Hunt Africa, New Mexico Style
I dare say most big game hunters have dreams of hunting Africa one day. Perhaps time and money are your limiting factors. For me there has been little doubt of my fascination with Africa.
Its wide diversity of wildlife and geography are truly amazing. Many years ago. I was fortunate to spend some hunting time in Zambia that also included travels through Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Hopefully I will make it back again someday.
However, until then there is a way to experience a bit of Africa right here in the USA.
I’m not talking Texas. Although Texas does offer a wide variety of African species on private high-fenced ranches, but in most instances the cost is almost the same as traveling to Africa itself. Another option lives right next door to Texas, in New Mexico.
Can you hunt oryx in the US?
Yes, Oryx, or Gemsbok, as they are also known, were first introduced by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish into the state in the late 1960s and early 1970s as an experimental program with the goal of offering a unique hunting opportunity in the state of New Mexico.
Little did anyone realize just how successful the program would turn out. Now, over 50 years later, Oryx have provided hunting opportunities to thousands of sportsmen and women in southern NM.
How many oryx are there in New Mexico?
At one time numbers of Oryx in southern NM were estimated to be around 6,000 (original release numbers were less than 100). Today numbers have been held around 2,000-3,000 via managed hunting opportunities.
When is New Mexico’s oryx season?
The general season runs from September to February, but New Mexico offers year-round hunts outside the higher quality hunt areas in an effort to keep Oryx numbers in check on private land.
Where are oryx found?
Oryx may be found in grasslands typically considered pronghorn habitat, all the way into rocky foothills where you would expect to find deer or even Barbary Sheep (another African species found in southern NM).
Oryx can survive long periods without direct water by getting moisture from plants and vegetation on which they feed, but of course utilize water when available especially in hotter months.
Another interesting trait of oryx; they like to use the same toilet areas. When you find one of these areas you will see large concentrations of droppings that have accumulated over several months.
How to get an oryx license in New Mexico
There are many avenues to acquire an oryx license in New Mexico. Currently dozens of different oryx hunts and dates are available via the public draw system through the NM Department of Game and Fish.
Application for these hunts is through an online process, with a deadline usually in mid- to late March. Most high-quality public hunts occur on White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in southcentral NM.
Because WSMR is a military reservation additional rules and fees apply. Other oryx hunting opportunities may be found through a registered outfitter or private land only hunts.
Private land over-the-counter licenses are available to hunt private land only with written permission of landowner, but be prepared to pay a trespass fee. There are very specific laws and licensing requirements for these hunts, and some advance study regarding them is necessary.
Traits of the New Mexico oryx
Normally, oryx are found in a group of several but it is not uncommon to find singles. When alarmed, they swish their tails, not unlike a horse’s tail. Expect a quick departure by the animal when you observe this behavior.
Both sexes have horns that can be up to 42 inches in length or possibly longer. Males’ horns usually are heavier with more pronounced ridges on the lower half of the horn, while females’ horns tend to be thinner but longer.
How to hunt New Mexico oryx
Hunting oryx is generally a spot and stalk approach. Plan on lots of glassing with quality optics from high land points if they exist and then making a stalk. Or you may literally have oryx cross the road in front of you while driving.
If you’re lucky enough to draw or purchase an oryx license you will need to rethink your normal aiming point that you would use on say, a deer, once you find an oryx in the field.
Oryx vitals lay further forward in the chest cavity. Therefore, if the quarry is broadside to the hunter, the target area is directly through, instead of behind, the shoulder.
Ideal oryx hunting cartridge
I recommend hunting oryx with a larger caliber rifle along the lines of 30-06 Springfield, 300 Winchester magnum or the like that you are confident in and shoot well.
Oryx are legendarily tough animals! I have seen them take a lot of punishment from high caliber rifles and still not go down.
During a recent hunt, I took a nice bull using the .375 Ruger cartridge in the Mossberg Patriot rifle and it performed wonderfully.
Lighter calibers may be used but initial shot placement is critical. Still, careful and well-placed shots usually result in a clean, ethical kill.
An adult oryx can weigh in the 400 to 500-pound range and are just plain tough and very adaptable animals. Remember they come from the southern Africa Kalahari region and have been known to skewer African Lions with horns that are nothing short of a spear.
Controversy has surrounded the exotic program in NM over the years from an eco-biological standpoint. In my opinion however, I believe it has been one of the greatest hunting success stories for sportsmen in the last half century inside the US.
Oryx are a striking trophy with their contrasting black and white facial markings and long black horns and are one of the best when it comes to table fare.
They can be very challenging to hunt, especially in fringe areas of their primary range in NM. Another obvious plus, if you can’t afford an African safari, you can surely afford a trip to New Mexico.
Take a look at the hunt options for Oryx and other exotics through the NM Department of Game and Fish website.