Hunting Blackbuck and Axis Deer on the Texas Range
by Larry Waishuhn, host of DSC’s “Trailing the Hunter’s Moon”
“Ruger Number 1 in .300 H&H Magnum using Hornady’s 180 grain InterBond ammo.”
“Blackbuck antelope and possibly Axis deer if I run in to an old buck with extremely long main beams. The property Blake Barnett and I are hunting is low fence, and based on what our friend who invited us to come hunt with him has told us, there’s no telling what we might encounter,” I responded, picking up the Ruger single-shot and what was left of the box of Hornady ammo. I had just sighted in my .300 H&H Mag at 50 yards in anticipation of relatively close range shooting where we’d be hunting. But I also knew sighted in at 50 yards I had a “hunter zero” out to nearly 200 yards, where the bullet would not rise above or fall below 3-inches of a straight line. I had proved it before leaving one of the SAAM ranges at the FTW Ranch. So sighted in, I did not have to worry about “cranking up” the turret on my Zeiss Conquest scope, unless shooting beyond 200 yards. If that became the case, there would likely be plenty of time to consult the range card Tim Fallon had made for me, and make the proper sighting adjustments. Out to 200 yards I could hold dead on and know I could place my bullet easily within a blackbuck or Axis deer’s vitals.
As I was packing up my gear, one of the SAAM clients asked another question. “Don’t you think a .300 H&H Mag is a bit large for blackbuck antelope? You know they only weight about eighty or so pounds!”
I smiled, “I dearly love the older calibers, especially those a bit on the big side. And I don’t believe there is such a thing as ‘over-kill.’ On top of everything else, I thought it might be fun to hunt blackbuck antelope, and possibly Axis deer, with my Ruger single-shot in a caliber that some of the earlier hunters, who journeyed to India from Great Britain, might have used!”
It has been many years since I was introduced to Axis deer and blackbuck antelope, back when I was a senior at Texas A&M University working with Texas’ Wildlife Disease Project. Part of my duties were to do necropsies on animals taken for research purposes. At the time, the Kleberg Foundation had just started doing research on introduced species such as blackbuck antelope, Axis deer, sambar deer, and nilgai, all of which initially were introduced to Texas from India back in the early 1900’s.
Reviewing some of the early journals written by Englishmen who spent time in India “in service of the Queen” told of seeing huge, almost unending herds of blackbucks upon the various Indian plains, not unlike the herds of bison in North America. Unfortunately, increasing human populations brought about changes in land practices, destroying the blackbuck’s food supplies, so their numbers dwindled throughout the last half of the 20th century. Soon there were more blackbuck antelope on private ranches in Texas than in all of India! Today, outside of possibly museum permits, blackbuck can no longer be hunted in their native lands. Thanks to those Texas ranches, there have been numerous shipments of blackbuck antelope back to their native lands. Will those re-introductions accomplish anything? Time will tell…but human populations continue to greatly increase as do sacred cow numbers.
During the blackbuck’s breeding seasons, mature males (those three-years old and older) undergo a complete change in coloration to basically black and brilliant white. Once the breeding season is over, they in most instances revert to the coloration of immature males. The brilliant white remains but where there was black, there is a now a mixture of dark browns, tans, and almost copper. I prefer their summer or non-breeding season pelage because of the different colors.
“We’ve been seeing a couple of really nice, older blackbuck rams just north of camp in the savannas just below the hills,” spoke David Frick with the Dos Rios Ranch, as he was serving up ribeye steaks and grilled corn on the cob. “If you see one of them, you might consider shooting!”
I nodded. It had been years since I had taken a blackbuck and I had never had one mounted. If I were so fortunate to see and take a blackbuck, I intended to send it to The Wildlife Gallery and ask them to do their taxidermy magic.
For a couple of days, I hunted my way through where the blackbuck reportedly lived, headed to the hills looking for a mature, long main-beamed Axis buck. The Axis deer’s primary breeding season was just starting to get serious. Blake and I had heard the bucks’ “roars” many times early and late, as well as occasionally during mid-day. Just as with blackbuck, it had been years since I had had an opportunity to hunt Axis deer, even though they are plentiful throughout the lower Texas Hill Country – which is essentially at my back door. They, like other introduced “exotics,” can be hunted year round, no bag limit. You only require a valid hunting license and permission from the landowner upon whose land they reside to hunt and take them. This equates to either leasing hunting rights on land or, as in Blake’s and my instance, we were invited by Jeff Smithers to hunt his Dos Rios Ranch. Unfortunately, at the last moment, Jeff, a hunter who loves hunting Africa as much as Blake and I do, could not make it to the ranch as we all had planned.
I hunted hard for Axis and saw one “almost” buck. But he appeared to be merely a three-year old. One of his main beams was broken just above his caudal point. He was in extremely good “flesh,” thanks to fortuitous rainfall and excellent range conditions, but also thanks to the supplemental feeding program employed by the ranch. The critters living on Dos Rios never hunger!
It rained numerous times while we were on the Dos Rios. Once again I came to appreciate the extremely fine hunting garments produced by Drake Waterfowl, especially their rain gear, which truly is “rain proof.”
Before our hunt officially started, I set up my Nature Blinds Stalking Shield as the basis for a ground blind. That was why I didn’t have it with me when, on our way back to camp, we spotted a blackbuck ram. We found him while Blake and I glassed the savanna for rutting Axis deer. The blackbuck was about 350 yards distant. He was feeding in a small opening. Quickly, Blake and I glassed and determined we could take advantage of cedars and oaks to cut the distance to less than a hundred yards. Thankfully too, the wind was blowing from my quarry to us.
It took several minutes of careful maneuvering, occasionally losing sight of the blackbuck, to get into a position to shoot. When we did, I set up my shooting sticks, kneeled down so our cameraman for our “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” show Dustin Blankenship, could record everything. When I got the go ahead from Dustin that he had all he needed, I slid the Number 1’s tang safety to fire. The crosshairs settled on the blackbuck’s vitals. I exhaled and steadied the crosshairs, then squeezed, squeezed, squeezed the trigger just as I had learned through SAAM marksmanship training, on the FTW Ranch, less than two miles south of where I hunted.
At the shot, the blackbuck simply fell to the ground.
After photos and finishing all things necessary for an episode of “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon,” we loaded the blackbuck into our vehicle and headed to camp to show him to David, and get him in the cooler to protect not only his cape, but particularly his most delicious venison!
That night there was a bit of celebrating around the campfire. The morrow would bring more adventures while Blake hunted roaring Axis deer. But as the old cliché states, “There in lies another tale, best kept for another campfire!”
DSC’s TRAILING THE HUNTER’S MOON appears on The Sportsman Channel, the prime airing time being Sunday nights at 9:30 pm central. To learn more about the year around series and more of Larry’s writings, please visit www.trailingthehuntersmoon.com or visit the Facebook page DSCs Trailing the Hunters Moon.