January marks the end of hunting seasons across most of the country, with some ending at the first of the month, some at the end. Bowhunters are often at a loss when they realize they’re face a long offseason, wishing they were in a tree stand. These hunters can take heart however, because there are many great opportunities available to them bowhunting for exotics, but particularly in the Hill Country of Texas.
During the 1930s, ranchers and landowners in Texas began stocking non-native, exotic game species such as black buck antelope, axis deer, fallow deer and Aoudad sheep. Initially confined to a few ranches, many animals escaped or crossed fences onto others, and many ranches traded or sold animals to each other. The result is that there are incredible opportunities to bowhunt for them across a large part of Texas.
Surprisingly, hunting for exotics can be reasonably priced. Because they are non-native, Texas classifies them as livestock and not game animals, which not only means you can hunt them year-round, but the non-resident exotic license is very reasonable, at only $48 for five days. Many hunting operations only charge a trophy fee if you harvest an animal, plus reasonable rates for food and lodging. When compared to the average cost for a deer hunt, a hunt for exotics is a bargain.
Exotics were made for bowhunting. During the late winter and early spring, much of the native vegetation has died, so they come to feeders reliably, offering close-quarters shots. Because most originated in areas of the world where many large predators are common, they are extremely skittish, making them very difficult to draw on.
Unlike hunting deer, there are many different species of exotic game, and you have to learn the habits of each species to hunt them effectively. For example, black buck antelope spring upward at the shot, so if you hold low on them as you would for whitetail, you will shoot below them. You also have to learn how to judge trophy quality and age. You just never know what type will show up around your stand. I’ve had as many as five different species in front of me at one time.
Another great thing about hunting for exotics is that they make delicious table fare. I love to eat whitetail deer, but axis deer or fallow deer meat is far-better tasting and usually more tender; they remind me more of elk than deer on the table. You can often add a doe to your hunt for a minimum fee, and I promise you’ll enjoy it on the table. These animals typically are corn-fed, and that helps add to their great flavor. I have also had Aoudad sausage, and it was delicious as well.
The hardest thing about hunting in January and February is getting away from home after being gone all hunting season. Many times, your family time has been reduced during the long season that just passed. The great thing about the Texas Hill Country is you can bring your family along. Most places allow you to bring non-hunting guests for a reasonable lodging fee. Also, it’s not far from San Antonio and Fredericksburg, where there is plenty of shopping and dining, and historical sites like the Alamo to visit.
A combo trip where you spend three days hunting and a weekend in San Antonio is a great idea. The Hill Country was settled mostly by people of German descent, so there are lots of places that offer excellent beer and sausages, while San Antonio has a heavy Spanish influence.
The climate in January and February is awesome. Temperatures are typically chilly in the mornings, but warm up to a comfortable level during the day. It rarely rains at this time of year, and typically, you will have blue-bird skies.
With its pleasant climate, rich history and wealth of hunting opportunities for exotic game, the Texas Hill Country has tons to offer a bowhunter.
If you’ve never hunted exotics, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. One outfitter I have had great success with is West Kerr Ranch in Mountain Home, Texas (www.westkerrranch.com). I have always seen lots of game, have had excellent guides and been well fed.
Don’t let the post season blues get you down, get out and hunt some exotics now.