Great White Hunter Wes Hixon poses with a Do Not Touch sign in front of the stuffed bears at his Wildwood office.
Dade is a small, rural county but it’s also the center of the universe, so it comes as no surprise when mysterious galactic forces suck in people from all over. But even to those of us accustomed to Dade’s inexplicable ways, the MGFs may seem to be working overtime this weekend as foreigners in khaki and pith helmets descend upon the north end of the county from all corners of the globe.
What’s it all about? Following the distant beat of jungle drums (actually, a phoned-in lead from alert reader Carolyn Bradford Lane—thanks, Carolyn!) The Planet mongoosed it post-haste to the depths of Wildwood to run and find out! And where would The Planet mongoose it post-haste to but Wes Hixon’s Outdoor Adventures?
Dade is a small, rural county but a strange and diverse one, with at least one of everything, so it comes as no surprise that we have our own African safari organizer: Wes Hixon, whose Highway 11 North business is responsible for Saturday’s influx of globetrotters. The Planet found the Great White Hunter himself behind his desk busily preparing for his gala amid rhinoceros heads, stuffed bears, elephant-legged tables and tiger skin rugs.
Hixon said that Saturday is his 16th annual open house. “These are all of my business partners,” he said of tomorrow's guests. “These are the people who run the lodges in eight countries in Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, all of that.”
Hixon explained that his company makes its living as a sort of exotic travel agency, arranging hunting and photographic safaris, fishing trips and wing-shooting holidays for tourists. “We handle all of the advertising worldwide and take care of the bookings, all the reservations,” said Hixon. “Our fees are paid from the normal fees that are charged.”
When Hixon started his firm a couple of decades ago, he said, there were only nine companies like his in the world. Now there are hundreds. “It’s a big industry,” he said. “People don’t realize.”
Next week is the annual Safari Club International (SCI) trade show in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Convention Center, where there will be over 2200 exhibitors. Last week, there was a similar expo in Dallas. Hixon exhibits at both. “You go to reconnect with your people that have been with you and shake hands, hello, how are you, let’s talk about going again,” he said. “I do my office open house every year around the conventions because all these people are here.”
(He paused to answer his phone—“Excuse me. Argentina.”)
The purpose of the trade shows is to drum up business, explained Hixon when the interview resumed. His open house in Wildwood is more of a customer appreciation day. “People who do business with us come and they enjoy themselves,” he said. “It’s a social event.”
It is not, however, a public event, nor even one that has ever before been open to the press. Hixon’s business is in fact one of those institutions, like Covenant College, perhaps, or the Wildwood Lifestyle Center, that is located in Dade but has little connection with the community. “Your average Dade County person is not going to want to come in here and book a trip to Africa,” said Hixon.
But Hixon hints that the company might have more impact on Dade the way his annual event has been growing. This year he’s had over 300 RSVPs so far and is expecting about twice that many attendees. He’s hired two chefs to prepare elk, Alaska salmon, moose and other big game for the hunting crowd. Currently he hosts the do in the office and at a tent set up on the lawn. But soon he’ll need a larger facility, said Hixon, and he’s had the idea: “I want to have my own outdoor convention, right here in Dade County.”
Why, after all, not? “In Vegas we’ll spend upwards of $40,000 for five days there,” said Hixon. “If we can stay and get just as much booking and business here as we can there in Vegas, I’d much rather stay here.”
That would be good not only for Wes Hixon’s Outdoor Adventures, he pointed out, but for Dade County as well. Imagine the economic impact. Even for the customer appreciation day he’d just written a $970 check to a local vendor for gravel and paid a local workman $400 to spread it, plus hiring off-duty cops for security and heavily patronizing local stores for refreshments and hardware. “I purposely buy everything I can buy from Dade County businesses,” said Hixon.
So Dade County may one day be International Base Camp for the worldwide safari crowd. Who'd have thunk it? But one does get blasé about such goings-on, living as one does at the center of the universe....