At a private club in an Austin hotel mot long ago Carroll Abbott, a folksy Texas public relations man, was thumping the tub for one of his clients, the "famed" Y.O. Ranch, where several kinds of foreign game, or exotics, are offered to hunters on a guaranteed no-game no-pay basis. "How kin you beat it?" Abbott was saying. "Imagine getting a magnificent black buck antelope right in the heart of the historic Texas Hill Country. Not India, man. Texas. They're roamin' wild right on the ranch. 'Course, you don't just go out there and pot you one. No, sir. A little ol' black buck can do 40 mph, and one of the real thrills of all time is to barrel along cross-country after one in a jeep. You go crashing through the shin oak and mesquite until you git up close enough for a shot—maybe 300 yards or so. Well. You are so shook up from the ride, and your adrenalin is working overtime and you're going to have one hell of a time shooting anywhere near that ol' black buck.
" 'Course, you're going to git one eventually," Abbott continued. "Our hunter success is nearly 100% on these exotics, and one day is generally all the time you need. You kin stay in a wonderful log cabin that's 100 years old. It's modernized, of course. And hey, we got five other kinds of exotics on the ranch. You kin even shoot the round. You know, git you a sika, axis, fallow, wild Corsican ram, aoudad, all in a weekend. You'd run up a pretty sizable bill that way [roughly $1,500, including room and board], but, man, you kin plumb fill up your game room with trophies in just two days."
As any hunter who keeps up with the times knows by now, Abbott was not just talking through his Stetson. No longer is it necessary to go to India to shoot a black buck antelope or an axis deer or to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa to bag a heavy-horned aoudad ram or to the posh private shooting preserves of Europe to get a fallow deer. A hunter with the money and a day or so to spend can find guaranteed hunting for some 20 different exotics on private land enclosed by deerproof fence in almost a dozen states.
Texas, predictably, has more and bigger preserves than the rest, and the Texas landscape does resemble some parts of Africa and India. But there are preserves in New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Tennessee. And just east of Lock Haven, Pa. the Buffalo Ranch Motel invites you to "come and shoot your own buffalo.... The price is $400 each and up, according to size. Choose your own favorite weapon." (The buffalo may be native to the U.S., but it is a rare enough trophy today to be classed as an exotic.)
Not surprisingly, the hunting, or more accurately the shooting, of exotic game animals "running wild" in fenced pastures, whether they are 300 acres or 3,000, is passed off by many a hunter as nothing more than an out-of-the-cage-and-onto-the-wall operation. Some ecologists fear that exotics are competing with and disturbing native game. Despite such censure, however, the exotic-hunting business is booming.
It all began as a lark about 30 years ago when two San Antonians, Refrigerator Manufacturer Richard Friedrich and Attorney Leroy Denman, bought a few black buck antelope and axis, sika and barasingh deer from zoos and released them on their ranches (Denman also brought the first wild boar into Texas from the Tennessee hills). As the animals thrived, Friedrich and Denman sold their surplus brood stock to other ranchers, and they, in turn, added other species, such as aoudad and mouflon sheep (the original mouflons from Corsica and Sardinia have since been crossed with domestic and semiwild sheep, and a pure strain of mouflon is virtually impossible to find anymore), fallow and red deer and sambar deer from Asia. Today at least 100 ranchers are in the exotic business, cither raising and selling brood stock or stocking up for hunting. A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department survey taken two years ago showed that there were at least 13,160 exotics of 13 different species residing mostly under deerproof fence in Texas. There may well be 20,000 or more now.
Under a U.S. Department of Agriculture ruling, these animals, after being imported into the U.S., must spend all of their natural lives in an approved zoo. Their offspring, however, may be sold by the zoos. Ranchers may also deal in exotics on the open market as easily as they buy and sell Angus cattle, Poland China hogs or Angora goats. Current prices for exotics range from $150 for a breeding pair of mouflon-type sheep to $350 for two aoudads and as much as $700 for a trio of black buck antelope (one male and two females). Because these exotics are contained by fences on private land, the Texas Parks and Wild-life Department has no control over them. Says A. J. Springs, the staff service officer: "We classify these animals as domestics, the same as cattle, and we do not promote the hunting or the sale of them."
The advantages of such an arrangement to ranchers are obvious. There are no state hunting seasons on exotics and no preserve licenses to buy. Several animals, notably the black buck and the various sheep and goats, have true horns that are never shed, and they provide year-round trophy hunting. But it takes some time for exotics to grow trophy-size horns or antlers (three or four years in the case of the black buck), and preserve owners are hard-pressed to keep enough trophies on hand for hunters who are willing to pay anywhere from $75 for a mouflon-type ram to $30O for a black buck or an aoudad.
The largest and best-known Texas preserve, and the only one with both a biologist and a PR man is the Y.O. Ranch, a vast spread of some 150 square miles of rolling hill and canyon country owned by Charles Schreiner III ("Write it Chas.," says Abbott), at 39 the youngest member of a wealthy Hill Country family whose interests include banking, business and philanthropy as well as ranching. Schreiner got into the exotic business by stocking a few black buck in 1953 as a hobby. The animals thrived, and by 1961, when he started hunting them on the same guaranteed pay-after-you-shoot basis that he offers whitetail and turkey hunters, Schreiner had added axis, sika and fallow deer, mouflons (which he calls "wild Corsican rams") and aoudads. The exotics—some 1,200 of them—are kept in fenced pastures that range from 600 to 3,000 acres.
"We only stock animals that can make it on their own in the wild," Schreiner says, "and we feed them only as a last resort during real bad weather." Many species are particularly susceptible to severe cold or prolonged periods of dampness. Last February a large part of the black buck herd was lost in the aftermath of a 10-inch snowstorm. But for the most part the exotics do well on the Y.O., and Schreiner and Charles R. Land, his wildlife biologist ( Texas A&M), are constantly experimenting with new animals, which are kept under observation for 60 days in a quarantine pen before being released on the ranch. At present the Y.O. has a young Siberian ibex named Ivan (its father was an attraction at the Moscow Zoo), several oryx and nilgai ( India's largest antelope) and some African eland. Schreiner hopes eventually to try such esoteric species as greater and lesser kudu, Grant's gazelle and impala, and he is currently trying to breed up a batch of solid black mouflon-type sheep that he hopes will appeal to hunters.