Visitors Can Drive a Tank, Hunt Exotic Game or Just
Enjoy the Outdoors at Ox Ranch in Southwest Texas
By Gary Cutrer
Ox Ranch near Uvalde in southwest Texas is a playground, a place where both the staff and owner enjoy exotic animals, nature, history, hunting and water sports recreation, and they are enthusiastic about sharing their playground with visitors. Rock and roll star, hunter and gun rights spokesman Ted Nugent enjoys hunting there and celebrates his birthday on the ranch each year with a big party.
Hunters from all over the country and from Europe as well have made the trek to Ox Ranch to hunt exotic game and enjoy the comfortable accommodations, which include fully furnished luxury antique log cabins as well as an impressive hunting lodge.
The newest addition at Ox Ranch is a rather “explosive” one. A couple of years ago ranch owner Brent Oxley purchased with his stepfather, Todd DeGidio, a working World War II tank. DeGidio has a military background and was a Green Beret during the Reagan administration, thus his keen interest in all things military. One tank led to another and soon the ranch became known as the place to go to experience driving a tank.
With the construction of a “command center,” a tank barn to house the tanks, guns and other equipment they’ve acquired, DeGidio, Oxley and ranch manager/CEO Tony Harden have decided to offer the tank driving and firing experience to anyone willing to pay for it. A new website with details about the tank and weapon adventures offered by the ranch went live in late May. It is DriveTanks.com.
The ranch is offering variously priced packages that make it possible for visitors to drive and fire a tank, shoot a fully automatic machine gun, man a mortar or fire a .105 Howitzer. One package offered, for example, is the Sherman “Unleash the Fury” Package at $3,495. The “Fury” in the package name is a reference to the 2014 movie about a Sherman tank crew in World War II starring Brad Pitt. The package purchaser will enjoy driving the ranch’s Sherman Easy 8 Tank around a specially constructed 1-mile-long tank course and then onto the Ox Ranch firing rage. He or she will load and shoot one 76mm round from the tank’s main gun. Firing the main gun is done from outside the tank due to safety concerns. The package includes firing 20 rounds from the tank’s M1919 .30 caliber machine gun and 20 rounds from its M2 .50 BMG machine gun. Then, in the same package, the participant will drive the ranch’s Russian BMP on the tank course and its FV422 Abbot Tracked Gun. He or she will also get the opportunity to fire an M3 Grease Gun MG and a Barrett M82 .50 caliber.
The various tank adventure packages offered run from $650 for a drive in the Abbot Tracked Gun to $2,995 for the Cold War “Modern Tank” Package which includes driving the Abbot, a large Chieftain MK6 tank—the most recent acquisition for the tank barn—and a German Leopard 1A4 tank, along with firing a Howitzer, a PKM machine gun and two other guns.
For an extra $599 the tank driver can run over and crush a single car with the Chieftain MK6. Or, two cars for $799. Add an additional shot of the tank’s main gun for $750.
The most expensive and inclusive package is the WWII “Allies and Axis” All Day Experience, priced at $8,250. In this one the visitor will drive and fire the main gun on the Sherman Easy 8, and the ranch’s Russian T-34 tank. He or she will also get to drive a German Half Track equipped with a PAK-40 and a German Kettenkrad Tracked Cycle outfitted with a PAK-113. He or she will also be able to fire the ranch’s 105mm Howitzer, an MP-40 German sub machine gun, MG-43 machine gun, M98 bolt action rifle, U.S. M1 Garand, a PPSH-42 Russian sub machine gun and an MDSIN-Nagant bold action rifle.
DeGidio noted that rounds fired from the tank main guns or the Howitzer are non-exploding. They are solid slugs. If exploding rounds were fired, he said, there is a good possibility that one would not explode but embed downrange somewhere, necessitating closing that part of the ranch until the dud shell could be found and removed.
In the “Patton Lounge” of the ranch’s “tank barn” headquarters, a large, multi-bay metal building, I met with DeGidio, who along with tank and ordinance experts Spencer Tesanovich and Ira Sellars, operates the venue for the ranch. Sitting amid the Patton Lounge’s decor, which includes authentic and reproduction WWII memorabilia including an authentic NAZI map, street signs from Berlin and a canopy made from an actual WWII silk parachute, DeGidio explained his vision for the tank venue.
The attraction for many visitors is the thrill of getting to drive a tank and shoot its cannon or one of its automatic machine guns, he said, but another reason for the ranch’s collection of military hardware is to preserve bits of military history.
“Once people get here they begin to respect the actual true historical value of what we’re doing,” DeGidio said. This part of the ranch is a living museum, where visitors can experience history and learn from it. “But, we also just want people to come out and have fun.”
Following are some of the vehicles and weapons housed and available to experience at Ox Ranch:
World War II Vintage
- U.S. M4A3E8 “Easy 8” Sherman medium tank
- Russian T-34/85 medium tank—premier Soviet late WWII tank
- German SD. KFZ. 251 armored half-track—the primary German armored fighting vehicle used in WWII
- German Kettenkrad SDFZ two-tracked motorcycle
- West German Leopard 1A4 main battle tank—designed to move fast and hit hard, one of the best tanks of the Cold War
- British Chieftain MK6 main battle tank—most powerful main gun and effective armor at time of its introduction in 1966
- Abbot FV433—called a self-propelled gun rather than a tank, this British vehicle protected its crew and allowed for high mobility
- Czechoslovakian BVP-1 — Soviet infantry fighting vehicle that was also used by Warsaw Pact countries
- German 7.5cm PAK40 anti-tank gun
- German 2.5cm PAK113
- U.S. M2A1 Light Howitzer
- U.S. M1 81mm Mortar
- U.S. 60mm Mortar
- British ML 2-inch 50mm Mortar
- M134 Minigun (7.62 x 51)
- M2 Machine Gun (.50 BMG)
- Barrett M82 (.50 BMG)
- M1919 Machine Gun (7.62 x 51)
- M60 E4 Machine Gun (7.62 x 51)
- M249 SAW Machine Gun (5.56 NATO)
- M3 Grease Gun (.45 APC)
- M1 Carbine (.30 cal.)
- M1 Garand (30.06) Semi-Auto
- M4 Carbine MG (5.56 NATO)
- MG-42 Machine Gun (7.62 x 51)
- MG-34 Machine Gun (7.62 x 51) Semi-Auto
Light Machine Guns
- H&K MP7 (4.6 x 30)
- German STG-44 (7.9 Kurtz)—World’s First Assault Rifle
- MP-40 Sub-Machine Gun (9mm)
- K98 Bolt Action Rifle (8mm M/88)
- PKM Machine Gun (7.62 x 54R)
- DT Machine Gun (7.62 x 54R)
Light Machine Guns
- PPSH-41 Machine Gun (7.62 x 25)
- Mosin-Nagant Bolt Action (7.62 x 54R)
- AK-47 Rifle (7.62 x 39)
To own and operate such lethal firepower requires quite a few federal permits or licenses. The ranch’s tank concession business, DriveTanks.com, has a federal firearms license, a destructive device manufacturing license a federal explosives manufacturing license and a license to make and sell fully automatic machine guns. The licenses are expensive and must be renewed periodically.
Hunting and Recreation
Ranch manager and CEO Tony Harden took me on a driving tour of the Ox Ranch, though one day is not enough time to see everything on the ranch’s 18,000 acres, he said. Everywhere on the ranch, something was being built, improved, restored or maintained. A crew in one corner of the ranch worked on drilling a new water well. The ranch’s carpenter/cabin restoration expert worked on one of the many restored cabins used for guest lodging. Construction of a new swimming pool was in progress. A large pavilion was under construction that will become a venue for celebrations and weddings.
A large part of Ox Ranch’s income derives from hunting exotic game and the ranch holds a large variety of species. Some are kept for hunting and some, like giraffes are simply for viewing and preservation. Unlike some exotic game ranches, Ox Ranch does not confine one or a few species to a specific pasture. The perimeter of the ranch is under high fence, but the large expanse is fenced to only three huge pastures and a couple of traps. More than 40 exotic species are able to roam just about anywhere on the property, and this scheme makes hunting a challenge and more sporting for the quarry, Harden said.
A guided hunt is offered with hunters paying a flat fee for three days and two nights lodging with gourmet food and a per-trophy fee for animals taken. Fees include $6,000 for an addax, $3,000 for a blackbuck antelope and $6,500 for an eland.
Available exotic game include the following:
- American Bison
- Arabian Oryx
- Axis deer
- Black Hawaiian Sheep
- Black Wildebeest
- Blue Wildebeest
- Dama Gazelle
- Eld’s Deer
- European Mouflon
- Fallow Deer
- Four-Horned Jacob Sheep
- Himalayan Tahr
- Manchurian Sika
- Mouflon Sheep
- Nile Lechwe
- Nubian Ibex
- Painted Desert Sheep
- Pere David’s Deer
- Red Lechwe
- Red Sheep
- Red Stag
- Scimitar Horned Oryx
- Sika Deer
- Texas Dall Sheep
- Water Buffalo
- Watusi Cattle
- White Buffalo
- White Elk
The ranch has plenty of native whitetail deer as well and in season hunts are popular. A whitetail improvement program is underway and some impressive racks could be available soon. Other native species that may be hunted are turkey and javelina.
Feral hogs abound and may be hunted as well.
Something for Everyone
The beautiful land and lakes of Ox Ranch dazzle in the bright southwest Texas sun and offer a rural recreation experience not found in cities, where many of the ranch’s visitors come from. They fly in to San Antonio typically and travel about two and a half hours west to Ox Ranch, south of Camp Wood.
Guests can arrange to stay in one of the ranch’s several restored cabins. They are authentic antique cabins from 100 to 200 years old, found and purchased in Kentucky. Many are constructed from hewn poplar logs and the original logs are used where possible in their restoration.
After the structures are restored and rebuilt, they are taken apart, transported to the ranch and reassembled on a solid foundation. The cabins’ original rustic appearance is maintained, both inside and out, but modern conveniences and comforts, such as air conditioning and kitchens, are subtly included. Rustic furniture and decor are used inside to give guests a true “ranch” experience.
The centerpiece of the guests’ experience is the ranch’s 6,000-square-foot entertainment lodge that can accommodate up to 250 people. The design and construction of the lodge, with its stone fireplaces and vaulted log ceilings, complements the nearby restored cabins. The lodge has an antique bar—open bar for guests—and pool table, poker table, darts, pinball, shuffleboard and electronic arcade games.
The lodge and cabins stand among pecan and oak trees along a large lake on the spring fed Live Oak Creek. Nearby a large pavilion of similar construction is being built. It will serve as a wedding venue, among other uses. The ranch’s own newly hired wedding planner, Victoria Dühring, will be available to help brides put their big event together.
Of course hunting is a draw to Ox Ranch for men and many women, and, now, tanks and machine guns are a draw, for young men especially.
“For some reason, we get a lot of requests for bachelor parties,” Harden said. The prospective groom and four or more of his friends will fly in from New York or New Jersey and stay at the ranch three days and two nights for $1,250 each. The fee includes lodging, food and personal watercraft or ATV use. Hunting or driving a tank would cost extra, he said.
Land Features and Finds
Ranch terrain varies from relatively flat land along Live Oak Creek, which rises on the ranch, to rolling hills, to mountain areas. With the abundant rain this year the vegetation was green and plentiful. The place is beautiful. Harden said the varied terrain of the large property includes features of the Texas Hill Country, the South Texas brush country and West Texas mountains and desert.
Amazing ancient footprints that apparently belonged to a predecessor of the Tyrannosaurus Rex are visible in the bedrock in a stream bed on the ranch. The tracks are “museum quality.” School children from Brackettville were touring the ranch the day I visited and they got a chance to see the tracks as well as an opportunity to tour the tank barn and ask questions about the tanks and weapons housed there.
A number of natural caverns lace the ground underfoot in parts of the ranch.
An old timer had told Harden about a cave he had discovered by dropping through a sinkhole and Harden spent years looking for it. When ranch owner Brent Oxley began accompanying Harden on spelunking adventures, Oxley located the hole and both men explored the find. They dropped into the cavern and eventually found a huge chamber filled with bats. Harden said he was astounded to discover a few black colored snakes in the cave catching and eating bats. Below the bats is a 30-foot-high mound of guano.
From evidence found at the entrance to this underground bat grotto, it is possible that the guano was being mined. Oxley postulates that the high nitrate content guano was being mined and used by the Confederacy in the Civil War to manufacture gun powder. Oxley, Harden and a few other explorers who accompanied them into the cavern developed a serious case of histoplasmosis after breathing the dust from the bat guano. Symptoms included fatigue, dizziness, headaches, night sweats and temporarily impaired vision.
An old grave, that of Baron Edward Von Woehrmann, who was evidently German royalty, is located on the property, marked by a headstone bearing the name. Von Woehrmann raised sheep, records show, and apparently mined at least 20,000 ounces of silver from somewhere on the property. He died from a gunshot wound to his back and was either killed because his sheep encroached upon a cattle raiser’s domain or for the silver he possessed.
An episode of the popular Discovery Channel reality show, “Naked and Afraid,” was filmed at Ox Ranch in spring of 2015. In each episode of the show two outdoors enthusiasts and with some survival skills or training meet for the first time and are given the task of surviving a stay in the wilderness—completely naked—for 21 days. Locations for the program vary and after one that took place in Florida, producers for the show wanted to try the Texas landscape.
The episode was set to air this summer, Harden said.
To contact Ox Ranch, call (830) 275-4962 or send email to
. The ranch’s extensive web site may be found at www.oxhuntingranch.com, and information about driving tanks is available at www.drivetanks.com.