Imagine driving through thick brush, and a group of axis deer darts out in front of your truck. A little further along, an oryx browses alongside the dirt path–entering a clearing, eland and kudu surround a feeder. It may seem like you have left North America and gone on safari. In fact, these species of exotic game are all found in Texas, along with nearly one hundred more. The arid regions of South and West Texas resemble the native habitat of many exotic game animals. Imported from all corners of the globe, animals from countries like South Africa, Afghanistan, India and Spain now roam thousands of Texas exotic game ranches.
Owning one of these ranches is rewarding to the adventurous-at-heart, and to those with a love for wildlife. However, exotic game ranches can also be financially rewarding. The key to success comes down to sound management practices and picking the right piece of property.
Choosing The Right Ranch
Equipped with some knowledge of what to look for in an exotic game ranch, you can make proper decisions before committing. The first step working with a real estate company familiar with this type of property. A knowledgeable realtor will save a lot of headaches down the road and help find the land that fits your goals. James Bigley, owner of Maverick Realty, is experienced in exotic game ranch management, guiding buyers to make informed decisions and to find their dream property. Are you looking to own exotic animals for your own pleasure? Do you want to sell and guide hunts on your land? The answers to these questions will help determine the size and type of ranch you need.
Easiest by far is to purchase a ranch already set up for exotic game. Starting from scratch can be expensive and labor intensive; a property with fences and water sources already in place is a huge bonus.
Different species require different levels of fencing, but you cannot go wrong with a quality high fence. Most of these are around eight feet tall and constructed of woven net-wire. While some animals don’t need the high fence, good boundaries will keep your investment from wandering onto neighboring properties or getting mixed in the wrong pasture. Building new fences is a major cost–examine existing fences on a potential property to determine if they will fit your needs. While maintenance never ends, starting with quality makes a huge difference in a property’s value.
There is nothing more important than water. Each animal on your property must have easy access to a good water source at all times. Drought and heat are common in Texas; even a few hours without hydration can be fatal.
Reliable sources like windmills and/or wells that draw from a stable aquifer are important. Never rely solely on creeks and tanks (ponds). Great when full, these can dry up. If a property is not set up to pump water to every pasture, take that into consideration before buying.
This one is the easiest aspects for a Texas exotic game ranch, since the state has excellent habitat for many imported species. Look for a mix of cover and open areas, with plenty of browse.
Beware of mis-managed ranches overgrazed by livestock or game animals. These can take years to recover in the Texas climate and overgrazed land is also host to noxious and invasive plant species. One indication of this is trees and bushes stripped of their leaves as high as grazing animals can reach. Look for a variety of healthy native plants, and remember: Land always looks best in the wet season. Make a point of finding out how the property handles dry conditions.
Stocking an Exotic Game Ranch
Once you have the property for your Texas exotic game ranch, you need to stock it. Perhaps it came with animals, but you would like to diversify. The first step would be to join the Exotic Wildlife Association. This will put you in touch with other ranch owners and breeders. Industry knowledge runs deep among the membership of the EWA, and this network will be valuable as you move forward.
Buying exotic game animals
With many ranches having well established breeding programs, there is little need to import animals. Many ranches sell to others ranches, for various reasons. As your herd grows, you might need to consider selling some of your animals, but for now, you need to focus on stocking your ranch with quality genetics from reputable breeders. Sources like WildLife Partners and the EWA can help get you on the right track.
Options abound for varieties of game. Depending on goals and the size of the property, you can have many different species. The Ox Ranch in the Texas Hill Country has over 60 species on about 18,000 acres of land!
Exotic game animals are expensive to buy, so start out only with the animals you need to breed and grow your own herd. Later, you will need to diversify your genetics, but by the time that happens, you will be well versed in exotic game management.
Managing Your Animals
As you stock your property, keep in mind the number of animals the land can sustain–on a bad year. It’s easy to get carried away when grazing is abundant. When the rain stops, and it will, forage can disappear rapidly. Overstocking can severely damage a piece of property through overgrazing, as mentioned before. Imagine your land at its worst, during the longest possible drought, and stock for that scenario.
The habitat in Texas will provide your animals with much of what they need. However, it is always a good idea to set up for supplemental feeding. Strategically placed feeders, like those from Moultrie, will allow you to distribute feed as needed.
Quality nutrition is key to healthy animals, and essential if you are trying to grow trophies. When the weather if stressing your exotic game, feeding can help your operation be successful. Also, allow access to free choice mineral supplements.
Mix males and females of any species, and nature takes care of itself. However, it is not a good idea to let breeding go unmanaged. Your goal, whether hunting is part of your operation or not, is to have the healthiest, strongest possible representation of each species. Start with good genetics and periodically introduce new strains into the population to limit inbreeding. Cull inferior animals, either through hunting or sales. Use these same methods to keep male-to-female ratios balanced.
Thinning Your Herds
As your herd grows, you will need to thin it. The most profitable way is through hunting. One of the major benefits to a Texas exotic game ranch is the ability to hunt non-indigenous game year-round. The reason for this is that the state of Texas does not consider exotic game as wildlife. While most animals, especially antlered species, are best harvested during certain times of the year, regulations do not restrict hunting seasons.
By definition, imported exotic game animals are livestock, privately owned as opposed to being owned by the state. As the owner of the game, you dictate how hunting and management operations function on your land. While buying exotic game to stock your ranch, you spent a good chunk of money. Selling hunts is the best way to capitalize on your investment.
One aspect of exotic game ranches is beneficial on a larger scale, and this is conservation. It doesn’t have to be all about hunting–you can also do your part to help threatened and endangered species. In fact, you can do both, and maximize the reward derived from your property.
The scimitar-horned oryx was declared extinct in the wild in 2000. However, the numbers of these animals are booming in Texas, with more than 11,000 animals roaming private ranches as of 2013. In 2011, changes to the Endangered Species Act imposed a ban on hunting them. This move actually threatened the future of the scimitar-horned oryx, de-incentivising ranches from breeding the animals and causing a reduction in numbers. In 2014, the ban was lifted, a positive move for conservation. Revenue from hunting the scimitar-horned oryx helps pay for herd expansion, maintenance, and management, cementing a positive future for these magnificent animals.
So, Why a Texas Exotic Game Ranch?
If you love the thrill of exotic game, the feel of a safari, and the taste of meat you harvested yourself, then one of these ranches might be for you. There are Texas exotic game ranches for sale right now, and one of them might be the property you are looking for. Perhaps you would like to become a breeder and sell to other ranches. If conservation is a passion, you can do your part on a Texas exotic game ranch. Or, if you would love to make a living off of your land by selling and guiding hunts, it could turn into your most lucrative venture. The options for success are as limitless as the number of species you can choose from.