Hunting travel tips have been useful ever since the first hominids walked out of Africa and their friends admonished “don’t forget your stick!” These days our hunting sticks are a lot more complex, but just as important, as I discovered yet again during my recent hunt with Fort Richmond Safaris in South Africa. Here are hunting travel tips that’ll help you reach your hunting destination fully prepared with minimum expense and hassle.
Your First 5 Hunting Travel Tips
1. Pack a strong, dependable rifle you know well. An expensive adventure is no time to experiment with a new, untested, unfamiliar rifle (trust me; I’ve tried and it wasn’t pretty.) Avoid unfamiliar, heavy-recoiling magnums that might inspire you to flinch. Standard cartridges in the 30-06 Govt./308 Win. class are more than powerful enough for everything short of dangerous game. I shot a Dakota M10 single-shot 7x57mm Mauser for much of my recent hunt and if it was any less effective than my buddy’s 375 H&H or 45-70 Govt., none of the animals we shot mentioned it.
2. Choose your bullet type and style carefully. Rifle, caliber, and cartridge are never as important as the bullet because they are just parts of the launching apparatus. It is the bullet that does the hitting, missing, and killing. Consult with your outfitter, guide, or PH for advice, but err on the side of heavy-for-caliber projectiles or any you’ve found dependable and effective over the years. Confidence contributes significantly to success. I hunted with light-for-caliber bullets on this trip, but that was because thy were all-copper Barnes TSX and TTSX bullets designed for maximum weight retention and deep penetration. Most shot through.
3. Don’t over-emphasize accuracy to the detriment of terminal performance. A rifle/cartridge/bullet combo that groups 1.5 MOA has sufficient accuracy to deliver its blow to the pie-plate-diameter vitals in an antelope chest out to 600 yards. (1.5×6 = 9”.) Sub-MOA precision is reassuring, but you don’t need it to succeed.
4. Consider lightweight rifles to minimize travel weight, bulk, and expense. Most airlines today charge for each checked bag and charge extra for overweight and oversized bags. You’re allowed #50 per bag for domestic flights, #70 for international flights. A scoped #10 rifle might not seem excessive, but if you wish to bring two, you’re up to #20. Add #14 to #20 for the mandatory hard case, and you haven’t much weight allowance remaining for shooting sticks, binocular, knives, backup scope, boots, etc. Some ways to reduce rifle weight: hollow, synthetic stocks; short barrels; skeletonized actions; blind magazines; small scopes. Of course, if another $100 in baggage fees is no big deal for you, pile it on.
5. Shop for strong, but lightweight cases. Job one is protecting your rifles/scopes during rough baggage handling, but carefully designed cases with the right materials and construction can provide that at less weight than poorly designed ones. I’ve found some 4-gun cases nearly #10 lighter than some 2-gun cases. Weigh your options carefully.
Your Final 5 Hunting Travel Tips
6. Use a “golf-club” style hard case rather than the common hinged lid style for extra packing space. With these you zip your rifles into traditional soft cases for padding and protection, then slide them into the hard case along with jackets, boots, shooting sticks, tripods, etc. This saves space in your other checked bag for clothes, ammo, etc. At your hunting destination, you’ll have a handy soft case for hauling your rifle safely in hunting vehicles.
7. Try a “take-down” case. You can remove stocks from virtually all bolt-action rifles by removing two or three screws. With the stock off, the two-pieces usually stretch no longer than 32”, making a short, light travel case a viable option. Trust me, schlepping through airports with a 34” case is a lot more fun than stumbling through with a 54” case. Don’t forget the screwdriver and necessary bits for re-mounting the stock. Also familiarize yourself with the bedding pressure needed for your rifle to shoot its best. In some rifles accuracy suffers if stock bedding screw pressures are not consistent. Throw in bits for your scope ring/base screws, too.
8. For maximum versatility, consider some kind of combo gun. An over-under rifle/shotgun would be ideal in Africa where a wide variety of doves, pigeons, francolin, quail, guinea fowl, sand grouse and waterfowl provide exciting wing shooting. A three-barrel drilling can be even more effective. If traveling with a partner, take a rifle and a shotgun and trade during the hunt, one of you pursuing birds with shotgun while the other hunts oryx with the rifle. Cost shaving is a side benefit to minimizing the number of guns you haul. Some countries assess a $25 to $200 tax for each gun brought in. And some assess it coming and going! This puts a whole new spin on being “over-gunned.”
9. Reduce ammo weight! Airlines limit you to #11 pounds of ammunition, and for travel to most foreign countries, it must be in its original factory packaging (or plastic/fiberboard aftermarket cases) with those secured in a locked hard case. If you’re shooting something like the 416 Rem. Mag. Dakota M76 I took to Fort Richmond Safaris, you’d better shoot straight and seldom. One 20-round box of 400-grain 416 Rem. Mag. weighs 2 lbs., 7 oz. A sturdy SKB ammo case weighs 3 pounds. Do the math. You’re not left with a lot of room for your 7x57mm ammo. I shaved 24 ounces off my ammo case by hollowing out a cheap handgun case. I saved additional weight by using the flimsiest little locks I could find.
10. Here’s the last of your hunting travel tips: Carry a small binocular. In Africa, especially, your PH and tracker will be doing most of the game finding and trophy estimating. You’ll be reduced to “hobby” glassing, which is still great fun. Using a little Meopta 8×32, I had no trouble finding most of the kudu, impala, steinbuck, and warthogs PH Geoffrey Wayland pointed out — and quite a few that I found first. During lulls in the action I studied dozens of birds. By all means take a binocular, but it doesn’t need to be a 10×42 or massive 12×50.
The author loves to hunt around the world, but abhors incurring unnecessary expenses for hauling his gear.