DEEP IN THE HEART OF DARKEST TEXAS

Exotic big game animals like the aoudad sheep (right) are being bred in Texas and stocked on fenced preserves where they can be hunted in complete comfort on a no-game no-pay basis
May 22, 1966

At a private club in an Austin hotel mot long ago Carroll Abbott, a folksy Texas public relations man, was thumping the tub for one of his clients, the "famed" Y.O. Ranch, where several kinds of foreign game, or exotics, are offered to hunters on a guaranteed no-game no-pay basis. "How kin you beat it?" Abbott was saying. "Imagine getting a magnificent black buck antelope right in the heart of the historic Texas Hill Country. Not India, man. Texas. They're roamin' wild right on the ranch. 'Course, you don't just go out there and pot you one. No, sir. A little ol' black buck can do 40 mph, and one of the real thrills of all time is to barrel along cross-country after one in a jeep. You go crashing through the shin oak and mesquite until you git up close enough for a shot—maybe 300 yards or so. Well. You are so shook up from the ride, and your adrenalin is working overtime and you're going to have one hell of a time shooting anywhere near that ol' black buck.

" 'Course, you're going to git one eventually," Abbott continued. "Our hunter success is nearly 100% on these exotics, and one day is generally all the time you need. You kin stay in a wonderful log cabin that's 100 years old. It's modernized, of course. And hey, we got five other kinds of exotics on the ranch. You kin even shoot the round. You know, git you a sika, axis, fallow, wild Corsican ram, aoudad, all in a weekend. You'd run up a pretty sizable bill that way [roughly $1,500, including room and board], but, man, you kin plumb fill up your game room with trophies in just two days."

As any hunter who keeps up with the times knows by now, Abbott was not just talking through his Stetson. No longer is it necessary to go to India to shoot a black buck antelope or an axis deer or to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa to bag a heavy-horned aoudad ram or to the posh private shooting preserves of Europe to get a fallow deer. A hunter with the money and a day or so to spend can find guaranteed hunting for some 20 different exotics on private land enclosed by deerproof fence in almost a dozen states.

Texas, predictably, has more and bigger preserves than the rest, and the Texas landscape does resemble some parts of Africa and India. But there are preserves in New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee. And just east of Lock Haven, Pa. the Buffalo Ranch Motel invites you to "come and shoot your own buffalo.... The price is $400 each and up, according to size. Choose your own favorite weapon." (The buffalo may be native to the U.S., but it is a rare enough trophy today to be classed as an exotic.)

Not surprisingly, the hunting, or more accurately the shooting, of exotic game animals "running wild" in fenced pastures, whether they are 300 acres or 3,000, is passed off by many a hunter as nothing more than an out-of-the-cage-and-onto-the-wall operation. Some ecologists fear that exotics are competing with and disturbing native game. Despite such censure, however, the exotic-hunting business is booming.

It all began as a lark about 30 years ago when two San Antonians, Refrigerator Manufacturer Richard Friedrich and Attorney Leroy Denman, bought a few black buck antelope and axis, sika and barasingh deer from zoos and released them on their ranches (Denman also brought the first wild boar into Texas from the Tennessee hills). As the animals thrived, Friedrich and Denman sold their surplus brood stock to other ranchers, and they, in turn, added other species, such as aoudad and mouflon sheep (the original mouflons from Corsica and Sardinia have since been crossed with domestic and semiwild sheep, and a pure strain of mouflon is virtually impossible to find anymore), fallow and red deer and sambar deer from Asia. Today at least 100 ranchers are in the exotic business, cither raising and selling brood stock or stocking up for hunting. A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department survey taken two years ago showed that there were at least 13,160 exotics of 13 different species residing mostly under deerproof fence in Texas. There may well be 20,000 or more now.

Under a U.S. Department of Agriculture ruling, these animals, after being imported into the U.S., must spend all of their natural lives in an approved zoo. Their offspring, however, may be sold by the zoos. Ranchers may also deal in exotics on the open market as easily as they buy and sell Angus cattle, Poland China hogs or Angora goats. Current prices for exotics range from $150 for a breeding pair of mouflon-type sheep to $350 for two aoudads and as much as $700 for a trio of black buck antelope (one male and two females). Because these exotics are contained by fences on private land, the Texas Parks and Wild-life Department has no control over them. Says A. J. Springs, the staff service officer: "We classify these animals as domestics, the same as cattle, and we do not promote the hunting or the sale of them."

The advantages of such an arrangement to ranchers are obvious. There are no state hunting seasons on exotics and no preserve licenses to buy. Several animals, notably the black buck and the various sheep and goats, have true horns that are never shed, and they provide year-round trophy hunting. But it takes some time for exotics to grow trophy-size horns or antlers (three or four years in the case of the black buck), and preserve owners are hard-pressed to keep enough trophies on hand for hunters who are willing to pay anywhere from $75 for a mouflon-type ram to $30O for a black buck or an aoudad.

The largest and best-known Texas preserve, and the only one with both a biologist and a PR man is the Y.O. Ranch, a vast spread of some 150 square miles of rolling hill and canyon country owned by Charles Schreiner III ("Write it Chas.," says Abbott), at 39 the youngest member of a wealthy Hill Country family whose interests include banking, business and philanthropy as well as ranching. Schreiner got into the exotic business by stocking a few black buck in 1953 as a hobby. The animals thrived, and by 1961, when he started hunting them on the same guaranteed pay-after-you-shoot basis that he offers whitetail and turkey hunters, Schreiner had added axis, sika and fallow deer, mouflons (which he calls "wild Corsican rams") and aoudads. The exotics—some 1,200 of them—are kept in fenced pastures that range from 600 to 3,000 acres.

"We only stock animals that can make it on their own in the wild," Schreiner says, "and we feed them only as a last resort during real bad weather." Many species are particularly susceptible to severe cold or prolonged periods of dampness. Last February a large part of the black buck herd was lost in the aftermath of a 10-inch snowstorm. But for the most part the exotics do well on the Y.O., and Schreiner and Charles R. Land, his wildlife biologist (Texas A&M), are constantly experimenting with new animals, which are kept under observation for 60 days in a quarantine pen before being released on the ranch. At present the Y.O. has a young Siberian ibex named Ivan (its father was an attraction at the Moscow Zoo), several oryx and nilgai (India's largest antelope) and some African eland. Schreiner hopes eventually to try such esoteric species as greater and lesser kudu, Grant's gazelle and impala, and he is currently trying to breed up a batch of solid black mouflon-type sheep that he hopes will appeal to hunters.

Biologist Land finds the whole thing fascinating. "You just can't go to a library and check out a book on how to raise Indian black buck antelope in a 1,000-acre pasture in Texas," he says. Land keeps copious notes on such phenomena as fawning cycles, number of offspring, antler and horn growth and stomach contents of all dead animals. "We are still feeling our way," he says, "but we do know that our exotics are completely compatible with the domestic cattle, goats and sheep and with the native game. And we are increasing the ranch's income and making the land pay for itself better."

When he is not towing a livestock trailer around the country collecting surplus exotics from zoos and game farms or dealing with other Texas ranchers, Land keeps busy at the Y.O. trapping animals and moving them to new pastures or into pens for study and treatment. Box traps and spring-triggered nets baited with corn seem to work well, and Land is experimenting with a tranquilizer gun. But his most important job is to please the hunter. "We keep track of the trophy-size animals in every pasture," Land says, "so we know just where to take a man for a good black buck. If he can't hit that one, there are others to try for. And if he plain gives up on a bouncing black buck or an axis in the thick brush, he can always settle for a Corsican ram [at the Y.O., the tough part about bagging a Corsican ram is to separate it from the herd long enough for the hunter to get a clear shot]. Rarely does anyone go away empty-handed."

The Y.O. does not just draw hunters who cannot afford to go to India or Africa. Says Abbott: "We git people who have been there. Last winter Prince Abdorreza Pahlavi of Iran came here and got himself a real nice eight-point sika. You know why? 'Cause he never was able to git one anywhere else. Then there was Mrs. Clark Sample of Longview, Texas, who hunted twice in India but never got within 1,000 yards of a black buck. Well, she got one here. You know how long it look her? One hour and live minutes, and that's counting the time it took her to sight in her rifle."

The fastest hunt for an exotic on record, however, took place several months ago, not at the Y.O., out at the Guajolote Ranch just northwest of San Antonio. The hunter was Astronaut Wally Schirra, and his trophy was a black buck. "It was more difficult than the rendezvous." Schirra said, which may have been overstating it a bit. Schirra and his fellow astronaut, Thomas Stafford, had to chase Gemini VII for almost six hours and 105,000 miles through space at 17,000 mph before the two spacecraft rendezvoused. The astronaut's chase of the antelope covered less than two miles in a jeep and took an hour.

The Guajolote Ranch is run by Frank Huntress, the former owner of the San Antonio Express and News, a radio station and a television station. Huntress has 1,100 acres under fence, and he caters to "the big boys"—businessmen and company executives who come primarily from Houston and Dallas. "These men like their comfort," says Huntress, "and I give it to them, deluxe. Every bed in our lodge has a box spring and every room has its own bath with pink, lime or baby blue tiles." The Guajolote also has a paneled dining room, a private bar, ping-pong, bumper pool and an electric player piano.

The hunting is equally deluxe. Bulldozed roads wind through the brush, and hunters ride around in radio-equipped trucks and jeeps looking for black buck and axis and sika deer. Those who prefer to bag an aoudad or a mouflon shoot from baited blinds. "It's all very scientific," Huntress admits, "I put all my exotics in a 100-acre trap so they can get orientated before we turn 'em loose. You have to supplant what nature has provided, so we feed the animals about 3,500 pounds of corn and milo every week, and we also throw in pellets for extra nutritive value."

Huntress' blinds are made of sheet tin and arc fitted with wooden benches, sliding glass shooting ports and telephones connected to the main lodge. Too spartan? Well, there is the Brigitte Bardot Blind, which features a television set ("You keep the sound down low so you don't spook the game"), an icebox stocked with beer and soft drinks, electric outlets for heater, hot plate and coffee percolator and pink-and-blue curtains. And there is a life-size photograph of BB (yea!) to which Huntress has pinned a red cloth bikini (boo!). Some hunters have been known to unpin the bikini—Huntress can tell by the number of extra pin holes.

"It's just a conversation piece," Huntress admits with a chuckle. "But, you know, it's just as good as our other blinds. It's got oats planted nearby to bring the game in. and, of course, there's a feeder, too." Not just an ordinary old feed trough. No, sir. It is a motor-driven affair with a timing mechanism programmed to throw out corn and milo in a 20-foot circle every six hours. There are six feeders in all, each one strategically located 60 feet or so in front of the blinds, and they work on the game just like alarm clocks. "Those animals come a-runnin' when the feed goes out," says Huntress. "Man, it's just like a durn zoo around the blinds at dawn and towards evening. Works out real well for the hunters, too. We've pretty much cleared away the brush around the feeders so you can just poke your rifle out the window and let fly. Naturally, we shoot only good trophies and let the smaller animals alone. When a guy pays $275 for an axis [and $30 a day to stay in the lodge], he don't want no little ol' bitty animal."

In Texas, at least, the success enjoyed so far by the Y.O., the Guajolote and several smaller preserves open to the public has encouraged more ranchers to get in on the act every year. Experiments are now being conducted with exotics like eland and impala on the drought-plagued semiarid rangelands of south central Texas and Mexico. The idea is that the exotics will do better than cattle and native game in producing high-quality meat and will provide far superior hunting. Carroll Abbott carries the idea further. "I kin see the day coming," he says, "when the Y.O. will be exclusively a hunting ranch. No livestock, just game animals. Oh, we'll keep a few longhorns and some goats and sheep in pens just to show people what it used to be like."

Maybe. But not all of the country's hunters will soon be gone, gone to pot-shoot. There will still be many who will hold out as long as there is any game left outside the fences. Says one such hunter who has shot at several Texas preserves: "It's like going to a trout farm where you hook tame fish out of a pool. You catch fish, but it's not fishing."

PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)