As I sat at the base of an old oak tree overlooking the steep valley floor below, a loaded muzzleloader in my lap and 30 minutes of light left, I sat hopeful that there was still enough time for a deer to walk my way. I wouldn’t be picky either, a healthy doe would do just fine by me. For a season that was full of close encounters, the gut wrenching feeling of the curtains closing on yet another season was a tough one to look past. It’s a gut wrenching feeling that we all know too well; that last sunset of another hunting season fading away. For whatever reason, my last walk out to the truck always seemed to be a slower one than any other during the season. I guess that’s my way of grasping onto every last bit of what drives me to hunt. And though the next few days were busy heading back home, unpacking, cleaning gear and storing it away, it was always difficult to shake the overwhelming feeling of silence that soon followed. Five more months until spring turkey season and ten more months until bow season. Like many of us, this was my reality every single season.
When I first moved to Texas, I had not a single clue about the opportunities that existed to hunt during months that typically I would categorize as “the off- season”. But here in the US, there’s a ton of exotic hunts that are available to us, on a year round basis. And, as I would eventually find out, everything that I thought that I knew about hunting an exotic was almost 100% incorrect. Exotic game hunts have been out there for quite a while in the US, both free-range and high fenced. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s the Gemsbok Oryx was introduced to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, creating free-range hunting opportunities for hunters each year. Since then, this limited draw hunt has gained a lot of popularity for hunters in the US that want to pursue this animal without traveling to Africa. And, when you factor in the price difference in the cost of the airfare and amount of time that it takes to fly to New Mexico, it’s quite an intriguing adventure. And that can be said for dozens of other animals, like the Axis deer. Native to Nepal and India and known for their spotted coat, long antlers and incredible meat, the Axis roams freely in states like Hawaii and Texas, creating great hunting opportunities for people that want to extend their season and fill their freezer. Aside from the free-ranging exotic hunts that exist across several states, there are literally an endless amount of ranches that have a vast amount of hunts available, especially in Texas. From Blackbuck Antelope, to Red Stag and Aoudad Sheep, there’s no reason to sit at home waiting for your next hunting adventure to come around on the calendar. And, as a hunter that primarily stuck to spring gobblers and fall whitetail season, the idea of hunting something during the “off-season” was something that really piqued my interest.
Contrary to what many of us have been led to believe, the wide majority of these hunts aren’t what the non- hunting world makes them out to be, whether high- fenced or free-ranging. After experiencing several exotic hunts across the country, I can assure you that you’re going to need to bring your A game to head home with a trophy in the truck and meat in the cooler, trust me.
THE OPPORTUNITY TO HUNT YEAR ROUND
One of the very first exotics that I hunted here in Texas was the Scimitar Horned Oryx. A truly majestic looking creature that originated from Northern Africa. As a member of the antelope family, these large animals have impressive long horns(both male and female) that curve over their back, well over forty inches in length. I should also mention that they offer one of the finest types of wild game available for the table. With the opportunity to hunt them year-round in Texas, I decided to try to bowhunt one before my fall deer season started. And I must tell you, there’s something really exciting to hunt something completely brand new, during a time of the year when you’ve never hunted before. Usually my summers were filled with nothing more than shooting my bow at a 3D target and hanging treestands, so when the opportunity presented itself to go out and hunt during the summer, I jumped on it.
Starting in the middle of July, I set my sights on arrowing one of these long-horned beasts. Sit after sit, I soon realized that it certainly wasn’t going to be as easy as my mind had made it out to be. Scimitar generally stick to grazing in large open fields, where they can spot predators from a long way off. And as much as I can appreciate their keen survival instincts, it made my goal that much harder with a 60lb compound bow and arrow. But I stayed focused and carried on, hoping that sooner or later our paths would cross, allowing me a good shot. One evening as I crept through a mesquite flat, my eyes lit up with excitement as I saw the unmistakable large white bodies that made up a small group of Scimitar. At this moment, I guessed that they were about 70 yards away, grazing in the other direction, but not spooked. Now for once in my hunting experience, I was lucky to be on some very fine South Texas dirt that hid the sounds of my footsteps, allowing me to close the distance a bit more. With the sun setting and realizing that I had just a few minutes of light left, I drew back and hit the range button on my Burris Oracle sight and watched as it displayed “92” on the yardage indicator. The bow could certainly shoot this far, but having not practiced shooting at that distance, I gave them a pass.
A few hunts later, my luck would change drastically, as I found myself surrounded by an entire group of Scimitar within 40 yards of my ground blind. After watching my arrow hit its mark, the Scimitar trotted to twenty yards and quickly expired. Not long after, I stepped out of my blind and stood in sheer disbelief of this incredible animal. I, for one, never thought that I would have the opportunity to hunt such a unique animal, especially during the summer months here in the US.
To me, one of the really intriguing things about so many exotic species is that many females also have horns, making them equally as exciting to hunt, especially when filling your freezer is on your mind. Females in the Scimitar, Aoudad and Addax family all have impressive horns which can make for a really stunning mount in addition to the trophy of a different kind of meat in the cooler. Best of all, you would be surprised with the affordability with these hunts.
Oftentimes, outfitters will post last minute hunts for either a broken horned animal or female animal simply because they need to manage the size of their herd. And like most hunts, having a flexible schedule can really benefit you on one of these last minute adventures.
Regardless of whether you’re looking for a trophy for your wall or just your freezer, many exotic female hunts are significantly less expensive than their male counterparts, and not to be overlooked.
Exotic meat is nothing short of an exceptional ingredient. As someone who grew up eating turkey breasts and whitetail roasts, being able to prepare something else throughout the year is really exciting. I can’t actually count the number of meals where I’ve eaten an exotic, but I’d guess somewhere in the several hundreds and the beauty of this unfamiliar protein is something that still shocks me to this very day. Naturally, the flavor profile varies from species to species, which is yet another reason to keep as much in your freezer as possible.
Quite possibly, one of my favorite exotics to eat is the Axis deer. With both the bucks and does being a bit larger than a whitetail, these animals offer a much more flavorful piece of venison that is equally as tender, grilled, roasted or even fried. For those looking for something more along the lines of an Elk, the Red Stag is extremely similar, providing a rich flavor, along with a stout amount of meat per animal.
Axis Deer Jägerschnitzel
One of the most satisfying dishes to cook at hunting camp stems from those who inhabited the kitchens of Germany hundreds of years ago. Jäegerschnitzel, or hunter’s schnitzel in its English translation, is a simple dish that has a luscious mushroom gravy that makes each bite better than the last. This version of the gravy uses two different types of mushrooms, both fresh and dry to give the sauce even more depth. At deer camp, this recipe can be made within 30 minutes from start to finish and is perfect for the blustery nights that so often come with late deer season. Pair with a dark beer and you’re in business.
- 2 pounds of venison cutlets, about 1/2 inch thickness
- Neutral oil for frying
- All-purpose flour
- 3 cups of plain breadcrumbs
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 2 tablespoons of Roaming Fire Essential Seasoning or salt, pepper and garlic
Mushroom Gravy Ingredients
- 16 ounces of sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 slices of bacon or pork jowl
- 1 tablespoon of dried porcini mushrooms, ground
- 2 cups of beef broth
- 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
- 3 tablespoons of salted butter
- 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
The secret to making this sauce incredibly rich is using a tablespoon of ground dried porcini mushrooms. Usually, you can find a small bag of whole dried porcini mushrooms in your local grocery store. When you’re ready to cook, simply grind them up in a food processor. This will make them practically disintegrate into your sauce, leaving a great flavor behind. And, if you’re planning on making this at deer camp, you can grind these ahead of time and pack them for the trip.
To start, season the flour and breadcrumbs with salt, pepper and garlic. Next, take each venison cutlet, which should be about ½ of an inch thick and dust with flour. I like to leave these cutlets a little bit thicker than what is traditionally used in a recipe like this, since it is a leaner cut of meat. Leaving it at this thickness prevents the cutlet from drying out during frying. Shake the excess flour off, dip into the egg wash and then dredge each cutlet into the breadcrumbs, making sure to get an even coating throughout. Once your oil is at 350 degrees or thereabout, slowly place each cutlet into the oil to fry. Depending on the size of the cutlets and your pan, it’s probably best to fry in batches to prevent overcrowding. Once each cutlet is golden brown on the outside, remove to a paper towel and season with salt.
Once everything is fried, I like to reuse this same pan for the gravy, which will require the removal of the hot oil and briefly wiping out the pan. To begin, turn the burner to medium heat and add the pork jowl and render for 7-10 minutes. Once rendered, remove the meat from the pan, retaining the fat. Add the diced onion and saute for two minutes. Once the onions begin to get a little bit of color, add the sliced mushrooms, ground mushrooms and thyme.
Continue to cook over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes. At this point, sprinkle the two tablespoons of flour over the top of the contents of the pan and mix in thoroughly. Lower the heat to low and cook the flour out for one minute. Add the beef broth, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula to release the stuck pieces. Increase the heat and gently bring the sauce to a simmer for 15 minutes. When the sauce is about ½ reduced, add the butter and stir. Finish with fresh chopped parsley.
Top each breaded cutlet with the hot mushroom gravy and celebrate fall at your hunting camp.