Hook & Barrel
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scimitar oryx

In far west Texas, a once-in-a-lifetime trophy Scimitar oryx was shot, who had a rare surprise lodged on its horns — a sun-bleached cow skull.

Strange things happen in the wild. Stranger things happen in the desert. One of my favorite places in the country is far west Texas. It’s remote, wild, and seems set back decades.

There’s something mysterious in the arid void, as only the sound of the wind disturbs the silence in most places. Out there, little survives and only the strongest and most determined species thrive. One such species is the Scimitar Horned Oryx – a stranger to the land up until a few decades ago, but well suited for it.

Hunting the Ornamented Scimitar Oryx

What Is a Scimitar Horned Oryx?

Far West Texas Scimitar Oryx Ranch

Considered a large antelope, the scimitar oryx belongs to the oryx genus, where it shares genetics with 5 other types of oryx. Males can grow between 310-460 lbs, while females range from 200-310 lbs. It thrives in desert ecosystems, and it can survive with minimal water. In fact, oryx can tolerate an internal body temperature of 116 degrees. This adaptive hyperthermia allows them to sweat less and consume less water, making it an ideal game species for arid climates.

An oryx’s home range is Northern Africa. Sadly, the scimitar oryx is currently considered extinct in the wild due to a combination of widespread overhunting and poaching, habitat loss, and persistent drought. But, there’s good news for the animal.

In Texas, thanks to captive breeding programs, its numbers reach over 12,000. In neighboring New Mexico, the large antelope was introduced onto public land by the Dept. of Game and Fish. There, the idea was to create a unique hunting experience for New Mexicans. Now, numbers look to be at around 5,000 scimitar oryx in the state. And in some ecosystems, they’re even considered a pest.

To put those numbers into perspective, according to saharaconservation.org, only 90 oryx are in the wild of Africa today.

The West Texas Landscape

Far West Texas Hunt

I found myself on a vast low-fence ranch spanning approximately 250,000 acres. Dotted with Border Patrol monitoring stations used to thwart the occasional illegals who pass through, and lined with miles and miles of plastic piping just to bring water to the lands few inhabitants.

The landowner had spent over a million dollars drilling for water but never found any. Instead, he piped it over ten miles from the other side of the ranch. To add, occasionally the pipe has holes poked in it by international travelers, as our guide Steve Jones of Backcountry Hunts refers to them as, to get a drink. It’s hard to imagine anyone would want to brave this barren land. It just goes to show you how desperate people are for a piece of the American Dream.

With my rifle in hand, a trusty and humble, Mossberg Patriot, I rode in the back of Steve’s high-rack Dodge across the landscape. Glassing for hours we finally spotted a small herd of oryx. Putting a stalk on, we wove our way between the yuccas, cactus, and creosote brush.

The Rifle: Mossberg .308 Patriot Synthetic

Mossberg Patriot Rifle

When it comes to rifles, sky’s the limit these days with the amount that you can spend. But when it comes to value and function, Mossberg, primarily known for their shotguns, makes one hell of a rifle, too.

If I may, I’d like to draw an analogy here. You’re driving across the country and need a place to stay. You have passed some cheap shady motels with semis in their crumbling parking lots. There is no way you are staying there, you think. Then, you pass a Ritz. It’s $2,500 per night for luxury, but all you need is a safe and comfortable place to lay your head. Maybe with free breakfast in the morning. But, on the horizon gleams a Holiday Inn Express.

That’s the Mossberg Patriot Synthetic ($380). Does it have marble floors, hand-plucked down comforters, and a butler to carry it for you? No. Does it get the job done in damn exceptional manner at a price that you can be proud to pay? Hell yes it does. It made the shot, the trigger was crisp, and it didn’t break the bank. Oh, and like that free continental breakfast in the morning, it does come standard with a drop magazine box, spiral-fluted bolt, and adjustable trigger.

The Rare Ornamented Scimitar Oryx Comes Into View

The hunting outfitter in west Texas

I have heard the occasional rumor of Gemsbok Oryx being spotted with a coyote skull attached to their horns, but to my complete disbelief, a Scimitar Oryx emerged from the brush with something odd attached to her horns – a sun-bleached cow skull.

She was 600 yards off. After several failed attempts to get closer to ensure a good shot on her, we were just about to call it a night and head back to camp. Then, something strange happened. From behind us, a lone oryx walked towards the truck. Somehow, she doubled back and was no more than 100 yards away.

I am not sure how or why, but she made a mistake. Or maybe she was done with the struggle of the cow skull and just wanted an end to it all. How long did she wear this? How did it get on there? It had to be a while, since oryx have sweeping long horns that would make it nearly impossible to scoop up a skull if too long. Her story was a painful one as the teeth of the skull cut into her head with every step she took.

We stalked closer to her to give me a clean lane to shoot through and the shot was taken.

Good Karma, Good Fodder

Like a nod from nature for a job well done, a rare cloud burst opened up right as the shot broke, creating the rarest of desert rainbows. I felt something like I never have before on a hunt.

In my mind it was her spirit. Though her life was over, so was her struggle. The pain of the burden she carried every day for what could have been years, was gone.

The meat has fed my family, my child, and my wife this season. It just goes to show, nature is not all peace, love, and unicorns, contrary to what many want to believe. It can be a cruel, hard, place. But just as the circle of life always turns, one animal’s struggle became another’s feast.

And that is truly nature and hunting at its finest.


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