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A real - and surreal - Texas experience

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MOUNTAIN HOME, Texas — So a monkey, a warthog and a wildebeest walk into a bar.

Seriously.

Alright, so the baby monkey was a spectator — perched on its owner’s shoulder in line at a make-shift bar — and the baby pig and a number of wildebeest — or white-bearded gnu — were among the exotic animals on the auction block nearby.

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They were joined by zebras and watusis and oryxs and gazelles and much more. And just outside the quonset-like auction hall at the famous Y.O Ranch, a camel rested in the Texas sun.

And on this day, not far from the entrance to this ridiculously sprawling exotic wildlife mecca, you could see them huddled together across a distant ravine.

A family of three giraffes.

Texas is a different world, but this was a different world even for Texas.

I had come to Texas to visit a childhood/high school buddy (we grew up together in northwestern Minnesota), and had come to this part of the state — about an hour northeast of San Antonio — to see his hunting land/small ranch.

Turns out his 50-plus-acre ranch is one of a community of ranches within the Y.O., which stretches a mind-boggling 550,000 acres through the heart of Texas hill country. For more than four decades, the Y.O. has been home to exotics such as blackbuck antelope, European red stag, ostrich, the aforementioned species and much more. And because these community ranches exist within the Y.O., property owners get many of the same animals on their property.

A look at the walls of my buddy’s home and ranch might have me believe he’d been on numerous safaris in Africa — and well beyond. But no, the mounts of sika deer (native to Japan), aoudad (large horned sheep from the Barbary Coast), Dybowski sika (large deer from Korea) and blackbuck antelope and axis deer (both native to India) came from hunts in his own back yard at his Texas ranch here in Mountain Home, the nearest town to the Y.O.

The same is true of the lodge and “Y.O. Chuckwagon” — exotic big-game mounts hang at every turn in the rustic stone buildings, along with mounts of elk and bison and the like, which also call this place home. Everywhere you go, you get the feeling you’re being watched from above. A bit haunting, actually.

And, after some time here getting beat up by the sun and wind and dust, you might think that pool is a mirage. Yes, it seems very much out of place here. But the sunken pool, complete with the Y.O. logo shimmering from the pool bottom and surrounded by a stone fireplace and bar and, well, a whole lot of rustic stone, is a true oasis for tired hunters looking to cool off.

There’s also the 40,000-acre Y.O. Adventure Camp for kids, horseback riding, longhorn trail drives, exotic and private wildlife tours, corporate and family outings, environmental programs, a major conservation theme (there is no running water on the Y.O.; 52 windmills draw water from underground) and that whole preserve thing (the ranch is home to more than 10,000 animals, the vast majority of which are free-ranging and live in a natural environment).

The exotic game sale is hosted by the Y.O. twice a year — we just happened to be there for the spring sale — and it drew a long list of guest consignors as well as curious onlookers. The baby warthog — about the size of a Labrador puppy — was a highlight. I was told it went for $5,000 — sometimes it’s difficult to follow the auctioneer, and veteran Roland “Tooter” Trees was in fine form.

But hunting rules at this 60-square-mile ranch. As in exotics.

As early as 1905, the Y.O. was a hunting preserve for native game. But for more than four decades, it has been stocked with game animals from all parts of the world. Referred to as “Africa in Texas,” the Y.O. enjoys a vastness and climate that has allowed these species to thrive as if they were in their homeland.

The Y.O. pricing brochure reflects that immense variety. And that these are, indeed, not your ordinary animals. For $1,200 you can bag native species such as wild turkey or wild Texas boar; white-tailed deer are $1,750-$3,500, depending on the number of points. But exotics are a bit more pricey — up to $19,000 for a super-exotic kudu — a large African antelope. Other species are P.O.R. — price on request. So even pricier, I’m guessing. The giraffes, as well as a few other equally-as-super-exotics, are off limits to hunters.

Back at my buddy’s ranch, there are no such fees — everything on his property that is huntable is his to shoot. The community of private ranches within the Y.O. is treated like, say, a condo association. There is no Texas limit on numbers of species that can be taken here, but with my buddy’s association, there’s a two-buck limit (any species) per hunter. There’s also no set “season” — he can take those animals whenever he chooses. And baiting is legal — and the norm — on these ranches, as is “shining” animals at night. Pretty much anything goes.

It was amazing, even a bit liberating, going from a state (Minnesota) that has hunting regulation after hunting regulation to this place. Yes, this was a different place, even for Texas. But, just once, every Minnesota hunter should experience something like the Y.O.

Where else can you see a baby monkey in a diaper drinking out of a sippy-cup at the bar?

BRIAN S. PETERSON, outdoors editor, may be reached at brian.peterson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson. For his blogs, go to www.brainerddispatch.com.

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