Ten of the world's best hunting destinations
The other day we asked Davey what in his opinion were ten really great hunting destinations around the world and why. From hunting maral stags in Mongolia to water buffalo in Australia’s Northern Territory, Davey has travelled and hunted extensively over the years – of course, he says it’s all in the name of product testing and who are we to argue. Here then are his picks of countries to visit and the game they offer.
The “Last Frontier” of raw wilderness, Alaska offers so many options for hunters, which is possibly why I’ve hunted there 19 times. The diversification of the animals and landscape is incredible. From the primordial rainforests of the south east where black and brown bear reside, to the tundras of the north, where, if you time it just right, you can watch endless streams of caribou migrating. Or Kodiak island and the peninsula which juts into the Pacific Ocean for Kodiak bear and mountain goats. Wherever you go in Alaska you’ll meet people who are open, friendly and fiercely independent.
Gear to pack? Every time I travel to Alaska, I’m sure to pack my Swazi Tahr XP, as it’s a bloody decent rain coat and invariably the weather during the hunting season can be both inclement and inhospitable.
My most memorable hunt was in pursuit of black bear by spear on Kuiu Island. I messed up three times (which gave me the shakes!) but thankfully I’m still alive to tell the tale. For this kind of hunting you’re on the ground and have to get within four to five metres of the bear, so it requires a fair bit of mental fortitude!
2) Canada’s Yukon
The Yukon is the land of beyond. In the words of poet Robert W. Service: “It’s the cussedest land that I know, from the big, dizzy mountains that screen it, to the deep, deathlike valleys below. Some say God was tired when He made it; Some say it’s a fine land to shun; Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it for no land on earth—and I’m one.”
The large territory in the north west of Canada offers a wide variety of animals to hunt. I must be honest and say for me the Yukon moose is one of my favourite hunts and if you visit in September/October, you can do so during the rut. Whenever I’ve been, I’ve hunted on horseback. The land is vast, and you’re tested by hard weather and then to top it off, you end up with a sore arse, but the challenge is what makes it special.
September can offer summer-like weather, or you can be confronted with terrible conditions and deep snow. You need to be fit to hunt the Yukon, and two weeks before you go, I recommend taking cold baths. It’ll toughen you up somewhat! Prepare for the worst, pack good gear that’ll both insulate you and protect you from severe storms. Base and mid layers are important and definitely don’t forget good boots.
Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed reading books on the life of iconic African hunters. My heroes were hunters and explorers like Frederick Selous, John F. Burger and J. A. Hunter. How I dreamed of being able to hunt in the same areas those guys have been.
Being able to hunt in the Selous Game Reserve, in just the same way as my heroes –by foot, with no vehicles and moving camp each day is definitely a highlight. We ended up taking 30 porters on the trip and my other job was to keep the camp in meat – it was boys-own adventure in that respect. I went in November, just before the rains. Hot? Man, it reached 52°C on some days. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Our main species to hunt was the Cape buffalo, preferably the older dagga bulls, but on foot your opportunities are lessened by the fact you can’t travel the same distance as you can in say a vehicle. That particular hunt was a 10-day hunt and I was using my .416 Rigby - my favourite calibre for big dangerous game. It wasn’t until the tenth and final day of the hunt that I took my bull. The terrain was relatively easy, but they were long days tracking in hot conditions.
For anyone planning on doing something similar, remember to carry lots of water, a wide-brimmed hat to stave off sun stroke and you should shoot as much as you can with the rifle you are planning to take. Large calibres take some getting used to, so I used my .416 for six months on deer hunting jaunts in New Zealand ahead of the trip.
I believe Namibia is one of the safest places in Africa to take your family. I’ve been once with my son and once with my daughter. It has a very stable government, with low levels of corruption, which I believe is a rarity in Africa.
My favourite area to hunt in Namibia is Damaraland. It has one million acres of totally unfenced conservation area, unlike most of the rest of southern Africa where fences seem to be the rule. Damaraland has a wide variety of plains game, including gemsbok, kudu, wildebeest and zebra. There are also fairly good numbers of elephants and more than the odd rhino to bump into if you took your mind off the job. The terrain is very hilly, so you definitely need to pack comfortable footwear and gaiters or putties, and before you travel make sure you get all your shots.
Landlocked between China to the south and Russia to the north, I travelled to Mongolia in the early ‘90s just after Russia had pulled out of the country. I thought it was a great time to go because the country had just been opened up to hunting again. With its raw beauty, stunning mountain ranges, deserts and clear alpine lakes, it’s one of the last few places on earth to experience the nomadic way of life. Steeped in heritage and untouched land, you can hunt argali, ibex and maral stag.
My hunt was a 10-day hunt for stags. I flew into the capital Ulaanbaatar, before flying in an old rundown biplane north east to the forested areas of the Khan Khentii mountains. I found the hunt quite easy but again, very cold, so make sure you pack lots of warm layers.
We stayed in a Mongolian ger, similar to that of a Russian yurt. When I visited in the ‘90s there were a lot of animals at that stage, but since then I’ve heard that the numbers have greatly diminished due to poaching. Herds have been decimated because of the Chinese wanting their pizzles. For those prepared to travel, expect to eat a lot of pickles, gherkins and boiled mutton!
6) Australia’s Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is the central northern region of Australia which overlooks the Timor and Arafura Sea, it covers 1.3 million square kilometres and is sparsely populated with only 246,700 people. The area offers opportunities for water buffalo, pigs, crocodile (both fresh and saltys, but of course, the crocs are protected in most areas) banteng, wild goat and water fowl. Plenty of donkeys up there too, if you are that way inclined…
I’ve hunted there four times, always for water buffalo and I would recommend going in July/August. The first time I went, I wanted a buff with a wide spread and then the next couple of hunts were for horns which spread backwards. The water buffalo move around in a herd, so you have to be very selective or find solitary bulls.
The most difficult thing about the hunt is the heat. It’s not a difficult stalk and in my opinion, water buff are nowhere near as aggressive or cantankerous as Cape buff, but just be wary of snakes and crocs - thankfully there’s not great big saltys inland.
A lot of people believe there is a lot of rivalry between New Zealanders and Australians but for me, hunting is so international that it breaks down barriers.
7) New Zealand
One of my utmost favourite animals to hunt in all the world is Himalayan tahr and I feel extremely lucky to live in a country where they reside. For me, it’s not just about the majestic animal, it’s also about the terrain and landscape, that high alpine backcountry. I call it ‘tiger country’, cause it’s just so steep and unforgiving.
If I don’t hunt tahr once a year I get withdrawal symptoms. Actually, I get the shakes and it aint pretty! I’ve just come back from a tahr trip last month and I’m already planning to head down to the west of the South Island for next year. You need to be fit and prepared for whatever Mother Nature throws at you. The weather can be very unpredictable, but a good day provides the most stunning vistas.
I always bring at least one friend, as it’s the sort of country where if you have an accident it’s smart to have someone there. I also pack a GPS, PLB use a phone app called NZ Topo, which offers brilliant topographic maps. I also store cached Google Earth shots of the area for reference, as it works even when out of signal.
In the 30 years I’ve been tahr hunting I’ve never measured a trophy. My goal is for a mature, big, shaggy, dark bull - nothing sets your heart racing more than when you have one in your sights after an arduous climb.
Every time I travel to Scotland, I feel like I’m coming home because of the similarities in landscape to that of New Zealand’s. Some years ago, I worked in forestry in the Highlands and stayed just outside of Aviemore. In some sense, a part of Swazi’s designs is based on the fact that back then there was no good gear for outdoor work to combat the weather. You can be rest assured that no matter when you visit Scotland, it will rain or be windy at some stage, so be prepared with warm layers and good wet weather gear.
My favourite hunt is for red stags in either the Highlands, islands or west coast where the landscape is so dramatic. The stag season opens in July and closes late October, but I would recommend going late September when the stags are rutting (or ‘the roar’, as we call it in New Zealand). It’s something else watching the stags engage in elaborate displays of dominance, roaring and fighting, to win exclusive mating rights with the hinds and it’s very evocative to take such a magnificent animal.
Hunting and wildlife management in Sweden is an integral part of conservation. Here you can hunt moose, red, roe and fallow deer, bear, badger, capercaillie, reindeer and wild boar, to name but a few. With a population nearing 10million, 300,000 of those are hunters. With the highest percentage of forested wilderness in all of Europe it has a strong hunting tradition.
To hunt in the country, you need to apply for a hunting permit which will cost you a meagre 300 SEK but you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular hunting experience. The landscape is very dramatic, with rolling hills rising up into mountains, freshwater streams and thousands of lakes dotted across the land.
It feels so remote. I enjoy the solitude and that feeling of getting away from it all. The terrain is not too steep and ideal for moose and capercaillie. It’s hard for me to choose between the two. Capercaillie is quite an interesting hunt with dogs and centrefire rifle because the birds are really cunning, but the incredible feeling you get from calling in a moose, that sense of achievement is extraordinary.
The last place on my list has to be France, not only is it a stunningly beautiful country, but it offers a great diversification of animals to hunt. From alpine chamois and mouflon in the Alps, to Pyrenean chamois in the south west or wild boar, red, roe and fallow deer in sprawling forested areas, fields and mountain ranges.
I really enjoy French alpine hunting and my choice piece of equipment is always a decent set of binoculars. I use 10x42 Leica Geovids, which are superb.
What I love about hunting in France, is that it offers some incredible gastronomical delights, great wine and good food – enough said. No, say some more! The food is fantastic, the people are so genuine and hospitable and of course, the wine can art times be fine and plentiful too!