Mountain Home—As a youngster, I had a couple of scrapbooks full of photos cut out from hunting magazines that my father and I put together.
One of these shots was from a now defunct Texas publication and had a photo of a man posing with a gigantic bull elk. I mean a huge one.
“Dad, I didn’t know we had elk in Texas,” I said
“That’s at the YO Ranch. They have pretty much everything there,” he said.
Texas outdoors lovers know the YO Ranch for its exotic wildlife and Texas-sized mystique. To this day that image is burned into my mind and stirs my imagination of what lives beyond the ranch gates.
Steeped in history, the Y.O. Ranch remained the property of the Schreiner Family since 1880 when Captain Charles A. Schreiner began amassing the 566,000 acres of ranch land in the aftermath of the Civil War. In the 1950s they begin importing exotic animals from around the world and were the catalyst for what is now a thriving exotic hunting industry.
In October 2015, Byron and Sandra Sadler and their partners Lacy and Dorothy Harber purchased nearly 5,400 acres of the historical Y.O. Ranch and have named it “YO Ranch Headquarters”.
The Sadlers and Harbers are dedicated conservationists, members of Safari Club International, National Rifle Association, Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, Exotic Wildlife Association, as well as a myriad of other organizations serving and protecting the wildlife community.
A huge part of that conservation ethic can be seen in the hunting operation at the ranch. They manage a large population of whitetail deer and Rio Grande turkey and more than 30 species of exotic animals from around the world.
Species like the addax and scimitar-horned oryx are virtually extinct in their native lands due to poaching and habitat loss but have been preserved due to the actions of hunters and facilities like the YO Ranch Headquarters.
A journey through the cedar and live oak thickets on the ranch is unlike virtually any other on the planet. Back in February Me, my wife Lisa and daughter Faith saw eland, the world’s largest antelope, a herd of gorgeous red sheep and a trio of zebras on a tour of the ranch.
Sportsmen from around the world routinely take record class animals like the axis deer from India which are thriving on the property. In the past blackbuck antelope have been gathered from the ranch and shipped back to Pakistan where native numbers and depleted to endangered status.
The hunting on the ranch makes that possible because without there would be no funding to continue such efforts.
And while hunting is the main order of business, the ranch does wildlife tours as well as group tours and even weddings in the rustic but elegant cabins.
The highlight of our tour was my daughter realizing a lifelong dream.
Since she was two years old, giraffes have been Faith’s favorite animal.
It started when I bought her a gigantic plush giraffe on a road trip and she named it “raff raff” and has continued throughout the last seven years.
Seeing the majestic African natives walking through the lush Hill Country setting made us feel as if we were across the Atlantic. Their stunning beauty radiated in the morning light and reminded the awesomeness of Texas. You are not going to see this in New York or Iowa. This is uniquely Texas, with a little borrowed from Africa of course.
“The giraffes are just amazing. They thrill everyone who visits them here in one of two huge pastures where we take our wildlife tours,” said Debbie Hagebusch, Director of Tourism for YO Ranch Headquarters.
Faith was nervous when their gigantic tongue reached out to grab the cookie she held but soon had a huge smile on her face and was as she said, “a bit of an expert” on feeding the animal of her dreams in short order.
“We really have a lot to offer and it is in a part of the world that has a unique beauty. There is something special about walking outside of a cabin and looking out to the distance and seeing giraffes or Pere’ David’s deer and maybe get a glimpse of an eagle flying overhead,” Hagebusch said.
As we drove out the ranch, an unusual looking animal crossed the road. It was gigantic and looked like a bison but not quite.
Turns out it was a “Waffalo”, a hybrid of African Watusi cattle and an American bison that just sort of happened on the ranch. Bison have no qualms about breeding with cattle.
That is not something you see every day and those are the kinds of encounters one can expect while venturing onto this uniquely Texas ranch.
For more information on YO Ranch Headquarters go to www.yoranchheadquarters.com.
—story by Chester Moore