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Stalking Axis in Texas By Benton Maples

       
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A few years ago I was in some prime axis habitat in Texas in early June.  I've learned over the years that stalking axis deer is a superior way to hunt them than hunting from a stand.  Not only can you be more successful that way, but it is a LOT MORE FUN!  So there I was, crack of dawn, waiting for the "KHEEEEooOOeeWWWWWW" bellow of a mature axis buck.  They yell out like this 3-4 times, with a couple second intervals between each bellow.  It is a challenge to other males, much like an elk bugle. 

And then I heard one...And then another...And another...

The beauty here is that when you here the bellow, you know you're dealing with an older breeding age axis.

They can rut any time of the year, and mate at any time of the year.  But about 70% of them rut during June/July, so you get this hot period with lots of rutting activity around then.  It is hot hunting - but it is worth it.  And only the competitive breeders bellow (i.e. big studs.)  

Their rabbit-like reproduction is probably one of the reasons that they tend to wipe out whitetails where they compete....But they aren't totally dependent on the same vegetation, and do mix pretty well from everything I've studied.

There is one really good book called "The Axis Deer in Texas" that was written in like 1980.  It is by far the best resource I've found on them, although it is out of print.  I got a copy through Amazon used book bids.

You can hear them from a mile away if they're shouting in your direction...

I had my recurve strung.  I was shooting a new bow getting ready for an Africa trip, and it was a bit heavier than I was used to.  I wasn't shooting well, so I wanted to limit shooting distances to 15 yards.

The closest bellow was about 1/2 mile away.  I still hunted in that direction for about an hour.  Occasionally I would hear him bellow again.  Slowly, I still hunted my way to get the wind in my favor.  Finally I figured out he was in the treeline in a ravine across a field from me.

Now it was time for the stalk.

I crawled slowly across the field, staying as close to the cover as I could.  Occasionally I would hear the axis bellow, and pinpoint him.  My plan was to get to the top of the dry creek he was hanging around, and then stalk down the creek.

Then I got a visual.  I couldn't see him, but I could see a cedar tree thrashing this way and that.  They really hit those cedars hard, and when they're thrashing a tree is the ideal time to close the distance - especially if you're trying to get real close.  All of their senses are impaired and their concentration is on thrashing the tree.  Whenever you can, make your move while they're thrashing the trees.

So I belly-crawled across the field, and made my way to the the top of the creek bed.

Then I started the toe-to-heel slow sneak down the dry creek and towards the tree I'd seen him hitting....80 yards away...Now 70....Now 60....

As I closed the distance to 50 yards, all hell broke loose.

I head a violent slam of antlers - the unmistakable sound that can only mean one thing - a fight!

Apparently I wasn't the only one stalking this axis deer.

When axis deer fight, they get pretty preoccupied with it...Closing the distance on an axis thrashing a tree is one thing...But when they're fighing, that is definitely the time to make the move.

So make the move I did.  I came around some brush, and found the two big axis bucks locked up, about 20 yards away.  Just 5 yards out of my range...  They were both mature, probably about 34-35 inches. 

I dropped to my knees, and crawled towards them, using the high brush and trees as well as I could...But they didn't seem to be thinking about me at all.

Once I got to about 17 yards, one of them started getting the upper hand.  He pushed the other around so that his butt was facing me, and then started driving him...And driving him...And when the two of them were fighting at just 10 yards from me, charging in my direction, and me kneeling on the ground without cover, I started to raise my bow in self defense!

It all sounds cool to be that close to two big fighting axis...And it is cool...But it is pretty spooky as well when they start steamrolling in your direction.

These aren't whitetail bucks.  These were deer that would push 300 pounds live weight, and there were two of them in mortal combat just steps away from me.  And their headgear is huge...

When I say mortal combat, I mean it!  I've found half-a-dozen dead axis in the Summers before that had been killed fighting.  They are literally going at it - to the death - in a serious fight.  There is lots of strength and power there.  It is spooky being that close to it.

But the good thing is, they didn't roll over me, and they turned broadside.  And what they do is they fight for about a minute - like crazy - and then the rest for a minute.  And when they rest, their eyes are locked on each other and they're panting with their legs forward, and their vitals exposed, and their heads bowed together with antlers locked.

I did a practice draw at 10 yards at the one I thought was a bit bigger, but ultimately I decided not to shoot.  I had seen one the year before that I thought would go over 38" and I was holding out for him - although I never saw him again.  In all, I spent about 10 minutes at distances of 10-15 yards from those deer going at it.  Eventually, one seemed to spot me, got distracted, and the other slammed him in the ass causing the first to spook away with the other in pursuit.

Needless to say, axis deer hunting can be exciting.

Axis huting goals:

1. Get a a good recording of an axis bellow.

If anyone has a good recording, please send it to me.  I've got some recordings, but the mics weren't good enough.  I've now got a Rhode shotgun mic to get a better recording in the future.  Should be able to get one next Summer without problems....But if anyone has or can get one before then, let me know. 

2. Make an Axis bellow call.

I've had a couple call makers tell me that they believe they could make a bellow call if they could hear what it sounded like.  Worst case scenario, a good mp3 could be played over a caller like a FoxPro.

3. Prove that they can be called.

I feel very certain that big axis bucks can be called in.  But I've looked long and hard for a call, and nobody makes them.  The only guy I've ever talked to who successfully called one in was a guide in Hawaii who called one in by maniuplating the sound of an elk cow call.  With a real call, I'm confident that it wouldn't be hard to make an Axis hunting video full of them being called in.

4. Document axis hunting opportunities in Texas.

There are many high fenced places that allow axis hunting, and these even include state lands like the Kerr Wildlife Management Area.  But there are free ranging axis all over central Texas too.  I'd like to narrow it down to the best counties for free ranging Axis, and perhaps develop a network of landowners in those counties to promote axis hunting opportunities. 

I think there is really an oportunity to pioneer something special here. 

Axis hunting isn't about getting 1 big trophy for the collection....It isn't a species to collect.  It is a passion - like whitetail or elk hunting - to be pursued year after year.

Blackbucks are nice also, but none of the Texas exotics offer the hunting excitement and opportunities that Axis do.  Other than Nilgai, and maybe some sheep in the mountains, none of the other exotics are really adapted to Texas in a way that they can survive as a free ranging animal.

The axis deer is now native to Texas, and it would be virtually impossible to eradicate them if we wanted to.  In fact, they might wipe out the Whitetails in big chunks of the range because they outcompete them in central Texas.

In many ways, I think Axis hunting in Texas has the potential to be superior to Whitetail hunting.

And since we are all dedicated conservationists, and abhor the thought of a foreign deer taking over whitetail habitat, we have a responsibility to kill axis deer year after year!

More About The Axis Deer:

The axis does make a high pitched alarm bark...And they use it for location too...So you hear them going off all over the place when you get busted because they tend to herd up.  The males have a lot more of an alarming gutteral high pitched bark when they get alarmed. 

I've stalked in pretty close on some by confusing them when you get a herd yelping, and you figure out where they're heading, and move quickly with the wind to get in between them as they've scattered apart.

I know a guy who shot an Axis buck with a rifle, it dropped, he got down and took pictures with it, started celebrating, and then it got up and trotted away before he could get back to his gun.

I shot a doe once with a 25-06, and chased her for hundreds of yards, and finally caught up to her unable to hang with the rest of the herd, and with lungs hanging out of her side.

They're definitely tougher than whitetails, and I think they need to be shot a little lower and close on the shoulder than whitetails too.

But it doesn't take much gun if you hit them in the heart, and a 35-lb recurve could put them down in less than 50 yards with a good double lung shot. 

I think there are something like 50,000 free ranging Axis in Texas.

Another thing nobody mentions much...When you shoot a doe, they almost always have a baby inside of them.  They are baby making machines, and drop them and get pregnant right away.  I'd bet that 80% of the time you kill a doe, you'll find a baby inside.  Freaks some people out, but it is just the norm with Axis.

My challenge to you: 

Most of the Axis deer i've chased have been in Blanco and Kerr counties....

But I'm issuing a challenge here....

Who wants to help pioneer the art of Axis hunting in Texas?

I want to get a call made and get some folks who are serious about this testing it out....

 

Comments:

Author:hotsauce7068 Comment Left:01/20/2007 11:02
Nice story I also hunt axis in Real county TX. I think they are better then whitetail to hunt Me and my family have a great time trying to get us a big one. As for me this ys i did not get a big buck my father in-law shot a 28inch axis buck with good width. So this yr was a great year since i returned home from Iraq in late Nov and made it hunting in Dec. Just hope to have a better year next yr. Enjoy your buck
Author:Paleo Comment Left:03/24/2007 21:00
  Awesome post, that must of been one heart pounding hunt. A hunt like that and a kill , though thrilling, isn't really necessary. Very well written, I felt like I was there. A lot of very good information for those wanting to stalk axis. I applaude your ethics and choice of weapons.One of my favorite posts on this site. 
Author:easye1 Comment Left:04/03/2007 07:53

Great story, and good information. I hope one day I get the opportunity to hunt an axis,

Author:bd13fishing Comment Left:04/06/2007 02:54
Thats a good axis deer
Author:jackalope Comment Left:05/25/2007 21:30
I have only been hunting for 5 years now but it has become my passion.  I own a small ranch within the YO Ranch in Mountain Home, TX (Kerr County) which is home to arguably the best axis herd aywhere.  The world record axis was hunted at the YO Ranch in 2005.   I have been looking for an axis call myself to no avail and would be very interested in participating in the development of one and to further axis hunting in Texas.  In my opinion, axis is the most elegant and majestic deer around and as you well know probably the best tasting as well.  Your axis on the picture is beautiful, congratulations. 
Author:putter45 Comment Left:06/16/2007 16:58

I have a lease (open range) off of 1340 in Kerr County and we have some nice axis that hang out there. I took a nice one in May 2006 and then got another good one in Jan 2007.

This past week (6/13/2007 I heard one Bellowing and then saw him shortly there after, he also started thrashing trees and definetely acted like he was mad at something. When I was able to get a shot at him he was walking in the trees and came into an opening and I shot him there and he fell in his tracks. Very nice 28" buck.

The other 2 Axis I shot did fall but about 100 to 200 yds from where I shot them. They are tuff and both were shot behind the shoulder. The one I shot this past Wed was shot a little higher on the shoulder. Good clean shot.

I had heard this bellowing noise a couple of times but I was not sure what was making it until this week. I heard him below 2 times with 5 bellows each time. Shortly after the second time is when I saw him.

I would also like to have an axis call, let me know what you find out.

By the way I have shot all 3 bucks with a rifle but did get an axis does with my bow, it was from a pop up blind @ 20 yds. I think these axis are really smart animals and are very exciting to hunt. I have always hunted from a blind as our lease is small and when they get to running they can get off the property pretty quickly plus there are to many stickers and rocks and cactus for me to get on my big belly to crawl around on.

When a nice one comes out with a nice rack it sure gets that heart pumping. Made axis chili today man was it tasty!

Have fun

By the way that is a nice Axis you have there. I hope to get a nice 35 to 36 " one day!

Author:col_bee Comment Left:10/08/2009 14:54

great post! I hunted axis in August this year in bluementhal, texas. Free range axis hunting is amazing. there is nothing like seeing the sun come up over the perdernales river and hearing axis bellowing in the distance. I am hooked on AXIS!

Author:WiggityWagner Comment Left:10/20/2009 10:23

Great article man!  I have been wanting to go axis deer hunting for a while now.  I'm convinced, stalking with a recurve has got to be the ultimate.  I live in Fair Oaks Ranch, TX, and this morning with my windows up I heard a bugle so loud i thought it was in my living room.  I ran out to see 2 nice sized bucks. I can't hunt them here, but they sure are beautiful animals! I would certainly be interested in a call, and until then, would be interested in hearing how the Hawaiian was manipulating the elk cow call.  Thanks!

Author:sparksc14 Comment Left:02/16/2011 08:36

This is a good article. My family (myself, father, uncle) and my best freinds family all have close to 300 aceres each in Sutton and Kimble countys around junction, tx.  I took an Axis buck that is 33" tall x 25" wide spot and stalk, My best friend took one just as big but one inch wider.  My aunt took one that was 30" wide and a 4x4.  Not to brag that our deer are better than others, but these are free roaming low fecned animals.  All of our neighbors have taken great big Axis is this area, with several seeing a 40" in the area.  It's also about the genes of the Axis, My axis and my friends axis are identical.  They're either brothers or they are Father and Son.  Anything over 30" is a gold class Axis, but in my mind it has to be a low fenced area or the kill doesn't count.

We have found that the best time to hunt axis is in the summer months right before WT season starts.  My advice is: If you get a chance to take a big Axis, take it.  As proven by this article above, I hunted my axis for a year and a half.  You might ask: "Well how do you know a great axis from a good axis?"  The answer is simple, you can tell a big one from a good one.  The big ones rarely come out, you have to find them.  I shot my Big axis 50-75 yards behind the stand I hunt out of, it was at mid-day and he was under some trees eating acorns in the shade.  He was 5-7 years old and had 4 bottom teeth.  These animals are very smart and know how to servive.

Author:dave kaden Comment Left:04/02/2014 15:58

did anyone ever make a good call? I am goign bowhunting fro them in early June and woudl really like a calll

email message me; davekaden@gmail.com