A Hunt in Paradise

Dallis Joiner

Last year, I returned from the Middle East after a long ten-month deployment. Unlike my first deployment, this deployment had intermittent communication with my family, and I was counting down the days until the reunion with my wife. As I walked out of the terminal of the Savannah, Georgia airport, my wife, who had waited so patiently for me over the last few months, stood with a hand-drawn “Welcome Home” sign in her hand to greet me. Finally, I was stateside!

As I sat in our house that night, eating Five Guys and drinking Cheerwine mixed with Buffalo Trace, I knew my wife and I needed a special trip or a “second honeymoon”. We combed travel websites, looked for beach getaways on Instagram, and talked with friends, attempting to gather ideas for our travels. Thanks to an incredibly gracious donation from some family friends, we had two tickets to anywhere we wanted to go! This gift certainly expanded our ability to travel so we looked for destinations we might not consider otherwise. Because I was subject to COVID travel guidance issued by the Department of Defense, international travel was not an option… but Hawaii was!

I picked up my phone and dialed an old friend to ask about one of High Adventure Company’s destinations, thinking that a hunting trip on the beautiful island of Lanai was too good to be true! The voice on the other end of the phone, with a recognizable southern drawl, was none other than John Burrell. “Buddy, this will be one of the greatest trips you’ve ever taken!” We didn’t realize at the time just how right he would be!

As the trip approached, our excitement grew. Thoughts of relaxing on the beach, attending a luau, indulging in great food, and getting a trophy axis deer lingered in my head. My wife and I boarded our flight and at the end of our very long day of travel, we landed on Maui. We checked into our hotel and were excited to enjoy a few days of scuba diving, beach lounging, and relaxing prior to a hunting trip of a lifetime on Lanai, a short ferry ride away.

After a great four days enjoying everything that Maui had to offer, we boarded the Expeditions Maui-Lanai Ferry for a ride over to Lanai. From Maui, Lanai looked uninhabited. While this might have given some people pause, my wife and I were excited to see the natural beauty of the island. 

After a short ferry ride and a 15-minute journey in the Four Seasons van, we entered the small town of Lanai City. A few shops and homes occupied a small area of the 90,000-acre island. The city reminded us of the small-town South Georgia lifestyle. Pick-up trucks, friendly waves, and smiles were everywhere we looked. As we checked into the Four Seasons Sensei, a recently renovated wellness resort tucked into the base of the Lanai mountains, our jaws hit the floor. We were blown away by the beautiful gardens and pool, private hot tubs, and the well-appointed lobby and rooms. As my wife jumped on the bed in our suite, she exclaimed, “I could get used to hunting trips like this!”

For the rest of our first day on Lanai, I stopped by the shooting range, lounged for a few hours by the pool, ate a wonderful meal at Sensei Nobu, and had drinks by the firepit, we fell asleep full of excitement for what would come in the morning.

At 4 A.M. the following morning, Alec, the premier guide for Pineapple Brothers, pulled up to the front door of the Four Seasons Sensei in his jacked-up Chevrolet pick-up truck, coated with a brown Line-X coat of paint. With him were a writer and a photographer from Hawaiian Airlines that were joining us for our hunting excursion. We drove towards an area known as the “Serengeti”, a private hunting area on the island, as the lights of Lanai City drifted off into the distance. Our party of five left the truck on a dirt road, grabbed our respective gear consisting of cameras, notepads, binoculars, and a trusty 6.5 Creedmoor, and ventured off into the Hawaiian brush as the sun slowly began to peek over the mountain.

As the sun rose, we began to see why the island is so special and why people flock from all over the world to hunt Axis Deer and Mouflon Sheep. Across the Serengeti, against a backdrop of a breath-taking view of a mountain range and the Pacific Ocean, we could see the heads of Axis Deer that numbered in the hundreds! It seemed that everywhere I looked, an Axis deer was tucked into the brush. As we sat, we used our Swarovski optics to find a trophy buck… my trophy buck.

After roughly thirty minutes of looking, 1,800 yards away, mixed in a large herd of deer, Alec and I noticed a beautiful and wide Axis buck. Both of us looked at each other and said, “that’s the one!” The stalk was on! We left the rest of our party on a small hill and crept 1,600 yards using the brush and natural water run-offs to shield our movements from the keen eye of the buck we were going after. Once we thought we were in the perfect position for a shot, my heart was racing due to nerves and attempting to keep up with Alec, “the Mountain Goat”. The wind was in our favor, the deer were ignorant of our existence, and as fast as we had moved in, we were busted! We had not seen a small deer off to our right and he ran to alert the rest of the herd. Much to our surprise, as the herd took off, the buck we were targeting did not move. Alec quickly set up the shooting sticks as I crept closer to him, setting my rifle on to the rest. “Shoot!” Alec exclaimed. As I looked through the sights, I took a deep breath, placed the crosshairs on the buck’s heart, and slowly squeezed. Bang!

As deer ran in every direction, Alec and I celebrated. A beautiful Axis buck was on the ground! After a quick congratulatory hug, we ran through the brush looking for the deer. I was ecstatic. As I laid my hands on my trophy, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the sheer beauty of my surroundings. The mountains, the sunrise, the ocean views, everything was simply gorgeous. Afterwards my wife asked, “Are you happy with the size of this buck?” I couldn’t help but laugh. “I just shot an incredible Axis Deer… in Hawaii! At no point in my life, did I ever think I would say that. Of course, I am happy!”

Following the morning hunt, we had the opportunity to meet Bob the Butcher. Bob has made a name for himself as the island game processor, even being mentioned extensively on a Joe Rogan Podcast. To say that Bob capped a memorable hunting experience is an understatement. His skill with the blade and his knowledge was impressive… and ultimately has made for many tasty meals at my house.

This experience was truly unforgettable and has changed the trajectory of my future. Each aspect of this trip of world-class. The accommodations, the food, the landscape, the hunting… everything! When we returned home, my wife and I discussed my job prospects following a 10.5-year career in the military. Would I go into consulting? Join the corporate world? The more and more I thought and prayed about my future, the clearer the answer became. I felt drawn to and I know God was pointing me towards the outdoor industry. If I could be in a position where I was able to provide others the same joy I had experienced on this hunt, I knew that I would find ultimate job satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness. That night, I wrote an email to John Burrell and attached my resume. After a great deal of persistence, John finally accepted my application to join High Adventure Company!

I often think about my experiences on the incredible island of Lanai. My memories are full of relaxing by a pool in a beautiful garden, eating fresh sushi from Nobu, and stalking Axis deer across a picturesque landscape. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to “hunt in paradise” and amazed by the way God and this experience has and will continue to shape my life.  

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