On all the hunts I’ve been fortunate to embark upon around the world, I almost always take only one knife aﬁeld. This knife has to be able to withstand punishment and perform to my liking, and it’s also got to be lightweight. When scaling granite peaks for mountain goats and sheep, ounces can feel like pounds after a few days.
MANY KNIVES ARE DESIGNED for speciﬁc purposes, but for hunting, I don’t feel as if I need multiple knives. On a recent hunt, I met up with a buddy in Alaska. It was his ﬁrst trip to the Last Frontier, so he wasn’t sure what to fully expect. He cracked open his gun case and inside were six knives, including one with a heavy, 12-inch-long blade and a ball compass on top. I laughed. He didn’t. “What are you doing?” I quizzed. “I didn’t know what knife to bring, so I brought a bunch,” he smirked.
We were going on a grizzly and black bear hunt across open tundra. About the only thing we needed a knife for was carrying out routine tasks, and to skin and butcher any bear we killed. In my opinion, a person needs only one knife for those tasks.
As with all ﬂy-in hunts to remote drop camps, weight is a concern with bush plane pilots. With strict weight limitations, and given the fact we were going to be gone for over a week, I wanted to take all the weight we could in food, clothes and essential gear, not knives we’d never use. When my buddy asked what knives I was taking, I held up one, a 3-inch-bladed Kershaw knife, speciﬁcally their Skyline model. “No, really, what knives are you bringing?” he asked again.
“Oh, I forgot this,” I smiled, holding up a compact sharpening steel. I explained how all skinning, ﬁeld dressing, caping and deboning can be done with one knife, and that it doesn’t have to be big. I’ve broken down numerous deer, elk, bear and African game with a 2-inch blade, and many with a 3-inch blade. Using bigger blades than that is ﬁne, if that’s what you’re comfortable with, but if you’re just embarking upon the world of hunting, big, bulky knives aren’t necessary.
This year marks my 40th year of big game hunting, and I’ve always kept things simple with my knife choices. You look for a knife that ﬁts your hand, keeps an edge, and is constructed with a handle that won’t slip when covered in blood, fat or water.
I know many hunters who take their personal-carry knives aﬁeld, and that’s great if that’s what they like. Some folks prefer ﬁxed blades over folding knives, and vice versa. Personally, I like a ﬁxed-blade knife with a handle that’s easy to clean of dried blood and gut content.
A VERY IMPORTANT FACTOR when choosing a hunting knife is getting one with quality steel that’s easy to attain an edge on. While softer blades may dull more easily than hard steel, they are easier to regain an edge on when in the ﬁeld. Knowing the anatomy of the animal you’re breaking down, and using the knife to cut, not saw or force through bones, will help in maintaining an edge on your knife. All cuts are easy to make and should not be forced, especially through joints and cartilage.
Animal fat can quickly dull a knife, which is why it’s critical to have a quality steel to easily hone that knife. At the same time, cutting through cartilage, tendons and ligaments can be tough on knives, making quality steel even more important. Having a blade you can hone in the ﬁeld – one that reacts to a good steel – is important in regaining that edge in order to continue safely and efficiently breaking down an animal.
While it’s occasionally unavoidable, try to refrain from cutting through hair and into dirt. Sometimes big animals like elk, moose and bear are impossible to move around by yourself, meaning a cut may slice through skin and hit dirt, which dulls a knife. When cutting the hide, do so from the skin side, not down through the hair. To do this, make a small hole where the cut will begin, then get the blade inside the skin, cutting upwards through the hide. This will help keep an edge and should allow you to get through multiple animals before having to sharpen your knife again.
When your knife does become dull in the ﬁeld, sharpen it right away, for a dull knife leads to bad cutting techniques, and that’s how accidents happen. When hunting, I rely on two simple yet very effective sharpeners. In my daypack, I’ll take one sharpening steel aﬁeld to touch up the knife while breaking down animals. My favorite is Kershaw’s Ultra-Tek blade sharpener, a 600-grit oval steel that’s very lightweight and works wonderfully in quickly regaining an edge. When back in camp, if I need to further sharpen the knife, I’ll use a whetstone or a Work Sharp guided ﬁeld sharpener.
Rarely do I take a compact folding saw aﬁeld when deer hunting, for a deer’s skull – the only part of an animal I use a saw on – isn’t so heavy that it needs to be split, like moose, caribou and elk do. When quartering big game in the ﬁeld, I don’t use a saw to split the pelvis or remove the legs, neck or ribs – that’s all done with a knife.
ONE WORD OF CAUTION when embarking on a big game hunt where you’ll be breaking down an animal in the ﬁeld, and that’s to be aware of the state’s recovery laws. Most states require a proof of sex to accompany the meat from the ﬁeld to camp or home. This is usually best retained by keeping the genitals attached to one hindquarter, and/or bringing the head of the animal out. When bringing the head out, if sawing off the antlers to cut down on weight you’re packing out, cuts are often required to be made below the eyes, so the eyes are intact. Some states require the meat to stay attached to leg bones, too, meaning complete boning out of meat while in the ﬁeld may not be legal.
If you will be transporting game heads across state lines, know that multiple states require the brain to be removed from the skull. This means you’ll need a saw to cut through the brain cavity, so be prepared. Prior to heading aﬁeld, make sure you know the meat recovery and transport laws of the state you’ll be hunting in.
Find a knife that works for you and familiarize yourself with how it handles. Practice at home, rubbing fat and blood on the handle and getting it wet to see how it performs. Once you know what a knife is capable of, as well as the anatomy of an animal and how to disarticulate its joints and muscles, you’ll see why a simple blade is all that’s really necessary. ASJ
Editor’s note: For copies of Scott Haugen’s comprehensive DVD, Field Dressing, Skinning & Caping Big Game, send a check for $20.00 (free S&H) to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489. This, along with his many books, can be ordered online at scotthaugen.com.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY SCOTT HAUGENFor those who’ve attended or read about the SHOT Show for the past 15 years, you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that the American military has had an increasing positive effect on the shooting sports, especially hunting. This welcome development is nothing short of phenomenal, and it becomes more evident with each passing year.
I make my living as a hunter, TV host, writer and speaker, so it’s been intriguing and inspiring to watch the inﬂuence of our country’s armed forces transition into every facet of the world I love so much. Take equipment, for example. Many hunters took their ﬁrst deer with a government-issued .30-caliber riﬂe, one that may have been their dad’s or granddad’s. Today, the hunting riﬂe and optics world is dominated by military representation, and Trijicon scopes are a testimony to this.
It’s been more than 10 years since Trijicon entered the hunting world, and a television show I hosted was the ﬁrst one they sponsored. I later went on to host and produce Trijicon’s The Hunt, which currently airs on Amazon Prime and in more than 40 countries. Even though Trijicon has become well known to hunters, not everyone is aware that the company had made quality riﬂescopes and sights for military and law enforcement use for more than 15 years.
Guns are another example. Some old school hunters didn’t like it when ARs entered the hunting world, but as people became more educated on what ARs were, the literal translation of what an AR platform riﬂe is and how they worked, they quickly gained traction. First, predator, varmint and hog hunters used them, now they’re popular with many deer hunters.
Accessories that go with guns and hunting have also evolved, having been deeply rooted in America’s military history. Knives, ﬂashlights, survival kits, boots, packs, navigation devices, even clothes, have stemmed from our military. Not long ago I was in Alaska’s Arctic with my son. For lunch one day we broke out some MREs, and although any current or former member of the military would know these as a ﬁeld ration or “Meal, Ready to Eat,” it was something he’d never had. He’s 14 years old and loved it, and was intrigued when I shared stories of how this is what many military men and women survived on. MREs have come a long way, or so I’m told, but it’s just one more example of our military having an inﬂuence on hunting and the outdoors.
The very ﬁrst riﬂe sling I had was one given to me from my grandfather, from when he served our country. It was an old leather sling with multiple holes for length adjustment. The sling was an inch wide and tough as nails, and it is still one of my favorites.
Not only has military-designed gear had a visible impact on hunting, but on shooting form as well. For decades hunters went aﬁeld with their riﬂes, maybe a pack, but that was it. When it came time to take a shot, it was usually done standing, off-hand. If a tree was close, the hunter might try to lean on it to get steady. Or, if the grass wasn’t too high, the hunter might lay down in order to attain a stable shot.
Then bipods, shooting sticks and shooting bags made their way into the hunting world, thanks again to our military. Attaching a bipod to a riﬂe was something I’d never heard of or seen while growing up hunting in the 1960s and ’70s. Like all things “new,” they came
into the hunting world, but many hunters from previous generations wouldn’t use these shooting aids, which is unfortunate.
Last fall I was in deer camp in Wyoming. It was public ground and the sagebrush-studded hills were full of hunters. What amazed me was not the number of shots I heard during the ﬁrst two days of the season, but how many people I talked to headed back to camp, transporting deer that had been shot in the leg, face, guts and everywhere bullets shouldn’t hit. None of them had used shooting aids.
One hunter in our camp, an older, retired man, missed nine shots at three different bucks. When I asked him why he doesn’t use a bipod or shooting stick, he replied, “Never have, don’t need one.” “No, obviously you do!” I insisted. I took him aside, showed him how to work my Bog Pod tripod shooting stick, and told him to take it. He killed a buck with his next shot.
Many of our armed forces pride themselves on shooting accuracy, and more and more hunters are starting to do the same. We owe it to ourselves, our fellow hunters and the animals we pursue to deliver quick, clean shots.
For people like me who make a living hunting, we can’t afford misses. Every miss costs time and money for everyone involved on the hunt, from myself to camera crews, outﬁtters, producers, editors and even networks. There’s pressure to hit the mark, which is why, for the past several years, all of my shots have come off a shooting stick, a bipod mounted to my gun, or shooting bags.
A couple seasons ago I took my ﬁrst buck with a longrange riﬂe, what my dad and his friends, in their late 70s and 80s, refer to as a “sniper riﬂe.” Now, the gun wasn’t really a sniper riﬂe, but the $4,000 scope I had atop it was designed for snipers, and the sturdy bipod and shooting bags I relied on were used primarily by tactical shooters. I devoted many hours of practice to shooting that riﬂe from a prone position, learning about everything related to long-range shooting. I was able to connect on a nice buck at 960 yards while ﬁlming for a TV show.
Today, we see more hunters shooting from prone positions using shooting aids on television, in magazines, and on the Internet. Why? Because it’s more accurate, that’s why. Think about it. We wait all year for hunting season, then spend days, even weeks aﬁeld, and yet our success or failure often comes down to a single shot. It only makes sense to make that one shot as accurate as possible.
Many hunters who spend time in the dense deer woods, stalking with shotguns and open-sight riﬂes are now carrying their guns differently, thanks to the inﬂuence of the military and armed forces. Gone are the days when hunters trudged through thick brush, gun slung over their shoulder, and then quickly forcing it into a shaky shooting position when a buck pops up.
These days, guns are more frequently carried in a semi-shooting position, butt held above the shoulder, one hand on the stock, the other on the forestock. This allows a shot to be taken in a fraction of the time of the other hold, something that’s not only applicable in some deer hunting situations but when tracking dangerous game or wounded animals anywhere in the world.
Last but not least, the discipline and hard work that our special forces are built on has entered the hunting world. Physical training and dedicated shooting practice has never been so prevalent, and our military is largely to thank.
I’ve never served in the military, but have many relatives and friends who have. My great uncle was a paratrooper who jumped on the beaches at Normandy and served on the front lines. I couldn’t get enough of his stories while growing up.
To the men and women who’ve served our country over the years, and continue to serve, I thank you. You help keep America free, and great. Your efforts and dedication
have prevailed in upholding our Constitution and Second Amendment rights, and for that, all hunters in the United States should thank you. Keep up the great work, and may God bless you and your families. ASJ
Editor’s note: Scott Haugen has been a full-time writer for 15 years. To see instructional videos on shooting, hunting and more, visit his new website, OutdoorsNow.com.
Known for big mule deer, Sonora also has solid numbers of Coues whitetails. They’re not as big as bucks to the north, but if you’re looking to double-up with a muley, this is a good option. Hunting is by spot and stalk, and flat ground is covered by driving in high-rack trucks.
(Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Wyoming and Oregon)
Colorado is kicking out some monster muleys, but many are on private lands or require a lot of points to draw. Wyoming, Montana, Washington and Idaho offer multiple options with over-the-counter tags in some regions. Oregon and Southwest states that produce big bucks also require tags to be drawn.
Idaho is tops when talking big Western whitetails and lots of them. The northern half
of the state has loads of bucks, as do neighboring Montana and Wyoming. Eastern Washington and northeast Oregon are also producing great whitetails each year.
Columbian whitetails and Columbian blacktails can both be hunted in Oregon’s Umpqua River Valley (but not at the same time), near the town of Roseburg. Whitetail tags are on a draw or landowner preference ticket, while blacktail tags can be acquired over the counter.
Kodiak Island is tops when talking Sitka blacktails. Being dropped at spike camp is an option, as is hiring a transporter who will shuttle you around by boat. I like the latter, so new ground can be covered each day.
Posted in Hunting Tagged with: Alaska, Colorado, Columbian Double, Deer, Destination, Hunting, Idaho, Mexico, Montana, Mule Deer Options, Oregon, Scott Haugen, Sitka Blacktails, Sonoran Coues, Sonoran Mule Deer, Washington, Western Whitetails, Wyoming
When plans were finalized to hunt a Columbian whitetail, a rare Northwest deer species, in my home state of Oregon, I knew it would likely be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This was my first hunt of the season, and I wanted a good buck. Three days into the hunt, a short stalk found me in a perfect place waiting for a nice buck to move my way. Finally, as the deer slithered through tall grass, a shot opportunity opened up. When the 4×4 buckled, a lifetime dream came true.
Later in October, I was in the northwest corner of South Dakota bowhunting mule deer. On Halloween morning, the mercury registered 9 degrees. As soon as the sun started to shine on the clay-like mud, a lone buck worked its way up against a cut bank and bedded. Two hours later I was within 17 yards of him. The shot hit the mark and the 29-inch, four-point went only a short distance.
A few days later I was back in my home state, hunting Columbian blacktails on a special draw tag. Unfortunately, I only had a couple days and on day two, I had my four-year-old son, Kazden, by my side. More than anything he wanted to skin a deer with his new knife. I’ve been fortunate to take a number of record-book blacktails, so I told Kazden that the first legal buck we saw, we’d take. It was only a spike, but Kazden got to be a part of the whole hunt and even skinned the entire deer by himself, which made it the most gratifying hunt of the season.
Prior to Thanksgiving I was on the road to Idaho in search of western whitetails. Working the rugged ridges in the Clearwater region, I saw a good buck atop a shale slide. Given the buck’s position there was no way of inching closer. At 340 yards, the bullet found its mark dropping the 5×5 buck.
Early in December I was on Kodiak Island, chasing Sitka blacktails. While setting up to rattle everything felt good. The synthetic bag blasted high-pitched sounds into the heavy air and a buck responded. When it first emerged from the thick brush I knew it was big, but when it turned sideways I saw it was a great buck.
A perfect 4×4 with eye guards, his heavy and dark rack commanded my attention as he moved through the gently falling snow. When he turned broadside I stopped him with a mouth grunt and the .300 Winchester Magnum roared. The record-class buck was a true Sitka blacktail of a lifetime.
January found me in Mexico, hunting Sonora for prized Coues whitetail deer. The conditions were tough as a record-setting, two-week cold spell put bucks in the brush. The rut was also delayed and over the course of a few days, I only saw one. Just as I got set to shoot, the buck bolted. My guide, Jeremy Toman, and I pushed on and found the buck standing next to a doe. Soon the shot was on its way, hitting the mark. Approaching the downed deer, he turned out to be even bigger than I thought.
A couple days later a hunt for desert mule deer in Sonora was underway. A pair of battling muleys caught our eyes. We could see one was pushing 30 inches wide, but he had some broken tines. The buck he fought, however, was high and heavy, and as he cleared, I let him have it.
At season’s onset, attaining a single-season deer slam seemed a stretch. But by taking it one hunt at a time, I was fortunate to experience a dream season.
Simply having the opportunity to spend time in some of North America’s greatest deer habitat is all I really asked for; everything else was just a bonus. ASJ
Editor’s note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s book, Trophy Blacktails: The Science Of The Hunt, you can visit his website at scotthaugen.com.
“C’mon, hop in … C’mon,” Meyer kept enticing the pups in his calm voice as he and the other dogs continued paddling. Soon both pups were having their first swimming session, part of the training Meyer initiates in the spring and throughout the summer.
“The key is not to force them, but make it fun,” smiled Meyer as he pulled the canoe ashore. The training session lasted nearly two hours, and all five dogs did great, even the pups. During that time, Meyer didn’t raise his voice once.
Now is the time to be training your dog for the upcoming hunting season. As is the case with hunters, dogs need to be in shape for the hunt too, and just because summer days are hot doesn’t mean dog training should be delayed.
Good training starts with clear communication. Meyer, who I’ve been working with over the past year, has been training dogs for over 40 years. For 25 years he was a professor of animal breeding and genetics at Oregon State University, and watching him patiently work his dogs is something to behold. His willingness to help me, a first-time hunting dog owner, speaks a lot of what kind of man he is. His eagerness and dedication is addicting, and his passion to see dogs succeed is admirable.
“The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize you don’t need to holler at a dog to get it to do something,” shares Meyer. “They just need to know what you’re expecting of them. If they don’t respond the way I want them to, it’s likely due to miscommunication on my part.”
I’ve been on several training sessions with Meyer and never once heard him raise his voice towards a dog. They always respond to him no matter their breed or age. Patience and keeping it fun and positive are key elements of Meyer’s training foundation, and a good starting point for all dog owners looking to build a better dog.
Swimming is one of the best ways to get a dog in shape so they don’t overheat.
Meyer regularly swims his dogs all summer long. “Swimming is one of the best ways to get a dog in shape this time of year so they don’t overheat,” he notes. “You can’t get this kind of conditioning by repeatedly tossing a bumper into the water. In fact, when I’m training with a bumper, I’ll only toss it in four or five times – that’s it.”
Meyers’ swim training usually lasts a couple of hours. He’ll paddle the canoe to one shore, let the dogs get out to play and warm up, then do it again … and again … and again. He ends every training session on a positive note, with the dogs wanting more and this includes swimming.
Jess Spradley, trainer and owner of Cabin Creek Gundogs, offered this advice when asked about summer training tips: “Get the dog’s feet in shape. Just like a human’s, a dog’s
feet have to be in good condition for the hunt.”
Spradley’s favorite training surface is gravel followed by pavement. This time of year, do it early or late in the day when temperatures aren’t overly hot. Be sure to have plenty of water for the dog to drink. Shaving their coat this time of year will also help keep them cool, as will pouring water over them during training sessions.
“Don’t mix play and work,” Meyer advised me. “When training a dog for the hunt, make sure they know it. When playing with them for fun, make sure they know the difference. Don’t use training bumpers as fun toys or vice versa.”
Spradley points out that pointing breeds need to be regularly exercised, while Labs are happy with a stroll down the street. Spradley prefers to train dogs that have been exposed to at least one season of hunting and were taught basic guidelines by their owner. “When they bring a dog to me, I ask what they’ve done and they often say, ‘Nothing; we didn’t want to screw it up.’ That’s valid, but not a good idea as the pup’s gotta learn some basic guidelines in order to achieve a higher level of training.”
This summer, make time to start building a good hunting dog. Practice patience, clearly communicate your expectations and make it fun for your dog. When those elements are solid, everything else will fall into place. ASJ
Author’s note: You can visit Howard Meyer with Chipewa Kennels at chippewa-gsp.com, and Jess Spradley with Cabin Creek Gun Dogs at cabincreekgundogs.com. For amazing Pudelpointer’s visit talltimberpudelpointers.com.
Posted in Hunting Tagged with: Cabin Creek Gun Dogs, Chipewa Kennels, Dog trainer, Gun dogs, Howard Meyer, hunting dogs, Jess Spradley, Oregon State University, Pudelpointers, Scott Haugen, Tall Timber Pudelpointers, training
Story and photographs by Scott Haugen
She’s been offered hosting jobs on major TV networks; approached by country music and NASCAR celebrities to cook and launch private-label food lines; and looked to for her expertise in co-authoring books. But she has turned them all down.
“The timing just wasn’t right,” shared Tiffany Haugen when asked about these offers. “My priority isn’t my career it’s my boys, and I don’t want to miss a minute of their growing up. I’m gone enough as it is, and there’s a limit,” she added when asked about some of the challenges she faces.
Tiffany is a
big promoter of
eating what you kill
“I love hunting and fishing with the family and enjoy speaking around the country, but if we can’t be together as a family, then it’s not as rewarding.”
For Tiffany, hunting and fishing are about family and putting meat in the freezer. “Our family lives on wild game and fish,” she says. “It’s what we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not only are these meals nutritious, but gathering the meat, butchering and preparing it as a family offers quality time that’s hard to get any other way.”
Tiffany grew up in a family of hunters and anglers, and her grandfather, now 102 years old, still eats wild game. She isn’t about seeking the spotlight. “I do not care if people know who I am; I just want them to get the most of their hunting and fishing experiences and have the confidence to butcher, fillet and cook their meals. The outdoor industry has changed a lot in the last 15 years; it’s gone so much toward bling and in-your-face entertainment that people are losing sight of what hunting and fishing are all about. It’s about education and should not be considered a contest or entertainment; it’s promoting the game, fish and other opportunities that we’re so blessed to have in the US.”
Tiffany is a big promoter of eating what you kill. She’s been filmed for various hunting shows over the years – most currently on The Sporting Chef and Cook With Cabela’s, where she serves as a guest-host. She is all about making it simple and attainable.
“Cooking fish and game isn’t like cooking store-bought meat, but that doesn’t mean it should be a big challenge,” Tiffany continues. “When (I was first) married, we moved to Alaska’s Arctic where we lived a subsistence lifestyle. Being immersed in this way of life is where I really learned to master cooking wild game. Now that our family makes a living in the outdoors, we eat game and fish year-round. Our boys love it and usually question the quality of meat when we go out
and trying new things is easy
Having traveled and hunted in over 30 countries and throughout much of the United States, Tiffany says this is where she gets much of her inspiration. “Travel and food go hand-in-hand,” she smiles. “AlI I want to do is share it with people, show them how easy it is and that they can do it!”
“Africa was great, not only because the whole family hunted together and ate what we killed, but because we exposed our sons to several cultures. Seeing them gather 50 pounds of toys just to share with African children in villages and orphanages was amazing. These are life-changing occurrences they might never have experienced had it not been for hunting.”
“There was a time Braxton sat for 43 hours in a blind over the course of five days, in temperatures dipping into the teens, before he arrowed a big mule deer; he was 12 years old,” she reflects. “If that’s not a testimony to what hunting teaches youth, I don’t know what is.”
“Kazden, at 9, overcame hunting in a cold, driving rain to take his first Columbia blacktail deer,” Tiffany adds. “He and his dad gutted and skinned that buck, we butchered it as a family and canned most if it, per Kazden’s request. Last spring he shot an axis deer in Texas right at dusk. He and his dad stayed up butchering and wrapping that deer until 2:00 a.m., just in time to grab a bite to eat and go hog hunting at dawn; that’s dedication!”
Tiffany’s biggest cooking tip is “don’t be afraid to experiment or make mistakes. That gets old for everyone. Changing recipes and trying new things is easy, and that’s what I’ve devoted the last 15 years of my life to doing, turning people on to intuitive cooking methods.”
Prior to entering her career in the outdoor industry, Tiffany was a school teacher for 15 years. Between juggling her writing, national speaking schedule (she delivers over 50 seminars a year), filming cooking segments, running the family business and home-schooling both of her boys, she doesn’t want any other responsibilities. “I’m in a happy place right now. I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made or opportunities I’ve passed up, because life is too short.”
As a hunter, author, speaker and TV host, myself, I couldn’t be more proud of my wife and what she represents. She’s held her ground when challenged by anti-hunters, eloquently defended our family when confronted with verbal assaults on how she could let her kids shoot guns since the age of two, and stuck to her morals when asked to be part of contrived outdoor reality TV. I have utmost respect and love for this woman. After all, we’re celebrating 25 years of marriage next month, and each year keeps getting better! ASJ
Story and photographs by Scott Haugen
March marks the coming of spring, but most Western states are still a few weeks away from bear season. Turkey season is fast approaching, but if you desire to hunt big game, bears are pretty much it until fall. Or are they?
The closer one looks, the more you’ll find March and April to be prime times to pursue some of the West’s non-indigenous big game, or what hunters refer to as exotics. Exotics are large game animals that were introduced to the United States from other parts of the world, often from their native lands. The history of our nation’s many exotic species is very interesting and the stories behind how each came to be here, even more so.
Many of the exotic species found in Texas are the result of veterans who shipped exotic animals there during the war. Many of these species now thrive and can be hunted. We have the Spanish explorers to thank for the introduction of many goats, some sheep and hogs. Hard-to-access species such as nilgai, scimitar horned oryx, aoudad, gemsbuck, ibex, and blackbuck were also brought to the U.S. through similar sources. It is illegal to hunt many of these exotics in their homelands, which makes it an even more valuable option to hunt them here.
Nearly 15 years ago I traveled through India and saw wild nilgai and blackbuck antelope. Neither species can be hunted there, but my interest to learn more about these animals, and potentially hunt them, grew. I knew I couldn’t afford a free-range blackbuck hunt in South America, but I did learn that blackbucks are plentiful and free-ranging in many parts of Texas. The nilgai, however, is still on my bucket list.
Axis deer are considered by many people to be the most beautiful deer species in the world, and I’ve been fortunate to hunt them in various parts of the South Pacific and Hawaii. When my youngest son expressed interest in hunting these grand deer we once again turned to Texas, where they thrive in many places. If you are looking to put venison in the freezer, this is your deer. Axis meat is some of the best on the planet.
Hogs continue to be prolific in California and Texas, as well as on private ranches throughout various Western states. Hogs also exist on multiple Hawaiian Islands and yield some of the best wild game meat out there. Because hogs gravitate to private lands throughout California where food, water and ideal shelter is more readily found, it is fast becoming a pay-to-hunt scenario; not what it used to be 30 years ago.
Spanish goats and various strains of feral sheep also exist in many places. The country’s best Spanish goat hunting can be found in Hawaii and on private ranches or preserves in multiple states. The same is true for feral sheep, which come in a variety of sizes and coat coloration’s. From black Hawaiian rams to Texas Dalls and corsicans, there are many options when it comes to hunting exotic sheep and they are considerably easier on the pocket book than any of North America’s wild sheep.
The spring months are a great time to hit the road and hunt exotics. If free-range is what appeals to you, start doing your homework, as options do exist. If you are looking for more of a private-land hunt with high success rates on big animals, then perhaps a ranch-style hunt is more to your liking. Whatever exotics you choose, have fun, enjoy the meat and be thankful we even have the opportunity to pursue some of these striking and unique animals. ASJ
Note: For signed copies of Scott Haugen’s popular big game hunting adventure book, Life In The Scope: The West, send $15 (free S&H), to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, Ore. 97489 or order online at scotthaugen.com.
Scott Haugen is the new host of Alaska Outdoors TV on The Outdoor Channel.