Welcome To VIR: Your last place to be a Man

“Do not step on loose rock! This is not a place to make noise or slip and tumble!” warned my guide.   I looked over the edge of the narrow ledge we were on. He was right I did not want to fall to sharp rocks a good sixty or so feet below, nor did I want to be the one responsible for spooking any aoudad within earshot.

Ever more cautiously I inched along grabbing on to anything I could for stability and safety, following Juanito.   Earlier the one I followed had told me we were headed to a secret “hole” where he always saw big aoudad rams. “There’s a spring hidden under an overhang ledge. I came upon it years ago hunting mule deer.”

He continued, “I found an etching on a boulder. It looked ancient and like it might represent flowing water. I followed a dim trail alongside which were man, what appeared to be round, devoid of vegetation and rocks beds, typical of aoudads. About two hundred yards farther into the tall walled canyon I found the same design etched into rock. The trail led to the where we are now. I later learned this path is the only way into a blind canyon, surrounded almost totally by vertical to undercut walls, impassable unless you’re an aoudad. Seems they can go up a vertical wall like it was horizontal.”

“The water comes out of a small cave at the back of the overhang. Just below where it comes out there is a pool that holds about a hundred or so gallons. Then as it flows out of the waterhole, the water goes back underground again. There’s no sign of water either below or beyond.”

The narrow ledge trail lead to an even narrower passage between the canyon’s walls, barely wide enough for us to walk through. Before entering my guide suggested I make certain the .300 H&H Mag Ruger Number 1 I carried was loaded. I opened the single-shot and placed a 180-grain Interlock Hornady load into the barrel, then reached into my pocket and pulled out another round and placed it between the index and middle finger of my left hand where it would be readily and quickly available if I needed a second shot.

Hunting Aoudad

Aoudad often live in large herds, well over one hundred on occasion.

Slowly we stalked forward, stepping to avoid dislodging any rocks. As we got close to where we would be able to see the spring my guide stopped and indicated for me to move ahead of him. If there was “an acceptable ram”, I would have a shot. Rifle at half port, I moved forward to get a better look at the waterhole and what might be in “the hole”.

Had I not expected aoudad, based on what my guide had said, I would have not have believed my eyes. There were no less than twenty aoudads.   Two big mature rams, both a darker brown than the rest with long backswept horns and long chaps and mane. The rest were young rams along with numerous ewes with lambs. One milli-moment they were looking at me. The next they were going straight up the vertical cliffs! I swung on the bigger ram, one I felt assured would had horns longer than thirty-inches. But just as I was about to pull the trigger, an ewe ran in front of him. The ram was hidden by ewes and lambs all the way to the top, then he was gone!

Juanito was smiling! “Told you!” Indeed, he had.

Next day we stalked up, over and up again several mountains trying to intercept a distant spotted herd of three rams. They were nearly brown in color as opposed to the sandy-brown color of young rams, ewes and lambs. By taking advantage of deep cuts, rock outcroppings, then crawling through stool and cactus, we reduced the distance between us to two hundred yards. There I laid my pack on a boulder, solidly rested my rifle and shot the biggest. He staggered at the shot, giving me time to reload and put a second Hornady bullet into him. Two steps later he went down. I reloaded, found the downed ram in my scope and watched him for nearly a full minute. Aoudad can be extremely tough and tenacious. I did not want my “dead” ram to get up and run away.

A few more moments later, we walked toward my ram.

Hunting Aoudad

Huge ram on right with several ewes.

He was huge of body, likely approaching 250 or more pounds. His horns looked like they would stretch the tape to something a bit over 30-inches and measure about fourteen or so in circumference at the base, truly an impressive ram!

After hearty congratulations, we took photos, removed the cape and skull, then began the arduous task of packing the four quarters and backstraps to our pickup over two miles away.

That hunt happened quite a few years ago and had been set up for me by Greg Simons with Wildlife Systems. It remains one of my all time favorite aoudad hunts.

While attending the 2018 Dallas Safari Club Convention, I ran into Greg, a friend of long-standing as well as a fellow biologist and owner of Wildlife Systems. Through his company Greg provides the very best hunts in Texas for whitetail and desert mule deer, exotic nilgai and aoudad, as well as other game animals and birds. Since it had been a while since I had hunted aoudad I wanted to ask him about hunting what some call North America’s fifth wild sheep.

“The first aoudad I shot was a female, back when I was at Texas A&M. I hunted extremely hard for it. When I finally got a shot and took that ewe, had someone seen me, they would have thought I had just finished my grand slam of wild sheep!” Said Greg with a smile.

“We guide for aoudad in the Trans Pecos of Texas. The terrain rocky, rough, steep, inhospitable, but also absolutely gorgeous high desert country. Hunting aoudad is not unlike hunting desert bighorn sheep, other than the hunts are not nearly as expensive and there are a lot of aoudad on the private properties we hunt.” Greg continued, “When hunting we primarily spot and stalk. We spend lots of time glassing ridges and slopes, particularly around waterholes. What’s interesting about aoudad is that in their native north Africa habitat essentially the arid mountains along the Barbary coast, there they are also know as Barbary sheep, aoudad may go their entire lives and never drink “standing water”. In those rugged, desert mountains where they originated, there is very little If any standing water. What moisture the aoudad there get comes strictly from vegetation. But in Texas where they were introduced, staring about the 1930’s, they water daily, if water is available. Sometimes they too, will wallow in mud as well.”

I asked Greg about shots at aoudad. “We encourage those who hunt aoudad with us to bring rifles in the .270 and larger caliber range. I know you like .300 Mags. They seem to do an extremely good job on bringing down big rams, and of course, they are flat shooting for longer ranges, should such be the only shots available.”

Aoudad hunting

Extremely good ram, note round, scratches out bed.

Said I, “I’ve shot numerous aoudad in years past and used large rifle calibers, but have also taken them with my Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter, .44 Mag revolver shooting 240-grain Hornady XTP bullets. My next aoudad hunt, I will likely carry both my Ruger .44 Mag revolver but also a Ruger M77 Hawkeye Standard in .300 Win Mag, or my .300 H&H Mag in Ruger No.1, using appropriate Hornady ammo.”

Continued Greg, “Our guides strive to put our hunters within their comfort range of aoudads. We always strive to get our hunters as close as possible. Some hunters are comfortable at taking shots at 300 yards, others are not. We prefer to stalk as close as possible., which is sometimes challenging, but always great fun and rewarding! We encourage those who hunt with us to know the capabilities of their firearms and their abilities and limitations in terms of accuracy at varying distances.”

“We also encourage our hunters to be in good physical shape. Sometimes we find aoudad in fairly level terrain, but more often, they are near the crest of rocky ridges and mountains. The better shape the hunter is in before he or she arrives, the more they will enjoy their hunt. We also suggest they wear broken in and comfortable hunting boots with good ankle support.” I nodded affirmatively. “We also encourage everyone to arrive with a good attitude and the expectation of good, though challenging hunt.”

Before parting company, I made arrangements with Wildlife Systems for a future aoudad hunt.

 

 

 

 

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