Peak “safari season” is almost upon us! I hope you’ve got a good one planned, and that’s today’s subject: Planning. Not the big stuff; hopefully you’ve already chosen your outfitter and area, you’ve studied the game list and you’re spending weekends on the range figuring out the right loads, practicing off of sticks, maybe breaking in that new big bore.
On that last, don’t overdo it. I haven’t seen a big rifle yet that comes with a gift certificate for shoulder reconstruction or magic anti-flinch pills! There’s no set number, but if you’re taking a new rifle you need to shoot it plenty on the range. This is to absolutely ensure mechanical reliability and make sure you are completely familiar and comfortable with its operation. I figure 50 rounds is minimal and 100 is better. But if we’re talking about a rifle with significant recoil you can’t do that much shooting in one range session. Maximum for one sitting may be as few as 10 rounds, and 20 is too many. So you should plan time for multiple range sessions. At the same time, you can do effective practice with a good old .22.
While we’re on guns, have you got your U.S. Customs Form 4457 yet? That little 4457, a piece of cheap paper measuring 5×4 inches, is one of the most amazing documents in the world, meaningless and at the same time indispensable.
Meaningless: U.S. Customs keeps no record of it, and while you can only get it from a U.S. Customs officer at a U.S. Customs office, if it takes more than three minutes somebody is dawdling. Indispensable: If you don’t have it you’ll have a hard time getting your guns back into the U.S. Equally important, since we don’t have firearms licensing in the U.S., just about everywhere in the world that little piece of paper is accepted as a U.S. firearms permit!
There is an unfortunate new wrinkle: Theoretically the 4457 is valid for as long as you own the firearm. However, in the upper right hand corner most 4457s have an expiration date. Increasingly, some countries are requiring 4457s with current dates. Check yours, you may need to get a new one. Obviously, you will confer with your outfitter and/or booking agent regarding requirements for temporary gun permits at your destination. Don’t leave this until last!
Major details include visas, airline tickets, inoculations and communications. U.S. citizens are currently not required to obtain visas in advance for several important safari destinations including Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. These things can change, so stay current.
I’ve gone to Mozambique pretty much annually for ten years. Previously we needed visas in advance, but this changed last year and we can now get visas at the port of entry airport — much simpler. My next major hunt, however, is in Congo, where advance visas are required, so I filled out all the paperwork just yesterday.
In most cases you can do it yourself through either a country’s embassy in Washington, or the nearest consulate. I’m a do-it-yourself guy in many instances, but with visas I use a service, costlier but faster, and I think safer for your passport. There are several, but I use G3 Visas and they have always beaten their own timelines. Think it through. Is your passport valid beyond your hunt dates? Does your passport have enough blank pages? Look at your schedule and figure a window when you won’t need your passport and check out the on-line visa form and figure out what you need. This is often a “cart before the horse” situation. Usually you will need a valid itinerary, outfitter invitation letter and recent passport photos to obtain your visa. All of these steps, in whatever order, take time and planning.
Airline reservations are critical. If you are not taking firearms, it’s simpler. If you are, then you need to be more careful. Trust me, I would be the last person on Earth to support the travel industry, but the really good deals you sometimes find online are only deals if they work. The more stops the greater the likelihood for delayed bags, and traveling with firearms is increasingly complicated. Across the board, avoid tight connections, especially with firearms. Delays can happen no matter what, but in the U.S. two hours is a good rule of thumb and, internationally, three hours is much better.
Traveling with firearms I am convinced you are better off using a gun-and-hunting savvy travel agent. These days some airlines won’t carry them, and others will not transfer them to certain other airlines (a major problem I ran into last year!). An experienced travel agent can sometimes save you money and sometimes will cost you more but can ensure smooth routing. Increasingly, airlines require advance notification of travel with firearms, and there may be a permit process to transit certain airports (Amsterdam and Dubai are good examples). Again, a gun-savvy travel agent can help, and that is stuff I don’t do on my own.
Inoculations aren’t complicated, but also take planning because tropical stuff like yellow fever vaccination and malaria prophylaxis may not be readily available in small town USA. Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov) offers a worldwide list of inoculations. Often there are “required” and “recommended” vaccinations. “Required” means what it says; “recommended” is between you and your doctor.
In southern Africa, very little is required, but in the north, you may need to show proof of yellow fever vaccination (fortunately a 10-year shot) to get through customs and in some cases you will need it to get a visa. Malaria prophylaxis is not necessary in most of South Africa and Namibia, but it’s really dumb to go without it in most of the continent. Last year I did dumb: I forgot it completely when I went to Mozambique. I didn’t get malaria, but that’s a stupid mistake!
Lastly, communications. Honestly, I can barely remember how we managed without cell phones. I guess we did, but it’s a whole lot easier today! Even with the very best planning flights can be cancelled or delayed. With communications most things can be sorted out. Without them it’s a mess. Call your carrier and activate international calling (and texting) on your cell phone. I always “disable data” because it’s expensive, but texting is cheap.
Carry a satellite phone in your carry-on. Explorer Satellite is the leader in our industry, offering units for short-term rent—with minutes—very inexpensively. Of course, you need to know who to call. Of course, you need to know who to call. Make sure you have phone numbers—as many as possible—for your travel agent, outfitter, airline and whomever is supposed to meet you on arrival. Problems can always occur and can usually be solved, but the more attention you pay to details the fewer problems you’ll have, and the easier the solutions!–Craig Boddington