Eye to Eye with Nilgai in South Texas

The nilgai, which I went after a couple of weeks ago, is a terrific game animal, and hunting for the critter is the closest you'll get to an African hunt short of crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Also known as the blue bull (mature bulls have a blue-gray tint to their hides), the species was imported to South Texas in the 1920s, where there are now an estimated 15,000. South Texas is brush country, and bears an uncanny resemblance to much of sub-equatorial Africa: grassy meadows, impenetrable mesquite thickets, waterholes, and serious serpents of the rattling variety.

A mature nilgai bull stands 4 to 5 feet at the shoulder and weighs 450 to 650 pounds. The horns are short spikes--10 inches is a fine trophy--and the bulls are adept at using them. The animals are as hard to hunt as the whitetails whose habitat they share; they have terrific eyesight, hearing, and smell, and are super-spooky.

Typical nilgai hunts run about two days, and are strictly fair chase. You get to creep, crawl (on your belly sometimes, keeping a sharp eye out for Mr. No Shoulders), and even run, dodge, and jump. You can shoot one close up--I got my most recent one at 70 yards--or do as Kenny Jarrett did at the old Tio Moya ranch and nail one at 700 yards.

Nilgai are also fine eating. I rank them, along with moose and eland, as one of the three best critters to set fang to. The guide I hunted with is Jim Blackburn. He can set up the whole thing, and does a terrific job. To get in touch with him, e-mail jimblackburn@sbcglobal.net.

One other thing: South Texas is armadillo country, and it's just been proven that humans can contract a particularly virulent strain of leprosy from the beasts. If you feel inclined to mess with one, be advised that in about 5 years you will not get high marks for your personal appearance.