Tony indicated they had numerous Blackbuck antelopes and was sure they could put me on a trophy animal. He also sent me several recent pictures he had taken of some of the Blackbucks he had been seeing on the ranch. In particular, Tony pointed out a very nice mature animal he had been seeing frequently going back and forth between a couple of feed plots. This animal had very nice black and white coloring and looked to have horns that measured at least 18 inches straight-line. There was only one problem, one of his horns had about 6 inches broken off on the left side. Blackbuck antelope males are very territorial anyway and it seems this guy was extremely aggressive when it came to his sharing his harem of does. As a result he had the battle scars to prove it.
At first I was a little concerned that Tony would suggest that this was the animal I should be interested in taking. Needless to say, a lopsided mount on my wall would be a great conversation piece but not necessarily the trophy I was looking for. When you have the itch to go hunting and when you are looking for a particular trophy animal cost is not the most important issue on your mind but cost is a consideration in any hunt with an outfitter. Tony was pretty certain that the horn could be repaired by a taxidermist and assured me they would make it worth my while with a discount to offset increased taxidermy cost if I wanted to take the animal. He seemed to be so sincere in his believe this was an outstanding blackbuck (other than its battle damage), so I promised I would think about it and check with a taxidermist I had used in the past. Sure enough, I was assured that he could fix the broken horn. It might take a little longer to find the right fit but the additional cost of fixing it was much less than I anticipated it might be.
So I booked the hunt and told Tony I would consider this particular blackbuck after I got the chance to put my binoculars on him and get a good look. I made a special arrangement to come out to the ranch on a Wednesday instead of the normal weekend hunt. They were very accommodating in meeting this request and I met the on-site ranch manager upon my arrival. He took me to the rifle range to sight in my guns. I had brought my new Browning .300 Win Mag X-bolt and was anxious to try it out on live game instead of shooting at targets. I also brought along my little 30-30 as well in case I got the chance to take a crack at a wild hog or two. They were both shooting spot-on, the sky was blue with hardly a cloud, the temperature was in the 70’s and I was ready to get going.
The ranch manager took me up to the lodge to get settled in before Tony and his lovely wife Heather arrived. As I walked out onto the back patio of the lodge I quickly observed that the great pictures I had seen on the Escondido website really did not do justice to the majestic views. Directly below was the flowing Johnson Fork of the Llano River surrounded by large, mature trees and green, open food plots. As I looked through my binoculars from this vantage point I saw a small herd of about 15 blackbuck antelope does on the outer edge of the property line. Just below the cliff nearest the river in a nice food plot was a group of about 30 Axis deer does and bucks. Most of the Axis bucks were in full velvet and several looked to have antlers in the 30 inch class.Off to my left on the opposite side of the river was another food plot with a feeder nearby. Under the feeder was a nice, younger Blackbuck antelope that had a great set of horns. But he was light brown in color and didn’t yet have the very distinctive black coloring and white eye circles that make the Blackbuck antelope male such a great mount. As I watched him graze around the feeder another Black Buck came trotting out of the brush toward him and the fight was on. As I enjoyed this sparring match between the two animals it became evident that the second Blackbuck antelope was the one with the broken horn. At that point I was ready to make a hike in their direction and try to put a stalk on them to get a closer look at Mister Broken Horn.
Within a few minutes, Tony and Heather arrived with their friend Steve, his wife Christie and son Ryan. I told Tony I had seen the Blackbuck with the broken horn and he could tell I was itching to go get a better look at him. After a short strategy session we hopped into the ranch jeep and set off in the direction of the feeder. Steve came with us and had the video camera to record the proceedings. We drove downhill toward the feeder and parked a good way off down in a low place on the road next to the river. We hopped out and started toward the feeder. We moved along the edge of the river through several ravines that allowed us to be below the field and the sparring Blackbuck antelope males. We were completely out of their sight and moving as quietly as three people can move. When we had gotten to the point where we estimated the animals had been fighting we eased up the river bank and peered over the edge. Expecting to see the Blackbuck antelopes within 120 yards or so we were surprised to see nothing on the food plot. Apparently, they had gotten tired of hitting each other and wondered back into the brush. Tony assured me he would be back at either of his favorite areas that day or the next. By this time it was 4:30 in the afternoon, daylight savings time had already started and we would have to wait until later in the day to give it another try. So we headed back to the lodge to get ready for the evening hunt.As luck would have it, just before we were heading out for the evening hunt and before we were able to get into the stands we again spotted both Blackbuck antelope and about 20 Axis deer in the same food plot where we had seen them previously. Shooting from the stand was not going to be an option and we were going to have to stalk them again. But this time they were going to have numerous sets of eyes and ears to see and hear any approaching danger. Rather than retrace our original path to the field Tony suggested we drive around to the other side of the field and approach them from the opposite direction. It would be a much longer walk but we would have the advantage of better cover and the wind would be in our favor. Steve again came along to try and get as much video of the hunt as we could. We arrived on the opposite side of the field with plenty of time left in the day and the wind in our faces. We were able to walk most of the distance on an existing road which made our approach much quieter. The road led directly to the feeder and Tony was walking about 30 feet ahead of Steve and I to scout our approach. As we came up a small rise in the road we got within about 300-400 yards and Tony could see Mr. Broken Horn just under the feeder. We would have plenty of screening vegetation to get us within easy gun range of the animal. Unfortunately, this path would also make us visible to the many Axis deer scattered in the field between us and our quarry. We were going to have to take a different approach to get within range. But at least we knew the animals were there and didn’t seem to sense our presence.
To get a more direct view and to avoid the other deer in the field we doubled back and again used the numerous ravines and low points adjacent to the river. As we carefully moved over the rough ground to get into position I couldn’t help but notice the overwhelmingly sweet smell of the new spring flowers just blooming on this warm and beautiful day. That’s because in some cases I was on my hands and knees crawling through the brush and came face-to-flower with them on several occasions. What I didn’t notice until later were the two, large bloody scratches on my hands that I had gotten as we crawled and made our way toward an opening where we might get a good look at the field. When you are “in the zone” and are concentrating intently on stalking and getting into position little else matters at the time. As we got into position where we could get another look at the Black Buck I got my first good look at his horn configuration and decided that I would take him when we had the opportunity. I told Tony I was going to trust that the taxidermist could fix what nature and the fighting instinct of the Blackbuck antelope had broken. I could see the top of him through my binoculars but did not have a clear view of the entire animal. Tony had shooting sticks with him and ranged the animal at 175 yards. Between me and the Blackbuck antelope was a slight rise in the terrain that partially obscured him. I got on the shooting stick Tony had brought and looked at him through my scope for the first time. While I had a shot it was not the sure thing I was after. I’ve never been a fan of shooting off the sticks if I didn’t have to. I prefer a much steadier rifle rest if I can find one – an accommodation to my advancing age I guess. It looked like we could keep moving along the edge of the river below the field and feeder and out of sight of the deer. Tony confirmed we could continue to move around about another 150 yards and come up much closer to them.So again, we slipped quietly through the brush and followed the curve of the ravines along the river until we could find a suitable place where we could ease up the 10 foot bluff and look onto the field. Since this was to be our most likely shooting spot Tony let me go up the incline first. As I reached the top of the bluff I peered over the edge and the field was full of deer - but my Black Buck was not immediately visible. He had decided to move from the feeder but I could no longer see him. My first thought was that we had missed him again and for an instant I regretted not taking a shot earlier when I was on the sticks. Part of the field was obscured because of the thick brush. As I got to the top of the bluff I crawled slowly to my right about 10 feet to get a better look at the entire field. Mr. Broken Horn had moved to the opposite edge of the field and was grazing with the rest of the deer at just over 100 yards away. By this time Tony and Steve had also gotten into position at the top of the bluff.
Just as we were congratulating ourselves on our stalking technique and our good fortune my Black Buck decided to lay down in the food plot - the only animal in the entire field to do so. He was laying with his tail in our direction and the only available shot I had was a “Texas heart shot”. To further complicate matters the Axis deer were moving directly between me and the Black Buck and getting closer and closer to where we were hiding and greatly increasing the chances of our being spotted. We still had the wind in our favor but I was getting more anxious by the minute. I had managed to wedge my gun between the low limbs of the bush directly in front of me. It was a perfectly stable mount and I was ready to take this animal. As I peered through the scope I could see numerous Axis deer, does and bucks, walking in and out of my line of sight. They were both in front of and behind the resting Black Buck. We sat there for what I’m sure were only a couple of minutes but it seemed much longer at the time. Suddenly, the younger Black Buck jumped into the air like he had pogo sticks on his legs. His jump startled the Axis deer, startled Tony, Steve and myself and caused Mr. Broken Horn to get up off the ground from his resting spot. My only guess as to the reason for this behavior is that he was ready to resume his sparring match with the older Black Buck. Regardless of the reason, my Black Buck was up on his feet and perfectly quartered to me and my gun. He started licking himself and had his head down for what seemed an eternity. To complicate matters the Axis deer were still moving back and forth between me and him. Suddenly the sea of animals parted and I had a clear shot from 115 yards. I didn’t hesitate. My .300 Mag sounded like a cannon when I pulled the trigger. While it’s probably too much gun for a smaller animal like a Blackbuck antelope it left no doubt as to the outcome with a well placed shot. The bullet hit the animal with such force that it knocked him down and rolled him completely over. To our surprise he rolled over and jumped to his feet and started to move away in a dazed trot. Given his demeanor it was evident that he was not long for the world. After he had moved about 20 yards he fell and I had my trophy.
There is always a sense of relief when you harvest the specific animal you are looking for. I was both relieved and elated that our efforts had been successful. That night we celebrated with a great steak dinner expertly prepared by Tony’s wife Heather. I was also able to get an Axis doe the next day under much less dramatic circumstances from one of the many stands on the ranch.During my stay we also made a nighttime excursion with Steve and his son Ryan through the ranch looking for the many nocturnal wild hogs that reside there. While we did not get a hog we saw plenty of game. I also had the opportunity to tour the ranch on a four-wheeler and saw many bull elk, axis deer, fallow deer and sika deer. I also witnessed a titanic struggle as two Aoudad sheep butted heads almost oblivious to our presence.
I highly recommend Escondido Ranch to anyone interested in hunting trophy game. The ranch is well populated with many species. A special thanks to Tony and the ranch manager for their professional knowledge of the game and the ranch terrain. In addition to helping guide hunters, Heather is a fantastic chef. Thanks to Steve for his efforts to capture the video. I was treated like family by everyone. This won’t be my last visit.Steve Knowles Austin, TX
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