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Where The Deer And The Greater Kudu Play

Sept. 08, 1986
Sept. 08, 1986

Table of Contents
Sept. 8, 1986

Surfing
Mike Shula
MVPS
Sugar Ray
College Football
Golf
Texotics
Television
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Where The Deer And The Greater Kudu Play

The Hill Country of Texas has become home to so many species of exotic wildlife that they've come to be known as Texotics

By Robert F. Jones

Strange things are happening in Texas. You might almost say it's a zoo down there.

This is an article from the Sept. 8, 1986 issue Original Layout

•In the mesquite thickets of the Hill Country in the central part of the state, a cowpoke rides out to feed the stock—not Santa Gertrudis or Hereford steers but beisa oryx, rapier-horned antelope fierce enough to kill lions and men in their native sub-Saharan Africa.

•Among the live oak groves nearby, a surly Texas longhorn looks menacingly at a dark sika deer from Japan as they contest a mouthful of alfalfa. European fallow deer, the bucks with wide palmated antlers, stand by nervously, hoping to snatch a bite for themselves.

•On a game plain as stark as any in South Africa, bristly-snouted white-tailed gnus gallop insanely by a flock of Armenian red sheep, while in the foreground an aoudad from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco bullies its way past a pair of hungry blue-legged ostriches to nip a handful of corn from the front seat of a battered ranch truck. Awaiting its turn, is a timid young Nile lechwe from the famine-stricken Sudan.

•In the dense cedar woods along the headwaters of the Nueces River, a gawky nilgai from India emerges from cover to head for a feeding station; beyond it come wild Rio Grande turkeys, European mouflon sheep, Indian blackbuck and American white-tailed deer. Nearby, a young African eland grazes. At the click of a camera shutter, the nilgai flees, muscles bulging huge beneath the gunmetal blue of its hide. The others follow their sentinel, and soon only wet, dark eyes peer from the shrubbery—American, Asian, African, European, all equally wild, equally hungry and now equally Texan.

What's going on here? Well, it's the Invasion of the Exotics—or "Texotics," as some Lone Star chauvinists would have it. They're the five dozen species of non-native animals, many of them threatened or endangered in their homelands, that now share a home on the range with the deer and the antelope. Since 1930, when the enormous King Ranch in South Texas began importing nilgai, 370 Texas ranches—most of them in the Hill Country—have added exotics to the mix of beef cattle, horses, sheep and goats that are the traditional mainstays of the state's herding economy. Today, as the cattle market buckles under the sledge blows of high feed prices and a national dietary shift away from red meat, game ranching can, for some ranchers, spell the difference between marginal success and a foreclosed mortgage.

"If we ran only domestic stock on our 50,000 acres," says Harvey Goff, wildlife manager of the 106-year-old YO Ranch 100 miles north of San Antonio, "we'd realize six or seven dollars an acre. With exotics added to our beef, horses, sheep and Angora goats, we earn 10 dollars."

At the YO and several other ranches where exotics are raised, hunters from all over the world come to shoot trophy specimens—usually aging males past their prime as breeding stock. They pay Texas-sized fees for the privilege, but it would cost much more to hunt these animals on their native grounds. An aoudad, for example, can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,500 on a Hill Country ranch; in East Africa, expect to shell out $20,000 to $30,000, with no guarantee of finding a shootable animal. Blackbuck, once common on the Indian plains during the Raj, are now threatened or gone throughout much of the subcontinent. In fact, the YO is sending excess breeders to Pakistan in hopes of regenerating the species in its homeland. At the YO, a good black-buck is tagged at $ 1,000 plus guide fees of $150 a day per person. Air fare alone to Islamabad from New York costs $1,135.

What's more, the hunt for these critters can be every bit as challenging as anything a nimrod might face on the dusty, hot plains near Meerut. Indeed, by squinting the eyes just a bit, it's easy to turn the Texas Hill Country into East Africa, India, Persia or even the arid sheep mountains of Central Asia. Certainly the animals themselves, after, in many cases, dozens of generations roaming free on the Texas hills, feel wildly at home there.

A 1984 census of exotics conducted by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife showed 120,201 non-native game animals in the Lone Star State, representing 59 species. By contrast, the state's herd of native white-tailed deer numbers about 3.7 million—largest in the nation and by some estimates fully a fifth of all the whitetails in the world. But whitetails, like all native Texas game, can be hunted only during the two-month season decreed by the state. Exotics are considered private property—like livestock—and can be hunted at any time.

But not all Texotics are there to be hunted. Many ranchers take pride in providing new habitats for species threatened with oblivion on their native grounds. Experiments are under way with the African rhinoceros, whose extinction is imminent because of heavy poaching (an 18-inch rhino horn can bring up to $30,000 from the aphrodisiac industry in Asia or entrepreneurs in Yemen who use them for dagger handles). But rhinos are fence busters—and ferocious to boot—so they must be kept penned. As a result, most of those imported to Texas have died. Greater success has been achieved with the Père David's deer, a swamp-dweller about the size of a small American elk. Père David's deer had died out in its native China, but zoo specimens in England kept the gene pool alive, and now the species thrives on half a dozen Texas ranches. Other creatures on the brink of extinction that have a second chance in these surroundings include the scimitar-horned oryx (from war-torn Chad), the addax (from the Sahara), Indian barasingha deer, Persian gazelles and red sheep, Nile lechwe and the mountain nyala from Ethiopia. In fact, only six of the Texotics species are hunted regularly for profit. Most abundant and therefore the most popular quarry is the axis deer of India and Sri Lanka. Slightly bigger than most whitetails, it has a beautifully spotted russet coat and three-pronged antlers that can sweep to nearly three feet in length. There were 38,035 axis deer by the last count—nearly a third of the Texotics total. Blackbuck, 18,789 of them, are next most abundant, followed by 15,394 nilgai (rarely hunted because of their small horns). Aoudad (14,651), fallow deer (10,507) and sika (7,956) round out the top six. The remaining 14,869 animals—called "superexotics" by the ranchers—comprise fully 53 species, including everything from the endangered black rhino to small but spectacular herds of giraffe.

Nobody shoots giraffes anymore, not even in Texas. Yet you can find a head mount of a bull giraffe in the showroom of Woodbury's studio in Ingram, Texas, which does most of the taxidermy work for the YO. Jimmy Dieringer, 29, the protègè of a legendary taxidermist and sculptor named Lloyd Woodbury, explains that 10 giraffes owned by Texas A & M died of the cold three winters ago on the Mecom Ranch in South Texas, where they were being held pending the construction of the $1.5 million Wildlife and Exotic Animal Center to be associated with the university's College of Veterinary Medicine. Dieringer and Woodbury raced to the Mecom Ranch as fast as they could, but managed to salvage only giraffe skin. Yet the mount they produced, which dominates their elegant studio, is a masterwork of the taxidermist's art.

As might be anticipated, the Texotics phenomenon has bred almost as many opponents as the animals it has saved. Some ecologists argue that any tampering with nature is anathema. They point to the introduction of starlings, house sparrows, carp and rats to North America as examples of the import taking over the habitat of native species.

Texas parks and wildlife biologists fear that such exotics as axis deer and aoudad will ultimately out-compete native deer for forage and perhaps damage rangeland used by cattle, sheep and goats. Biologists William E. Armstrong and Donnie E. Harmel fenced six sika and six whitetails on 96 acres in the Hill Country's Kerr Wildlife Management Area. In another 96-acre pasture were six whitetails with no competition. After nine years, there were 62 sika in the first pasture but no whitetails at all. In the other pasture, the original six whitetails had increased to 14.

"Our range could be in a lot of trouble," says Armstrong. "We need to go in there and correct the situation. The exotics are here. They're a fact of life. There is no reason we cannot have axis or sika, but we cannot have them in the numbers people want. Landowners will have to make a conscious decision about how many of each animal they will have."

Many of the earlier introductions—from Chinese ring-necked pheasant, Eurasian chukar partridge and their Hungarian cousins to German brown trout—have benefited both the economy and quality of American life. But until the introduction of Texotics half a century ago and their rapid escalation in the past decade, few mammalian imports had been tried. (The European or "Russian" boar was one that took.) Today, in Texas at least, the exotics have established a hoof-hold unique in North America. To get a feeling for what they mean—or might bode for the future—photographer Bill Eppridge and I spent 2½ weeks hunting and photographing Texotics on a variety of Hill Country ranches. This is what we saw and felt.

Buttery's Ranch, better known as the Bar-O, near Llano in the northern reaches of the Hill Country, is a rugged sprawl of cactus-spiked plains and granite outcroppings cut through with sand rivers reminiscent of East Africa. Oaks and mesquite stud the plains like Texas versions of African baobab and acacia trees and conceal herds of game far spookier than anything Eppridge or I had seen in our African travels. Apart from the small-bodied but big-antlered white-tails that flag from every thicket, there are aoudad, axis, sika and fallow deer along with the animal I particularly wanted to hunt—mouflon sheep. The mouflon, originally from the islands of Corsica and Sardinia but now established throughout central and southern Europe, is among the smallest of the world's wild sheep. But like most of its cousins, it is fast, wily and as keen-sighted as a man with 10-power binoculars, and it prefers to hang out in rugged, ankle-busting country.

We chose to begin our Texas safari at the Bar-O because of the presence there of Finn Aagaard. Aagaard, 54, is a former white hunter and outfitter from Kenya, where I've made five safaris and Eppridge, two. Hard of hearing because of years of proximity to big-bore gunfire, Aagaard left Kenya with his family (wife Berit, sons Erik, 16, Harald, 14, and daughter Marit, 10) after a ban on hunting went into effect there nine years ago. Kenya-born, of Norwegian parents, he had grown up on a plantation near Nairobi, in what used to be magnificent game country. "Texas isn't quite the same," he says laconically, "but then nothing is. Not even Kenya today."

The Aagaards live in an echoing, 100-year-old "dog trot" ranch house—the architectural style, typical of the Hill Country, takes its name from the long center hallway dividing living and sleeping quarters—surrounded by a wire fence festooned with age-whitened antlers. A long, dark trophy hall is hung with horns and hides, some of them from Aagaard's safari days in Kenya. The skull of a cattle-killing lion Aagaard shot on his father's land rests on the mantel below the gleaming, black 42-inch horns of a Cape buffalo. "Not especially big," he admits, "but I took it entirely on my own. No trackers, no skinners, no help at all. I'm rather proud of it, I suppose."

That, of course, is the rub in guided hunts. A guide or professional hunter takes care of the best part of the hunt: learning the country, locating the good animals, taking you to where they might be found and telling you if the one in your binoculars is worth stalking. In Texas they call such an animal a "shooter."

The stalk is usually directed by the guide as well, since he knows the country and the animal's habits—the vagaries of wind and cover, the prey's relative "spookiness" or what biolgists call its "flight distance." That leaves the client with only the killing part—the shot and the inevitable letdown from the tension of the stalk once that shot is made, successful or not. Aagaard allows only "fair chase" hunting on his territory—no blasting critters from the open windows of trucks, as too many "road hunters" do.

As we rolled out on our first morning, driving to the rocky ridges where we would begin our hunt, it was clear that the Bar-O's animals were far too spooky to permit road hunting anyway. Deer bounded away at the sight of the truck. The ranch straddles the center of the Llano Uplift, an ancient extrusion of granite in the otherwise limestone-footed Hill Country. Ridges of pink and gray rock, eroded into strange shapes by wind and weather, rose eerily over the scrub and mesquite. Near the base of one such outcropping we saw tan shapes bound away through the rocks. "Aoudad," said Aagaard. "Let's walk."

Climb was a better word for it. All morning we worked our way up, over and around a series of ridges that seemed built of giant atrophied gumdrops—huge boulders colored red, green, lilac and yellow by various forms of lichen. Ahead of us moved what Aagaard estimated to be from 70 to 100 aoudad, mainly ewes and lambs but with a sprinkling of young rams. Strange animals they are, with back-curving horns, long throat beards, "chaps" of long hair on their feet, amber eyes with the horizontally-slotted pupils common to members of the sheep family. They all looked exactly alike regardless of age or sex. "How do you tell a good ram from a mediocre one?" I asked as we took a short break.

"Experience," Aagaard said. "That's why you need a guide. Actually, the big rams are a bit darker than the ewes and the young'uns. But it's hard to tell."

That morning I learned that aoudads—unique to the rocky slopes of the northern Sahara mountain ranges, from Morocco clear across to Eritrea on the Red Sea—are as spooky as any game in the world. The moment they see, smell or hear something new, they head for the rocks. But they don't necessarily stop when they get there, sometimes continuing for five miles or more from their starting point. Fast and surefooted, they pay little heed to cattle fences, sliding under them at full speed like base runners hitting second. Aagaard says that even the eight-foot wire-mesh game fences, built at a cost of $10,000 a mile on many Texotic ranches, cannot hold aoudad. "They don't jump them; they tunnel under," he says. "Damned clever, the old Barbary sheep."

The following day, cold and rainy, we managed to stalk within shooting range of three good-sized rams. But Aagaard hadn't seen them as we came up toward the live oak they huddled under for shelter, and he couldn't hear my worried whisper of warning. When he raised his head a bit too high over the brush we were using for cover, the sheep upped their tails and bucketed madly off. Later, Eppridge stalked to within 100 yards of a sizable band of ewes and young rams, using the sun at his back to dazzle them as he shot pictures. Aoudad do not hear as acutely as they see or smell, but even at that they started at every click of Eppridge's shutter. So we learned it was possible to hunt close enough on foot to shoot aoudad either with gun or camera, but the stalking had been every bit as tricky as anything I'd experienced in Africa.

We had seen mouflon from time to time during our long stalks, but none of them a shooter. Late one afternoon we spotted a family group—two ewes and a gang of wobbly-legged newborn lambs—led by a ram I rather liked. He had deeply ridged three-quarter-curl horns that glowed amber in the late light and a dark pelt with a pronounced white "saddle." But Aagaard said his horns were "too tight"—too closedly curled to the skull to measure a respectable length. So we passed him up.

Finally, one evening as the light paled to pinks and yellows near Watch Mountain, we spotted a bachelor band of mouflon—five adult rams working their way down a brush-choked draw. "There's a good one," Aagaard said, glassing them. I saw him, too—his horns much longer than the others, flaring outward at the tips, heavy at their bases. We crouched and worked our way down the edge of the draw, the sheep sensing us, bunching up as they drifted away. Belly down in the cactus behind a rocky ledge, we looked them over again.

"O.K.," Aagaard whispered. "Crawl over to that persimmon tree—use it for a rest—and wait for him to open up." It was getting dark fast. I crawled, raised the rifle, kneeling on one knee, and sighted. The five rams were all in a row, my ram smack in the middle, his body protected by those of the younger bachelors. I waited. It grew darker still. The rams shifted, uneasy, looking up at us, ears twitching, heads turning, arcs of yellow horn in the fading light. Then—after what felt like 20 but was actually only four minutes—the two sheep ahead of my ram moved off to either side. The big ram turned sideways, 100 yards away, watching. I held the cross hairs on his shoulder, over the heart, and made a fist with my trigger hand.

"He's down," Aagaard said as the roar of the 7-mm magnum echoed out through the rocks. "He got up and ran off, but he's finished. Unless you break the backbone, they always run." We found him 50 yards farther on, his fine horns still holding the last of the evening light. The hunt had been too easy. It was almost as if Aagaard had put us on a kind of "fair chase" trip odometer, walking us through miles of gorgeous scenery, allowing us to make intimate acquaintance with the thorns and hills, the flighty habits of the wildlife, then at the last moment taking us directly to where he knew, all along, the animal we wanted would be. Of course, this is what good guides everywhere do for their clients, even in Africa. But in Africa, especially if you're hunting something that, as Hemingway put it, "runs both ways"—a Cape buffalo, a lion or an elephant—there is a special tingle in the stalk. A clarity of eye and touch and taste and feeling that elevates hunting from the mere shooting of something wild to a kind of minor sacrament. Or at least a sacrilege payable at some price short of hell. I would find that tingle lacking in Texotic hunts.

Ironically, just before we got to the Bar-O, Finn and Berit had gone down to San Antonio to visit a friend of theirs, a professional hunter from Botswana named Lindstrom, who had been mauled on safari by a lion near the Okovango Marshes. The lion, already wounded by a client's bullet, had chewed away Lindstrom's biceps on his right arm, along with big chunks of his forearm and shoulder muscles. The doctors in San Antonio had, at his request, fused the damaged arm into a position that would permit him to mount a rifle once again. Fortunately, Lindstrom is lefthanded.

"There's an old Texas saying," drawls Harvey Goff. "It's easier to pick a tourist than a bale of cotton." He lofts a squirt of tobacco juice into the weighted spittoon on the dashboard of his "office"—a battered Chevy half-ton the color of masticated Red Man—and squints at the passing countryside. Goff has been the wildlife manager of the YO Ranch for the past 16 years and is thus the man in charge of providing shooters for the ranch's hunting clients. But his comment is less cynical than it sounds.

Back in 1900, the YO totaled 550,000 acres. Today it's gone down to 50,000, and only by combining a hunting program with traditional stock raising, can it survive. There is virtually no oil in the Hill Country.

In the 1950s the YO began its exotic ranching, under the leadership of Charles Schreiner III—or "Three" as he's more familiarly known. The grandson of the Alsatian immigrant who founded the ranch in 1880, he is a stocky, round-faced man with a grizzled mustache who looks like a hammered-down Hemingway. Three wears a weathered white Stetson, collects Colt pistols and knows more Texas history than most university professors. His gun collection and library—secured behind an ancient Wells Fargo vault door—occupy a wing of the big stone house that sits on a knoll above a plain teeming with game. A Gatling gun dominates the center of the room. During the Bicentennial 10 years ago, Three got hold of some clips loaded with Gatling .45-70 blanks. He wheeled the ancient weapon out onto the patio and cut loose with a few clattering bursts in celebration of America. The game below hardly looked up.

Only 6,000 of the YO's acres—less than 10 square miles of the ranch's 80—are devoted to exotics. These are under "high fence," i.e., barriers tall and strong enough to contain wild game. The fences cordon off "pastures" ranging in size from 300 to 3,000 acres. Most of the 6,000 exotics on the ranch are now many generations removed from their zoo-stock progenitors and thus every bit as wild as any in nature. Only 5% of these "naturals" are killed by hunters each year.

Our guide on the YO was Jim Murff, 40, a lanky cowpoke with the slow, sly wit of Owen Wister's Virginian. Munching ice cubes from a Styrofoam cup, Murff (no one uses his first name) showed us the sights. There was Sammy, an aoudad, who climbed into Murff's lap for a handout of corn; Watusi, a huge red and white Ankole bull from Central Africa with horns three times as thick as a longhorn's but with as big a span; a herd of Livingstone's eland, bigger than most beef cattle but capable of jumping a game fence if spooked. Then there was Redneck. "Just keep your hands inside the truck," Murff warned. "This bastard bites."

Redneck is a mature male Masai ostrich as fierce as the warrior tribe he's named for. No sooner had we entered the pasture where he lives with a flock of South American rheas and Australian emus (along with zebras, giraffes, beisa oryx and other mammals) than Redneck charged the truck, pecking viciously at the side mirrors and Murff's hand, which was full of corn. At one point, Redneck pecked a dent into Eppridge's 300-mm lens, then kicked the truck with a resounding whump that left a deep, foot-long crease. "Put a helmet and pads on that rascal and he'd be the new Ray Guy," said Murff. "They can kill you with a kick." Getting out of the truck to open the gate so that we could leave the pasture was a tactical problem solved only by luring Redneck far away with more corn, rushing out to open the gate, then driving through it like A.J. Foyt. As we slammed the gate behind us, the big ostrich was charging with blood in its eye. "I'd like to be the one who shoots that bastard when the time comes," Murff said. "But there's a waiting list. And ol' Three's at the head of it."

We followed a truck driven by a hand named Fibber McGehee. Fibber was tranquilizer-darting small whitetail spike bucks for transfer to another pasture. Usually exotics ranchers resort to tranquilizer darts only after other methods fail, preferring to lure animals they want to move into new pastures with feed or trapping them under big drop nets. Dosages must be delicately measured for high-strung game and a milligram too much succinylcholine chloride can kill. But McGehee has darted some 6,000 deer and antelope in his 15 years on the YO and lost only 50, Golf later told us.

At the far end of a pasture known as the North 640, we spotted a mixed herd of fallow and axis deer along with three big blackbuck rams. "There's one of them we've been wanting to shoot for a long time now," Murff said. "A bachelor blackbuck, not a breeder. But ever' time we're fixin' to shoot, he spooks. Now I know you said you wanted a blackbuck, and I know you've been in Africa and like to stalk. You want to try him?"

We parked in cedar cover—actually, what is called cedar in the Hill Country is a form of juniper—half a mile from the feeding bucks. The country was not as hilly as the land we had hunted with Aagaard, but every bit as spiky. The limestone rock underfoot was loose, loud and everywhere. About 300 yards from the herd we went from a cautious crouch to an agonized crawl. It took nearly an hour to get within 200 yards, bellying on elbows and knees over sharp rocks and cactus spines all the way. At one point, with the herd's outliers watching closely, we had to move across a 15-yard patch of open ground. Two of the watchers walked off, but the rest didn't spook. As we came down into a stand of young live oak, a flock of wild turkeys suddenly appeared in a dry wash to our right, about 50 yards away. We froze. They didn't see us but passed along into the feeding herd, inadvertently reassuring the nervous bucks that all was well. I found a convenient six-inch stump for a shooting rest and sighted in on the animal we had chosen. He moved off to the left, but not fast. Then he turned, watched us and headed back to the herd. When he stopped I held on his shoulder, a third of the way up from the bottom of his chest, exhaled slowly, squeezed....

The horns measured 20½ inches in a straight line, three inches longer around their four corkskrew twists. The stalk had been a good one. Clearly Murff knew his business. But it would be days before we picked out the last of the cactus needles.

That was killing enough for this safari. Our final stop was the Auerhahn Ranch, a 1,700-acre spread of hilly parkland near Boerne, just north of San Antonio. It's owned by Bob and Betty Kelso. He's a retired lieutenant colonel of armor cavalry, she's president of the Exotic Wildlife Association, a nationwide group that is trying to impose order on the burgeoning exotics business. The ranch is named for the German version of the capercaillie, the largest of the Eurasian grouse, although the Kelsos have more than 70 species of exotic birds on the ranch.

Ranch foreman Ronnie Shackleford, 35, is a shambling, wide-grinning transplant from Oklahoma who sounds and even looks like a younger, bearded Slim Pickens. We toured the ranch for two days in his pickup. In one pasture were four greater kudu, one a magnificent bull with spiral horns in excess of 50 inches. In another were five sable antelope, tall, powerful animals with rich, almost black coats marked with ivory white. One is a pettable three-year-old cow named Suzy, but the bull, kept separate from his congeners except for the presence of a submissive mate, is another story. "That guy's a killer," said Shackleford. "Last year we put a young bull in with him, his son actually. He drove a horn clear through his chest. We found the young-'un stiff in the pasture next mornin'." I looked at the back-sweeping horns. The sable stared back, narrow-eyed, waiting. It put me in mind of a story Goff told at the YO. A hand on another Hill Country ranch a few years ago went out to feed the herd of beisa oryx. He didn't come back. Two days later, they found him dead, still on the horns of the oryx cow that had killed him.

Both Goff and Shackleford feel it's downright stupid, if not indeed fatal, to treat these exotics like gentle spinoffs from The Wild Kingdom. "I wish television would do a special on how cruel nature can be," Betty Kelso says. "They should show what it's like when a flock of wild ducks turns on one of its weaker members and pecks it to death. Nature is marvelous—powerful, complex, magnificent as the planet itself—but it's not all sweetness and light."

The pride of the Auerhahn is its herd of 13 Père David's deer. Betty Kelso acquired the nucleus of the herd from a Missouri rancher in 1982 after he had been unable to get them to reproduce. She learned that the stags—two of them—had been kept separate from the eight hinds, putting only one in with them during the rut. She gambled and put them all in together. It paid off. The stags battled mightily during the rut, and the competition turned on the winner's reproductive urge. Roaring and rutting for two weeks straight (during which he lost 100 pounds), the "harem master" who had won the initial battle finally wore himself out. Then the loser took over for another two weeks. This went on for six weeks straight and fawns were soon on the way. The deer are doing so well that the Kelsos have volunteered under the aegis of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources to help reintroduce Père David's deer to China.

For good or ill, the Texotics invasion is here to stay. Just how far it expands remains for the ranchers and wildlife biologists—hopefully in concert—to decide. But there is certainly something splendid, almost magical, about the juxtaposition of these odd, elegant creatures with the Texas landscape. Leaving the Hill Country—reluctantly—I thought suddenly of Finn Aagaard's 10-year-old daughter, Marit. Born in Kenya, now learning to talk with a Texas drawl, living in the midst of animals most Americans have never even heard of, she dreams not of aoudad or axis, nilgai or nyala but of—unicorns. She draws them, collects them in the form of stuffed toys, charms, even a snowfall paperweight with a unicorn inside, given her by one of her dad's hunting clients. The desire for the exotic lies deep in all of us.

As we prepared to leave Texas, Eppridge and I stopped at a store in Fredericksburg and bought Marit a farewell gift: a tiny white china unicorn with a golden horn.

PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEPHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEGit along, little beisa oryx, says the lariat-wielding Murff on the 50,000-acre YO.PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEPère David's deer (in velvet)PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGERussian turPHOTOBILL EPPRIDGESable antelopePHOTOBILL EPPRIDGENile lechwePHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEAlthough larger than most beef cattle, the eland can jump a game fence when spooked.PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEJones and Aagaard stalked mouflon sheep amid the granite "gumdrops" on the Bar-O.PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEA nilgai antelope munches on feeding-station alfalfa.PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEMurff warily offers a handful of corn to Redneck, a Masai ostrich and one ornery critter.PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEAxis deer, the most abundant of the Texotics, are prized by hunters for the three-pronged antlers that can reach nearly three feet in length.PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEUnaware of the camera, an aoudad sheep catches some shut-eye amid mesquite and cedar.TWO PHOTOSBILL EPPRIDGEAagaard (above) lures a domestic creature. Three doesn't use his Gatling for hunting.PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEThe old and new denizens of Texas: While longhorn cattle teed, a daring sika deer from Japan tries to horn in for a bite of alfalfa.