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Feature Article: Toros Azules

Toros Azules

BY DURWOOD HOLLIS/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Feb 20, 2019

While hunting in the West has come to a close, a new opportunity for continued pursuit of big game presents itself

HARLINGEN, Texas — If you’re a big game hunting enthusiast, then the New Year generally brings with it a certain sense of frustration. All of the traditional hunting seasons for deer, elk and pronghorn antelope have been completed, leaving wild pigs as the only viable targets. Recently, however, another opportunity became manifest when an invitation to hunt Nilgai antelope in Texas was offered.

After a short flight to Harlingen (about as far south as you can go and still be inside the U.S.), I traveled to the nearby El Sauz ranch. Originally a subdivision of the vast King ranch, this particular holding was eventually separated from the larger ranch and now is operated independently. The name, “El Sauz” refers to a species of tree known as the black willow, which is widely dispersed throughout the eastern part of the state.

A BULL NILGAI may be somewhat strange looking, but there’s no doubting its quality as a top big game animal. PHOTO BY DURWOOD HOLLIS

Our target animal was the Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelas), a sizeable antelope originally from India. With males weighing in at over 600 pounds, it makes this animal about the size of a Tule elk. Originally imported into Texas during the 1920s, Nilgai were released on the King ranch in the 1930s from zoo stock. The name “Nilgai” comes from a mix of both Hindustani and Persian words meaning “blue cow.” Currently, there are an estimated 15,000 of this species ranging throughout south Texas, from Baffin Bay to Brownsville. The only thing that has limited their range is the fact that Nilgai don’t tolerate cold weather very well.

The males of this species can reach five feet in height, with powerful shoulders that slope slightly downward to the hindquarters. The bulls are brownish gray to steel gray, with a manifest bluish hue to their pelage. Adult males can weigh up to 600 pounds, with cows considerably smaller and light brown in color. Some refer to the Nilgai as “devil horse,” since their bodies resemble a horse and their short, recurred horns (8 to 11 inches in length) give them a devilish appearance.

The drill for our hunt was to cruise the extensive system of dirt roads on the ranch, stopping at various locations to stalk up on waterholes that the Nilgai were known to use. As you can imagine, our travels took us over miles of dusty two-track roads in the search for the elusive antelope. Since the animals have excellent eyesight and a solid sense of smell, just getting close enough for a shot was somewhat challenging.

How­ever, sneaking up at the waterhole was the trick. Our first encounter was a bull that was standing knee deep in the water. One of my companions successfully placed a bullet right behind the front shoulder, causing the bull to plunge completely under water momentarily. When he arose, he bolted straight out of the waterhole like a race car. It took a second bullet strike to slow his progress and a third to put him out of commission. Obviously, the Nilgai’s reputation for toughness is well deserved.

My turn behind the rifle came late in the following day. Previously, we had made a couple of stalks, only to have the bulls sense our presence and disappear into the vast mesquite forest.

THE AUTHOR TOOK this Nilgai bull after a challenging stalk through a heavy stand of thick mesquite brush.

Finally, just as the sun started to slide beneath the horizon, we spotted a bull feeding at the margin of a waterhole. Sneaking through a jungle of thorny mesquite can’t be considered a stroll in the park, but somehow I managed to get into position for a shot. The bull was maybe 125 yards distant, standing broadside. Realizing that the heart/lung area of this animal was a little lower down than one would expect, I moved my scope crosshairs to the correct position for lethal bullet strike and sent a 200-grain, .300 Winchester Magnum bullet on its way…

At the shot, the bull flipped upside-down, burying his stubby horns in the muddy margin of the pond. Figuring that it might take a follow-up shot to end the matter, I quickly cycled the rifle action and chambered another round. Sure enough, the Nilgai shortly gained its feet and started to move. Not hesitating, I reacquired my target and pressed the trigger again. While I knew that my second shot was a good hit, never­theless, the bull remained on his feet and it took a third shot to conclude the matter.

Approaching the downed animal, it became evident that Nilgai are massively well muscled and well adapted to their environment. Upon field dressing the animal, I noted the nearly one-inch thick cartilaginous material just under the hide, covering the neck forequarter region.

Obviously, only a premium bullet can make it though their tough hide and underlying dermal sheath. No wonder one-shot kills on Nilgai are the exception rather than the rule.

The bull’s horns were nearly 10 inches in length, making him an excellent trophy animal. Moreover, since Nilgai meat has a reputation for being excellent table fare, there would be some fine back strap fillets at dinner that night as well.

There’s no doubt that hunting Nilgai is a worthy challenge. The animals are surprisingly alert and not only difficult to stalk, but absolutely tough to put on the ground with a single, well-placed shot. If you thought big game hunting was all over until next fall, think again! Nilgai await!

For more information, use your internet browser and search: “Nilgai hunting.” Therein you’ll find several options, with prices ranging from $2,000 to $5,000, depending on location and accommodations. 

stalkingnilgaiSTALKING NILGAI THROUGH the south Texas mesquite is often times a thorny challenge.

A .300 MAGNUM FIRING 200-grain bullets was used by the author on this hunt.

haveaportableHAVING A PORTABLE hoist and gambrel on the hunt vehicle made field care a whole lot easier.

afterremovalAFTER REMOVAL FROM the author’s bull, this bullet exhibits just how tough Nilgai hide, sub-dermal sheath and muscle tissue really is.

Logistics of the Hunt

Transportation: Flights to Harlingen, Texas are readily available from most major airports on Frontier, American, United, Southwest and Alaska Airlines. All flights are one-stop, round-trip, with costs beginning about $300 per adult.

License: A four-day, out-of-state hunting license for Nilgai costs $132, with proof of Hunter Safety Course completion for those born after 9/2/71.

Guns/Ammo: Rifles chambered in .30 caliber and up, with heavy-for-caliber, premium bullets are recommended.

Miscellaneous: Both taxidermy and meat processing can be arranged by your hunt provider.

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