Written by Brian Gilroy | G5 EXOTICS
Owning land in Texas means different things to different people. For some who have inherited land, it is an opportunity to maintain their family’s heritage. For others who have recently purchased recreational land, it is a chance to create a legacy of their own. Regardless of how the land came into their care, landowners generally strive to get as much enjoyment from their asset as possible while expecting their investment to appreciate and produce cash flow.
One of the fastest growing—and potentially most lucrative—cash flow vehicles in Texas is the exotic game business. Since the 1930s when King Ranch released nilgai antelope (native to India) onto the sprawling South Texas ranch, the business of exotic game has spread throughout the entire state.
Today, there are almost 100 different species on thousands of ranches stretching from the Panhandle to Big Bend and across to the Piney Woods and the Big Thicket. On these properties, it is possible to see animals from Cameroon, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Iran, Pakistan, Spain, Afghanistan and many more countries. The Texas landscape mimics the natural habitat of these animals and for many years they have thrived in this environment.
If it were not for the potential financial gain associated with breeding, growing and ultimately selling these animals for hunts, it is certain that this industry would not exist. Historically, hunting ranches with only native game have been restricted to various seasons regulated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This regulation, while controlling the population of our native species, has also limited landowners to a very narrow window of opportunity, to generate hunting revenue. With fierce competition within the white-tailed and mule deer hunting industries, many landowners have given up on the idea that they can generate any significant cash flow in such a limited time frame. This challenge has motivated those landowners to explore other options including stocking their ranches with exotic game.
Unlike native Texas species, there is no season for hunting exotic wildlife. Animals such as gemsbok, axis deer, scimitar-horned oryx, nubian ibex, kudu, and eland can be hunted year-round. As a result, many landowners are taking advantage of this opportunity and no longer have to focus their efforts to a brief three-month season. Instead, they can provide corporate day hunts or family outings throughout the entire year. They can organize these hunts at their convenience using various hunting outfitters who will identify hunters looking for these animals.
One such ranch is the G5 Exotics. Primarily an oilman by trade, I’ve branched out into the business of breeding wildlife on my 300 acre-facility. The ranch is located in Mountain Home, Texas and currently has more than 40 species including bongo antelope, markhor goats, transcaspian urial sheep, sable antelope, alpine ibex and many more. After a recent trip to evaluate breeding operations in South Africa where the game business generates revenues of almost $500 million, I’ve come home with a clearer understanding of the importance of providing proper habitat and maintaining adequate health to achieve excellent reproduction rates.
After making a multi-million dollar investment in my facility and the animals, the ranch is poised to achieve long-term appreciation from its breeding operation and has been able to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in immediate income from selling trophy hunts. The tax deduction provided by the IRS for owning and breeding these animals adds to the value of the tangible investment in the land. Raising exotic game and providing hunting opportunities for trophies, unlike sitting on a piece of property and hoping for the market to produce long-term appreciation, make it possible to take control of your investment and benefit from immediate growth and income.
To put this into perspective, the current cattle market is experiencing incredible highs. A rancher is very pleased to sell a cow for $2,000–$3,000. We have all heard the celebration of such transactions at the local coffee shop. In comparison, one bongo antelope sells for $20,000–$25,000 live and, when sold as a hunt, the trophy fee is $30,000–$35,000. Sable antelope are sold alive for $7,500–$12,000 and when hunted sell for $15,000–$17,000. The comparison between typical livestock and exotic wildlife has prompted thousands of landowners to pursue this opportunity versus the challenges of the cyclical cattle market that characterizes traditional ranching operations.
The market for exotic livestock has been thriving for many years. Unlike virtually every other industry, this market is essentially unregulated. Those participating in hunting and breeding exotic wildlife are able to avoid the burden of regulation associated with growing white-tailed deer.
Despite this lack of oversight there is an organization, the Exotic Wildlife Association (EWA), representing the interest of the ranches that breed and hunt exotic game. Currently, it represents more than 5,500 members and membership is rapidly growing. As the result of the organization’s efforts , Texas provides home to numerous species, many of which are either near extinction or totally depleted, from their native lands. While totally decimated elsewhere as the result of poaching, these animals have large populations in the Texas and provide a very unique hunting opportunity, supported by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
As the world continues to demonstrate that America as a whole and Texas in particular is the greatest place on Earth to live, more and more hunters are becoming significantly concerned about taking safaris to Africa or other foreign destinations. By establishing privately owned herds of these species here in Texas, ranchers have created a safe and easily accessible opportunity to hunt these animals without putting themselves in the middle of political turmoil or embarking on a two-week vacation. In many cases, these experiences can be accomplished over a weekend and instead of being a once-in-a-lifetime trip hunters can take multiple excursions each year.
Entering the exotic game business can be somewhat intimidating if you lack experience or knowledge of how to manage these animals. Fortunately, in many areas, Texas provides ranchers with the natural environment and a healthy diet that permits these animals to thrive with little or no assistance whatsoever. If you would like to consider adding exotic game to your ranch, or if you have an abundance of exotics and would like to reduce the numbers, you will find the assistance you need at www.G5Exotics.com.
With the need to produce profit and appreciation, we have seen even the whitetail purist, the low-fence advocate and the rancher with hundreds of head of cattle venturing into the exotic wildlife business. With such huge investments being made and advocates such as the EWA, it is a reasonable expectation that this 80-year-old industry will continue to thrive and provide ranches a tremendous alternative to traditional livestock income.