Hunting Exotics In Texas
Highlighting the experiences of Georgia Hunters On The Road.
When I think of exotic animals, I envision animals being created in a lab through experiments and test tubes. However, my husband Paul and I decided to read more and more about exotic hunting ranches and we decided to peruse the Internet for research. Although these animals are not indigenous to North America, they are not created in a science fiction setting as I imagined. As a matter of fact without exotic ranches practicing conservation and game management, most exotics would become extinct; consequently, many of these exotics are now indigenous to North America. After looking at several ranches through ads in the SCI magazine, we kept coming back to Indianhead Ranch in Del Rio, Texas; therefore, Paul called and made arrangements for our hunt. Exotics have been on Indianhead Ranch since the 1930s.
After flying into San Antonio, we were met at the airport and driven to the ranch, which was three hours away. The ranch is situated on 10,000 acres near Amistad Lake and the Devil’s River. Amistad is Spanish for “friendly.” The lodge is situated on a mesa, or high plateau, with beautiful views of the surrounding canyons and cliffs. After being assigned a bungalow, which consisted of a private bath and enclosed patio, we readied for our first day of hunting.
Before the hunt began, Paul and I were assigned separate guides. I was assigned an older guide named Jesse, and Paul’s guide, Darren, was younger. Darren had a 6-month-old bloodhound named Rowdy that would accompany them on their hunts. I think Rowdy was still in training to trail wounded animals. We developed a deep affection for Rowdy, but luckily we didn’t need him for trailing wounded animals. I immediately asked Jesse if they drew straws to see who would get the woman! He stated that he liked the patience of women and they weren’t as particular as men hunters. Next, we rode to the rifle range to sight-in our rifles.
Jesse and I said our goodbyes and good luck to Paul and Darren, and we were off to search for the four-horned sheep and the Corsican sheep. The four-horned sheep dates to biblical times; it was one of the animals Noah took on the ark and is sometimes referred to as Jacob’s Sheep. Sometimes they are noted to have more than four horns. Soon we spotted the four horned down in a canyon, and we were off to stalk him. Jesse put up the shooting sticks and asked if I thought I could hit it at that distance. I told him I would try and took him with the first shot, which surprised Jesse somewhat. I thanked him with a hug and kiss on the cheek, and we were off for the Corsican.
The horns of Corsican sheep grow straight out with curling and are native to the West Indies. Only the males have horns, which grow out from the eyes. We drove farther in the canyon in pursuit of the Corsican. We spotted a good one behind a bush, and I shot through the brush, and he fell also. We loaded both sheep on the front of Jesse’s truck, which had a platform that let up and down with pins for loading the animals onto it.
After hauling our sheep to the cleaning station, we met Paul and Darren back at the lodge for lunch. Paul had no luck this morning, so Jesse and I would spend the afternoon trying to spot an aoudad ram for Paul. Jesse and I searched in one area and Darren and Paul in another. This took us back into the canyons again. There is a lot of Native American history to the canyons and Jesse pointed out an Indian head shape in the rocks at the top of a cliff. There are numerous caves in the rock cliff where the animals get in at times to escape the heat of the day. Hieroglyphics could be seen through binoculars in the top of the caves: snakes, foxes and other animals.
We spotted the aoudad darting up the cliffs and radioed Paul and Darren of the aoudad’s position. While we waited for them, we searched for arrowheads, and Jesse pointed out what he thought was an Indian burial ground. It was made of rocks on the side of a cliff and the rock door to the burial site resembled drawers on a dresser. We both agreed it was a sacred place and didn’t venture up to inspect. Meanwhile, Darren radioed us that Paul took a nice aoudad ram, also known as a Barbary sheep and is native to North Africa. They are quite elusive, and the wildest exotic animal in the United States. The aoudad sheep is hard to get with one shot because of the muscle mass of its body, but Paul managed to get him with one shot. Aoudad was hard for me to remember so I coined the phrase “do dad sheep,” so we all began calling it a do dad sheep. Paul also took an oryx, which is also native to Africa and is a relative to the gemsbok. Both males and females have horns that are curved and may grow to 40 inches in length. Herds of oryx have done very well in North America.
The next day we were off for the Texas dall and black Hawaiian sheep. The Texas dall is a hybrid sheep and actually originated in Texas. It has horns like a ram and is lighter in color than most sheep. The black Hawaiian is native to the Hawaiian Islands and is black with a black muzzle. We eventually spotted both sheep together, and I took a shot at the Texas dall and missed. Of course, both sheep trotted into never-never land, and I had to give up for the day. It wasn’t a good day for me. Paul was able to get his black buck, which is also considered quite a trophy as they run very fast and also have high muscle mass requiring a good shot to take it. Its origin is India and was highly endangered until conservation measures were taken to bring them back. He also took a mouflon sheep, which is native to Greece and considered to be the most handsome of the sheep.
On day three, after my brooding spell of missing my shot, Jesse and I were off to try again. Paul and Darren would ride around in their truck to help us spot them and then radio us of their findings. After about an hour, Darren radioed that he had spotted some sheep grazing. We got directions and proceeded to find them. We spotted the Texas dall, and I took him with one shot. I was hesitant to shoot since I had missed the day before and had lost a bit of confidence. Around the bend, we spotted a sheep that I thought was beautiful. Jesse said that it was a merino, which was not on my list to shoot, so after radioing Paul for permission to take him, I took it with one shot. The merino is a hardy sheep with strong herding instincts and is native to Spain. It has thick, fine wool from which merino wool socks, sweaters and jackets are made.
Over another cliff, we spotted the black Hawaiian, which was the one I wanted the most. We got out of the truck to try and stalk the sheep, but it was looking right at us, so Jesse asked again if I thought I could take it. I told him I would try and laid my rifle on the shooting sticks and managed to take him with one shot. I heard a “ping” and thought I had hit a rock, but the bullet went all the way through and hit a rock. It was a long shot which did wonders for my confidence.
We still had another afternoon and a whole day of hunting, but I had taken the animals on my list. Paul and Darren were off to look at fallow deer, native to Europe. Fallow deer may be four different colors: common spotted or brown, menil, white or black. Their antlers are palmated with numerous points. It reminded me of a small version of a moose, so I nicknamed it the “Texas Moose.”
The guides decided that I would hunt the axis deer, which is another native to India and known to be the most beautiful deer in the world. Paul would hunt the fallow, and he ended up taking a nice, white one. Jesse and I parked the truck to watch for the axis deer and finally spotted a nice one, but we both agreed to let it grow, so I didn’t take an axis. We also saw a chocolate fallow deer, and I thought he was beautiful. He was lying under a spreading tree with a doe but of course about 1,000 yards away. Jesse radioed Darren and Paul to develop a plan and Paul said since he got a white one it would be nice if I could get a chocolate to contrast his.They would watch from their truck while Jesse and I stalked.
We proceeded to creep down a trail, and there were some turkeys in the path, so we stopped so that they wouldn’t fly because this would have alerted the fallow. We finally got within shooting range of the fallow, but I could only see its head and didn’t want to make that shot. After sensing that we were stalking it, the buck and doe ran into the brush, so we had to abandon hope of taking this one.
Later in the afternoon, we spotted another chocolate at a watering hole taking a drink. It reminded me of the story of Narcissus as it appeared to be looking at its own reflection in the water. Suddenly it disappeared in the brush, but after a while, we spotted it again and Jesse asked if I wanted to take a long shot. Paul had told me, “You won’t hit anything if you don’t sling lead,” so I tried the shot but shot over the deer.I watched it run in my scope, and it was long gone for the day.
The last morning, Darren and Paul would help Jesse and me find Narcissus. We went back to the same water hole but no sign of Narcissus. Jesse and Darren developed a plan that Jesse would ride around the water hole and brush to see if the deer would run into sight while I stayed in Darren’s truck with him and Paul. We didn’t spot the deer and Jesse stopped his truck, came over the radio and said in his deep, gruff voice “any other bright ideas?” We all got a laugh out of that statement.Narcissus had eluded us yet again.
I got back in the truck with Jesse and was about to call it the end of the hunt when Darren radioed that he and Paul could see a spotted fallow, so Jesse and I rushed over to see it ambling down a trail and was able to take him. I didn’t get Narcissus, but the spotted fallow deer will look great with Paul’s white fallow. The bullet went in the fallow at an angle, lodging in its side. The skinners extracted the copper mushroom shaped 7-mag. bullet from the deer, which I will keep as a good luck charm.
Jesse and I spent four days together hunting and came to know much about one another. He was a most colorful character and a great story teller, some mentionable, some not so mentionable. He is an avid collector of knives, and one day I took my knife from my backpack to show him, and he in turn took out three to show me so we spent time comparing knives. He also gave me pointers on hunting whitetail deer back in Georgia. During our time together, we witnessed the heart-stopping covey rises of blue quail and bobwhite and watched droves of wigeon ducks, merganser ducks and doves take flight from the water holes. We saw a rhea bird, which resembles an ostrich or emu and is native to South America. There were also herds of addax, gazelles, buffalo, and we once saw a red stag. Jesse and I as well as Paul and Darren developed a lasting friendship filled with many hunting memories.
Indianhead Ranch is run by a French couple, Diane and Laurent DeLagrange. They were the most gracious hosts and ran an impeccable ranch. Their success rate on hunting exotics is more than 95% as Paul and I can attest. All of our exotics that we took are eligible for the bronze, silver and gold through SCI record-class trophies. Diane and Laurent generously donate hunts to Safari Club International as well as sables. The hunting is much like hunting in Africa, and the terrain of the ranch is very similar with cactus, rocks, hills and wild brush. Using binoculars, many of the animals were spotted through the trees and brush with just a wag of the tail or a flicker of an ear. As I found out, I would have the grand slam on the sheep if I had taken the mouflon instead of Paul. However, this gives us the incentive to return for my grand slam and for Paul’s axis deer. I definitely found out that exotics do not come from a pen or laboratory and are in fact very wild and elusive and a challenge for the most astute hunter.
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