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6 Countries and Counting

September 2023
Author: Jessica Taylor Byers

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

That quote is the very reason I keep chasing wild places. I like to say that I’m a traveler first and a hunter second because more often than not, my desire to hunt a species is due to the place they call home. Before hunting became a huge part of my life, I had the opportunity to travel to several different countries, including Brazil, Belize, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland, England, Spain, and Greece, without any hunting involved. However, as I got older and found a passion for the outdoors, my intentions have shifted. I desire to see the places that most never will. Sure, I like visiting big cities and hitting all the “bucket list” items that most tourists do, but the outskirts of town breed curiosity that a well-traveled path simply cannot.

While I’ve done my fair share of hunting within the United States, it’s the adventure beyond the border that I remember the most. I’ve had the privilege of hunting Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa, with Greenland on the books for March 2024. My goal is to go on at least one international hunt per year.


Species Hunted: Black Bear, Whitetail, Mule Deer, and Moose

With a handful of trips under my belt, the experiences were very diverse during each visit. However, what I’m most proud of is the drastic shift in my opinion on predator hunting as a result of my first bear hunting camp the idea of killing a black bear, wolf, or mountain lion never interested me until I was educated on the matter. I think that’s a very common stance for outdoorsmen, although I’m not sure why. I believe our childhood creates this “cute, cuddly, fluffy” idea around predators, making it less attractive to take their life with zero education around the impact they have on other species. Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s not our job to know everything, but it is our job to be curious enough about a subject and learn how it impacts this lifestyle. The truth is that I don’t know a single outdoorsman who wants every predator wiped out, but I know a lot who are emotionally charged when it comes to predators. It’s a very touchy subject, even among our kind. Spending 2+ weeks in camp hunting bears has opened my eyes to their habits and sheer power, and I’m glad I can speak from experience instead of the idea that’s planted in our heads at a young age.

As for the hunting, I’ve hunted with 3 Rivers Adventures three of the four trips, and they run a top-notch hunting operation. There’s a lot more time to engage with others because the daylight hours are extended during spring bear season, and there’s a lot of windshield time when chasing mule deer across thousands of acres in the fall. It’s a fairly low stress, high success opportunity to contrast the aggressive, physically demanding mountain hunts. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better bear camp as Corey and his sons set up high-end wall tents, including an outdoor shower with warm water! You’ll have the opportunity to shoot two bears on your trip, which is very realistic when hunting through their operation. They also have a high success rate for mule deer and consistently take giant bucks every single season.

One of my favorite things about 3 Rivers Adventures is that they’ve guided some of the biggest names in the industry – The Crush, The Drurys, and Eva Shockey, to name a few, but you would never know it. They are the humblest family you’ll ever meet and treat everyone with respect. They genuinely care about their clients, and you’ll feel that when you hunt with them. Helping my dad pack out his dream Shiras moose was certainly a plus to my other awesome experiences in Canada.


Species Hunted: Mule Deer

You can’t go to Mexico without mentioning the food, drinks, and sunsets. I had a minimum of three fresh, homemade tortillas a day for the entire five-day hunt, which breaks any personal record I held living directly across the border in Texas my entire childhood with Mexican food at my fingertips. Does that make my new habit impressive or slightly disgusting? I’m still deciding. Here’s what I know to be true: the culture is rich and my Spanish still sucks, but tequila is very clearly understood and accepted by everyone when you’re there. I loved the simplicity of life there; time just seems to slow down. I was reminded that there are still extremely hard-working individuals who are grateful to have a dependable job and they didn’t need fancy gear to do a good job. I vividly remember one guide choosing to wear blue jeans and sandals hiking through mountainous brush country. A highlight of the trip was giving one of my guides my KUIU Super Down Pro jacket when I noticed him shivering in a thin sweatshirt. I later saw him showing it off around the campfire with a giant smile on his face. It was a small, in-the- moment, unplanned gesture that was so much bigger to him. I’ll never forget that! I think it’s important to acknowledge that I felt very safe throughout my travels to Mexico, which is a common concern about going there. I don’t exactly fit in there rocking pale skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, but I never felt like a “target” as many portray in their minds prior to their travels.

I hunted for five days with MX Hunting Co. in early December, which isn’t during the rut, so the movement and opportunity were slower than going a little bit later. However, I did have an opportunity at a 185"+ mule deer and simply didn’t capitalize. I would say that hunting Mexico may have fewer opportunities than hunting some areas in the states, but what’s so awesome is that the potential for an absolute giant to step out is significantly higher than hunting them elsewhere. You’ll most likely be glassing from a vantage point on the mountain or you’ll be riding around in a high rack setup on some dirt roads trying to spot them bedded or as they jump up. This was challenging for me because they weren’t rutting yet, so the bucks would jump up and take off. I’d recommend going later when they’re moving a bit more and also more likely to stick around for a minute with the does to give you a shot. I was fortunate enough to be in camp right after they shot a 220"+ deer and a giant Desert sheep. It was pretty cool to be able to put my hands on an animal of that caliber! If hunting mule deer makes you tick, then you must add Old Mexico to the list and consider going with MX Hunting Co.


Species Hunted: The list is too long, but I had success hunting Black and Common Impala, Blue Wildebeest, and Sable.

I think the coolest part of my trip was watching the monkeys and giraffes that casually cross the roads as you’re driving around. It’s bizarre! My childhood dreams of seeing every animal in The Lion King nearly came true, but I left a few on the list as an excuse to go back. It’s wild to see such exotic animals in their element. Even more astonishing, however, is the segregation of people in rural areas of South Africa. There are deep racial divisions present there that

I’d only read about in history books or seen on TV in the past. It wasn’t violent by any means, but there was an invisible line between groups that could be uncomfortable for someone new to the region. Even under those circumstances, I loved how happy everyone seemed with the life they had, whatever that looked like. People were grateful to simply have a job, even if that meant spending all day in the fields picking onions by hand without a lick of machinery to help. They were thankful to be able to put food on the table and to have a roof over their heads. Had I known that purchasing their handmade baskets and jewelry that were made from their villages back home would overwhelm them with gratitude, I would’ve bought them on the first day! It was quite the contrast to the U.S. where people tend to worry about trivial things, myself included. I’m glad someone prepared me for that reality before I showed up because the divide certainly made an impact on me. Therefore, I feel like it’s important to let others know who may be considering the trip.

The hunting in South Africa reminded me a lot of my roots. I grew up in Central Texas but was fortunate enough to experience hunting in South Texas for over a decade. The landscape in South Africa is very similar to South Texas, and you’ll most likely be hunting private land in either location. Also, while people may try to blur the lines of “free range,” don’t be surprised if you end up on a high-fenced operation because that’s not the exception, that’s the rule over there. It’s amazing how flat it can be, but just thick enough so the animals are able to hide well. We rode in a Toyota Land Cruiser with a high rack everywhere we went, which I loved because it gives you the opportunity to see a lot of animals and not miss that vibrant orange and purple sunset.

Due to the fact that I wanted to exclusively bowhunt, we were in ground blinds most of the time sitting over water, which is the same method I cut my teeth on when I began bowhunting back in 2013. It’s easy to find quality outfitters all over the world if you do your research, but it’s difficult to find those that specialize in archery. Choronga Safaris takes it to the next level with their setups, and you can tell they’re bow hunters themselves. If you’re someone who enjoys the experience from start to finish, including the breakdown of your animals, just know that things are done differently over there. Once you shoot an animal, it gets handed off to a team of guys who handle the rest. This is strange to me, but I also recognize an efficient system when I see one and they have it dialed. Watching them break down an animal and use every single part of it was eye-opening as well. Nothing went to waste, even the tongue and organs of each animal. It’s pretty impressive to watch them work!


Species Hunted: Red Stag, Fallow Deer, Goats, and Hogs

If I’m being honest, I went to Australia for the people on this trip. Years ago, I connected with some Australians over social media and they just seemed like down-to-Earth humans with the coolest accents. Side note, this couple was involved with Huntin’ Fool long before I worked here, helping them with their applications to obtain tags in the states.

Anyway, sharing a rustic cabin they built themselves in the middle of nowhere really set the tone for the trip. I remember the stars more than anything, maybe because Adam has a knack for nighttime photography and I admired his work through a screen for quite some time. It was beautiful to see it with my own eyes. Kimmi always picked fresh greenery and flowers for the table, or you’d find her cooking wild game and making pour- over coffee for us any time of the day. We’d stay up late sharing stories and dreams in their candlelit home away from home.

What I remember most about this trip is how I went against everything I had ever preached up until this point. I was raised with a management mindset in the South. We only shot cull bucks and aged everything before pulling the trigger. My dad still manages whitetail this way. When Adam looked at me and told me to shoot a Fallow button buck because he forgot all of the meat for camp, I froze. I had never intentionally shot a young animal in my life! However, when someone tells me that we need food, I listen. In that moment, I thought, “This is what it must have felt like many, many years ago.” We live in a world that makes it easier than ever to put meat on the table by walking into a grocery store, so I haven’t been forced to go back in time. I appreciate that moment and think about it often.

Australia is an opportunity-rich country to hunt because most of the animals aren’t native and have few predators to balance them out. This was my first taste of constant spot-and-stalk hunting. If I blew a stalk, there were more animals around the corner. As a result, I went home a much better hunter. We hunted all private land, so without going through an outfitter or local friends, I’m not sure how to go about hunting there.

You cannot think about Australia without also thinking about kangaroos, and I must admit that I had some choice words for over a dozen of them as they blew multiple stalks of mine. I’d get within bow range of a Fallow deer, only to have one come hopping by or in between us and spook my target buck. It was frustrating, but looking back on it makes me laugh. My biggest lesson of the trip was actually transporting the animals back to the states. Even though tags for the animals didn’t exist, Houston, Texas customs confiscated all of our animals because there wasn’t something in writing to prove where we hunted them. I highly recommend getting some documentation before making the long trip home with your trophies.


Species Hunted: Tahr and Chamois (South Island)

I saved New Zealand for last because it is truly the encore of all my travels. When I told my dad I’d be hunting Australia, he responded, “Well that’d be dumb to not go to New Zealand while you’re already over there,” so the planning began. Looking back, I honestly didn’t have enough rugged, backcountry experiences to be on that hunt, but I’m guessing that’s exactly why I keep those memories closest to my heart. Right before the hunt started, life threw me a curveball that involved unemployment and immediately having to move out of our house, so I was unsure of what I’d be going “home” to. However, the trip was already paid for and I had nothing to lose at that point, so I got on the plane. I ended up trauma- bonding with one of the coolest chicks I’d ever come to know, Rihana Cary, who remains one of my closest friends. We were in the thick of it, that thing called life. Another side note, Huntin’ Fool also began handling her applications long before I knew her or worked here. It’s a small world. Anyway, I had a million things that would’ve been acceptable to worry about, but I chose to soak up the present instead because my hands were tied being half a world away from reality. It was actually freeing. Isn’t that part of why we do it, to forget about our problems momentarily? To be reminded of what it feels like to stay present and live life to the fullest? I know that’s what’s honest for me. Perhaps that’s what led us to cap our trip off by jumping out of a plane. I’m not sure, but I do know that everything falls into place eventually, so you might as well sleep under the stars another night off grid!

The part that I love about hunting New Zealand is that we had so much public land to hunt and it’s not regulated like most places you go. Hunting seasons, bag limits, and proper tagging aren’t a thing because tahr are considered a nuisance. You just need to hire a helicopter service to fly you in and drop you off. They’re flying those mountains every single day and know where the tahr will be. There are public land huts that are first- come, first-served, and anybody can stay in them. They are well kept and are a nice alternative to tents, especially with the harsh weather that’s to be expected. It would be a treat to sit around a campfire and swap stories with those who stayed in our hut before and after us. These are the most rugged mountains I’ve experienced, and I understand why they chose to film The Lord of the Rings there. It’s the smallest I’ve felt while being in the mountains. Several times I thought to myself, “Mother Nature doesn’t give a crap about me right now,” because we would experience all four seasons in a day and ended up having to be rescued off the mountain by a hovering helicopter when the gusts of wind were too powerful to land. Watching the helicopter hit the side of the mountain as Rihana climbed in was borderline paralyzing. We would’ve been stuck another week if we didn’t get off the mountain!

Unfortunately, since I hunted tahr in 2018, they’ve culled thousands of them off the mountain to protect alpine ecosystems. From July to November 2019 alone, they culled 11,000 tahr, then another 7,400 in 2020. It’s really sad, and I’ve heard that as a result, the hunting is much tougher than it once was. Sure, there are outfitters that will fly you right to the animals to shoot them, then strap them under the helicopter and take it back whole, but if you choose the backpack route like we did, you’re going to work for it. In summary, it’s the most magical place I’ve ever been, even among my non-hunting travels. I can’t imagine a place topping it. Maybe Switzerland or Norway or Iceland could give it a run for its money based on the photos and videos I’ve seen online. Guess I’ll just have to go find out!

I hope that diving into each experience will inspire you to leave your comfort zone, explore the world, and immerse yourself in other cultures. After all, this challenges a human’s perspective and inevitably expands their compassion for others. What’s better than that? Hopefully by this time next year I’ll be romanticizing my trip to Greenland after chasing those strange-looking, furry critters we call muskox. Happy hunting!