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Hunting Texas Exotics
Texas is second only to Africa when it comes to providing habitat for rare, sometimes endangered animals.
Exotic ungulates were initially introduced onto Texas ranches in 1930. The first exotic to roam the Lone Star State was the Nilgai antelope. Since then, a plethora of species have been introduced throughout Texas.
One hundred ninety four of 254 Texas counties have one or more ranching operations reporting exotic hoofstock according to a survey conducted by the Texas Agricultural Statistics Service in 1996.
The most abundant exotic hoofed ungulate is the axis deer. According to the 1996 survey, 55,424 axis deer exist in Texas. Axis deer exhibit a reddish brown coat sprinkled with white dots, much like a whitetail fawn.
Mature axis bucks can weigh over 200 pounds on the hoof. The wide, tall sweeping antlers of a mature buck exhibit beam lengths often surpassing 30 inches.
The rack is normally composed of six points with brow tines, and a point originating midway up the beam. Antlers are shed annually, taking five-to-six months to develop. Uniquely some can be found with hardened antlers throughout the year, however, most males support hardened antlers between May and November. Female axis deer cycle and can breed year round (polyestrous). Thus, fawns are born throughout the year, contributing to the significant time difference in antler cycles.
The rut takes place when bucks are in hard antler; however, there is evidence that bucks in velvet can breed as well. Bucks searching for does often emit a “bellowing” sound that can be heard great distances, and much like whitetails, they create scrapes usually located below an overhanging limb which they coat with their preorbital glands.
Axis are gregarious which make it extremely challenging for a hunter or photographer to stalk. Alarmed axis deer will bark (a sound much like that of a dog) in order to warn others of danger.
Their ability to switch to grass when browse is limited affords them an advantage over the whitetail, which is primarily a browser.
Any axis buck with a beam length of 30 inches with fairly long tines is considered a trophy. Axis venison is considered a delicacy.
Based on the 1996 survey, 35,328 blackbuck antelope inhabit Texas. Native to India and Pakistan, the blackbuck is considered by many as the most elegant member of the plains game. It has also been stated that eighty percent of this antelope’s population occurs in Texas.
The name blackbuck is derived from the rich black and white hide of males at maturity. Young males have a tan coloration. Its corkscrew horns twist and extend upward to lengths of 24 inches. I heard of 30-inch horns, but have not personally observed one. The sleek-bodied animal rarely exceeds 60 pounds.
The blackbuck is constantly on alert, and coupled with its ability to run in bounding leaps up to fifty miles per hour, make it a challenge to hunt.
At one time a reported four million blackbuck antelope lived in India and Pakistan. Today less than 5,000 exist in India and they are virtually extinct in Pakistan. This is not so in Texas, and their future looks bright.
The fallow deer, a European descendant, was reported to have been imported into the United States by our first president, George Washington, on his Mount Vernon estate. Since that time, fallow has been introduced throughout much of the U.S. Based on the 1996 exotic hoof stock inventory, 27,177 fallow deer occur in Texas. Fallow deer exhibit three color variations, white, spotted, and brown. Antlers of these ungulates are palmated much like a moose. A mature fallow buck can weigh up to 175 pounds. Like whitetails, they tend to their breeding responsibilities aggressively, often losing a substantial amount of weight doing so. The fallow deer is not recognized for alertness, but under extensive hunting pressure can become quite a challenge to pursue.
The fourth most abundant exotic hoofstock animal in Texas is the aoudad sheep. Following its introduction in 1957, the aoudad has adapted well. Since hunting this animal is prohibited in its homeland, Africa, it is highly sought after in Texas. An estimated 12, 292 aoudad sheep occur in Texas today.
These sheep are huge with some males reaching 350 pounds. Unlike the native bighorn sheep of North America, their horns sweep back behind their head and do not exhibit a full curl. Horns of a mature ram often wear the hide off the back of the animal’s neck as a result of rubbing. Their horns can reach lengths of 36 inches with massive bases ranging from 11 to 13 inches. The long hair protruding from this sheep’s neck and front legs give the animal a unique appearance. The sandy brown color of their fur capitalizes on camouflage in the cliffs and bluffs where they prefer to reside.
Over the last ten years, an increased number of rare ungulates, often referred to as super exotics, have surfaced. Species like sable antelope, kudu, scimitar-horned Ibex, lechwe even Pere David’s deer now exist in fairly large numbers.
On top of this list is sable antelope, one of Zimbabwe’s national emblems. Males are jet black exhibiting ringed horns that arch backwards over a shaggy mane. The white chevron stripe across both sides of their face makes this animal stand out as one of the most beautiful migrants to Texas. Males can weigh up to 600 pounds.
Native to the swamps of Botswana, Zambia and a small portion of the Congo, the red lechwe is now a part of the Texas ecosystem. Its golden-brown almost red hide accented by a pure snow-white underbelly makes this transplant extremely attractive. The characteristically long, spiral-structured horns are developed in males only.
Both sexes of the scimitar-horned Oryx develop curved horns that grow to several feet in length. Extremely rare in the wild it once occupied much of North Africa. This desert dweller has a dirty white hide with a reddish brown neck and marks on its face. A long tufted tail is a distinguishing characteristic exhibited by this highly prized animal which appears to be increasing on Texas ranches.
With prices for hunting native Texas big game, particularly whitetail deer escalating, plus the fact that locating good hunting land is difficult, the diversity of exotic inhabitants represents an economically viable alternative for sportsmen to pursue their cherished outdoor activities.
Since exotic hoofstock are not considered game, they are not regulated by the state, thus they can be hunted year round.
Exotic ungulates represent an excellent opportunity for sportsmen to extend their time in the outdoors hunting some of the rarest species on the planet. More importantly, these activities are not outrageously expensive, particularly when you think of the cost of viewing them in their homeland making Texas wild lands that much more attractive.