The Texas- Africa Connection has revitalized a world of exotic game animals
I first saw the big kudu while sitting in a blind, hunting other game. It was a huge old beast, though near its last days. It hobbled along like an old man with arthritis and bad feet.
I was later to discover that it had good reason to hobble. Its hooves, usually covered in hard shells of black keratin, were tattered and soft. The hard outer shell had broken away, leaving all four feet uncovered to the quick. Imagine trying to walk with the skin removed from the soles of your feet and you will begin to understand his plight. I can’t imagine how the old rascal managed to walk, at all. Each step must have been agony.
It was obvious that he was on his last legs. His backbone was sticking up several inches, his flanks were drawn, and his ribs were showing. He probably didn’t weigh 2/3 of what he had when he was in his prime. What had not suffered and shrunk were his beautiful, majestic, spiral-shaped horns. Just the tips were rubbed and jagged, missing a few inches of the ivory that had decorated his crown in his glory days.
My guide, the owner of the ranch, looked at the old kudu and said: “We really should shoot that one. If we don’t he’s going to die in the brush somewhere, and we’ll lose his horns. Do you want him? If you will take him and mount him, I’ll let you have him for nothing.”
I was shocked at the offer; Kudus are worth a lot of money. I thought about it, hard. The rifle I had with me—an old, but very nice Remington Model 722 in .300 Savage, shooting fairly soft 150-grain bullets—wasn’t really the medicine for such a large animal, even in such poor condition. But the range was short and I was confident that I could place the shot in the right spot. I finally decided to take the old animal, but by then the kudu had vanished back into the brush.
“Well,” said my guide, “maybe we’ll see him again in a day or two.”
Three days later I was back. This time I was armed with a custom-built Winchester Model 70 in the wildcat .30-338 Magnum, shooting 200-grain Nosler Partitions at nearly 3,000 feet per second. If the kudu showed up, I would have no doubts about my armament.
We sat and we waited, then we waited some more. The sun was just kissing the western horizon when I saw the tips of a pair of spiral horns above the brush. They moved and they stopped and they waved and moved again. It was torture to sit there, hoping it was the big kudu and hoping it would come out of the brush before the day ended. Finally it did. The range was long for the light we had left, close to 200 yards, but through the bright Trijicon scope I could see the kudu clearly.
I held the crosshairs a bit above the center of its chest, took my shooting breath, and began my trigger squeeze. The crosshairs were jumping with each beat of my heart, but they were on the spot when the trigger broke. At the shot the big bull dropped like he had been brained with an ax. I quickly chambered another round and put the crosshairs back on the still body, but it never moved. The 200-grain Partition had broken his back and exited, headed in the general direction of the sunset. His royal crown now decorates the wall of my den.
We were driving around the ranch, looking for nothing in particular, just taking in the sights. It was hot, rough, rocky, cactus-covered country, but with cool, blue mountains in the distance. I was sitting in the front seat while my buddy, Todd Tate, was riding in the higher shooting seat in the back of the Jeep.
We had just pulled up to a broken-down barbed wire fence where the road ended and a foot trail began. We intended to climb down to a point that overlooked a particularly scenic view. I had one foot out of the Jeep when our guide yelled: “Aoudad! Shoot it, shoot it!”
I looked up to see a big aoudad ram, running as hard as it could diagonally across the hillside in front of us. Its shaggy mane was shaking with each motion, and it was leaving a contrail of dust in its wake. It was a sight to remember.
I covered my ears just as Todd loosed the first round. Behind—not enough lead. I heard him work the bolt for the second shot.
This time I heard the bullet strike and the ram slowed to a shambling walk. Todd again worked the bolt and fired. With the third shot the ram went down.
We sat there a moment, trying to take in the frantic few, previous seconds. From our guide’s yell to the last shot couldn’t have been more than 10 seconds. Todd finally found his voice and quivering with excitement asked: “Is he a good one?”
I looked through my binoculars and said, “Yeah. He looks like he’ll go 28 or 29 inches. He’s a good trophy.”
We got out and headed over to the ram. The longer we walked, the bigger the ram looked. I had thought the shot was about 200 yards, but when we got 200 yards from the Jeep, the ram looked to be at least another hundred. The farther we walked, the calmer Todd became, but the more excited I got.
Instead of 28 inches, this was a grand old ram with long, massive horns. Todd had never been around aoudads and still thought my first estimate was right. He was over his excitement of shooting the ram and was wondering why I was getting excited. When we finally got to the ram and I could put my shaking hands on his horns, I realized just how big he was.
“Todd, he’s a monster!” I said. “You have the trophy of a lifetime here.”
Much later, after it was measured by an official scorer, Todd got a letter telling him his ram was number nine in the records. Now Old Number Nine graces the wall of Todd’s den. Not only was it a grand trophy, it was a fantastic shot. With the ram running at more than 300 yards, he hit the ram perfectly with two out of three shots from his .30-06.
Both of the above adventures took place in Texas. One in Southwest Texas not 30 miles from Del Rio, the other in West Texas on the bluffs of the Rio Grande west of Sanderson. Both were trophies that a hunter would be hard pressed to match in their native Africa, much less better.
My kudu’s horns measured 50 inches, with about four inches broomed off the tips. Of course, Todd’s aoudad was one of a thousand.
Today you can hunt animals in Texas that because of poaching, habitat encroachment, and poor game management are almost extinct in their native habitat. Blackbuck antelope, for instance, are scarce as hen’s teeth on the plains of India, but are a dime a dozen in Texas.
Axis deer are another good example of such a species, as are nilgai, or blue bulls, also from India. There are also oryx, addax, sika deer, elk, red deer, fallow deer, ibex, and who knows what else.
In addition, I will bet you dollars to yen that trophy aoudads are much more plentiful in Texas than they are in their native habitat of the desert mountains of North Africa.
Some of these animals are terribly expensive to hunt. A trophy kudu, for example, will probably cost at least $15,000, but others are very reasonable.
In some places black bucks, aoudads, and axis deer are so numerous they’re a nuisance. I was recently invited to help cull some aoudads on a Texas Hill Country ranch where they had become so numerous the herd had to be reduced for their own protection.
So the next time you start thinking you want a safari in Africa, a shikar in India, or an elk hunt in Montana, check out what’s available in Texas and you may change your mind.
Just one note: Be careful when you choose your outfitter. Most of these hunts are for wild animals in large pastures. The hunting is often difficult but rewarding. However, there are a few places that hunt on put-and-take type affairs.
If you want a 50-inch kudu the owner buys a 50-inch kudu, puts it in a small escape-proof pasture, and takes you out to shoot the poor confused creature. Just be aware of this and check carefully before you book.
—story by Steve LaMascus