Escape to Serbia
If you knew me personally, you would know how much I look forward to my birthday. I don’t just have one birthday party; I have a birthday month.
Now, before you think I just gave you some meaningless information about myself, let me explain.
Last year, a few weeks before my anticipated month of celebration, I went through an extremely emotional break-up and needed an escape from my everyday routine. I am a believer and trusted in God's plan for my life, but desperately needed a reprieve. During this turbulent time, a dear friend gave my name to her dad, Kappie, which also happened to be the producer of the TV show, Universal Huntress. God's timing is always perfect. It just so happened, the hosts of Universal Huntress, Jen and Norissa, were not available to go with Kappie on a last minute hunt. So after hearing about me, he graciously extended an invitation to me to represent the show in Serbia. Next thing I know, I am on a plane headed for a hunting adventure in Serbia! On September 2, my birthday! The celebration month began.
This Serbian venture was most certainly not your normal hunting trip. Outfitter Jess de Klerk, from Wiktop Safaris, was asked by the Serbian government to start Balkan Venture Safaris. They wanted hunting in Serbia to be promoted in the U.S. market. It took several months to plan and gain the necessary permits, from many different authorities, to enter the country and film this groundbreaking hunt. Accompanying us on the hunts were the Serbian Ambassador and officials from the Serbia Hunting Association. Although most of the crew could speak English, to make sure there were no language barriers, a translator traveled with us as well.
Quickly trying to educate myself, I googled everything I could think of about Serbia, from the lay of the land, to the history I knew very little about. Google only informed me about America and Serbia in a “tiff” many years ago. Subsequently, American tourism in Serbia is still feeling the effects. I arrived in Serbia as a stranger, not only to my fellow hunting crew, but to this country. My adventurous heart was ready! Part of the team was Jess de Klerk from Witkop Safaris in South Africa. Jen and Norissa had hunted with him in the past which made me feel more at ease after watching the episodes of their hunts. I knew I was in good hands!
We hunted in almost every area of Serbia. The distinctly different terrain in each part of the country amazed me. One constant that held true in each, the giving people and their extravagant spreads of food. Let's just put it this way, I left Serbia about 10 pounds heavier. Every meal consisted of tasty breads, at least 7 different meats, pickled peppers (which were AMAZING), ripe tomatoes, multiple types of cheese, pastries, coffee, and wine, and it was all served on a white tablecloth. To dine in Serbia is not all about the food; it’s mostly about camaraderie with our fellow man. The people hosting us were living in a sub-average economy, yet went to great lengths making us, their guest, feel like royalty. They did not just serve us a meal, but gave us their absolute best.
I genuinely loved everything about this country and their culture, but admittedly, it was challenging at times. Since I was the only female in the group, I had to stay on my toes. In addition to Kappie, Jess, and myself, there were about 10 male officials on the trip with us. Traveling with anyone, for an extended period of time, can stretch even the kindest. While not one instance arose with any of my hunting crew or the officials, one of the drivers took an extra special liking to me. No doubt I was well-equipped to handle this trial. Preparing me to live out my passion in a male-dominated sport, my daddy taught me how to hold my ground when surrounded by men. Throughout the trip this guy, kept repeating one word that curls my spine and hurts my heart … “GD” (I’ll let you figure that one out). I continued to politely express my offense by saying, please do not use that word. He would continue and I would always say, “I’m telling you one thing, you need Jesus!” Now keep in mind, I’m just a guest in Serbia, totally at the mercy of others. Days go by and this guy would not STOP saying “GD.” I finally had enough! He was driving the car with about 7 of us in it, and he said “GD,” and fire arose in me erupting my conviction. “I told you, you need JESUS!” From my purse, I whipped out my most powerful weapon, my travel size Bible and hit him upside the head! Silence filled the car and the word “GD” was never said again. Thanks daddy!!
I was raised to embrace life with an open mind for learning, but the "roots" I was given ran deep. It is with that mind and heart, I believe, that allowed for a diverse traveling experience. We traveled to many different areas of the country, for many different species, to film and promote the rich hunting in Serbia and of course for Universal Huntress. But, I am convinced that it cannot be justly experienced if the hunter does not respectfully yield him or herself to their various terrains, giving culture, and heritage.
We hunted in the Lazar Canyons, which were absolutely breathtaking, seeking Chamois. Multiple days of hunting, but no luck. This is a small, yet, elusive animal that’s very difficult to hunt in these mountains. While we were not successful in the kill, I count the pursuit a complete success.
Most every hunter envisions their ultimate dream animal they want to harvest. Mine? A Red Stag! Initially, the plans did not include a Red Stag hunt for me, but again, remaining patient and adjustable pays off! We relentlessly pursued him for days and finally were given a golden opportunity. Shot was taken! But we were unable to find my Stag. I was shattered! I, like all ethical hunters, aspire to make a clean shot. I was confident in my shot placement! But still, I was miserable. Hours go by and we ended up calling for help. About 10 Serbian men came to help track him. I KNOW it was a good shot! Lord, please help us find my Stag! I can't let this country and their hope for promoting American hunters end like this. Seemingly endless hours go by and finally someone started yelling over the Walky-Talky in a language I couldn’t understand, but I could understand the emotion behind what they were saying. They FOUND my Red Stag! I immediately started crying, as relief and exhaustion took over.
After such an amazing Red Stag hunt, I was also blessed to hunt and harvest a Golden Jackal, an animal widely known in South Eastern Europe, and a Roe Buck another dream of mine.
I cherish every part of my trip, but the rare opportunity to work with the Serbian government is something I will never forget. The Serbian culture and deep rooted hunting traditions have positively cultured this Texas huntress. I learned how hunting & tourism greatly affected their economy, negatively and positively. This once-in-a-lifetime experience, working “hands on” creating a trust between America & Serbia through a mutual love of hunting, left me enriched and forever thankful. Far more than just hunting through conservation, the value I found was in building a bridge of peace and respect between two nations. The foundation of hunting was built on trust, respect, and ethical conservation. Values very similar to those of great nations.
I have found sometimes it's good to go back to the basics. Whether celebrating my birthday month or building a great nation, it's not about the "ta-da" moment, the kill, or the blowing out of the candles. It's always about what we learn from the adventure, whether it changes us, or enriches our lives for the better. Thank you Serbia, I will forever be grateful.
If you ever have a chance to see Serbia or hunt Serbia, do not pass it up! This was hands down the BEST birthday yet! Balkan Safaris gave me a life-changing experience and I know they’ll do the same for you. Thank you to everyone that made this trip possible and I can’t wait for you to see it on Universal Huntress on the Pursuit Channel. They air Saturdays at 10:30 EST.
Fun Fact: I was told on the trip I was the first American female to hunt in Serbia since America & Serbia were at war.