Written by : Larry Weishuhn
Balancing the Axis
The Axis deer, originally from India, and introduced into Texas back in the early 1900’s, retains its spots throughout life. Arguably the Axis is considered by many to be the most beautiful of all the world’s deer. Once prevalent in the land of the tiger today their numbers in their home country are limited at best. In Texas they are found behind both high fences and free range in rather larger numbers, particularly throughout the Edwards Plateau or Hill Country.
In the Lone Star State Axis are considered an “exotic” or non-endemic big game species. As such, there are no seasons or bag limit restrictions. But a hunting license is required to hunt them as is permission from the landowner. Axis have essentially the same legal status as livestock.
Being a deer from the tropics there are some bucks in “hard antler” during any given time of the year, regardless of the season. However, throughout most of Texas there seems to be a peak in breeding activity during the months of late May to mid-July. During their summer rut, bucks tend to “roar” for a lack of a better description. They also set up rub lines which they visited frequently, and too, bucks, also called sometimes stags or bulls make “scrapes” somewhat like whitetail deer. The difference is Axis bucks stand on their hind legs to rub secretion from their large pre-orbital glands on limbs as high up in trees as they can. This is usually referred to as “preaching”.
Bucks antlers usually have a main beam and two tines per side; brow-tines, caudal tines, and the main beam. Mature bucks with beam lengths of 30-inches or better are considered “good”. Exceptional bucks may have main beams of upwards of 36 to 38 or more inches in length. Antler spread seldom exceeds 30 inches. Only males have antlers. While they make impressive skull mounts, they also make truly stunning shoulder mounts.
The coats of an Axis deer, because of their spotted hides, make great throw rugs, or coverings for pillows, and some even make vests and coats out of tanned skins.
The venison of Axis deer is outstanding. Even older, mature and rutting bucks tend to be tender and delicious!
Years ago I spent a fair amount of time hunting Axis deer, primarily for their meat, but also occasionally for their skins and antlers. After seeing some photos of the great Axis bucks taken on the Lazy CK Ranch (www.lazyckranch.com) I got an itch to once again hunt “the world’s most handsome and beautiful deer”! So, I got in touch with Travis Waits, the manager on the Lazy CK Ranch just north of Leakey, Texas and set up a hunt in June, knowing the rut should be going on. I also wanted to check out the Lazy CK Ranch which is quickly becoming known as one of the premier destination ranches in the Texas Hill Country for exotics species such as Axis and fallow deer, blackbuck antelope and a variety of other species, as well as huge whitetail deer and great spring turkey hunting! I also wanted to film an episode for our 2018 season of “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show, with emphasis on hunting summer-time Axis deer.
Arriving on the ranch after appropriate “Howdys”, we moved to their well appointed rifle range. I checked the zero of my Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter revolver topped with an experimental Zeiss variable long eye relief scope, chambered in .44 Mag and shooting Hornady’s 240-grain XTP loads which it dearly loves. At 50-yards all 6 shots grouped in less than 1-inch. I also shot my Ruger Model 77 FTW/SAAM Hunter in .300 Win Mag shooting Hornady’s 200-grain ELD-X Precision Hunter ammo. My intentions were to use the revolver if I could get within a hundred yards or less of a mature stag, and the rifle if the distance was farther.
We started seeing animals before we left camp. Late that afternoon we spotted three big, older Axis stags. Two of the stags were bedded and one was up feeding. Taking advantage of brush and oak trees we stalked and then crawl within less than 50 yards of the biggest, a buck that likely had main beams 34 to 35 inches in length. I set up my shooting sticks, and rested my revolver in the crux. I watched the tall antlered buck through the scope waiting for ideal shot…
Before I could do any more I heard my cameraman for my “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show, Dustin Blankenship, say softly, “Not enough light to get everything done..”
There is hunting and there’s hunting for television, and often the two have very little to do with one another! We watched the three big stags present perfect broadside shots before we slowly backed out and headed back to the Lazy Ck’s well appointed camp.
The following day was an interesting one. While the afternoon before we saw numerous species and many individuals, the next day we saw less than twenty animals all day. And, we hunted hard and long, from before first light until after last light. We hunted different types of terrain and vegetation types. We drove and looked. We walked where the day before we had seen many animals. Nothing worked. There was no movement what so ever! I had seen certain species crawl in a hole and not move all day long, but I had never before seen a day where nothing moved!
The only explanation we could come up with was “alien abduction”. Frankly, we hoped they would release all animals before the morrow’s hunt.
Next morning, we started seeing animals of all sorts before we pulled out of the camp’s parking lot. During the course of the morning hunt we saw several huge Axis bucks, which had I simply been hunting I would have taken! Mid-afternoon we stalked an extremely massive, long main beamed buck. And while I got close there were simply too many limbs to take a shot.
About five o’clock someone “opened the gate”. We spotted two Axis stags or “bulls” as Travis referred to them. They were on the backside of a savanna studded with live oak trees, which gave way to dense cedar and shinoak thickets.
It took some doing but we finally got to within about a hundred and twenty-five yards of the the bigger Axis, which had now bedded. We stopped next to a couple of oaks. I set up my shooting sticks, laid my revolver on the ground and positioned the .300 Win Mag on the sticks ready for a shot.
I watched the bedded stag. He was extremely wide and tall. But at the moment he was bedded. No shot! It took a while, but finally he stood and immediately walked to our right. I had to reposition a couple of times and wait for Dustin to say he had the footage he wanted.
Finally! I pulled the trigger. The 200-grain Hornady ELD-X struck the Axis on the point of his shoulder. He went down immediately!
I quickly bolted in a fresh round and watched him for a full minute before turning to accept Travis’ congratulations!
My buck was truly handsome! Frankly I can hardly wait to get the mount of my buck back from The Wildlife Gallery. The following morning I caped my buck, and then properly took care of the meat, which I could hardly wait to serve to my family and friends. To me Axis provide some of the finest and tastiest venison in the entire world.
Before leaving the Lazy CK, I met with Travis about future hunts there, for blackbuck antelope, fallow deer, as well as returning later this fall to try to rattle in some of their big whitetail bucks….