I’ve always dreamed of going on safari. It’s an easy one to add to the bucket list—who wouldn’t want to get the chance to see some of the world’s most majestic creatures up close? But even though I’m an avid camper and hiker, I never considered the fact that I didn’t necessarily need a plane ticket to Kenya to go. Adam Lackner did, though. Cofounder of Brushbuck Guide Services, he’ll take you on safari not just in Kenya or Botswana, but in US national parks like Denali, Yellowstone, and the Grand Tetons.
Tours range from 12-day adventures to single-day excursions all designed with the goal of bringing tourists closer to nature than they might have ever been before. But how did Adam get started and what are these tours really like? I chatted with him to find out.
Geothermal pool in Yellowstone.
Adam Lackner runs Brushbuck wildlife tours with the help of his sister Amber, and her husband Ezra. Between the three of them, they have 20 years of experience in the US Navy and Marines, which means they’re no strangers to the great outdoors. But Adam’s love of nature goes back even farther.
“Amber and I were raised on a cattle ranch in Arizona so being outdoors was a constant thing,” he says. He even got himself into a bit of trouble as a kid when he decided to go on an overnight campout by himself without telling his mom, “[she] panicked thinking I was kidnapped!”
Older and wiser, his camping trips involve a little more planning these days and a lot more adventure. After leaving the service, he originally thought that backcountry outfitting was the way to go. “The problem with that is the season was short so we saw an opportunity to grow more in the national parks guiding more road based tours and from there it was off to the races!”
More often than not, Adam can be found in the Jackson Hole offices in Wyoming, the perfect hub for reaching Yellowstone and the Tetons. There, Adam’s day starts like almost any of ours, heading into the office sipping coffee, the only difference is that Adam’s workday regularly starts at 5 a.m. Then, it’s all about loading up the van with the lunches packed for the tour group and any necessary gear before picking up customers.
Once they have everyone on board and they’re driving around the park, you might be wondering what’s so special about that? Can’t you just head in to Yellowstone and do the same thing on your own? And sure, you can, but you’ll be missing Brushbuck wildlife tours’ secret weapon: “We have an entire team that is out and communicating every day. When we find [a wildlife spotting] we put it our network of over 50 people who share animal sightings and locations in real time!” That means you’ll have a much better chance of seeing animals ranging from bison and elk to brown bears or even wolves.
As the early morning hours, which are the best for animal sightings, slip away, don’t worry—the tour isn’t over yet. Instead, the afternoons focus more on “pioneer history and geology, like the hot springs” says Adam.
A tour group that hasn't parked on these leopards' lunch.
Obviously, I couldn’t let Adam go without having him share a few of his favorite sightings from over the years. The problem was just trying to narrow it down! “I enjoy seeing so many things but the really hard ones, like a pack of wolves taking down an elk or maybe a grizzly sow with tiny cubs born that year really stick,” says Adam. But it wasn’t the time he tracked a wolfpack or the time a giant brown bear approached him while he was with a customer after the rest of the group had moved on.
His best tale comes from one of the African safaris Brushbuck Guide Services leads where he met a leopard named Karula in South Africa. She was pointed out to Adam and his group by a fellow tracker, so they approached to watch her when suddenly, “She approached the land cruiser and hissed at the local guide, like she knew he was in charge of us all. Then in a split second, she dashes under the vehicle and runs up a tree and out of nowhere a hyena came barreling toward the tree she went up.” What had her so riled?
“It turns out, we had accidentally parked on top of a kill and she was letting the guide know she wasn’t happy about it!” I think we can all agree Karula was in the right here, though. I’d be pretty miffed if someone parked on my turkey sandwich.
But the unpredictability of the animals, seeing how they react in the world and doing your best to merely bear witness without interfering is part of what makes wildlife tours so magical! And it’s why Adam works so hard to share that magic with the masses.
Brushbuck Guide Services at a Glance
Where they have tours: Alaska, Africa, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone
Types of tours: multiday excursions and same-day tours
Who should go: “Anyone is accommodated and we have 6 year olds all the way up to 85 year olds!”
Do-gooders: Brushbuck’s committed to making the world a better place: as of 2015, they’ve donated nearly $50,000 to charities ranging from the Wounded Warrior Project to the Audubon Society.
Most important thing to remember: “Remember to appreciate everything and be flexible as the ecosystem is all working together as a whole.”