To quote a popular bumper sticker, “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could.” That could have been the motto of the Texas axis deer. Axis deer, also known as chital deer or spotted deer, are indigenous to areas of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal. Now, I’m no geography whiz, but it seems to me that those places are a “fer piece” from the hill country of Texas. So, how the heck did the axis deer get to Texas? Did the earth fall off its axis??!!
The axis deer was first introduced to Texas in 1932. I can’t find a lot of information on how that occurred, so let’s just imagine it went something like this: “Axis deer, this is Texas. Texas, this is the axis deer.” It seems like it was a good match because the relationship between the axis deer and Texas has continued to blossom.
Elementary, My Deer!
The axis deer has a reputation for being the world’s most beautiful deer specimen. Bucks and does have the same golden-brown coats dappled with white spots. They really have an ability to pull off the polka dots, and not everyone can wear them well, you know! The patterning of the species is also the reason Stargazer Mercantile’s axis deer pillows are among my favorite products. (Shhh… A mother shouldn’t admit to having favorites.)
Most of the axis deer in Texas live on private land, although some are free-ranging. In 1988, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department found free-ranging herds in 27 counties of Central and Southern Texas. The same survey found the axis deer confined on ranches in 92 counties. At that point, the axis deer was identified as the most numerous exotic species in Texas. The term “exotic” only refers to medium to large non-native mammals or birds that have been introduced onto Texas ranches.
While Texas Parks and Wildlife acknowledges that axis deer can be beneficial to ranchers, their first priority is to the preservation of species native to the Lone Star State. Remember, the axis deer are relative newcomers to Texas. I’m not even sure if they speak with a Texas accent yet!
You could say that the axis deer competes with the native white-tailed deer for resources, but in reality, it’s not much of a competition! Overall, the axis deer is less susceptible to disease and they breed like rabbits, which is highly unusual for non-rabbits. Axis deer don’t require large amounts of water and are able to thrive as long as they have a steady source of fresh water and food. The axis deer is known for eating the same green plants as its white-tailed cousin. Unlike the white-tailed deer, the axis deer can also graze on grass. But they eat the white-tailed deer’s food FIRST. Yikes. It reminds me of a childhood argument about chocolate and vanilla pudding cups. If you like vanilla, please eat it and save the chocolate for someone who doesn’t like vanilla! Is that so difficult?! I mean, REALLY!
Terms of En-deer-ment
Just like it was impossible for me to reason with a greedy pudding cup hoarder, it has proven impossible to reason with the axis deer. So, what’s the solution? For starters, the axis deer aren’t really regulated by game laws. You do need a hunting license, but it’s open season and there is no bag limit. Axis deer are the property of the landowners—allowing for the year-round buying, selling and hunting of the species. And about that hunting…
Hunting for exotics, particularly axis deer, is big business, in Texas. It’s sort of like Texas’ version of a safari. Throughout Texas Hill Country, you can find lodges that offer a hunting experience with the aid of a guide. Trophy hunting experiences can range from bare bones to pretty darn high falutin’ and there are a variety of package options to reflect that. While hunting the axis deer is permissible all year, the peak season is May through October.
Bucks can weigh in at 250 pounds and stand about three feet tall at the shoulders. Trophy antlers are generally between 30 and 36 inches and curve in a lyre shape. Axis males can be in hard horn any time of the year. Typically, the axis’ antlers are three pronged, but four pronged are not unheard of.
Does are typically under 100 pounds and can reproduce year-round. Some ranches specialize in doe hunts. The species tends to travel in small groups or larger herds, with an older doe serving as leader. (I’m biting my tongue to avoid saying, “As nature intended!”)
Meat from the axis deer is widely considered to be the world’s best tasting game meat. It was, in fact, judged to be the best exotic game meat by the Exotic Wildlife Association. The meat contains less than 1% fat. Wow! Red meat that can be marketed as fat free? It’s a carnivore’s dream! Just for kicks, I checked it out and learned that tofu has a 9% fat content! Hmm… Venison or bean curd? Decisions, decisions! (Excuse me while I laugh at my own joke.) It’s no wonder that axis venison is a highly sought after meat.
However the axis deer were introduced to Texas, I’m glad they were. Texas should be pretty happy with the relationship, as well. The axis deer provide Texans with beauty, sport, revenue, and a tofu alternative!
Happy Trails, y’all!