A Surprising Number of Non-Native Species Roam Wild in Texas… and Many Can be Hunted Year-Round

AS I CRUISED DOWN HIGHWAY 12 between Mauriceville and Deweyville, my eyes were fixed on the woods as they always are while traveling areas such as this.

Few things thrill me more than wildlife sightings, and this area is a great spot to see hogs, deer, coyotes and a host of other creatures.

What I did not expect to see was a pair of sika deer bucks standing on the side of the road. Sika deer are a native of Asia. They are popular game on high fenced hunting ranches, but these were far from a high fence and standing on the side of the road, eating away.

Sika deer, native to Asia, thrive all over Texas, many ranging free.
(Photo: Bigstock)

This was 24 years ago, and this was my first time encountering free-ranging exotics. I actually hunt the woods along that stretch of road now and have not seen any more exotics. Yet, 24 years ago someone’s sikas escaped.

Exotics frequently escape high fenced hunting and breeding operations. This makes hunting or simply hiking in the woods interesting for Texans.

Free-ranging exotics are considered legal game 365 days a year if you have the consent of the landowner. It is always illegal to hunt animals in areas where you have no permission. However, if the managers of your deer lease give you permission to shoot exotics that cross onto the property, it is perfectly legal. Again, you must have permission, and it is best to have written permission.

Many Texas hunters have reported taking free-ranging axis deer on their Hill Country deer leases. My friends Rick Hyman and Nolan Haney both shot axis bucks recently on leases near Fredericksburg and Rocksprings, respectively.

Axis deer are the most common Texas exotic. In some counties their populations number in the tens of thousands. Those include Kerr, Real, Edwards, Uvalde and Bandera.

Aoudads from North Africa are also common beyond high fences, but they are rarely seen. Aoudads are super elusive and are more likely to show up on a game camera than in front of a hunter or photographer. Blackbuck antelope, fallow deer and the aforementioned sika deer round out the most common free-ranging exotics.

Over the years we have published photos on these pages of red stags, Corsican sheep and other exotics taken by hunters.

Now that we’ve gotten the unusual exotics out of the way, let’s talk about something really strange. There are snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) in South Texas.

According to the Austin Chronicle they had been brought to the South Texas Primate Observatory in 1972, in the first attempt at the relocation of an entire primate population.

“The observatory’s ranch near Dilley, in Frio County, was much hotter than the macaques’ Japanese home, and at first many perished. But South Texas eventually provided the conditions the monkeys needed to thrive—a wild setting, water tanks, plenty of mesquite beans, cactus fruits, and lots of tall brush to climb around in. Things went very well—at least for the first couple of decades.”

Snow monkeys have established wild populations in South Texas.
(Photo: Canstock)

A number of these monkeys formed a wild population that still exists in some numbers to this very day. We have received several reports of hunters over the last few years who have run into them. In fact, one oilfield worker reported walking back to his truck after a day of work and seeing one sitting on the hood of his truck.

The nilgai is a truly strange-looking creature that is common in the coastal areas from the Baffin Bay area down to the Mexico line. Imported from India decades ago, these huge antelope thrive on the King and Kennedy Ranch properties.

Weighing upwards of 600 pounds, nilgais are huge and sport a super-long neck. The males have small upward-pointing horns and sometimes a beard like a turkey.

Someone without knowledge of nilgai who runs into one in South Texas would be in for a big surprise.

Although they’re not an exotic species, bears are an unusual sighting in Texas. Black bears are making a small, but meaningful comeback in Texas. Populations established in the Trans-Pecos are moving into South Texas and the Hill Country.

In addition, East Texas has small numbers of bears. They are protected in the Lone Star State, so don’t get too excited about bagging a bear rug here. Consider yourself blessed to see one of these magnificent animals from a deer blind.

Did you know Texas is home to the jaguarundi? This is a medium-sized cat with a mean body length of 102 centimeters for females and 114 for males according to Mexican researcher Arturo Caso. Other sources list them as ranging from 100 to 120 centimeters, with the tail making up the greatest part of the length.

Jaguarundi have been sighted as far north as central and east Texas.
(Photo: Canstock)

Most specimens are about 20 centimeters tall and sport a dark gray color. Others are chocolate brown or blond.

Jaguarundis are known to range from South America to the Mexican borders of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. The key word here is “known.” That means scientists have observed or captured the species within those areas. However, they are reported to range much farther north in the Lone Star State and perhaps elsewhere.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials solicited information from the public and received numerous reports of the species in the 1960s, including several sightings from central and east Texas. Additional sightings have been reported from as far away as Florida, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

There is something exciting about encountering an anomaly in the wild. Seeing a deer is one thing, but spotting a monkey or bear in Texas is a whole ’nother thing.

Texas is a land of surprises, so stay alert in the field, keep your eyes fixed on the edge of the wood line, and you might get a glimpse of one of these mysterious animals.



AN EXOTIC ANIMAL is any animal that is not indigenous to Texas, including but not limited to feral hog, Russian boar, aoudad sheep, axis deer, elk, sika deer, fallow deer, red deer, and blackbuck and nilgai antelope. An exotic fowl is any avian species that is not indigenous to this state, including ratites (emu, ostrich, rhea, cassowary, etc.).

There are no state bag or possession limits or closed seasons on exotic animals or fowl on private property. It is against the law to:

Hunt an exotic without a valid hunting license.

Hunt an exotic on a public road or right-of-way.

Hunt an exotic without the landowner’s permission.

Possess an exotic or the carcass of an exotic without the owner’s consent.

Penalty: A person who violates these laws commits an offense. Hunting exotic wildlife without a license is a Class C misdemeanor ($25-$500 fine). The remaining listed offenses are Class A misdemeanors ($500-$4,000 and/or up to one year in jail).

The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) regulates the movement of feral swine for disease-control purposes. For more information please call TAHC at (800) 550-8242 or visit the TAHC Web site.

“Canned Hunts” (Dangerous Wild Animals)

No person may kill or attempt to injure a dangerous wild animal (African or Asiatic lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, hyena, bear, elephant, wolf, or rhinoceros, or any subspecies or hybrid of these animals) that is held in captivity in this state or that is released from captivity in this state for the purpose of being killed, nor may any person conduct, promote, advertise, or assist in the hunting of a dangerous wild animal.

Endangered, Threatened and Other Protected Nongame Species

It is unlawful for any person to hunt (see Definitions – Hunt) threatened, endangered, or protected nongame species. To sell or purchase goods made from threatened or endangered species, proper documentation must accompany the goods. For a complete list of threatened and endangered species, and regulations relating to breeding threatened and endangered species, please call (800) 792-1112 (menu 5).

Protected Birds: Hawks, owls, eagles, and all other nongame birds and songbirds (except for the few unprotected birds listed below) are protected by various state and federal laws and may not be killed, taken from the nest, picked up, or possessed for any reason, and their feathers may not be possessed or sold. Arts and crafts may not include these protected species under any circumstances.

Unprotected Birds:

The only birds not protected by any state or federal law are European starlings, English sparrows, feral rock doves(common pigeon, Columba livia) and Eurasian collared-doves; these species may be killed at any time, their nests or eggs destroyed, and their feathers may be possessed.

Yellow-headed, red-winged, rusty, or Brewer’s blackbirds and all grackles, cowbirds (does not include cattle egret), crows, or magpies may be controlled without a federal or state depredation permit when found committing or about to commit depredations on ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in numbers and in a manner that constitutes a health hazard or other nuisance.

Bats: May not be hunted, killed, possessed, purchased or sold; however, bats may be moved, trapped, or killed if inside or on a building occupied by people. A person may transport a bat for the purpose of laboratory testing if there is a rabies concern.

Black Bears and Mountain Lions

Black bears are protected and cannot be hunted or killed. Mountain lions are not protected and can be harvested at any time. Please report black bear sightings or mortalities, and mountain lion sightings, harvests, or mortalities to (512) 389-4505.




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