By Bob Humphrey
The slow economy has hurt hunters and outfitters as much as anyone else; maybe more so. Instead of that trip of a lifetime to Illinois, Iowa, Kansas or Saskatchewan, a lot of folks settled for hunting closer to home this year. Maybe it was a day’s drive instead of a day’s flight, or a long weekend instead of a week. And a lot of those folks will do the same thing next year. But what if your dream hunt is an international safari for exotic species? You can’t just cut your expenses and stay closer to home. Or can you?
As a matter of fact, you can. Texas is far and away the leader, but several southwestern states offer hunts for a range of exotics species. And if you’re hesitant about high fences, many of these hunts are for free range animals.
I hunted early last fall with Hunter Ross, owner of Desert Safaris. Our hunt was outside Fort Davis, down in the Big Bend region of south west Texas. I’d hunted antelope there the previous year but this year several of us were offered the chance to hunt Aoudad. For those who aren’t familiar with them, Aoudad or Barbary sheep were introduced to the Lone Star State years ago. Abundant free-ranging populations of these heavy-horned sheep now occur throughout much of southwestern Texas.
However, they’re not so abundant that they’re easy to hunt, or even find. You may spend hours or even days glassing. The more ground you can cover the better your odds, and we were fortunate that we had ATVs to get around the sometimes difficult terrain we hunted. We alternated between glassing, walking and riding, and eventually spotted a large band of sheep atop a low mountain. It took more maneuvering, riding and stalking, and most of the rest of the day to get within range, but we did.
Several years earlier I hunted Stone Basin Ranch near Ozona. Using a combination of ATVs and shoe leather I was able to ramble around in pursuit of an ala carte menu including Corsican, Texas Dall’s, black Hawaiian, Rambolais and Auodad sheep, Sika, Axis and white-tailed deer, and feral hogs. The outfitter also had plans to introduce red deer and blackbucks. The blackbuck is a small antelope native to India. Their spiraled horns can grow up to 28 inches long and they make a handsome mount. Like the Auodad, they too were introduced to Texas and now occur in free-ranging populations.
There’s almost no limit to what you can hunt in Texas, including numerous varieties of exotic deer, sheep, goats and antelope, not to mention the almost ubiquitous feral hogs. Prices and accommodations range from bargain basement to four star. And perhaps best of all, seasons are open year round for most exotics on private land. If you think an African Safari plains game safari or a Mongolian Ibex hunt are beyond your means right now, think again. Think Texas.