I am sure plenty of you have a ton of experience with scimitar-horned oryx, but maybe some of you will benefit from some of these observations. If not, maybe just enjoy the write up!
On Saturday afternoon I left my friend's cabin at his ranch in Junction and headed out to an elevated blind in the far end of his property. Weather was hot but not blazing, slightly humid, and with very little wind. This blind is located near the top of a fairly open area (some tree/brush lines) that slopes gently into a draw. Honestly, my hope was to score a nice hog since we eat quite a bit of it at home, but I wouldn't have said "no" to a fat axis doe and was praying that a lone scimitar-horned oryx bull that has a broken horn and was cast off from his herd might make an appearance in that area of the ranch. I'd generously been given a green light on it if I spotted him. When I was about 300 yards from the blind, I spotted an oryx through the brush, moving slowly away from me. At first I thought this might be "Horn Solo" (the bull in question), but II quickly determined it wasn't and immediately dropped down behind some brush. In my limited experience with oryx, they are herd animals, always skittish and always checking for danger in the distance. In the next few moments I spotted a couple more, and I knew I was in for a challenge getting to that blind without scaring off the herd and possibly ruining my evening hunt.
This isn't a story about the 20 minutes it took me to get into the blind and sneak into it (which was successful), but about the incredible experience that followed.
I snuck into the blind. Spread out across the field in front of me, ranging from 80 to 200 yards away, was a herd of about 28-29 oryx of all ages. For the next two hours, until it was too dark to see, I was able to observe the herd and their behavior and learn more about a species that I haven't hunted yet and have only seen a few times in two different ranches.
The first thing that caught my attention is the very deep grunt/snort (like a whitetail buck but on steroids, it's really loud) that the dominant bull makes. Never heard this, but I would become very familiar with the noise over the next couple of hours as he let one out every few minutes. It seemed to be a sound of agression towards other bulls, but maybe it's a way of exerting dominance? He was the only making the sound.
The second thing, it was evident that several cows were in heat, and that dominant bull was running himself ragged trying to keep the other (mostly younger bulls) off of them. He would grunt, chase one away, and as he's moving in one direction another wily bull would try to make a go for it, making the bull race back. What was interesting to me was that there were much bigger and stronger-looking bulls in the herd, but they were sitting down in the shade or minding their own business on the outer perimeter of the herd; it was only the younger bulls trying to pull a fast one on the herd boss. This went on for hours and that big bull never stopped to eat, he was just running, like Forrest Gump!
Third thing. There were four babies in the herd (they don't have any markings, their whole coat is the color of condensed milk), and those appeared to be confined to a "pen" made up of adults that kept them together and surrounded at all times. Pretty fun to watch one try to saunter off and get shoved back into the group. There were other young oryx in the herd (ones with maybe 8" of horn and the coloring of an adult, maybe yearlings?) but those seem to be allowed to move around without adult supervision.
Fourth thing. I watched this on several groups. When they're just chilling in the shade, there's always an oryx pointing in a different direction. They are literally looking out of the perimeter CONSTANTLY, I can't imagine how hard it must be to hunt these in open areas, especially where they're pressured.
Fifth thing. They're FAST! They gallop like horses, and when that herd boss spotted some shenanigans, he covered a lot of ground in seconds. I've never shot at an oryx but my first thought was "that first shot better count or you better get a follow-up shot quick, or that animal is going to be in the next county". I've heard they can absorb a lot of punishment, and I'm curious if the .270 I was carrying would be enough with good shot placement? I'm guessing yes, but little room for error, they are BIG animals, especially those mature males.
Six thing. If you want a great mount or want to keep the cape, don't shoot the dominant male or his close rivals. They're coats were pretty scarred from the fighting, whereas I observed other mature males that had very little scarring. Well, I guess if you like the character, then go for the herd boss!
Seventh thing. Even though they gathered around a corn feeder and seemed to pick halfheartedly at the kernels sitting on the metal tray below the spinner, they did not seem too interested in the corn and never ate it off the dirt. I saw them eating grass and picking at mesquites. On another occasion I've seem demolish a giant alfalfa bale.
Last thing. The bulls may have the horn mass, but the females have the length, some of them had incredibly long and perfectly symmetrical horns. I did notice a couple of bulls with the "ivory" tips, which I thought looked really cool.
As dusk arrived and the light waned, the herd sauntered off into cover that was 300-400 yards away from my location. I could still hear that bull grunting away!
In the end, no hogs showed up at the feeder, "Horn Solo" remains at large, and the only other animals I spotted were a stud blackbuck not on the kill list, and two great whitetail bucks (one a very tall 8 pt with great mass but somewhat narrow basket and a beautiful 10 pt with great spread and tall tines that would be a shooter in most ranches in TX) that I'm sure will disappear once the season starts!
All in all, a GREAT hunt, a chance to prove my stalking (and crawling) abilities to sneak into the blind, and a great opportunity to observe a new-to-me species of antelope that I now have at the top of my bucket list. My shoulders and elbows ached and my eyes were red from all the glassing, but I'm still in awe of the experience.
There's still a hog out there with my name on it and the .270 is thirsty and wants to drink. Soon, amigo, soon!