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Axis: The other deer

axis buck

Jason Shipman photo

By Horace Gore

The axis deer, a native of India, has been in the Edwards Plateau as long as most Texans can remember. The first axis were brought to Kerr County in 1932, and kept behind high fence for hunting. Between sales and escapes from high fences, axis now run wild in much of the 27-county Hill Country. Bandera and Real counties have more axis than native whitetails.

Thousands of axis are now held inside high fenced ranches and other wild populations of the spotted deer occur in the Edwards Plateau and along the Gulf Coast above Aransas Pass. Axis deer are free of chronic wasting disease, causing some landowners with high fences to stock the prized India exotic. However, axis are very competitive to white-tailed deer because axis feed on grass, weeds, and brush. Whitetails are mostly confined to weeds and brush, so axis have the advantage when good grasses are available.

An example of competition occurred on the Kerr Wildlife Area back in the 1950s, when five whitetails and five axis were placed in a high fenced area. In a few years, only axis inhabited the fenced area, indicating strong competition between the two deer species.

Rebounding axis deer

The spotted axis deer had invaded much of the Edwards Plateau, and their numbers were growing until the sub-freezing temperatures of February 2021 annihilated a big part of the axis population in Central and South Texas. Today, axis are recuperating from the 10-day sub-freezing conditions that took a heavy toll.

Axis does have only one fawn, but can reproduce more than one time each year. This fawning cycle, along with strong competition factors, give axis a heads-up on whitetails. For these reasons, axis are anticipated to return to previous high numbers and be competitive to whitetails in only a few years.

Axis bucks are one of the “Big Three” exotics high on everyone’s hunting list. The spotted, high-antlered deer, along with aoudad and nilgai, are the most sought-after exotics in Texas. High fenced ranches often stock axis bucks as a prized addition to their whitetails. The six-point axis antlers are impressive, and often have over 32 inches of main beam. Although they’re not a part of the various big whitetail buck contests, they’re prized trophies, nonetheless.

Axis hunted like whitetails

Axis deer are hunted much like whitetails, but seldom visit corn feeders. Some ranchers say that axis will come to orange-flavored corn, which is normally not in a whitetail feeder. However, axis tend to inhabit certain places, and can usually be found in small groups. The best way to hunt them is spot-and-stalk, and bullet placement is the key to taking an axis buck to the skinning rack.

Rifles and ammo used for whitetail are favorable for axis. The axis buck is normally a little bigger and heavier than the whitetail, but like any soft-skinned cervid, they fall quickly to most popular whitetail calibers. I know of axis being killed with .22-250, and others with the .300 Win. Mag. Anything from the .243, 6.5 Creedmoor, .270, 7mm-08, or .30-06 will do just fine. Just use bullets good for whitetail and pronghorns for the best results. The axis is a good hunt to put on your bucket list.