April 10, 2013
Hurteau's Texas Nilgai Hunt, Part 2
By Dave Hurteau
Two quick notes before we get stared: first you can click here if you missed Part 1, and second, for anyone who’d like to flatly call me a hypocrite or anything else, I invite you to do so in the comment section below, and don’t feel like you have to read the story first.
Okay. Here we go.
A Real Hunt
Taking several shots to check the zero on the .45-70, I threw one way high. On a Texas nilgai hunt, you shoot standing off sticks in the African tradition (even though nilgai are Asian). Noticing the flyer, Sports Afield Editor Diana Rupp, with whom I was hunting and who shoots standing off sticks far more often than I do, pointed out that with this method there’s a tendency to shoot high if you’re not careful to hold the fore-end down on the sticks. "Okay," I said, and we went hunting.
Nilgai were introduced on the King Ranch in the 1920s as a game species and supplemental food source for the cowboys. But the ranch’s low fence, designed to keep cattle in, does not prevent wildlife from getting out, and today about 30,000 free-ranging, wild nilgai roam various portions of south Texas, including about 10,000 of them on the King Ranch. What’s striking is how these huge, exotic beasts vanish so naturally into the scraggly branches of mesquite and live oaks—almost like they evolved here.
Our guide Clay drove us from camp a few miles to where the road narrowed to a sandy ribbon threading thick banks of mesquite. We parked and got out—a good sign. We were told we would do some “spot and stalk” hunting, which in some places is a euphemism for “drive around in the truck.” Not here. Clay led Diana and I slipping through groves of low-growing live oaks and Guinea grass. This was not even spot and stalk; this was honest-to-goodness still-hunting.
And the nilgai, we learned, were not going to fall into line like carnival ducks. After agreeing that Diana would take the first shot unless there was a good close opportunity for the .45-70, we hunted hard that first morning. We blew several stalks. While bringing up the rear, I could see plainly when Clay was onto a bull; he’d stop, peer, and glass. So I’d stop, peer, and glass, too, in the same spot—but I’ll be damned if I could see anything. Finally, toward the end of the morning, I spotted four jet-black legs swishing though the Guinea grass, and then barely made out a gray body hidden in the gray branches. Then he bolted.
Before arriving, I knew I’d be hunting a wild critter; the question was, "How wild?" I was guessing not especially. Most people who go nilgai hunting, after all, get a nilgai. That’s why I chose the open-sighted .45-70—to make things interesting. But on that first morning, we’d had the wind and a damp, almost-silent forest floor; yet we never came close to getting a shot. On the way back to the truck, a big-rumped bull shot to its feet not 15 yards away and plunged into the brush. He’d let us walk right past him, just like a whitetail.
The afternoon hunt was more of the same—quite a bit more. Slipping along a sandy trail, we were spotting bulls left and right, and blowing one stalk after another. It become obvious why most hunters get their nilgai: because while each one is fabulously wary, every bit the equal of a whitetail from what I could see, there are a whole lot of ‘em here. Sooner or later, you’re going to get your chance.
Diana got hers late that first afternoon, when, miracle of miracles, while still bringing up the rear I spotted a bull she and Clay had walked past. He was slinking, head down, through the low oak branches at a little over 100 yards, no idea we were there, for a change. Quickly on the sticks, Diana, shooting the Model 70 in .264 Win Mag loaded with (I believe) a 140-grain Nosler Partition bullet, hit him perfectly with the first shot, and gave him another for good measure.
Driving the dusty road back to camp with Diana’s bull in the back, roadside whitetails lifting lazily from their chewing to amble into the mesquite, I felt like this had already been a more challenging and rewarding hunt than I expected. And that getting within open-sighted-.45-70 range of a nilgai tomorrow would not be easy.
Look for Part 3 next week.