Ironically, just before we got to the Bar-O, Finn and Berit had gone down to San Antonio to visit a friend of theirs, a professional hunter from Botswana named Lindstrom, who had been mauled on safari by a lion near the Okovango Marshes. The lion, already wounded by a client's bullet, had chewed away Lindstrom's biceps on his right arm, along with big chunks of his forearm and shoulder muscles. The doctors in San Antonio had, at his request, fused the damaged arm into a position that would permit him to mount a rifle once again. Fortunately, Lindstrom is lefthanded.
"There's an old Texas saying," drawls Harvey Goff. "It's easier to pick a tourist than a bale of cotton." He lofts a squirt of tobacco juice into the weighted spittoon on the dashboard of his "office"—a battered Chevy half-ton the color of masticated Red Man—and squints at the passing countryside. Goff has been the wildlife manager of the YO Ranch for the past 16 years and is thus the man in charge of providing shooters for the ranch's hunting clients. But his comment is less cynical than it sounds.
Back in 1900, the YO totaled 550,000 acres. Today it's gone down to 50,000, and only by combining a hunting program with traditional stock raising, can it survive. There is virtually no oil in the Hill Country.
In the 1950s the YO began its exotic ranching, under the leadership of Charles Schreiner III—or "Three" as he's more familiarly known. The grandson of the Alsatian immigrant who founded the ranch in 1880, he is a stocky, round-faced man with a grizzled mustache who looks like a hammered-down Hemingway. Three wears a weathered white Stetson, collects Colt pistols and knows more Texas history than most university professors. His gun collection and library—secured behind an ancient Wells Fargo vault door—occupy a wing of the big stone house that sits on a knoll above a plain teeming with game. A Gatling gun dominates the center of the room. During the Bicentennial 10 years ago, Three got hold of some clips loaded with Gatling .45-70 blanks. He wheeled the ancient weapon out onto the patio and cut loose with a few clattering bursts in celebration of America. The game below hardly looked up.
Only 6,000 of the YO's acres—less than 10 square miles of the ranch's 80—are devoted to exotics. These are under "high fence," i.e., barriers tall and strong enough to contain wild game. The fences cordon off "pastures" ranging in size from 300 to 3,000 acres. Most of the 6,000 exotics on the ranch are now many generations removed from their zoo-stock progenitors and thus every bit as wild as any in nature. Only 5% of these "naturals" are killed by hunters each year.
Our guide on the YO was Jim Murff, 40, a lanky cowpoke with the slow, sly wit of Owen Wister's Virginian. Munching ice cubes from a Styrofoam cup, Murff (no one uses his first name) showed us the sights. There was Sammy, an aoudad, who climbed into Murff's lap for a handout of corn; Watusi, a huge red and white Ankole bull from Central Africa with horns three times as thick as a longhorn's but with as big a span; a herd of Livingstone's eland, bigger than most beef cattle but capable of jumping a game fence if spooked. Then there was Redneck. "Just keep your hands inside the truck," Murff warned. "This bastard bites."
Redneck is a mature male Masai ostrich as fierce as the warrior tribe he's named for. No sooner had we entered the pasture where he lives with a flock of South American rheas and Australian emus (along with zebras, giraffes, beisa oryx and other mammals) than Redneck charged the truck, pecking viciously at the side mirrors and Murff's hand, which was full of corn. At one point, Redneck pecked a dent into Eppridge's 300-mm lens, then kicked the truck with a resounding whump that left a deep, foot-long crease. "Put a helmet and pads on that rascal and he'd be the new Ray Guy," said Murff. "They can kill you with a kick." Getting out of the truck to open the gate so that we could leave the pasture was a tactical problem solved only by luring Redneck far away with more corn, rushing out to open the gate, then driving through it like A.J. Foyt. As we slammed the gate behind us, the big ostrich was charging with blood in its eye. "I'd like to be the one who shoots that bastard when the time comes," Murff said. "But there's a waiting list. And ol' Three's at the head of it."
We followed a truck driven by a hand named Fibber McGehee. Fibber was tranquilizer-darting small whitetail spike bucks for transfer to another pasture. Usually exotics ranchers resort to tranquilizer darts only after other methods fail, preferring to lure animals they want to move into new pastures with feed or trapping them under big drop nets. Dosages must be delicately measured for high-strung game and a milligram too much succinylcholine chloride can kill. But McGehee has darted some 6,000 deer and antelope in his 15 years on the YO and lost only 50, Golf later told us.
At the far end of a pasture known as the North 640, we spotted a mixed herd of fallow and axis deer along with three big blackbuck rams. "There's one of them we've been wanting to shoot for a long time now," Murff said. "A bachelor blackbuck, not a breeder. But ever' time we're fixin' to shoot, he spooks. Now I know you said you wanted a blackbuck, and I know you've been in Africa and like to stalk. You want to try him?"
We parked in cedar cover—actually, what is called cedar in the Hill Country is a form of juniper—half a mile from the feeding bucks. The country was not as hilly as the land we had hunted with Aagaard, but every bit as spiky. The limestone rock underfoot was loose, loud and everywhere. About 300 yards from the herd we went from a cautious crouch to an agonized crawl. It took nearly an hour to get within 200 yards, bellying on elbows and knees over sharp rocks and cactus spines all the way. At one point, with the herd's outliers watching closely, we had to move across a 15-yard patch of open ground. Two of the watchers walked off, but the rest didn't spook. As we came down into a stand of young live oak, a flock of wild turkeys suddenly appeared in a dry wash to our right, about 50 yards away. We froze. They didn't see us but passed along into the feeding herd, inadvertently reassuring the nervous bucks that all was well. I found a convenient six-inch stump for a shooting rest and sighted in on the animal we had chosen. He moved off to the left, but not fast. Then he turned, watched us and headed back to the herd. When he stopped I held on his shoulder, a third of the way up from the bottom of his chest, exhaled slowly, squeezed....