Greg got home from the banquet. “When I asked if he won anything, he said ‘Yea, a trip to Africa.’ That was a little different; usually when he comes back he has a framed print or a gun,” said his girlfriend Jo Ann. She was reading in bed and didn’t miss a beat: “I hope you plan on taking me,” she said.
Greg did indeed want Jo Ann to go to Namibia, and the hunting was only part of the plan.
Greg Hartung and Jo Ann Kaysen live in Buffalo County, Wisconsin, in a gorgeous log cabin halfway up between two hills, not far from the Mississippi River. They’re in the heart of some of the best whitetail habitat in the world, and Greg is a serious hunter.
Like most serious hunters, he always had an urge to hunt Africa, but had never actually done it. “I didn’t plan on buying the safari package when I went to the banquet,” Greg said. “It looked like a good deal, and I just did it.”
Of course, now he had to actually put the trip together. The package he bought at the Whitetails Unlimited banquet in Winona, Minnesota, was for two hunters and two observers, and he was counting on Jo Ann wanting to go. That still left two more slots to fill, but it turned out the only real problem was that he had too many people interested in going along. His brother Ron, and Ron’s wife, Janie, signed on right away; but friends Shad and Kim Benson also wanted to go, putting them two over the limit. This was not a problem; a quick call to the WTU field director for the banquet told them that they could add an additional package at the same bid price, and the group was set.
The package was for three days hunting and four nights lodging, services of a professional hunter, meals, soft drinks, camp staff, laundry, vehicle, hunting permits and $1,000 credit per hunter toward animals taken. Additional hunting days could be added for an additional cost. The hunt needed to be taken within three years, but this group wasn’t going to wait that long. Seven months after the banquet, they were winging their way to Africa.
They found early May worked for all their schedules, which was fall in Namibia. It takes several months to comfortably arrange all the details for a trip like this, and the group extended the hunt to 10 days, with short layovers (one night each way) in Europe to break up the long flight time. “Everything just fell into place,” Jo Ann said.
Passports, vaccinations, airline reservations, and a lot of research were the major chores, but the staff at African Days helped the group immensely. Email was the preferred method of communication, due to the 8-hour time difference.
The trip was not without minor problems, which consisted of lost luggage on both legs of the trip. When Greg arrived in camp he found that his gun case was one of the missing pieces, but he was able to use a camp gun on his first two hunts, so he did not miss any hunting. Jo Ann said that owner Pieter Stofberg was amazing at following up on the lost luggage, and it arrived faster than she thought it could, considering that the camp was miles away from the nearest airport.
After arriving at the African Days camp, they got settled in (“We loved the lodge,” said Jo Ann) and the PH (professional hunter) took them to the range to check the zero on their rifles, and to evaluate their shooting skills. They went on a tour of the area, and shot several cull animals for camp use. Nothing is wasted on these hunts. The meat cannot be brought back to the United States, but it is used in camp, provided to camp workers, or sold to a local jerky plant for processing. (Greg said that African jerky is not like the kind of jerky Americans are used to—it is much thicker and wetter, and he did not particularly care for it.)
The group shot 22 animals during their safari, including zebra, impala, warthog, kudu, gemsbok, blesbok, wildebeest, and hartebeest. “The hunting could be pretty physical,” Greg said. “It varied from day to day. We’d tell the PHs what we were interested in, they’d figure out what animals they had seen where, and work to put us in position to get them. It was a huge area and the animals were constantly moving. I spent a full two days hunting hartebeest, and eventually got a nice one.”
After shooting an animal, the tracker cleans and positions it for photos, and it is then transported to the skinning shed. The PH asks what kind of mount the hunter has in mind, so the skinner knows how to deal with it to make it easier for the taxidermist.
After returning to camp around 6 p.m. everyone would shower and gather for dinner around 8 p.m. “Gemsbok backstrap was very good; all the food was first-rate,” Greg said. “We had fresh fish, which was very good, and they have excellent wine in Africa. We (the ladies) pretty much cleaned out the wine closet,” added Jo Ann with a laugh. After dinner, everyone gathered at the fire pit, with more wine and “fabulous” beer, to talk over the day and stare at the Milky Way, which was very visible. “The sky was incredible—pure black with bright stars—and totally different than how it appears in North America,” said Jo Ann. “And the most extraordinary part of each night was the animal parade on the rocks,” she said.
A short distance from the lodge is a rock outcropping and a water hole, and Pieter installed lights on the ground to illuminate the rocks at night. When animals head to the water hole, they move between the lights and the rocks, casting huge shadows onto the rocks, and the entire procession is visible for observers sitting around the fire pit.
The animal sightings never ended, day or night. “Sitting in camp during the day we’d see animals walk past. We heard them at night; saw herds of them during the day. There was a huge warthog one day, and then a whole herd of hartebeest just outside camp,” said Jo Ann. “There are so many different animals, and the PH was so knowledgeable. Everyone was so nice. We took candy for the kids who live in camp, and they were so polite; they were just delightful.”
It was a great trip, and for Greg and Jo Ann, on the last night it got even better. Under the velvet black African sky, with a campfire burning and the Milky Way glowing and animal shadows dancing across the rocks, Greg took a diamond ring out of his pocket and asked Jo Ann to marry him.
She said yes.