By CHERIL VERNON
Their winning bid on a Ducks Unlimited silent auction item led a Palestine couple on a true adventure during a 10-day African hunting safari in September.
Mike and April Johnston, who own the Texas Art Depot and Granny Muffin Wines in downtown Palestine, went on the hunting trip with their friends Ed and Delores Wright of Tyler. The men were able to kill several exotic animals on their “wish lists” during the trip with the assistance of a professional hunter and a tracker/skinner.
Their adventure began with a 15-hour trip that took them first from Dallas to Washington, then to Dakar, Africa to Johannasburg, South Africa and then finally to the place they stayed during their trip — the Tolile Game Lodge. (Be sure to ask the Johnstons next time you see them how much fun it was to take their hunting guns with them through the airports.)
“The travel was a little frustrating and it was extremely exhausting, especially with a seven-hour time difference,” Mike said.
After two days of travel, their hunting trip started on Sept. 8 — with Mike and Ed making out their “wish lists” for the exotic animals they wanted to hunt. April and Delores tagged along with the men (as well as the professional hunter Angus and tracker/skinner Queves) on about eight of the 10 hunting days, which started at 6 a.m. and lasted late into the evening.
“It was hot and dirty but also exciting,” April said. “There was no point wiping off the dirt throughout the day because it was never-ending.”
Mike killed seven animals during the trip — including a zebra, kudo, impala, blue wildbeast, gemsbock, bush bok and warthog. Ed was able to kill seven animals on his wish list, with Delores killing one as well.
“The kudo was a gorgeous animal, a speckled horned antelope about 600 to 700 lbs. His horns were 52 inches long,” Mike said. “The gemsbok is pretty elusive. It had horns over 40 inches. They say I could come back to Africa and never get that one again, so I'm glad to have had the opportunity.”
Mike was really wanting to get a red hartebeest but after days of stalking one he finally had to settle with something close – a blue wildebeest.
Mike and Ed almost didn't get their warthogs — something Mike really wanted to get during the trip. Finally, on their last hunting day they were able to make the kills.
“The warthog is the coolest creature in all of Africa. I am so enamored with them. They have this air of arrogance around the other animals despite their size,” Mike said.
Mike is already planning his next hunting safari.
“I'm going again, maybe in 2015. It's very addicting,” Mike said.
While April enjoyed the trip, she said she would prefer making her next trip to Africa a photo safari and sight-seeing trip.
“This was one of those trips where I got to do very little shopping,” April joked. “But I did get an hour-and-a-half massage for a bargain 40 bucks!”
Mike plans to have all of his animals mounted except for the zebra, which will be turned into a rug. He expects the mounts to take at least a year to be completed.
The Johnstons said that while during the day the safari hunting trip was pretty remote — that their lodge was very nice.
“We weren't roughing it at the lodge, except we didn't have Wifi,” Mike said.
The Johnstons also gave “kudos” to the professional hunter and the tracker/skinner they worked with, as well as all of the people who took care of them at the lodge.
“They were amazing people and they all spoke English,” Mike said.
The couple, who will have been married 30 years next year, are planning a trip next year to New Zealand.