Hunting Exotics in the US
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.