Why Not Texas?

Whitetail seasons are winding down and the doldrums of winter are settling in. Your thoughts are turning to spring adventures. You’re planning a turkey hunt or two, of course, but what else? My advice: Look to the Lone Star State.

I love Texas. It’s a monstrous landmass teaming with game, and much of that game is of the exotic sort. Texas is home to a massive population of axis deer, black buck, aoudad and much more. Yes, there are hogs too, more than you can shake a stick at, and these feral oinkers make for a great hunt as well.   

Got your interest up? Good. Let’s dive in deeper. It’s important to understand that though Texas does have a fair grip of public dirt, most public permits come through a draw process. Visit www.tpwd.texas.gov for more information on public hunting. In addition, most of these locales are more suited for deer and turkey. Most Lone Star road trippers go with an outfitter, and this is the route I would recommend as well.

Do Your Homework

Texas is big and there are throngs of outfitters. You want a dream hunt and not a nightmare, so do your research. Understand that many outfitters operate behind high-fence operations. This is legal in Texas, but something you should know. Many of these high-fence operations are thousands and thousands of acres. You may never see a fence. Some, however, are minute enclosures, and the “hunt” isn’t much of one from what I’ve been told. 

Of course, many exotic critters roam on free-range tracks of land, and there are a number of outfitters that offer hunts on no-high-fence ground. The key is doing your homework, asking questions and knowing exactly what you’re getting into before sending a deposit. 

Many Texas hunts for exotics are had on low-fence ground. Check with the outfitter ahead of time if you’re wanting to make sure your experience isn’t behind a high fence.

“Make sure and read all of the information on their website,” said my good friend and owner of SOE Hunts, Mike Stroff. “They should have detailed information about the types of exotic hunts offered as well as info about pricing, lodging and the like. Check out their success photos as well. Look for animals with ear tags. If you see this, chances are the location is one where the outfitter buys lots of critters at a sale and stuffs them into a small enclosure. Not all outfitters will note whether or not the location they hunt is high-fence on their website. Most won’t even post the acreage they hunt. That’s why it’s important to pick up the phone and make a call. I get a good feel for people over the phone. Ask lots of detailed questions, and if the outfitter is worth his salt, he should have immediate answers. I also recommend asking for a few references. Don’t worry about offending the outfitter. This is their job. They need to be able to answer questions and provide references. If they can’t, move on. There are some really good outfitters out there, and you want to find them. You should hang up the phone feeling good.”

I’ve hunted with Mike for years, and he operates on both free-range and high-fence ranches. The great thing about Mike is he’s a hunter and goes on lots of outfitted hunts himself. He knows what hunters want and does his best to meet their expectations. 

“It’s also important to share with the outfitter what type of hunt you’re wanting to do,” Mike added. “Some outfitters are more set up for rifle hunters while others cater to the bowhunting crowd. You will also want to let them know what style of hunt you’re expecting. Do you want a sit-and-wait type hunt or do you want to spot-and-stalk? You need to be upfront with the outfitter and let him know your hunt expectations. Some outfitters that don’t have access to large acreage won’t let hunters spot-and-stalk because they don’t want them to move the game around. Then, of course, there is the safety issue of walking in on another hunter. Some allow spot-and-stalk, but only during midday hours. The bottom line is, you don’t want any surprises.”

Wanting to roam the ground and spot-and-stalk? Great, but check with the outfitter first. Some don’t allow spot-and-stalk hunting. Know before you go.

“You want to think of everything. What about your meat? Do they have a place to store it? How many hunters do they run through the property over the course of the year? Get all of your questions out in the open before you send a deposit.”

The Package

As you search for different outfitters, think about what you may want to hunt. Hogs are always high on the list, but if you’re going to make a journey, I highly recommend a package deal. If you purchase a package, hogs are usually tossed in for free. Yes, packages cost a tad more but are often less than a trophy whitetail hunt. Plus, you save on the license fee. All you need to hunt exotics in Texas is an Item 157 Non-resident 5-Day Special Hunting permit. This permit only sets you back $48. 

Texas is a hog-rich state, and while hunts for hogs can be booked, the author recommends putting a package deal together.

As you peruse different hunt packages, might I recommend an axis/hog combo? Axis deer make incredible table fare, and they are simply a blast to hunt. Their eyesight is incredible and their sense of smell in better than or equal to that of a savvy whitetail. Axis often roam in large herds, which can make slipping in close even more challenging. The bucks sport elk-like antlers and roar during the rut, which happens, well, all year long. Let me explain. While many experts agree that the height of the rut occurs in June and July, the does cycle at various times throughout the year. On your hunt, you will likely see axis males that are hard-horned, in velvet and those that have just shed. They are a unique species, and because they can breed throughout the year, their population continues to increase. 

Axis are beautiful animals, and if you chase them once, you’ll be hooked for life.

When you’re hunting axis, it’s like hunting a rutting bull elk, a rutting whitetail and a rutting pronghorn all at the same time. Like elk, these creatures are very vocal and gather harems. However, once a doe goes into estrous, they will dog that doe like a mature whitetail. The last axis I shot was hot on the heels of a ready-to-breed doe. Because axis boys chase the axis girls, and because Texas temps are often very warm, they water often, just like a pronghorn. 

The author’s wife took this impressive buck on a low-fence hunt with SOE Hunts.

Most Texas axis packages allow you to harvest a buck, a doe, and unlimited hogs. This is great because nothing prepares you for the fall — teaches you to control your breathing and beat buck fever — like running lead or broadheads through some off-season game. Be sure to take coolers. You will want to bring this meat home. It’s simply phenomenal. Enjoy!

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