New Mexico Oryx Hunting: A Bit of Africa in NM
Terry Nelson 02.03.20
If you’re like most big game hunters, you’ve likely had dreams of getting the opportunity to hunt in Africa. Many years ago, I was fortunate to spend some time hunting in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Its diversity of wildlands and wildlife are truly amazing, and I STILL have dreams of getting back there one day. Until that opportunity arises, though, I get to experience a bit of Africa right here in the good ole’ U.S.A.
Texas (surprise, surprise) offers a wide variety of African species on private high-fenced ranches. In most cases, however, the cost is much the same as traveling to Africa. So, allow me to enlighten you on another option right next door to The Lone Star State; New Mexico!
Gemsbok, (or Oryx as they are also known) were introduced in New Mexico by the Department of Game and Fish in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as an experiment in offering a unique hunting opportunity to New Mexico residents.
Little did anyone realize how successful that program would turn out to be.
Now, 50 years later, Oryx are still thriving in southern NM and have expanded from their original release area of White Sands Missile Range to surrounding public and private lands. At one time, numbers of Oryx in NM were estimated to be around 6,000 (original release numbers were less than 100). Today, numbers have been held around the 2,000 mark through managed hunting efforts.
There are year-round hunts in NM outside the higher quality hunt areas in an effort to keep Oryx numbers in check.
Oryx are often 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 the feed. Another interesting trait of Oryx; they like to use the same general ‘restroom area.’ So, if find one of these areas, you will likely see large concentrations of droppings that have accumulated over several months.
New Mexico Oryx Hunting Licensing Options
There are several avenues to obtain an Oryx license in New Mexico.
Currently, dozens of Oryx hunts are available via a public draw system though 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 in south central NM and there are additional rules to follow there because it is a military reservation. Other Oryx hunting opportunities can be found through a registered outfitter or private land hunts in the state that allow over-the-counter licenses to hunt private land only with written permission from the rancher. There are very specific laws and licensing requirements for these hunts, and some advance study regarding them is necessary.
Plan on lots of glassing with quality optics from high land points – if they exist – and then making a stalk. Normally, Oryx are found in a group of several, but I have seen them alone on many occasions. When alarmed, they swish their tails, not unlike a horse. Should you ever observe this behavior, expect a quick departure by the animal.
Both sexes have horns that can grow up to 42 inches in length. 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.
If you’re fortunate enough to draw or purchase an Oryx license, there are a couple things you should know before pursuing them.
First, you will need to adjust your normal point of aim you would use on say, a whitetail deer. See, Oryx vital’s (as well as most African animals) 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.
The second thing to keep in mind is Oryx are legendarily tough animals! I have seen them take a lot of punishment from high caliber rifles, and still not go down. I would recommend a larger caliber rifle along the lines of 30-06, or 300 Win. mag.
I have seen Oryx taken with calibers in the 270 class, 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 extremely tough and very adaptable animals.
Over the years, there has been some controversy of the Oryx program in NM from an eco-biological standpoint. However, I believe it has been one of the greatest hunting success stories for sportsmen in the last half century inside the U.S. Oryx are excellent table fare and a striking trophy with their contrasting black and white facial markings and long black horns. Additionally, Oryx can be very challenging to hunt, especially in fringe areas of their range. Another great plus, if you can’t afford Africa, you can almost surely afford New Mexico.
Take a look at the hunt options for Oryx through the NM Department of Game and Fish website.