This trip really begins more than 3 years ago. It all started when my son, Anthony, bought a book, "Death in the Tall Grass" by Peter Hathaway Capstick. That planted the seed to want to go on safari in Africa. So we started looking into the logistics and finances to pull off this dream. We quickly disovered that on my and his modest income that was not going to happen. So we shelved that dream and started talking about a trip to Wyoming and going elk or mule deer hunting in the mountains. That is a trip we decided we could pull off after doing some investigating and calling around to a few outfitters. Plus Jedman at the GBO shoot in Ohio has a lot of experience going out to Wyoming and was instrumental in filling us in on the some of the do's and dont's. Everything was looking up going into 2014, but then fate played a cruel trick on my family. My son went to get his hair cut one day. The lady, who thankfully is also a nurse, noticed a lump on the back of my sons head that had not been there just 2 months ago. Turned out it was cancer. Good news was it was a very treatable form of lymphoma. So all plans were put on hold as finances and time went into the fight against this disease. After surgery, several months of chemo, and about a year and a half of MRI scans to show that the cancer was completely in remission we finally resumed our pursuit of our hunting dream in early spring of 2016. We did not have enough preference points saved up to make the trip to Wyoming. So we kinda resurrected our African safari dream after reading through the GBO forums exotics section. I also did a lot of Youtubing on Texas Outfitters who claim to provide safari style spot and stalk hunts. I noticed that drdourx had what appeared to be a very exciting trip with Wildlife Systems down in South Texes hunting nilgai and scimitar horned oryx. So I PM'ed him asking him for his input. After a very productive phone call he directed me to a Youtube video made back in October of 2011 of his experience. My son and I were sold. So I contacted Greg Simons at WSI and arranged our hunt for Feb\March time frame of 2017 at the Punta del Monte division of the H-Yturria ranch in Raymondville, Texas.
My son decided to go all in on a nilgai and I a female scimitar horned oryx. Greg Simons was very knowledgable and was extremely helpful in steering us to the type of hunt that we were looking for. He was also very accommodating as we had initially set the date for the 3rd week in March. However, work got a little crazy by Jan. 2017, and we had to shift our schedules around to satisfy career obligations. We finally cemented in Feb 13th, 14th and 15th as our hunt dates.
My son and I set out early Saturday morning, Feb 11th, and headed for deep South Texas. We arrived at the H-Yturria ranch two days later around noon on Monday. Just shy of 1,400 mi and 25 hours of drive time with stops.
We met up with our guide Pete Ewald. We were apperently the only hunters in camp. So upon arrival at camp he immediately had us sight in our rifles at the camps 100 yard range. Since neither of us had ever shot from shooting sticks we also tried shots from various postions. I did not care for the shooting sticks and opted for shooting offhand. My son did much better from the sticks and opted for their use. Once we were satisfied with our rifles accuracy and shooting options we went to the elevated observation platform right there in camp and started by glassing very large open pastures that we could see from camp. Most of the pastures or open ground down there is probably between 400 and 600 acres surrounded by thick nasty South Texas scrub. Most plants down their have stickers, needles or thorns. So even the open pastures have their share of nasties on the ground if you have to crawl when stalking. We spotted some possible mature nilgai about a mile and half away along a scrub line, and yes you can see a loooooong way from those elevated platforms. We also saw an incredible amount of nyala, kudu, lechwe, turkey, scimitar horned oryx and whitetail deer from that platform. It was not as impressive as the mass herds I have seen on Nat Geo of the plains of Africa, but for this midwest boy it was darn close. In fact over the two and half days on the ranch I saw more game on that 12,000 acre ranch than I have probably seen in my entire life put together here in Indiana.
SWe set out in the truck and began to drive the ranch access roads, lanes and trails to try and get down wind of them and stay hidden from view. By the time we got in a good spot to get out and start stalking the nilgai already put another 3/4 of mile on us. Our first stalk ended in failure when trying to get ahead of them. One of them spotted our truck creeping up to the opening and fled. Once one took off the others never stayed in the area. They have excellent vision and a high neck so they have the same if not better height advantage that we do as humans when looking out over the fields. Nilgai as I found out are notoriously skittesh and wary especially of people and vehicles. Nilgai are free ranging between the ranches. The H-Yturria ranch borders the famous King rang. We found out that on the King ranch they let some of their clients hunt nilgai by handing them an AR15 then climb in a couple of jeeps and take off after them blasting away as the ranch hands/guides follow behind them and put down any wounded ones. Not very sporting, but perhaps exciting for some I suppose, but not my cup of tea. The H-Yturria does not allow that style of hunting. So in effect it makes the nilgai terrified of vehicles as far as I could see. Needless to say even if they hear a truck coming they usually just run into the brush and dissappear. It amazed me as large as they are, and we saw some big ones, they can just melt into the bush like a ghost in broad daylight. The other game animals were nowhere near as skittish when it came to the trucks.
The weather was turning hotter and wind was picking up out of the SE off the gulf. This was my and my sons first warm weather hunting so it was real nice to be wearing short sleeves for a change when hunting. We continued our spot and stalk routine at each large pasture we came across. Some of these fields would be empty and then the next might have 50 or so assorted animals in it spread out over several hundred acres. We saw havelina, coyote, bobcat, sable, zebra, and even a few waterbuck too to keep adding to the list of critters sightings. All in the first afternoon. We tried a couple more stalks for nilgai as I had expressed I wanted my son to go first, but right at the end of the day with about 20 minutes of shooting light left we came up on our first herd of about 30 female scimitars with calves. Pete asked if I wanted to give it go and I said no. Frankly the drive, excitement, heat and exertion had taken its toll that day and I was beat. I did not want to screw up my shot and besides I knew I was in the right spot and would surely get another chance at them tomorrow or the next day. No sense in rushing.We headed back to camp for some dinner. The camp has their own cook. They prepared fajitas for our first evening meal with home made tortillas. Yummy. Then off to bed to start fresh the next morning.
Tuesday Feb. 14th, just happened to my birthday. I turned 50 years young that day and it was a day to remember. We had a hearty breakfast and just as daylight was breaking we set out for the elevated observation platform to begin glassing the fields within sight of camp. We spoted a lone nilgai bull about a half mile out right off the main ranch road leading into camp. So we decided to start with him. As we were driving out we spotted another group of bulls through an opening in the scrub further out and there were two nice bulls in that group so we decided to put a stalk on those bulls. The morning started off warm and muggy with SE winds, but the sky was thick with clouds off to the Northwest with the promise of rain. So with the wind in our favor and some cover between them and us we drove to get into stalking postion and it started to rain. Light at first then a little heavier. It did not last long and we spent the next hour or so working into a good shooting postition. We got to within about 200 yards of two bulls we were after. There were 3 smaller/younger ones that were closer. One of the younger bulls as it grazed slowly worked his way right at us and did eventually present some nice broadsides at about 150 yards. However, Anthony waited patiently for the older bulls to walk in a little closer and present a good shot. Meanwhile, as luck would have it, two whitetail does came out from our right and walked between us and the nilgai at about 40 yards. One of them noticed us, but did not immediately seem too concerned as we were already crouched in the shade of the tree line. It did have its curiosity piqued and it slowly started to walk towards us stopping, looking, smelling trying to figure out what we were. Then several Nyala started moving through from our left and into the pasture as well and again, as luck would have it, further block any possible shot on the two older bulls. So we sat and waited some more. The whitetails were now very close and intently watching us. Right about this time the wind started to shift from the SE to NW as the front began to move through and a light spinkle set in. Unfortunately for us that put the whitetails right down wind of our scent. Once they got a whiff they bolted across the pasture right at the nilgai group we had been stalking. The Nyala did not seem to care about the whitetails running by them, they all had their heads up sniffing the change in the air. They just continued on their way. The nilgai sensed the change in the air and then watched the whiteltails bolt past them. They decided they ought to leave too. They did not run but definitely bee-lined for the thick scrub they seem to never be far from. Again watching 5 400 + lb critters melt into the thick scrub just amazed me. In the span of a just a few minutes the pasture we had been watching that was full of game just 15 minutes before was now empty, except for us, with a Northwest wind blowing through it. Oh well, back to the truck and do some more glassing.
We spent the rest of the morning til lunch time driving around the scrub lines, creeping up to openings, getting out glassing and walking. We saw several nilgai cows and calves and several small bulls but no shooters. After lunch we went back to the observation platform and galssed some more. We actually did not see any decent nilgai from that vantage point. The weather was improving from earlier and the sun was back out, but with a pretty good NW wind at about 20 mph gusting to 30 mph. We decided to try a different observation platform on the other side of the ranch. Once there we saw several nilgai and a bunch of other critters in this part of the ranch. However, our guide was not impressed with the two or three nilgai bulls we could glass. However, we did spot the same herd of scimitar horned oryx we saw the day before about 1/2 mile or so from where were at in an adjacent field next to a windmill with a water tank. We dedcided to give the nilgai chase a rest and see if we could close the distance on this herd. There were three nice older females and one of them was definitely larger out of those three. The guide said that was the one we wanted. So we climbed back in the truck drove slowley to a down wind opening and got out. The only problem was the heard was actually on the other side of a low fence that divided the pastures, and the only cover on our approach was the water tank and widmill itslef. So we began our approach. slowly working our way up to the herd. They began moving of their own accord away from us following the fence line. Upon making the windmill and crouching behind the water tank wall we climbed over the fence. As quite and stealthy as we thought we were and even in the gusty winds the lead female was standing staring us down at about 160 yards. About half of the herd had actually laid down along the fence while the others were still milling around. That female scimitar howerver was firmly fixated on us, but she did not run. There were two 4x4 inch posts about 3 feet highh sticking up from the ground a few feet in front of me. Pete said to try and get to them and use them as a rest since I was going to shot from a sitting position. The moment I started moving to the posts the scimitar made kind of a grunting noise. This started getting some of the other oryx to their feet but not all. Now we had several pairs of eyes staring us down. The wind was still firmly in our favor. She just stood there head on to me. I did not feel comfortable in taking a frontal shot. So I waited for her to make some kind of move. She was either going to bolt or simply loose interest and move off. Thankfully she decided to move off. She tunred too quickly for me to get a broadside, but she went only about 10 yards or so and turned quarting away from to look again. That was her fatal mistake. I now had a clear shot through the chest cavity. With my vertical crosshair on her far front leg and centered dead on where I thought her heart/lung area I quickly asked for range. Pete whispered back 168. I quickly said the astronauts prayer, "Oh Lord, pplease don't let me screw this up", and I squeezed the trigger. Report and an audible slap even over the wind. She spun away from shot about 150 degrees her head arching back to her rear haunch then her head snapped back as she started to run at first then slowing, but she kept moving, but clearly hurt. I then could clearly see blood on the non impact side of her that was now facing us as she continued to move off. Man my heart sank because I immediatly thought I had hit her too far back punched through her gut or rear huanch and the bullet passed through on the opposite side somehow. I had the presence of mind to quickly rack in another round and aimed a full body length ahead and shot. It was a clean miss as far as I could tell. I quickly racked another in the chamber and repeated the procedure as she was still running. Another miss. My 4th round jammed going into the chamber. I started to struggle to clear the round and just as a mild nagging sense of "you screwed this up" was setting in she finally stopped, wobbled, and went down. I could see her legs flailing. I started to feel the adrenaline surge and get the shakes from excitement of the event, and I turned to look at Anthony. He simply said she is getting back up. She started to run again albiet much more slowly this time. Pete turned to Anthony and told him to shoot to drop her since I had not resolved my jam yet. He fired and missed too. I felt like someone punched me in the gut and just as my hope faded, she went down again when her front legs buckled and went head first into the dirt. This time a lot less flailing and then she was still. I did not know what to do. Reload, celebrate, vomit, but then Pete looked at me and said he knew it was a good hit he just wanted the insurance of a second shot into her.
From where I shot her to where she went down the first time we estimate she ran about 150 yards. She ran another 50 yards or so after she got up again before finally going down for the final time. We discovered the blood spot on the opposite side of impact was blown out from her nostrils when she took of running. Blood from the nostrils was a deep red color so I knew I taken out at least on blood rich organ like the liver or spleen and possibly the heart too. Field dressing showed I had an entrance wound just behind the rib cage with no exit wound. I had punched through the stomach and by the time the bullet had reach liver it was obviously dumping a lot of energy into the cavity because the entire liver was pretty much destroyed. Once we got it back to camp further processing showed lacerations to the bottom of side of the lungs and the off impact side quarter of the heart had been split open. We found the bullet resting under the skin right behind the front leg I had been aiming at. A nice mushroom and petals. It was a little mishaped but very close to the classic look of a good bullet doing exactly what it should. Of the 3 shots taken on her while running none hit. The fatal shot was my first one. It simply amazed me how tough this animal was to bring down. I was using a 250 grain Hornady interlock RN powered by 55.1 gr of RL15 in a 35 Whelen. The bullet went through nearly 3 feet of the animal and she was still able to run, drop, get back up run some more before finally expiring. Whew!
What a birthday present! We got her back to camp to get it caped, quartered and in the cooler. It took less than an hour from the time we dropped her. Immediately upon finishing Pete had us back in the truck and heading back out for the last 45 minutes or so of the hunting light we had left. We saw some nice bulls right at dusk, but it was too dark to make a serious stalk. So it was back to camp for dinner.
Now that day we had seen some other people driving trhough camp that were not rach hands. Upon getting back for dinner they were sitting in the lounge are of the main hall talking. Immediately upon entering they all wanted to know who got the Oryx. So a story ensued of our adventure that day. Turns out that one of the gentlemen was a lease holder on the ranch for deer and was just out doing some scouting. We all sat down for another great meal of ribeye steaks and all the trimmings. Somewhere along the line they found out it was my birthday. Someone produce a tray of gourmet chocolate covered strawberries and I got the Happy Birthday chorus. I had been saving a bottle of some single malt scotch for just such an occasion. So out we went to the campfire to swap stories and sip some good drink. What a way to end a very memorable day.
We were up the next morning albiet a little slower than normal but in good shape. After some coffee, and a good bacon and egg fueled breakfast we set out once again to start to glass the fields from the elevated hunting platform. We did not see any immediate shooter bulls. About that time we noticed large smoke plumes rising up on the horizon. Pete explained to us that they were probably burning pastures to allow new growth on an adjoining ranch. Didn't take long for the smoke to drift over our area and soon that air was definitely very hazy and the smell of smoke was very evident. I thought for sure the animals would spook. However, they did not even seem to notice. The smoke also gave the sunlight filtering through the a haze a salmon color to the light bathing everything in a very odd light. We started to drive and glass. We saw a group of six or seven young bulls on the far side of one of the pastures. One had potential so we decided to try our luck and set out on another stalk. This one too ended in failure. We went to another side of the ranch. We did see some bulls there as well but the ranch had decided to work ground on one of the pastures with a large CAT dozer dragging a "chopper roller" around. The nilgai in the area seemed wary and just would not stay calm and keep grazing to work in close enough for a shot. So we headed back for some lunch after a couple more failed, but short, stalk attempts. After lunch we decided to change up tactics and stake out one of the larger water holes and see if we could ambush a nilgai coming in for a drink. We only saw a couple of Nyala and on very nervous looking waterbuck. It was about 2 pm now on our last day. Getting a little nervous that my son may go home empty handed. We actually told Pete that even a young bull would be fine with us. He said not to worry and that we would get one within range. So after some discussion we decided to go to the field that had been worked earlier in the day by the roller chopper. When we arrived the dozer was parked and the area was again teeming with an assortment of animals including 2 nice bulls. So we set our sites on one of them and set out on the longest and perhaps most disappointing stalks of the hunt. We had lots of open ground and very little cover between us and the nilgai. But we managed to get within 200 yards at one point but the nilgai would not present a good shot before moving on. We continued to stalk him trying to cut him off when we reach a thicket. We were now within 175 yards and again the nilgai would not present a good shot before moving again. Again we continued to stalk. We again had to cross open ground with little cover. We managed to get within 135 yards but as luck would have it another bull just off to our left at about 115 yards and just inside a thicket spotted us. So we ducked down in the grass but it was too late the nilgai had turned and spotted us. The gig was up. The other nilgai had already made up his mind and moved off in a hurried fashion. The one we were stalking ran straight away from us just a few seconds later never presenting his broadside. After yesterdays Oryx adventure both Anthony and I decided running shots would be our very last resort. So in failure we started to head back to the truck. By the time we got back the sun was starting to get low in the western sky and we were going on 4:30 pm. Bottom of the 7th inning so to speak. We decided to head back to camp and glass from the elevated platform and see if we could not spot a decent bull. As luck would have it on the main gravel road leading to camp we passed a small opening and back in the corner was a nice nilgai bull grazing behind some thinned out scrub. Pete didn't slow down one bit all he said was yup I saw him. We drove about 200 yards down the road and the pulled over. We had no idea if he had let out when the truck went by or stayed there eating contently. We crept up to the edge of the clearing with the wind in our face and sun at our backs. He was still there grazing. So in single file we crept up to within about 80 yards before the nilgai noticed we were there. We had already layed down except Anthony who was in a seated position with gun up and ready to shoot. However, the nilgai stayed behind just enough brush and did not move. He kept looking our way but did not run. He even went back to grazing for a minute. Then he took a step or two out from behind scrub and turned slightly to try and get a better look. That was his fatal mistake. Pete had instructed Anthony that if we got a shot at the neck aim for the white patch in the throat area. The nilgai tuned and just like we had seen them all do the raised up their heads just before they decide to run. Anthony said all he heard Pete say just before the nilgai stepped out was "aim for the white patch". Anthonys 300 win mag barked and the nilgai went down right on the spot. Never moved an inch. Pete stood up and said Wow you dirt napped him. Anthony still had the presence of mind to stay in his shooting position and had recovered enough to rack in another round. We stood there just for a few seconds and then it became apparent the nilgai was not getting back up. We went up to see Anthonys trophy. The shot had enter just to one side of the white patch but the exit hole on the back of the neck was about as perfect of center as you could get. The bullet had obviously destroyed the spine in the neck area. Pete went ahead and put a finishing shot into the heart. The nilgai twitched a little and then stopped moving again. Whew... What a hunt. We estimated the nilgai weighed about 550 to 575 lbs on the hoof. The field dress weight came in just a little over 400 lbs. Took all 3 of us to roll that bad boy over for his one and only photo shoot. Again the speed at which Pete and camp staff field processed the nilgai and stowed it in the cooler was astonishing. That night we had dinner and another lease holder had come out to do some management deer hunting. He was the one that told us about the AR15 jeep hunts on the adjoining King ranch. He had been invited to one a while back. After dinner we were exhausted. We just went straight to bed as we had a long day of driving ahead of us. Plus we had to get the meat to the processor before we could get on the road.
Next morning we had breakfast. We then loaded up Petes truck with about 500 lb of quartered Oryx and Nilgai. While were loading up the meat the lease holder we had meet the night before came driving back in to camp with a nice 8 pt "management" buck. Deer hunting in February, must be nice. With everything loaded up we said good bye to the camp staff and set out for Rudys Meat Market in Raymondville. We meet with Rudy and filled out our processing tickets and paid our deposit. We decided to follow Rudys advice and let him hang the meat for 5 days to let it age. Then he processed to our request and air ship it to the Indy airport.
Well we made it back to Indiana just fine after a brief visit at my brothers place in Richardson on the way back. A week later Rudy called and said the processing is done and he will ship on any day that was convenient. We arranged the day he would ship that worked with my schedule. The meat arrived via SouthWest Cargo at Indy on the arranged day and time. Well packed and very much still frozen solid. 307 lbs shipping weight according to the airbill. Got it home and stowed in our now very full freezers.
So tonight march 5th 2017 we finally had our first meal of nilgai chili. It taste very much like lean beef. Was very good. Have not tried the oryx yet so I will update when we do. The really good news is the wife loved it. I even floated the idea of when we run out of nilgai we will need to go on another hunt. I got a maybe, we will see. Hey it was not a flat out no... I can work with that.
More pictures will be up soon.