A chilly north wind gusts across the mesquite studded coastal plain, as the two hunters and their guide crouch low in a brushy thicket and peer thru binoculars at a distant herd of nilgai antelope. "We've got a herd of cows down there. We haven't spotted the bull yet, so we are going to wait and see if he comes out," guide Lendell Laxton whispers.
After a few minutes, Laxton motions his hunters to stay put, and sneaks ahead thru knee high grass for a better look. The swaying dry grass disguises his movement, and soon he returns. "The bull is not around. He must have moved off. Oh well, it was a good stalk," Laxton says with a smile.
Russell Marshall and his hunting companion Kenneth Vickers are from Victoria, and both are seasoned nilgai hunters. They are hunting on the Yturria Ranch north of Raymondville where nilgai abound, but neither of them are surprised that the first stalk of the morning did not bring a shot. "They are very wary, very challenging animals to hunt and super tough animals to take down," Marshall says as he shoulders his rifle and begins the hike back to the truck.
Nilgai antelope were first introduced in the 1930's by the King Ranch. The native Indian antelope have spread throughout the coastal prairie between Kingsville and the Rio Grande. The term nilgai is derived from the Hindi word "nilgaw" (blue bull) and refers to the dark bluish color of the adult males. Mature males have short dark horns and can exceed 700 pounds.
On many ranches the abundant antelope now outnumber native whitetail deer. The cows are reddish brown and several hundred pounds lighter than the large males. They give birth once a year with twins being the norm. With no natural predators, the prolific animals must be hunted to keep their numbers in check. In times of drought, like South Texas is currently suffering, they compete with cattle and deer for available food.
Returning to the truck, the hunters rejoin their companions. Marshall, 47, is hunting with his father, Kenneth, and Vickers, 59, has brought his son, Jarred. "After a little good natured ribbing about returning empty handed, Kenneth Marshall, who took a bull the previous day, reflects on a lifetime spent hunting with his son. "He was a little boy, and I had to sit him between my legs there in the deer blind. We have been going ever since."
"My dad carried me out, and I guess that's where I got started," Russell says. "I started hunting with my dad when I was about eight years old, and he was kind enough to take me out and get me started deer hunting. I am now 47, so it has been almost 40 years of hunting together, and we have made some wonderful trips."
As Kenneth Vickers prepares to climb into the back of the pickup, he hands his rifle to his son Jarred, who also took a bull the previous day on his first nilgai hunt. "Hunting kind of runs in my family," Kenneth Vickers says. "My grandfather was a hunter, my dad was a hunter, I'm a hunter and my son is a hunter. It's a legacy in our family and I would say it's all in our blood. We truly enjoy the sport, but what's most rewarding about it all is that it's a chance to be with your son, and that's what I really enjoy the most."
Once the hunters are settled in, Laxton starts the big diesel four wheel drive and heads for a different pasture on the 15,000 acre ranch where he has seen some mature bulls. Soon he slows and points to a trio of dark specks more than 400 yards out in a low area. "There are three good bulls down there, and if we use this brush line we should be able to get in close enough for a shot."
It is going to be a tough stalk without much cover and so just Laxton and Marshall head out at a brisk pace, keeping low behind a series of mesquite mottes as they make their approach. After some 20 minutes they reach the last line of cover. Scanning the grassy depression, they discover that the three bulls have moved out of range, and there is not sufficient cover to allow for a closer stalk.
"Why don't you stay here, just in case they move back this way, and I will go back to the truck," Laxton says. Marshall agrees and settles in to watch the distant bulls. Suddenly, the trio wheel around and begin trotting in his direction. Without hesitation, the veteran hunter sets up his shooting sticks and waits. Within minutes the largest of the three is in range, and with one sure shot Marshall drops the bull.
"He didn't go far at all," Marshall says with a grin. "Of course, I hit him with a 286 grain bullet, .366 caliber." When Laxton returns with the truck, Marshall's companions congratulate him on a fine kill.
"Dad and I have been lucky enough to have hunted all over the world together," Marshall says. We have hunted Zimbabwe. We have hunted South Africa. This is our third year on the Yturria, and one of the things about hunting nilgai at the Yturria Ranch is it is a little touch of Africa right here in South Texas."
And not only is the hunt challenging and exciting, but the meat is exceptional. "The whole family, I've got two daughters and all of them eat it," Kenneth Vickers says. "My wife has won the chili cook-off three years in a row, and that's what she uses, nilgai meat," he says with a laugh.
After gutting and winching the big bull into the back of the pickup, Laxton begins the drive back to camp. Halfway there, he slows, peers intently for a moment with his binoculars, and then comes to a complete stop. He points and says, "You can't see him now, but there is a fine bull just beyond that brush line."
Its Kenneth Vickers turn, and he and his son join Laxton on a long stalk, but once again the wary nilgai vanishes into the brush. Back in the truck, the journey to camp is resumed, but suddenly the appearance of a big bull trotting off in the distance brings Laxton to a halt. This time the hunt is successful, and Vickers brings a prize bull to the ground.
As Jarred admires his father's trophy, he says with a smile, "I brought one down yesterday, so we are going to have to make a little room in the freezer. You know, you are never too old to go hunting with your dad. You can't even count the memories that we have. Whether you shoot something or not, the best part about hunting is spending time together."
That's a sentiment guide Lendell Laxton understands, as he has his son helping him guide this day. "Bryan enjoys being in the outdoors, and I enjoy having him out here."
"It's awesome to watch him work," Bryan says with a grin. "He surprises me all the time. Growing up with him, there was never a dull moment. Now I'm starting to take my boy hunting, and he's starting just as early as I did."
As the truck pulls up to camp and the hunters disembark, Kenneth Vickers sums up the special relationship that has evoloved over the years hunting with his son. "You look over his life, and the times we have hunted together. We probably have closer bonds because of that experience. Whether its nilgai out here today or whitetail deer or quail or dove, we have truly enjoyed it all."
If you are interested in booking a hunt with Lendell Laxton he can be reached at 1-800-316-6813 or at www.llhunt.com
Copyright 2007 Richard Moore