfere, but in most of the country April through October are all good months.
In general, the many hunting countries of Asia echo our seasons, so fall and winter are primary hunting months. There are, however, some really good spring/summer opportunities. Spring bear seasons are held in many areas, and while we can always argue whether fall or spring offers the best opportunity for a big bear, in Russia bear hunting is probably best in spring. Kamchatka continues to offer some of the world’s best brown bear hunting, with May the magic month.
As we all know, today the crown jewels of Asian hunting are the numerous sheep and goats. We generally think of mountain hunting as an autumn pursuit, but some seasons extend into early spring…and some situations, because of weather, start very early. Nepal, uniquely, has both a spring and fall season. Up in the Himalayas, weather can be brutal either way, but I went in April and hunted blue sheep and tahr in glorious spring weather. The sheep season in Armenia extends into April when the Armenian mouflon can be combined with spring bear. In the Caucasus region of southwestern Russia and Azerbaijan, some of the tur hunting starts very early. I hunted Azerbaijan in July, and up in the mountains the weather was cool and marvelous. Because of weather conditions, the various snow sheep in Russia’s Siberian region are best hunted in August and perhaps September. Depending on the country, wild boar are often hunted throughout the year…this is definitely true in Turkey, where “summer hunting” for roebuck is also available.
As with Asia, but perhaps even more so, primary hunting seasons tend to follow the North American pattern, and most of her antlered game is in hard antler in the fall, with an autumn rut. There are exceptions! Without question the roebuck is Europe’s most numerous and widespread game animal, and the roebuck keeps a weird schedule compared to most Northern Hemisphere deer. Across the continent, most roebuck are coming into hard antler in late April and early May, with the primary rut during the summer months.
Typically they’ll start to shed (the Europeans say “cast”) in October, so it’s often difficult to combine roebuck hunting with other European fall seasons. This makes the roebuck Europe’s most important “off season” animal…understanding that, if you’re a European roebuck hunter, spring and summer aren’t off-season at all! Most countries seem to open roebuck season about May 1st, although there are some opportunities a bit earlier. In Romania, I combined roebuck with spring bear in early May. I also did a spring roebuck hunt in Hungary, a glorious time when spring flowers were in full bloom. A couple times now I’ve hunted roebuck in England in the early summer. That’s also a glorious time, and a very inexpensive adventure. Most of England’s other antlered species aren’t in hard antler, but there’s always a chance to pick up a muntjac, the problem being that spring and summer cover tends to hide these little deer.
I’ve mentioned European brown bear; spring seasons remain common in the few Eastern European countries that hunt their bears. In some areas wild boar are hunted in the spring and summer months, although winter hunting is usually considered best. Spain, with Europe’s greatest variety of game, has hunting available literally in every month of the year. A unique opportunity there is that in some areas ibex can be hunted quite late, well into the spring. The last Spanish ibex I took was in March, actually a very good time to hunt, and on the same trip I went over to Mallorca for the Balearean wild goat.
Then there are early seasons. Just like our caribou, reindeer are hunted early. I went to Iceland at the end of July, a beautiful time in a beautiful place. Norway also has reindeer hunting in August. Like all of the British Isles, in Scotland roebuck are hunted through the summer but their marvelous and traditional stalking for red deer gets going in August. Around the continent there are other odds and ends, including hunting for numerous introduced species here and there.–Craig Boddington