Axis deer's effect on Texas hunting, wildlife

By Gabriel Golson
On February 29, 2012

  • International Korean students Hanjo Ryu and Yeonha Lee practice English during their ELLI class. Pam Belcher

If you have been on a ranch or hunting lease in Central and West Texas, chances are you have seen these animals. They are larger than your standard whitetail with a reddish-brown coat and white spots similar to a whitetail fawn. Unlike the whitetail, they are herd animals, and behave more like an elk. This magnificent animal is the axis deer.

The axis deer, or "chital", as they are known in their native India, has become one of Texas' most sought-after exotic game species. They were introduced to Texas in 1932 on private game ranches in the Hill Country near Kerrville. As there is no such thing as a perfect fence, they eventually escaped and spread to other ranches in the area. There are now thousands of free range axis deer throughout Texas. Axis deer can be found in herds as small as two or three animals, or up to more than a hundred. The herd leader is typically an older, wiser doe. Their breeding style is similar to domestic livestock. Axis have a rapid reproduction rate and are known to birth multiple offspring at the same time. This high reproduction rate is one factor contributing to their success as an introduced species. Male axis bucks can shed their antlers at any time of the year. The antlers of a male axis are shaped more closely together and are taller than those of your average whitetail. Also, instead of multiple tines, their antlers usually consist of one main beam and two tines on each side.

The main reasons axis deer have reached such great popularity among deer hunters is that they are plentiful, they make nice trophies, can be hunted year round, and they yield very tasty meat. Since their introduction to Texas rangelands, the axis deer have thrived. With a climate and food sources similar to those of their place of origin, they easily adapted to living in the wilds of Texas. They have thrived so well that they are even becoming somewhat of a problem. With the ongoing drought conditions, limited predation, and rapid population growth, the axis species is making life very difficult for native whitetail. Whitetails eat the same types of vegetation as axis. They also share the same water sources and habitats. Sadly, these factors have led to a decrease in the individual and population size of whitetails. As with many introduced species competing for the same resources as native species, the only answer to the problem is management through population control. By hunters taking more and more axis out of the equation, the delicate balance between the two species will be reestablished.

For the die hard, avid hunter, who would rather die than wait until whitetail season rolls back around, axis are a superb between-season game species to hunt. Axis are classified as an exotic species in the state of Texas, so there are no seasons designated for when they can be hunted. Their often large racks, large body size, and striking spotted hide make a great addition to the wall of any hunter's trophy room. Axis are also a semi-challenging species to hunt. They can be stalked, or hunted for by using the conventional blind and feeder.

Hunters also seek this species due to their outstanding quality of meat. Axis meat is very lean, high in protein, and almost always tender no matter how it is prepared. Their meat is favored by many people over whitetail meat because it often lacks the gamey flavor found in other types of venison. Axis venison can be substituted in almost every situation calling for beef, and can taste as good or even better. Arguably the most popular way to prepare axis venison is to chicken fry the backstrap. Smother the backstrap in homemade gravy and you will have yourself one tasty meal. If you get the chance to cook a meal involving meat, try substituting axis venison. I highly recommend.

There is no doubt that the presence of axis deer has affected hunting and wildlife in Texas. Whether they have bettered or worsened our state, it is almost inevitable that they are here to stay. With their superb adaptability they have made a spot for themselves in Texas' hunting and wildlife history book. It is our job as outdoorsman to accept this interesting species and make the best of what it has to offer. So whether you hunt them, eat them, enjoy them, hate them, or any of the latter, the axis deer is a true survivor.

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