How to Pick the Right Guns and Gear for an African Safari

The author glasses from the passenger side of a Land Cruiser. Richard Mann

One hundred years ago, hunters on safari in Africa needed to take lots of gear with them, including everything from guns to tents. In some cases, a lot of the outfitting was conducted after arrival in Africa. Times have of course changed, and today your outfitter and their staff will take care of almost everything should you decide to take a trip to Africa. I’ve done 30-day safaris and only brought a rifle case, a standard suitcase, and a backpack. The truth is, you’ll actually need a lot less gear than you think, but amongst that gear are some items you must have. After 20 safaris, I have a reasonably good idea of what that list should include.

The Best Clothes to Pack for an African Safari

You’ll need one set of travel clothes to wear to and from Africa. A good addition would be a travel or photographer’s vest so you can keep personal items such as your wallet, passport, travel paperwork, specific medicines, and such close at hand.

Bring leather or tight-fitting tactical gloves to use while stalking. Richard Mann

Because your outfitter will do your laundry every day, two to three sets of hunting clothes are plenty; the type and style will mostly depend on the time of year and the location you will be hunting. Remember, Africa is upside down from America, the further south you go, the colder it will be. 

In most locations—between May and September—cargo-style pants or shorts and a light button-up shirt—long or short sleeve—will suffice. I really like the trim-fit, pocket-laden Bushcraft pants from Kryptek for hunting (camouflage is not necessary). Add a good medium-weight jacket for cool mornings and evenings, and a pair of leather or tight-fitting tactical gloves because you may end up crawling on a stalk and will need to move the prickly stuff out of the way.

Bring the Right Shoes

A common pair of low or ankle boots for travel and to wear around camp are a must. Having an extra set of shoes will allow your hunting boots to breathe each evening. For hunting boots, I’ve found nothing can compare to those from Courteney for the African bush. They are made from buffalo hide, rugged, amazingly comfortable, and will keep thorns out of your feet. They’re available from several retailers in the States. Whatever you do, go with a full leather boot and avoid boots with mesh sides that allow the sticky things to find the tender skin of your feet. 

If you are going to wear low-top or ankle-high shoes while hunting in Africa, gaiters are a must. Richard Mann

Gaiters are nice to have, too. You’ll be walking in high grass, sand, and gravely ground. Grass seeds, sand, and pebbles can find their way inside your boots and make walking uncomfortable. Alternatively, a high-top boot like the Courteney Jameson can help with this, but I’d still wear gaiters unless I was wearing long pants.

The Best Guns & Cartridges for an African Safari

There is this misconception that African animals are harder to kill than whitetail deer or elk. It is a complete case of misinformation, founded in part by myth and in part because many first-time safari hunters tend to shoot poorly when under the gaze of a professional hunter and tracker. You do not need a magnum for Africa unless you’re after dangerous game.

In addition to a trusted rifle, think about bringing a good tripod and a suppressor. Richard Mann

As evidence, on my wife’s first safari, she took gemsbok, wildebeest, and impala—all with one shot—using a 243 Winchester and 85-grain Nosler Partitions. I’ve taken most of the plains game in Africa very efficiently with a 308 Winchester. Any cartridge in this class will work wonderfully. This is partly because your PH will work to get you inside 300 yards, and partly because proper shot placement combined with a good bullet has more to do with killing than what’s written on the headstamp of a cartridge. Of course, for buffalo and the like, you’ll find that there are minimum caliber or energy requirements. These usually start with cartridges like the 9.3x62mm Mauser or the 375 Holland & Holland.

Also, you can legally hunt with a suppressor in Africa, and it is not complicated to get it in and out of the country. Your PH will thank you for it, and many people shoot better with them.

The Best Optics for Hunting in Africa 

The importance of quality binoculars cannot be overstated. However, I think the mistake most African hunters make is to select binoculars that are too large. I prefer compact binos like the Swarovski CLs. They won’t tug on your neck, they’re light enough to use with one hand, and 8X is plenty of magnification. If you want to bring range-finding binos, that’s fine, but understand ranging is your PH’s job and you should be focused on shooting. While hunting several species like kudu, a spotting scope can help, but go with a high-quality, small, and lightweight option.

Compact binoculars are excellent for an African safari. Richard Mann

For your riflescope, again quality is important. If your riflescope goes belly up halfway through your safari you’re in a bad situation. I’d strongly suggest avoiding cheaply-made optics. A moderate power range is best; the old 3-9X riflescope is hard to beat. However, with today’s riflescopes that have an 8X zoom factor, like the Swarovski Z8i, something with a 2-16X magnification range is fantastic.

Extra Hunting Gear to Bring to Africa

While you may not need much in the way of clothing, there’s some gear you should consider bringing. If you have any prescribed medications, bring them and put them in your carry-on; there’s no guarantee your checked luggage will arrive the same day you do. Sunscreen and bug spray are a good idea, especially in the African summer. Sunglasses and a hat are wise choices too, and I prefer a wide-brimmed hat to a ball cap. 

A knife is a good idea for sure, but you don’t need a big knife. A pocket knife or a small fixed blade like the Montana Knife Company’s lightweight Speedgoat will suffice. What you might need more than a knife is a Leatherman or multitool and a kit for rifle cleaning and maintenance. 

A flashlight and headlamp should be considered mandatory, and with the current electrical load sharing in Africa, a camp light too. Speaking of electricity, you’ll also want an American plug adapter to charge any electrical devices you might have, along with a compact battery pack just in case. 

Rifle accessories include a good carry strap or shooting sling, and either shooting sticks or a tripod. I’ve become addicted to the Spartan tripod system because it’s so light, and I can use it for shooting, mounting my spotting scope when hunting kudu, and as a mount for my camera or smartphone.

Throw in a small personal first aid kit, and if you use tobacco—especially chewing tobacco or snuff—take all you’ll need with you. With today’s smartphones, a camera is not an absolute necessity. However, you may want to take photos at distance. If that’s the case, a good DSLR or mirrorless camera with a 400mm lens will yield great images.

A small folding knife or a fixed blade like this Speedgoat from Montana Knife Company is all the blade you need for Africa. Richard Mann

The Best Way to Book Your Travel for an African Safari

Booking a flight to Africa is as easy as booking a flight anywhere else. However, if you’re traveling with firearms, there are some additional considerations due to the strict gun laws in South Africa. I suggest hiring some assistance. 

Since 2006, I have used African Odessey for all of my travel to South Africa. Not only are they only a phone call or e-mail away if I have issues or need to change my flights. They can arrange a meet and greet at the airport, assistance with firearms permitting, and lodging when necessary. I wouldn’t consider going on an African safari without the assistance of a travel agent that has experience with hunters.

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Bring the Right Attitude

The most important thing you can bring to Africa is a good attitude and a willingness to learn and take direction from your professional hunter. The lifestyle in Africa is a bit different from in America; there’s no hustle and bustle. While you are there, you’re on African time, and by that, I’m not talking about the time difference. It’s best to chill out.

With a proper outfitter, you’ll also be well tended to, so be prepared to let them wait on you a bit. Let the trackers handle the loading, dressing, and skinning of your game. Sure, you can participate if you want. Because I’m continually testing different bullets that’s something I tend to get involved in. But you’re paying for preferential treatment, and you might as well enjoy it.

Also, be prepared to start planning your next safari before you return from your first. There’s something about the combination of the morning coo of a dove, brilliant African sunsets, the red dirt, and the magic of it all that will bite you hard and embed itself deep within your soul. 

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