By the time you read this, I should — should — be touching down in San Antonio after a 5 a.m. flight from Columbia, S.C. I’m on my way to Joshua Creek Ranch for the annual Texas Hill Country Shooting Classic & Sporting Expo, where I’ll be manning the Sporting Classics booth Saturday. On Sunday, I’ll get to try my hand at the ranch’s free-range axis deer, hopefully bagging a buck to replace the mount from Who Knows Who that now adorns my office wall at Sporting Classics.
Anyone who has hunted Texas before knows that all of the world’s game species have seemingly been introduced into this sporting paradise. As an exotic species, axis deer can be hunted in the Lone Star State year-round — something I greatly appreciate in the otherwise hunting doldrums of June.
A native North Carolinian, my Southern mind boggles at the idea of year-round hunting for anything other than coyotes or hogs. Curious about this brave new world I was entering, I found five other game species you can and should hunt in Texas any time of the year. Check out this list, then check back next week for a rundown of the weekend’s events at Joshua Creek.
Sometimes referred to as the Blue Bull for the male’s coat color, nilgai were first introduced into Texas in the 1920s. They occur naturally across the Indian subcontinent, although the species has been extirpated in Bangladesh. Hunting paintings have been discovered in Bengali India from as far back as the Neolithic Period (10200-2000 B.C.), meaning man has been hunting this creature for quite some time.
And for good reason. From a hunting perspective, nilgai make the perfect game species: they’re diurnal, weigh as much as 600 pounds, and sport deadly sharp horns that grow to 9 inches in length. Only the males have horns, and the females are noticeably smaller, so there’s no mixing up the sexes when you take a shot. Definitely something to check out.
More commonly referred to as the Barbary sheep, aoudad are the working man’s sheep. They way as much as 300 pounds and feature backswept horns nearly two feet in length. Like North American whitetails, aoudad are most active during the early morning and twilight hours.
Found naturally in the wilds of North Africa, aoudad were first introduced into Palo Duro Canyon in the 1950s: 31 sheep released in Armstrong County in 1957-58, with 13 more near Quitaque. Texas Tech put their population at 20,000 animals in 1989, not including populations in New Mexico and possibly elsewhere. That number is likely much higher today, giving hunters plenty of opportunities for a unique trophy.
Fallow deer originated in Eurasia. The Romans spread the deer all over Central Europe, and thanks to the efforts of other civilizations since then, the species is now found from Great Britain to South Africa to New Zealand — and many points in between. In the U.S. alone, populations are found in Texas, Rhode Island, Florida, and elsewhere.
Like nilgai, only male fallow deer sport headgear. What makes them unusual, aside from their palmated, almost caribou-ish design, is that bucks only grow these unusual antlers in their third year of life and after. Unlike whitetails, fallow deer remain as spikes for the first two years.
Male Sika deer are called stags, and that’s just what they look like. These deer stand roughly 43 inches at the shoulder but sport antlers as tall as 30 inches. Stags also sport a mane during the rut.
Found in East Asia, Sika deer once roamed as far as Vietnam and Russia. Sometimes called Japanese deer, the species is uncommon in its former haunts but overpopulated in that country. In addition to Texas and several other states, Sika have been introduced into Ireland, Australia, the Philippines, and a whole host of other countries.
It’s easy to see where the species, or at least the male blackbuck, got its name. While females remain yellowish or tan throughout their lives, males are much darker, showing almost jet black in the rut before shedding their winter coat in the spring. According to Texas Tech, some remain dark even during the summer.
A fully mature male may feature horns as long as 30 inches.
Like many of the animals on this list, the blackbuck is indigenous to India and the surrounding areas. Like nilgai, they once roamed across Bangladesh before being introduced into Texas, but are extirpated from that country today.