The axis deer, or chital (Cervus axis Erxleben), is native to the Indian subcontinent. It is considered to be the most beautiful of deer, with a bright reddish coat marked with rows of white spots that persist throughout life. Antlers of males are large but simple, usually with only three points. Adult males weigh up to 200 pounds and females 35 percent less. The axis deer was first introduced into Texas in the 1930s and now occurs in at least forty-five counties. Largest numbers occur on the Edwards Plateau, where the semiopen, dry scrub forest vegetation resembles that of its native habitat in India. Essential habitat components include water, woody vegetation for cover, and open areas for feeding. This deer is primarily a grazer, but its food habits are very general, and it can exist quite easily on forbs and woody browse. In contrast to the white-tailed deer, which typically eats only a few foods, the axis deer eats small quantities of a large variety of plant species. This broad-spectrum diet gives it an advantage in competition with other deer.
The reproductive activity of the axis occurs year-round, but most breeding occurs in June and July. Single fawns are born the following spring after a 7½-month gestation period. During the breeding period males bellow loudly and wander in search of receptive females. Females mature sexually and first breed at fourteen to seventeen months of age. Males are probably capable of breeding as yearlings but must achieve adult size to compete for females.
The basic social unit is a family group that consists of an older female and her offspring. A herd consists of two or more family groups. Other social groupings consist of loosely structured male herds and, between February and April, nursery herds composed of females with fawns. Vocalizations are important in axis deer society and one of the most noticeable characteristics of this animal.
Axis deer are more active by day than by night, with greatest activity occurring for two to three hours after dawn and again before dark. The size of the home range varies with habitat and averages 2½ square miles in the coastal live oak region. Axis deer do not seem to be territorial, but males fight, often with serious consequences, for possession of females.
In Texas the major predators of the axis are coyotes and bobcats, but predation does not seem to be serious. Axis deer are also remarkably resistant to disease, a fact that may help explain their success as introduced animals.
With few exceptions, axis deer are not regulated by game laws. They are landowners' property and may be bought, sold, or hunted at any time. Therefore, they are important in sports hunting and offer hunting opportunities at times when native species are not available. Ranchers stock them for this purpose, and this practice explains their wide distribution in the state. As a sporting animal, the axis deer provides a fine trophy. The meat is of excellent quality and lacks the strong game flavor sometimes associated with venison.