April 25, 2017
CHASING OL’ YELLOW by Dustin Vaugh Warncke
April 25, 2017

Free-Ranging Axis Thriving in the Texas Hill Country

The axis deer may be the most beautiful deer species on the planet.

Known as “chital” in its native India, axis are the number one prey species of the Bengal tiger, and they are the number one free-ranging exotic in the Texas Hill Country.

Brought over decades ago to hunt behind game-proof fences, they have expanded their numbers far beyond any type of containment and are abundant all over the Edwards Plateau.

Native to India, axis deer run free in the Texas Hill Country.

One of the strongest concentrations is near Boerne, and that is where Joshua Creek Ranch is located.

Their 1,300-acre ranch known for its wing-shooting opportunities for pheasant, chukar and quail is a magnet for these gorgeous spotted deer.

“The management we do for our birds has greatly enhanced the property, and it allows us to hold lots of axis deer year-round,” said Joshua Creek’s Kevin Wellborn.

Welborn said at any given time the property holds 300-400 axis and they are all free-ranging.

“We hunt them from blinds and only shoot 30-plus as trophy axis. It’s amazing that we can shoot lots of big bucks every year, and it doesn’t seem to impact our numbers. People love to hunt axis and there is something special about shooting free-ranging ones,” Wellborn said.

He noted the peak time to hunt axis is May through early July with bucks in hard antler, some in velvet and many of them beginning to rut.

A rutting axis screams out with a bugle-like sound akin to an elk, and they fight brutally over does and territory. It is quite a sight to witness.

There are numerous exotics in the Hill Country and not every free-ranging specimen is an axis. There are also fallow and sika deer, which both have some levels of spotting.

According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, axis deer are generally rufous fawn in color, with white spots covering both their summer and winter coats.

“Their throat, stomach, and under-tail areas are white and a dark dorsal stripe runs from the back of the head to the tip of the tail. An axis male will stand about 36 inches high at the shoulder and weigh up to 200 pounds. The antlers of the adult male are reddish brown in color and the beam, which curves backwards and outwards in a lyre-shaped formation, is usually about 30 to 36 inches long. There are normally three tines on each side.”

Perhaps the greatest attribute of the axis is the delicious taste of its meat. It is sold in gourmet restaurants around the country and makes today’s high beef prices pale in comparison.

“On our hunts we allow the hunter to take a big buck and also a doe because the meat is so popular. There really is nothing like axis meat,” Welborn said.

This author would have to agree. The only wild game in my opinion that is comparable is nilgai. Even elk can’t compare.

And in terms of an off-season hunting opportunity nothing compares to hunting free-ranging axis in the gorgeous Texas Hill Country. Whether you run into some on your deer lease or book a hunt on a well-managed ranch they are a truly beautiful species worthy of our greatest respect.

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Illegal Seafood Network Shut Down in Houston

A Houston restaurateur and two local restaurant companies stand accused of operating an illegal seafood network that funneled nearly 28,000 pounds of unlawfully-caught finfish through their establishments at a profit estimated at more than $400,000.

Based on evidence gathered during an extensive two-year investigation, Texas game wardens believe the illegal network has been ongoing since at least 2013 and could be the largest of its kind in Texas history.

The illegal catches were made by a web of about a dozen unlicensed commercial fishermen and sold to the restaurants. Their catches consisted primarily of highly-regulated red snapper, along with other protected game fish species, including tuna, amberjack, grouper and red drum.

Texas game wardens allege that Bruce Molzan, 59, of Houston, purchased and then sold the illegal finfish off the menus at restaurant businesses he is associated with, Ruggles Black, and formerly associated with, Ruggles Green. In addition, another restaurant illegally sold shrimp to Molzan for use in his restaurants in violation of commercial fish wholesale regulations. Game wardens have issued more than 200 Class C misdemeanor citations related to the investigation. Additional cases are anticipated.

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) special agents and the U.S. Coast Guard provided assistance in the investigation. NOAA also filed felony charges against two recreational anglers in Freeport in connection with the case.

The scope of the investigation expanded significantly last April after U.S. Coast Guard crews stopped an unlicensed commercial fishing boat in coastal waters near Freeport with 488 red snapper weighing approximately 1,900 pounds. Texas game wardens and the National Marine Fisheries Service seized the fish, which were illegally caught in the Gulf of Mexico off Freeport and Galveston, and investigators were able to link the subjects with the illegal seafood operation.

“This is a big deal and exemplifies the critically important work our Texas game wardens do to protect the state’s natural resources,” said Col. Craig Hunter, TPWD law enforcement director. “Not only did these unscrupulous actors violate recreational fishing regulations at an extreme level for personal profit, but they also circumvented restrictions and rules governing the possession, safe handling and sale of commercial aquatic products intended for human consumption. That is not something we in law enforcement will tolerate.”

—from TPWD

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