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 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 number far beyond any type of containment and are abundant all over the Edwards Plateau.
One of the strongest concentrations is near Boerne and that is where Joshua Creek Ranch is located.
Their 1300-acre ranch known for its wingshooting 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 in 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.
Rutting axis scream out with a bugle-like sound akin to an elk and brutally fight 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 which both have some levels of spotting.
According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department axis 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 3 tines on each side.”
Perhaps the great 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.
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.
Chester Moore, Jr.