"You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the Hand of God. You watch the slope lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world.” – American author Jodi Picoult.
On the first day of the safari, after a time out because of the mid-day heat, Corey McGregor bagged his first African animal.
One shot from a .30-06 with a suppressor at 80 yards thudded into the massive kudu behind the shoulder.
“The shot I intended,” McGregor said.
The animal did not know it was dead yet and strode 50 yards out of sight.
Led by his professional hunter, McGregor negotiated his wheelchair through the bushes following the blood trail to confirm the kill.
McGregor pumped his fist.
“I was ecstatic,” he said.
The Namibian adventure that began in January when the Cody hunter was chosen as the 2019 Safari Club International Pathfinder, continued in April and May, and has continued reverberating in the minds of McGregor and wife Tanya, chronicler of the hunt with a camera.
Surrounded by elephants, lions, hippos, the animals of afar implanted in Americans’ imaginations as youths, McGregor hunted other species, including impala, kudu, warthog, wildebeest, springbok and gemsbok.
Some came with ease as hunting guide Rudie de Clerk of Jan Oelofse Hunting Safaris drove a sturdy, custom-built “Uris,” a Land Rover-type vehicle, over rutted roads, over challenging terrain, to places where wheelchair wheels don’t ordinarily go.
Some animals came following difficult stalks.
All the while, Africa cast its spell.
“I regret a kind of thinking that regards hunting as shameful, if not sinful. I do not admire a concerted attempt to sell the idea that the killing of game is a cruel sport because no game dies a natural death and preys as naturally upon itself as man upon man.” – Author and hunter Robert Ruark.
Generally, McGregor woke at 5 a.m. to hunt and was out the door of what he called “a five-star hotel in the Bush” to hunt by 6:30 or so.
The game searches covered 5-10 miles daily.
McGregor got his gemsbok pretty much by accident. He was on a stakeout behind some bushes, eye out for impala, when the gemsbok walked into the picture. But after closing to about 30 yards, the animal winded the hunters and “he was gone.”
After lunch – all meals featured game meat, from kudu to giraffe, to wildebeest – McGregor was back in the field.
He got off a shot at a gemsbok, but didn’t connect.
“I swung and missed,” McGregor said. “It was very fast. It happens.”
In fading daylight, another gemsbok appeared. McGregor stalked the animal as sunset threatened. When he fired, it was at a range of 120-140 yards.
“We worked for him,” McGregor said.
Growing up in Clark, McGregor, 39, has been a hunter since childhood, from rabbits to elk, deer and waterfowl, and did not let a paralyzing automobile accident in 2001 sideline him from his passion.
What got Safari Club’s attention was McGregor’s role as president and a founder of the Wyoming Disabled Hunters group that since 2008 has hosted hunters annually from around the country on elk or mule deer hunts.
The Safari Club honored McGregor as a pioneer at its convention in Reno, Nev., praising him for helping to provide accessible hunting opportunities through the steadily-growing volunteer Wyoming program.
McGregor, who professionally is a program director for Wyoming Independent Living in Cody, had no path to follow to resume hunting after his accident so he forged his own.
For a serious hunter, a safari in Africa is nirvana, akin to a player reaching the major leagues in baseball. The Safari Club made it possible for McGregor to take a dream hunt, just as Wyoming Disabled Hunters does for others.
While there is a deep body of African safari literature, strikingly Ernest Hemingway’s “The Green Hills of Africa” and Ruark’s “Horn of the Hunter,” McGregor did not have to dial beyond the 307 area code for firsthand advice on hunting Africa from a wheelchair.
Remarkably, McGregor was the third Park County resident chosen as a Safari Club Pathfinder since the Tucson, Ariz.-based organization began offering recognition in 1989.
Bryce Fauskee of Powell in 2005 (after his 2004 selection) and Ashlee Lundvall of Cody in 2017, took similar trips.
“They told me I couldn’t go wrong,” McGregor said.
The trio’s common link with Wyoming Disabled Hunters helped each earn the award.
“That is kind of amazing,” Fauskee said of this testimony supporting the group’s mission. “That’s a pretty powerful statement. It just speaks to having a big impact on people’s lives.”
Fauskee, 35, said he retains indelible images of his safari, from being bluff charged by an elephant to watching two giraffes fight.
Fauskee said he suggested dos and don’ts to McGregor and added, “Oh, and you’ll have a blast.”
Lundvall went to Namibia with husband Russell and daughter Addison two years ago and hunted 10 species.
“They spoil you rotten,” Lundvall said. “When they say it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip, they mean it.”
“The gladdest moment in human life, methinks, is a departure into unknown lands. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood.” – English explorer Sir Richard Burton.
The McGregors flew from Cody to Denver to Frankfurt, Germany in late April, then on to Windhoek, Namibia, the nation’s capital.
While one would think such a trip would knock a traveler unconscious, Corey McGregor said, “I was stoked. I couldn’t sleep.”
From there it was overland a few hours to the Oelofse’s 80,000-acre property with Corey and Tanya seeing more animal species on the way than one does in Yellowstone National Park.
The Republic of Namibia is a very dry country of 2.6 million people in southern Africa which obtained independence from South Africa in 1990. Corey said the climate resembles the Cody area with more trees in the hills.
Some land seems bleached because “they’re in a seven-year drought,” Corey said.
Some 319,000 square miles in size, Namibia is squeezed between two deserts, the Namib and Kalahari. Tourists do not come for water sports.
The McGregors visited during the Namibian autumn and said morning temperatures during their 12-day stay were in the 50s and rose to the 70s or 80s.
Safari Club International pays for everything. Fundraising for the future takes place at the convention as the Pathfinder winner is announced.
African hunting safaris are pricey. Cody to Windhoek airfare can be $3,000 and costs to replicate McGregor’s hunt, including trophy fees, would have been thousands of dollars more for the average client.
“The Pathfinder auction hunt is an important component at the convention,” said Kathy Butler, Safari Club International’s director of education and humantarian services.
Jan Oelofse safaris has operated since 1975. While Jan has passed away, Oelofse’s family continues the connection with the Pathfinder winner.
The Oelofses, Jan’s widow Annette, and son Alex, also link their land to a national conservation effort called the Black Rhino Project and house the Mount Etjo Private School for village children.
De Klerk, a 15-year guide for the outfitters, has emerged as the disabled hunter specialist, described by his bosses as someone possessing “compassion, patience, and skill in this regard (that is) unequaled. Rudie has taken countless disabled clients on unforgettable hunts.”
Rhinos, elephants, and some other animals are off-limits for hunting. Some are fed hay.
“I could watch them all day,” said Tanya, a nurse, mentioning some adults accompanied by little ones she called “just cute, cute, cute. The whole trip was, ‘Just pinch me.’”
While clients eat game meat at the lodge, it is not the meat they just shot.
When Corey made his kudu kill, the animal was winched off the ground (weighing around 500 pounds it was more than a man-sized job) and driven to the on-grounds meat plant housed in a quonset hut. There it was processed into dinner for a future hunting party while some meat was given to nearby residents.
“It was gourmet beef,” Corey said of many main courses.
Giraffe tail in gravy hit the spot for Tanya.
“It was just so tender,” she said.
At times, de Klerk positioned Corey at a waterhole where patient sitting was required until an animal came to drink.
“There was a zebra all by himself down a big creek,” Corey said. “We were just hunkered down, not moving a muscle. I got a male zebra.”
Sunsets visible from the lodge lit the distant sky with flame-like orange each night as hunters sipped cocktails and swapped stories. Some evenings Corey was empty-handed because every species was not a one-day hunt.
“It took three days apiece for the blue wildebeest and the warthog,” Corey said.
He shot the warthog at 3 p.m. on the last hunting day.
Corey will end up with a warthog skull mount, a zebra rug and multiple shoulder mounts, of kudu, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, impala, and springbok – also all costs covered.
Three times Corey had to follow blood trails into rougher typography to seal a hunt. Once, illustrating the hazards of McGregor’s challenge, his wheelchair become stuck in the brush.
“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same. But how do you begin to describe its magic to someone who has never felt it?” – Freelance writer Brian Jackman.
On their last day at the lodge, the McGregors visited the Mount Etjo school, distributing gifts of school and medical supplies, books and arts and crafts.
Addison Lundvall, now 8, remembered that ritual and asked if she could stowaway in Corey’s standard-issue Safari Club International blue duffel bag.
“She’d have ridden on top of his cowboy hat if she could go,” Ashlee Lundvall said. “She asks constantly when we are going to go back. Africa will get in your soul and in your blood.”
English, Afrikaans and tribal dialects are Namibia’s main languages. Upon receiving the presents, the elementary school children sang a version of “What A Wonderful World,” whose lyrics read in part, “I see trees of green, red roses too; I see them bloom for me and you.”
It was a touching goodbye from Africa.
“I didn’t want to leave,” said Tanya McGregor. “I would have sold the house and stayed. I loved it so much.”
The hunts and mounts will stay with Corey McGregor, as will his hosts’ welcomes and images of those larger, more endangered animals roaming free on African soil.
“People say it won’t be your last visit,” Corey said. “Somehow I do want to go back.”
They have been home in Wyoming only a short time, but Africa keeps whispering to the McGregors.