California Clothing Mavens Hit The Road For New Hunting Series
They’ve come a long ways, metaphorically at least, from designing outdoor fashion clothes for women out of a home garage in northern California. Jen Adams and Norissa Harman had a vision that spawned a successful company, Girls With Guns Clothing. But while the gals remain small-town at heart, choosing to continue their work out of Red Bluff, a quiet hamlet of 14,000 off Interstate 5, 130 miles north of Sacramento, even for these ambitious entrepreneurs, traveling across a continent, an ocean and hunting the wild lands of Africa in front of a TV camera was something altogether different.
Just as the Girls With Guns’ brand has taken off, Adams and Harman just seem to have found a niche on Universal Huntress TV, a Sportsman Channel series that premiered in December. We see Adams and Harman crisscrossing the African continent, not only hunting exotic species but also experiencing new cultures and engaging in adventures like skydiving, hot air ballooning and bungee jumping.
“We are definitely outside the box,” says Adams, the more adrenaline-charged half of the team. “You’re going to see about 75 percent hunting and 25 percent will be something exciting, something fun. And the main part is, Norissa and I are best friends who started in our garage to design a clothing line. We’ve grown the company so much, we have opportunities to talk a little bit about who we are and where we came from.” The idea for their show came from a world away. Adams and Harman were on their way to the Sacramento International Sportsman Exposition when we caught up with them in January. Ironic, since that was where they met South African Emaneul “Kappie” Kapp. Sort of.
A YEAR AGO, Kapp, a publisher and outdoor film producer, was walking the aisles at the massive outdoors show and saw the Girls With Guns booth. He had an idea to discuss a possible television show opportunity. Unfortunately, the ladies weren’t there at that time. “I’d played around with the idea of a women hunting show for a while and they sounded like the perfect fit,” Kapp says. “I left my business card at their booth and requested they call me.” Kapp thought Adams’ go-for-it attitude was reminiscent of himself. Harman, admittedly the “chicken one” of these two BFFs, seemed more like Kapp’s wife, Chantelle, also a member of the production team.
“One of the things Kappie told us is he was looking for something a little different,” Adams says. But even Kapp wasn’t sure what to expect when “I got a call from two girly girls from Northern California.” “We spoke on the phone a couple of times and I eventually got them on a plane to South Africa,” Kapp says. “I met them for the first time in person at O.R. Thambo International Airport in Johannesburg (South Africa).” They hadn’t known each other besides some conversations done over Skype, but the chemistry among those behind and in front of the camera made for a great match. Harman says during production her and Kapp’s relationship is more like a brother and sister who may bicker while shooting in some of the most remote and wild lands on earth, but are indeed like family at the end of the day.
“Since we’ve met each other, it’s been for the better. He’s taken us out of our world, where we grew up, to his world, to show his perspective,” Harman says. “For that, I’m very grateful for him. I think there have been a lot of special moments that we’ve all done together and he’s been there to see us grow. To capture that together, it’s been fun.” Over the course of filming, Kapp found the stars of his show learning from their mistakes, both on the actual hunts and the process of producing episodes of a TV show in the African bush. They went through hours upon hours of footage, narrowing them down to fit into the 22 minutes of running time.
Adams and Harman even found themselves operating a second camera as b-roll footage. (Among the guests on the first season was aspiring country music singer Morgan Mills, who wrote and produced the show’s theme song, Let’s Ride, sung by Mills and featuring established country music performer Colt Ford.) Adams says the relatively small crew on-hand during production simplifies the process. “When you’re hunting you already have your guide or PH (professional hunter), your cameraman, and Norissa and I always hunt together. Through Kappie, he’s taught us some limited camera skills,” Adams says. “They had to learn how to be comfortable in front of the camera, and it took some guidance to get them to relax and not feel uncomfortable,” Kapp says. “I still provide them with guidance, but they’ve come a long way from our first hunt.”
ON THE FIRST episode, Harman and Adams joined guide Marius Kotze of Rhinoland Safaris (rhinoland.co.za) in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. They were greeted on dirt road by roaming elephants and rhinos and their land cruiser became temporarily stuck in the middle of a rising river – just a typical day of mayhem on an African safari. “I think I learned a lot about myself on that trip,” Adams says. “Just getting out of the country, seeing some amazing people and being in some awesome hunting territory. It was just surreal. I fell in love with Africa on that trip.” The girls harvested their first African continent plains game animals on the first show. Adams successfully hunted an impala, zebra and kudu on that initial two-week trip; Harman got an impala and kudu.
Adams also hunted two of Africa’s “Dangerous 7 Game” animals, lion and hippopotamus. “That lion hunt, it was the first time I had ever hunted an animal where it wanted to hunt me back,” she says. On the pilot episode, when the women both made successful shots, they became overcome with emotion, particularly Harman. “(Viewers) didn’t get to see the
whole story. I actually missed (the shot) a couple times on that trip,” she says. “The animals are different there. They are really fast moving and I think my nerves got the best of me – having a camera on you, that whole factoring into making a good shot – so, of course, when I did shoot my kudu, I’m such an emotional person and wear my heart on my sleeve, I can’t help it.
I cry a lot and this whole season you’ll see lots of tears.” Adams is not one who shows her emotions so quickly – there’s that yin-yang trait between them again – but also had a moment during the time between the shot and the confirmation that the animal was down. Adams thinks the anticipation of where they were and the stalking process created so much tension it felt natural to let loose a few joyous tears. “One thing is certain – they truly love what they do and they are emotional when it comes to the beautiful trophy they have harvested. Sometimes it’s laughter and at other times it’s tears, but there is always a lot of emotion involved,” Kapp says. “Our TV show is in real time and with no reenactment, and therefore the real emotional scenes on camera are (compelling).”
The pitch of two hunters with such different personalities would be an easy one for a producer to have interest in. On one side of the table a risk taker willing to push her entire stack of chips into the pot at any time; on the opposite side, a risk avoider who raises an eyebrow at even the slightest of all-in moves. Guess which Girls With Guns business partner did not have parachuting out of a plane over Africa on her bucket list? “We are a good balance,” Harman says. “I think a lot of it is just the unknown. We’d never done anything like that. When I got there I had no intention of doing that. I mean, why would I want to jump out of a perfectly good plane? But just the energy and meeting the people, the moment convinced me to try it. So I’m proud that I did it. Would I want to do it again? Probably not.”
There was also the cultural experience of visiting countries such as the Congo, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, which was priceless (an episode was also filmed in the south island of New Zealand). Learning a few phrases of one of South Africa’s and Namibia’s official languages, Afrikaans, has inspired further studying of that dialect for future trips to that part of the world. “I think it’s a little bit humbling and life-changing and a little bit in our face,” Harman says. “Just because here in the U.S., we have the luxury of grabbing a glass of water, checking the Internet and going to the movies. And these people don’t have that luxury.
Kids can’t just go to a faucet and grab a glass of water like we do. They’re going to watering holes or digging a hole in the middle of a dried-up creekbed to drink water with sand in it. Jen and I will probably keep those moments forever and never take for granted what we do have.” Adams was floored by the diversity, both in the people of the various countries visited and the constantly changing topography. She didn’t expect to see mountains not unlike those located a short distance from her Northern California home (“I don’t think a lot of people realize that,” Adams says). It wasn’t long until they’d go from mountains to a sandy desert and then a rain forest.
“We were just so grateful for the opportunity (to be there) and to hunt in a situation we’ve never been in before,” Adams says. “To know where Norissa and I came from, we were able to see things that most of my family and people back home will never have the opportunity to see. I felt very lucky and blessed to be there.”
AS WE’VE SEEN frequently in this social media-obsessed world, when you hunt, you’re likely to be frowned upon by the Twitter and Facebook crowd. If you’re a woman who hunts, it’s chaos on the keyboards. Vile online attacks of female hunters have gone viral with a sinister tone. Most hunters understand and accept that the anti-hunting sentiment won’t be going away anytime soon, and a show like Universal Huntress will surely be considered taboo from day one with some refusing to find a common ground. “One of the things that we’re learning as we go, and we hope the audience will learn with us; we try to ask questions and then ask more questions,” Adams says. “We need to understand the importance of conservation. It is something that’s a little bit different here than in South Africa. But honestly, there isn’t that much of a difference – taking a mature animal and making sure that we don’t over hunt them.
Norissa and I are trying to learn as we go and pass it onto our audience. I hope they’re able to see that.” Universal Huntress hopes the stories it tells – about hunting, about friendship, about culture and about conquering your fears can send a positive message. “It’s really for people to just be themselves. We have a lot of young girls who look up to us now, and we really never expected to be role models,” Harman says of her role as clothing designer but also messenger about the sport their line sells to. “So we just hope that they can see what hunting has done for Jen and I. It’s been a bonding experience, kind of like a sisterhood. So if there are girls out there doing this together, it’s something they’ll be able to share like we’ve shared. It’s important for us that they see that.”
Chris Cocoles WSJ
Editor’s note: New episodes of Universal Huntress can be seen on Mondays on the
Sportsman Channel. More information can be found at thesportsmanchannel.com/shows/universal-huntress. http://abc.go.com/shows/marvels-agent-carter/episode-guide/season-01/07-snafu comTwitter (@univhuntress) and Facebook
(facebook.com/universalhuntress). Check out Girls With Guns clothing apparel at gwgclothing.com, Twitter (@GirlswithGuns), and Facebook (facebook.com/girlswithgunsclothing).