For me, it all started in Music City, USA; Nashville, TN. You see, I am a country music singer & songwriter, and I was getting into the studio with a new producer, Bobby Pinson; who writes a lot of songs for artists like Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, Rascal Flats, etc. Needless to say, I was a little nervous, but Bobby and I hit it off right away. He was a genius in the studio, and that day produced my song “Dance in the Rain” that would eventually end up being on CMT, The Heartland Network, and GAC, as well as played on other outlets all over the world. I got to know him more over the next couple of months, and we became friends. He found out I was an avid huntress and that I had my certification as a NRA Pistol Instructor and had been teaching lessons every now and then at a gun range in Nashville. He knew I took hunting and shooting seriously, and he mentioned starting the World Turkey Hunting Championship. The next thing you know, months has passed, and I was in LaCygne, Kansas, for the big turkey hunt! Out of 40 something teams of hunters, one team stood out to me. “Girls With Guns” team, I thought as I read the roster; well, I guess I won’t be the only chick at this shindig! I got even more excited to find out their camera man had backed out, and now they needed a third teammate. I was more than happy to get out in the field with fellow huntresses. Day one of our hunt rolls around, and Jen and Norissa of GWG picked me up at 3 a.m. ready to hunt; all of us in full makeup and full camouflage, taking the back roads to our assigned land, listening to loud country music on the radio. It was then I knew this was the beginning of a long friendship! We had the hunt of our lives, and we all connected so well. After hunting with them, I realized they were serious hunters and would do anything for the shot, and that was something I could relate to and respected.
It’s not every day you meet girlfriends you can hunt with, talk with, laugh till your stomach hurts, and even pray with. Fast forward months later, we are in LA meeting with producers interested in a reality show with us. Eventually, we all decided hunting TV was really the best fit. So the girls eventually got the show Universal Huntress going. What a dream come true! To film the pilot, the girls flew to South Africa and had the hunt of their lives! When it came time to start filming episodes for the show, they knew exactly where we could go for the best hunts. Needless to say, three girls, adorned in camouflage, and firearms hopped on a 17-hour flight to Rhinoland Safaris in South Africa!
After a three-hour drive from the city, we landed in Johannesburg, and we finally arrived in Limpopo. The adrenaline junkie GWG Jen asked me to hop on the hood of the truck with her to ride through the gates and into the property. That was an offer this country girl couldn’t refuse. We were greeted upon arrival with drinks by our professional hunter Marius Kotze and his whole family. They were so welcoming, and it felt then like we would become really close before the end of our 2-week stay. After our 5-course dinner, we all got to bed early for the much awaited hunt in the morning!
I didn’t sleep much; it could’ve been the time change or just the excitement of the morning to come. This was going to be my first time hunting bigger game, and I knew I was going to be in the “hot seat” first! Morning rolls around, and it’s like déjà vu; there we all three stood again ready to hunt in full makeup and camouflage! It was time to hit the plains! The natural beauty around us was the first thing that stuck out to me about hunting in Africa. Covered in beautiful geography and stunning animals. Weeks before, the area had suffered severe flooding, so the rivers were flowing rapidly and heavily. This meant that the hunt ahead of us was predicted to be a tougher hunt. The animals had plenty of water, so they were not gathering around watering holes. Also, the bush was thick and green; you could barely see through, which meant animals could hide from us a lot easier. Another problem we faced was the river itself. We were not out in the field for even an hour, and before you knew it, we were getting stuck. We had to do an emergency evacuation as our Land Cruiser was about to get carried away by the rushing waters. Luckily, Marius was prepared for the rough terrain and was able to pull is out by attaching the winch to a tree in just the perfect amount of time. By now, the camera is really rolling, and our blood is pumping! If this is what our adventure is going to be like for the next two weeks, I just might have died and gone to heaven! We carried on, wet crew on board and all. Soon, we came upon a heard of Impalas. We began to stalk one big male in particular. I had only studied these online and never seen them in person before, so I was depending on my PH to tell me which was the right one to take, which was very important. I got comfortable behind my gun, lined up my sight picture, took my safety off, took a deep breath, and then pulled the trigger. Jen screamed, “You dropped him!” And to my disbelief, I continued to ask “Are you sure?! 100% positive?!” The grass was tall, and I hadn’t seen him drop, but sure enough there he laid my first African harvest! This animal to me resembled the deer we hunt in America. I embarrassingly and quietly asked the girls “Are you sure he is big enough?” And they laughed at me and assured me it was. I was somewhat familiar with the animals in Africa by reading online, but I had never seen an impala up close and personal. Marius even said it was a very large male and an impressive harvest! This was so exciting my hands were even shaking! I learned an important lesson in my first hunt: to always trust your professional hunters. They know the land and the animals like the backs of their hands. I knew from then on out not to question whether or not it was the right size animal, to take and not to question my PH at all, which was a totally different experience for me because I had to relinquish a lot of control and depend on my guide, which I have never had to do. Jen & Norissa were looking at me like proud sisters at this point, assuring me that the African terrain and animals are not an easy hunt and to harvest an impala of that size and so fast was a huge accomplishment. All beaming with joy we carried on! The next exciting adventure of our trip involved Jen and a beautiful Blue Wildebeest. We had come to a field and spotted a herd in the distance. We had barely come upon the field, but our PH decided that traveling any closer to the animals in the vehicle would spook them, so from there on out Jen would have to go out in the field and stalk. We were fortunate enough to be able to watch the whole hunt from afar. Jen and the crew stalked the herd, got to a good shooting distance, and finally made the shot on a big bull off of her shooting sticks. The bull jumped so we knew it had been hit, but those animals tend to run a ways before finally going down. The whole team got out there and helped track, but the professional hunters and trackers really got a chance to show case their skills at this point. Not too much time had passed, and sure enough, they found the Wildebeest bull! It was absolutely huge, little Jen is small already but beside this thing she looked really tiny! Day one had ended, and we already had two down! Such an accomplishment, and it set the tone for such a successful exciting rest of the hunt.
Next, Norissa was in the hot seat! We had been chasing zebras and couldn’t catch up with them to get a good shot. Marius the PH told everyone to stay back as he was going to take Norissa to get close to the Zebras, and we could possibly make too much noise if there was a group of us with her. Jen and I hung back and watched through our binoculars as if it were a movie. She had set up her shooting sticks to shoot from along the road, and a herd of Zebras came out in front of her, but there was not a male to shoot at. Then a few more passed, and out of nowhere, a great-sized male came trotting down the road toward her! Norissa had decided that she felt uncomfortable shooting from the sticks so she got down on the red African ground and made her shot from prone position. She nailed the Zebra. After hearing of this story, Jen and I were so proud of her, not only for making that awesome shot, but because she was brave enough to at the last minute go with her gut feeling and get in the most comfortable position that was going to get her the best possible shot. Last minute decisions like that are hard to make especially with a camera man staring at you and a professional hunter with you, but she was brave and made the right decision because she just harvested our third animal in South Africa! Afterwards, I was in the hot seat, and it was quite a different experience this time. I know I haven’t mentioned it yet, but all the while we have been in Africa, I have mainly wanted to harvest one animal, and that was a Kudu. We hadn’t seen one big enough to take yet, but we were certainly searching hard. For some reason that evening as we were hunting, we kept spotting amazing exotic animals, but none were male or none were big enough to take yet. I would have the perfect shot on so many amazing animals, but it wasn’t the right opportunity and not the right time. This frustrated me to no end! As it got too dark to hunt, we parked and watched the beautiful orange sunset over the African plains, and I realized something . . . I was reminded that what we were doing out there was not called “killing”; it is called hunting. It’s about being out in nature, connecting with your surroundings, studying and learning about God’s animals and the land, and forgetting the rest of the world and your problems; it’s about bonding with friends and soul searching. It’s funny how hunting can remind you of such things and help you get back to your roots and the basics of life.
In the following days, I harvested a Blue Wildebeest, as did Norissa. So now each of us had one, and we called it our Triple Threat! Jen had an eventful hunt and harvested a beautiful zebra and an impala. We went to visit the Ellisra’s School, which I previously mentioned we went into town to get supplies for. The kids were beautiful and life-changing. They sang us songs, and then we sang to them and taught them the nursery song “This Little Light of Mine.” To hear them sing it back to us by the time we left literally brought tears. To know that the supplies and food we bought for them, plus the meat from our animals, will keep them with full stomachs for months to come is an amazing feeling. How life-changing to know that you can affect lives so much by providing them with essentials to survive, with things we take for granted. It was a true highlight of our African journey. I am most excited to be a part of the TV show Universal Huntress mainly for that reason. The show is so much more than traveling the world and hunting animals; it’s about connecting with humans from every walk of life. Jen & Norissa have made it clear that they have been helped by many different people on their way to the top, and they plan on paying it forward by helping as much as they can whoever and wherever they can. They have been blessed and want to be the blessing for others, and I couldn’t agree more. After almost two weeks of searching for my “elusive Kudu,” on my last hunt right before the sun set, I embarked on the hunt of my lifetime. After stalking a herd, I finally made a shot from the top of a mountain, 300 yards out and got a clean shot. You see, I had only trained previously as far as 200 yards out, so this was a huge deal for me as a hunter and shooter, and it reminded me to never give up and hard work pays off. But the funny thing is, even though I felt extremely blessed to have harvested my dream animal; it would have been okay if I didn’t! I wouldn’t have felt that way before our adventures on the plains of Africa, but we were reminded that it is about the hunt not the kill. And in the bigger picture, it is all about the journey not the destination. We hope you will watch the show starting in January 2015 on the Sportsman Channel and relive these life-altering adventures with us.