To Tip, or Not to Tip: That is the Question!
As a Shoshone Adventures hunting consultant, many of the calls I take on a daily basis come from hunters booking their first guided hunt. Whether they are looking for an elk hunt out West or a cape buffalo safari in Zimbabwe, the subject of tipping always comes up. How much should I tip? Should I tip at all? Are tips included in the price? Should I tip just my guide or the camp staff as well? These are just a few of the popular questions on the subject matter that are routinely asked by hunters. Most guides and professional hunters are paid a base rate by the outfitter with the assumption that clients will be paying tips on top of their salary. With this knowledge, it is fair to say that tipping is an important component of any guided hunt, and some thought should be put into how much coin should be spent on tipping. So, let’s break down tipping a bit and I will tell you my experiences and offer some advice for tipping on your next guided hunt.
The first rule of any guided hunt is to never assume a tip or gratuity is included in the price of the hunt. Always ask or make sure your hunt contract specifies whether tips and gratuities are included. As a rough estimate, I would say that roughly 95% of the hunts we book through Shoshone do not include tips and gratuities in the price of the hunt. Most outfitters would agree that what a client tips their guide or professional hunter is their business and no one else’s.
On a recent trip to South Africa with my wife, I was speaking with one of our Shoshone outfitters and he flat out asked me, “Peyton, what do you tell potential clients that ask about tipping?” It’s a fair question and one I certainly asked twenty years ago when I booked my first guided hunt which by coincidence was in South Africa. In my experience, this is the “politically correct” line that clients do NOT want to hear:
“Tipping comes from the heart and should be a reflection on how your personal expectations were or were not met on your adventure.”
This answer, while sounding eloquent and professional, doesn’t answer anything. Hunters want a guideline, a solid number that they can bankroll and put aside to cover a tip that will not upset their guide or professional hunter. A good, general guideline for any hunt is tip roughly 10% of the base price of the hunt. If an elk hunt in New Mexico runs $6,000 without the landowner tag (if applicable) your tip should be in the $600 range which averages out to $100 to $125 a day depending on the length of the hunt. The same thing applies to Africa. If the base daily rate for your hunt, whether it be $1300 a day for dangerous game or $300 for a plains game hunt in South Africa, your tip should be roughly 10% of the base daily rate before any trophy fees are applied. If you are hunting on a package deal in South Africa, your tip should be about 10% of the package price.
Another interesting question I get asked quite a bit, nearly exclusively for African safaris, is “What should I tip the camp staff?” This is a great question, and every safari operator handles how they distribute tips differently. First, unless required by your outfitter, do not tip in South African Rand or whatever the currency is for the country in which you are hunting. Tips should be made in US dollars only. It goes without saying the US dollar is more valuable than most foreign currencies and many of the staff depend on these tips for a huge chunk of their salary. The necessity of tipping with US dollars is further reinforced by the fact that many international currencies are not as stable as the US dollar and subject to being affected by outside factors such as inflation, as is the case with the Argentine Peso for example. Clients should be prepared to tip at least $150 to your tracker and skinner, camp cook and camp staff (laundry and maid service). On a dangerous game safari, bump up that amount by at least $300. After all, these fellas are tracking dangerous game and risking their lives for you. For a variety of reasons, some safari operators prefer you tip the staff personally while some prefer to distribute tips at the end of the season.
Another tip (no pun intended): before I take off for an African safari, I buy several of the small, multi tools from Cabela’s or Sportsman’s Warehouse. These tools are cheap and don’t take up much room in your luggage. The first day in camp, before we head out hunting, I give them out as gifts to all my trackers and skinners. The look on their face is priceless and you have just made a new best friend for the next 10 days! And if you really want to make some children happy bring candy and lots of it! To this point, one of my fellow Shoshone consultants has hunted in Argentina multiple times and has seen the impacts that national inflation has had on the local economy and livelihoods of guides and hunting staff. In countries where currencies are unstable and you are limited on US Dollars, providing tips or gratuities that are immune to inflation or have a fiscal value equivalent to a tip is also a great option as guides can then sell the item for cash or use it for themselves. This being said, always try to prioritize having USD on hand and clear this option of tipping with the outfitter prior to your trip if this is a method of compensation you would like to pursue.
In summary, I offer my disclaimer; tip what you can afford! I’m that guy that literally saved spare change in a pickle jar for four years in between safaris to pay for my tips. I have been on several guided hunts and safaris in South Africa and whatever amount I tipped must have been just fine because I am close friends with all my guides and professional hunters and several even trust me to book hunts for them. So, I must have done something right. Bottom line, if you prefer to tip more and can afford it, go for it!
Peyton Merideth is the Managing Director for Shoshone Adventure Consulting.