By Holly Wise
The Cove Herald
LOMETA - His name is Fred and he comes running to the sounds of an all-terrain vehicle and corn hitting the ground.
Elegantly cautious and demanding the respect of his cohorts, he didn't think twice about approaching the humans who feed and protect him.
On the 3-M Exotics ranch in Lometa, Fred is a pet and despite the spread of his rack, this bull elk has no worries of ever being hunted.
"I raised him as a baby," Jim Miller, 59, said of the animal named by his 16-month-old granddaughter.
"It's his baby," Michael Miller, 28, said of his dad's relationship with the animal. "It's something he'd never let go."
Lucky for Fred, there are other animals to be hunted on the Millers' ranch. The 161-acre spread is home to blackbuck antelope and red deer, including two red deer stags and five gold-trophy blackbuck antelope. The gold trophy rating is generated from the four curls and 40-inch long horns of the animals.
The Millers' have been growing their herd for the past seven years and are marketing their guaranteed hunts to enthusiasts who don't want to travel far.
"There's a lot of people who don't want to go to Colorado or Wyoming to shoot an elk," Jim said. "It's a guaranteed shot here. People can come from Austin and shoot one in two days."
Michael said the ranch is at capacity right now.
"We really need to get more land before we get more animals," he said, explaining that the animals' first choice of diet are the weeds growing around trees because of the protein content. Grass is their last choice, he added.
Several pecan trees on the ranch also feed the herds as well as cedar berries.
"We can never get pecans because they eat them all first," Michael said.
The animals are also fed corn, which is dispersed to them via automated feeders around the ranch. The property is protected by an eight-foot, deer-proof fence with strands of barbed wire at the top and bottom for varmint protection.
Jim said he rides the fences every morning after sunrise to check that hunters "didn't accidentally shoot something through the fence," - a problem that doesn't typically arise for the ranchers.
Unlike cattle ranching, breeding of the exotic animals is not managed. But natural breeding doesn't seem to have any negative effects on the offspring, Michael said.
"They all turn out to be really nice looking animals," he said.
Eventually the Millers' want to manage the ranch for whitetail deer hunts.
If hunters don't want to hunt on the Millers' ranch, they have an option of "darting" an animal and transporting it to another location.
Instinctively wary of humans, the antelope and red deer skirt around interaction with the two-legged creatures but remain hidden nearby to ensure they take part of the corn feast.
During a hunt, however, Jim said vehicles are not used.
"We put (hunters) in deer stands and we make them look for them," he said.
Everything except Fred, that is. Fred munches his corn in peace.
Contact Holly Wise at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7474.