Biologist Land finds the whole thing fascinating. "You just can't go to a library and check out a book on how to raise Indian black buck antelope in a 1,000-acre pasture in Texas," he says. Land keeps copious notes on such phenomena as fawning cycles, number of offspring, antler and horn growth and stomach contents of all dead animals. "We are still feeling our way," he says, "but we do know that our exotics are completely compatible with the domestic cattle, goats and sheep and with the native game. And we are increasing the ranch's income and making the land pay for itself better."
When he is not towing a livestock trailer around the country collecting surplus exotics from zoos and game farms or dealing with other Texas ranchers, Land keeps busy at the Y.O. trapping animals and moving them to new pastures or into pens for study and treatment. Box traps and spring-triggered nets baited with corn seem to work well, and Land is experimenting with a tranquilizer gun. But his most important job is to please the hunter. "We keep track of the trophy-size animals in every pasture," Land says, "so we know just where to take a man for a good black buck. If he can't hit that one, there are others to try for. And if he plain gives up on a bouncing black buck or an axis in the thick brush, he can always settle for a Corsican ram [at the Y.O., the tough part about bagging a Corsican ram is to separate it from the herd long enough for the hunter to get a clear shot]. Rarely does anyone go away empty-handed."
The Y.O. does not just draw hunters who cannot afford to go to India or Africa. Says Abbott: "We git people who have been there. Last winter Prince Abdorreza Pahlavi of Iran came here and got himself a real nice eight-point sika. You know why? 'Cause he never was able to git one anywhere else. Then there was Mrs. Clark Sample of Longview, Texas, who hunted twice in India but never got within 1,000 yards of a black buck. Well, she got one here. You know how long it look her? One hour and live minutes, and that's counting the time it took her to sight in her rifle."
The fastest hunt for an exotic on record, however, took place several months ago, not at the Y.O., out at the Guajolote Ranch just northwest of San Antonio. The hunter was Astronaut Wally Schirra, and his trophy was a black buck. "It was more difficult than the rendezvous." Schirra said, which may have been overstating it a bit. Schirra and his fellow astronaut, Thomas Stafford, had to chase Gemini VII for almost six hours and 105,000 miles through space at 17,000 mph before the two spacecraft rendezvoused. The astronaut's chase of the antelope covered less than two miles in a jeep and took an hour.
The Guajolote Ranch is run by Frank Huntress, the former owner of the
San Antonio Express
and News, a radio station and a television station. Huntress has 1,100 acres under fence, and he caters to "the big boys"—businessmen and company executives who come primarily from Houston and Dallas. "These men like their comfort," says Huntress, "and I give it to them, deluxe. Every bed in our lodge has a box spring and every room has its own bath with pink, lime or baby blue tiles." The Guajolote also has a paneled dining room, a private bar, ping-pong, bumper pool and an electric player piano.
The hunting is equally deluxe. Bulldozed roads wind through the brush, and hunters ride around in radio-equipped trucks and jeeps looking for black buck and axis and sika deer. Those who prefer to bag an aoudad or a mouflon shoot from baited blinds. "It's all very scientific," Huntress admits, "I put all my exotics in a 100-acre trap so they can get orientated before we turn 'em loose. You have to supplant what nature has provided, so we feed the animals about 3,500 pounds of corn and milo every week, and we also throw in pellets for extra nutritive value."
Huntress' blinds are made of sheet tin and arc fitted with wooden benches, sliding glass shooting ports and telephones connected to the main lodge. Too spartan? Well, there is the Brigitte Bardot Blind, which features a television set ("You keep the sound down low so you don't spook the game"), an icebox stocked with beer and soft drinks, electric outlets for heater, hot plate and coffee percolator and pink-and-blue curtains. And there is a life-size photograph of BB (yea!) to which Huntress has pinned a red cloth bikini (boo!). Some hunters have been known to unpin the bikini—Huntress can tell by the number of extra pin holes.
"It's just a conversation piece," Huntress admits with a chuckle. "But, you know, it's just as good as our other blinds. It's got oats planted nearby to bring the game in. and, of course, there's a feeder, too." Not just an ordinary old feed trough. No, sir. It is a motor-driven affair with a timing mechanism programmed to throw out corn and milo in a 20-foot circle every six hours. There are six feeders in all, each one strategically located 60 feet or so in front of the blinds, and they work on the game just like alarm clocks. "Those animals come a-runnin' when the feed goes out," says Huntress. "Man, it's just like a durn zoo around the blinds at dawn and towards evening. Works out real well for the hunters, too. We've pretty much cleared away the brush around the feeders so you can just poke your rifle out the window and let fly. Naturally, we shoot only good trophies and let the smaller animals alone. When a guy pays $275 for an axis [and $30 a day to stay in the lodge], he don't want no little ol' bitty animal."
In Texas, at least, the success enjoyed so far by the Y.O., the Guajolote and several smaller preserves open to the public has encouraged more ranchers to get in on the act every year. Experiments are now being conducted with exotics like eland and impala on the drought-plagued semiarid rangelands of south central Texas and Mexico. The idea is that the exotics will do better than cattle and native game in producing high-quality meat and will provide far superior hunting. Carroll Abbott carries the idea further. "I kin see the day coming," he says, "when the Y.O. will be exclusively a hunting ranch. No livestock, just game animals. Oh, we'll keep a few longhorns and some goats and sheep in pens just to show people what it used to be like."
Maybe. But not all of the country's hunters will soon be gone, gone to pot-shoot. There will still be many who will hold out as long as there is any game left outside the fences. Says one such hunter who has shot at several Texas preserves: "It's like going to a trout farm where you hook tame fish out of a pool. You catch fish, but it's not fishing."