“He’s seventy yards away, feeding, facing to the left, broadside. I’ll set up the sticks. Slide around me. You’ll see him when you do. He doesn’t know we’re here… yet!” whispered Charlie Buchen.
Scooting forward on my knees I quickly settled the Ruger FTW/SAAM Hunter in .375 Ruger in the crux of the sticks, then looked down the barrel to be certain there was no brush in the way….there was! Ever so cautiously I raised the the tripod shooting sticks so the barrel would clear the branch. Then pushing the Ruger’s three-stage safety to its second position, I settled in behind my Trijicon scope. Crosshairs settled on the nilgai’s chest. As I pushed the safety to fire, the bull raised his head, looked in my direction and ran, much quicker than in the telling. I watched as he disappeared behind a sand dune.
Smiling, I looked back at Charlie shaking his head. “Amazing animals aren’t they? In less than a heart beat he spotted us, turned and ran.” Before I could respond Charlie continued, “Their eyesight is unbelievably acute. Very seldom do they miss a thing.”
“Loved the getting close, even if I didn’t shoot.” I continued as we walked away, “Shooting Hornady’s 250-grain GMX, I know I could have placed my bullet in his vitals at well over 300 yards. But, to me that would only have been shooting and not hunting. To me hunting means getting as close as possible before pulling the trigger on an animal.”
I had spent a bunch of time shooting with my Ruger/Hornady combo at the FTW Ranch’s S.A.A.M. ranges shooting out to 500 yards at 8-inch steel gongs. But, the only way I would shoot at an animal at that distance is if it were wounded and I had no other shot.
“Let’s go find another bull!” suggested Charlie, whose philosophy on hunting is the same as mine. I had not previously hunted with my guide, but knew him to be a great hunter based on the number of awards jackets he has received through our Los Cazadores Whitetail Deer Contest, based out of Pearsall, Texas. Greg Simons, owner of Wildlife Systems who set up my nilgai hunt had told me Charlie and I would enjoy hunting together. He was right! When not guiding hunters he’s a fishing guide through his Tail Chaser Charters based out of Port Mansfield, Texas.
NIlgai, originally from India where they are often called “Sacred Blue Bulls of india”, were first “liberated” in the lower Texas Rio Grande Valley in the 1930’s. Their numbers have greatly increased. Bulls develop relatively short straight horns and their bodies turn a bluish black when they mature. Although bulls can develop horns up to 10 or 12 inches long, any bull with eight to nine-inch long horns are considered “good”! Younger bulls are a light brown in color, just like the cows. Nilgai also have a unique “beard” about half way down their neck. Considered “exotics” there is no hunting season on nilgai, but to take one you must have permission from the landowner. Southern Texas is one of the very few places where nilgai can be hunted. Their meat, even on mature bulls, is extremely tasty! Mature bulls usually weigh between 350 to 500 pounds. Cows usually weigh 250 to about 350 pounds.
Nilgai are extremely wary! They can frequently be found in herds of four to as many as forty or more. They generally run at the first sight of potential danger. They are notoriously tough to bring down. Most ranches require hunters to use nothing less than a .338 Win Mag in terms of caliber.
Next morning Charlie, Al Shacklett cameraman/field producer for my “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show which airs on Sportsman Channel and I were back afield. We drove to where we intended to walk in search of a mature blue bull. Less than twenty minutes into our walk we spotted a mature bull about 800 yards distant. He was upwind. By using tall grass, clumps of cactus, mesquite and other thorn bushes we soon cut the distant to 200 yards. Our goal was to get to within a hundred yards. We moved cautiously forward. At a hundred yards Charlie set up shooting sticks. The bull had no idea we were there. I settled my rifle on the shooting sticks, pushed the safety to fire. The bull raised his head, saw me and took off at a run!
Shaking my head I turned to Charlie.. “Nilgai being nilgai…” was all I said.
My guide smiled, “We’ll find another!”
Later, we spotted a dark, mature bull while glassing from the top of a sand dune. He was a quarter of a mile away feeding on the undulating plain between dunes. We decided a direct approach would be best, taking advantage of what little cover there was other than the valleys and low ridge sand dunes separating us. We cut the distance to a hundred yards of where we anticipated the nilgai to be be feeding behind a low ridge. Easing forward we could occasionally see the bull’s back, but little else. Slowly… Cautiously…. Forward, cutting the distance to sixty yards. Charlie set up my shooting sticks. Resting my .375 Ruger I waited for the bull to show more of himself. When he finally did, I pulled the trigger. At the shot the nilgai simply pitched forward and did not move again.
As I moved toward my downed animal which would provide many delicious meals, I accepted Charlie’s congratulatory hand, ending a fabulous hunt!