“I see sheep!” The simple statement sent a tremor of excitement through me as I sat glued to my Leica Geovid binoculars. Following a brief description of the whereabouts that included, “next to the tree, and down from the ridge” the rest of the hunting party could make out the band of aoudad rams that were nestled more than 1,600 yards away on the side of a ridge high up in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. An hour and half of glassing had revealed a group of three middle-aged rams moving down and across a drainage as well as four mature rams that remained bedded amongst an array of Spanish daggers.
The chance to chase an aoudad ram in far West Texas had been a priority on my to-do list and when an opportunity arose to join outfitter and taxidermist Karl Brosig from Midland, Texas, I pulled the trigger. There can be no setting better to fulfill an aoudad hunt than in the rugged mountains that form the backbone of the
Chihuahua Desert. Karl and his two of his sons, Joe and Rob, are seasoned aoudad sheep hunters and for the past 10 years have hunted their way around most of the 160 sections that make up the Long X Ranch. Karl told us that the sheep generally rut during late winter, and this late into the spring the rams would be back in isolated bachelor groups and difficult to locate. Joe and Rob cut the cards to determine who would guide my friend Jeremy who had planned the trip and me. My compadre of many hunts, Jesse Balboa, had the free time to join us to glass and run the camera.
After another stint of glassing from a closer vantage point, we could see that a fifth ram had joined the four larger rams as they followed a trail down the ridge to an arroyo. A fickle wind began to shift the early morning stillness of the canyon and occasionally blew at our backs and right up the canyon. We were still 700 yards from our quarry before we opted to circle the rams and gain the high ground. Forty-five minutes later, we made the final sneak to a bluff that should allow a commanding view of the area we believed the rams would be.
The afternoon hunt was spent working consecutive ridges of the same canyon that now appeared devoid of the sheep and mule deer we had spotted that morning. The highlight of the afternoon was topping out on a ridge and viewing Guadalupe Peak, the top of Texas, 80 miles across the desert floor to the northwest. Our party was nearly back to the truck when my Jack Russell terrier, Slice, became noticeably “birdy” and disappeared into a gravel wash. Seconds later the sounds of baying rang across the canyon. Slice, the “Wonder Russell,” a three year tracking veteran, and so named because it is a wonder she is still alive, was engaged in battle with the biggest boar javelina I have ever laid eyes on. Dust, teeth and fur flew around the base of a large boulder as I jacked a shell into the .270 that my granddad gave me. I had the javelina’s head in the crosshairs as I continued to yell for Slice to back off, and to my surprise after enough hollering, she eventually did just that and returned unscathed.
The following morning, spring was ousted by summer and a hot southeasterly wind blew down the canyon. Rob and Jeremy had bedded the same band of mature rams late the previous evening. I packed extra water for Slice as the combined team of two guides, two hunters and cameraman started up the north ridge of the canyon to the general area the sheep were believed to be. The previous day, Jesse had found an ancient rusty horseshoe that we believed would bring good luck. Hiking along a cow trail, Jeremy and I each found a horseshoe within 200 yards of each other. We figured three horseshoes was pretty much a guarantee for successful hunt and I added the minimal weight of the horseshoes to my pack.
Two hours and 1,000 vertical feet later, we arrived at a bench about 50 feet below the spine of the ridgeline. We heard a rock slide down below us and Jeremy and I were quickly locked and loaded, only to see a mule deer doe breaking trail down below us. After the false alarm, we continued another few hundred yards along the bench when we found several dust wallows that had fresh sheep tracks and, at one point, I even thought I caught a whiff of sheep. Slice was also very interested in the wallow and our hopes soared along with the thermometer. A few minutes later we reached a saddle with the first two scraggly shade trees we had encountered. Rob had chosen the tree a little higher up the saddle and he quickly ducked back down to his hands and knees with a big smile on his face. No one needed to ask — there was one canyon wall in front of us where the sheep had to be located. We made use of multiple Spanish daggers as cover to get into shooting position. Our party of five guys and Slice bear-crawled in single file to a sniping point. Seven rams, the group of three middle-aged rams along with the four mature rams, were either bedding or calmly grazing along the base of a shear bluff 230 yards across the canyon.
The wind direction was directly in our faces as we enjoyed the time to selectively judge each of the mature rams. Three nice rams were in full view and a fourth was obscured by brush. I would have been happy with any mature ram and the one that lay bedded facing us caught my attention. The younger rams slowly scaled the vertical rock face, leaving only the mature rams behind. I had extended the bipod on the .270 while Rob and I quietly discussed the different rams. Jeremy already had an SCI Gold Medal ram to his name, thus he planned to shoot second. Slice lay in the shade of a Spanish dagger while Jesse captured some nice footage of the rams feeding, climbing boulders and even using a dust wallow. Rob and I eventually settled on one of the bedded rams as being the top target. The two bedded rams were in the shade but the advancing beam of sunlight over the bluff’s edge soon caused both rams to stand and move back into the shade.
Jesse had the camera rolling when the 130-grain Barnes Triple Shock X Bullet took the ram at the base of neck and rolled the ram in his tracks. Pandemonium broke out amongst the remaining rams as I cycled the rifle action. I was just getting the 4.5-14x Zeiss scope back on target when another large ram came sprinting out of the brush at the base of the cliff and then paused. Jeremy’s .300 Winchester Magnum roared. I saw the standing ram take the hit from Jeremy’s bullet less than four seconds after my shot. Dust was kicking up from Jeremy’s stumbling ram and I focused on my ram, sliding down the rockslide in a lifeless tumble. “Stay on your ram just in case he gets up!” coached an excited Rob.
Moments later, both rams ceased their downhill tumble when a streak of brown and white fur caught my eye.
Suddenly, the fatigue from the heat and the three-hour climb seemed irrelevant as I bounded across the canyon to my ram. The manner in which the hunt unfolded along with the quality of the ram himself far exceeded my expectations for a perfect aoudad hunt. The massive ram was complete with battle scars, long flowing chaps and wide heavy horns.
Lunch and photos complete with horseshoes ensued before the task of caping the rams began. For those who have never been up-close to a mature aoudad ram, they are thick, wide, strong and generally huge! I’ve heard people say the three animals that could survive a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches, coyotes and aoudad sheep. My conservative guess is that live weight for a mature ram is pushing 400 pounds. We caped and took turns packing out the rams from an elevation of more than 5,500 feet, down through the canyon for the next three hours, dropping 1,000 vertical feet in the process. We drug up to the truck at 3 p.m. and guzzled Gatorade and water under the bluest sky in Texas.–Travis Salinas