By Michael Deming
That disappointing day comes every year, when it finally sinks in that hunting season is over. No more adrenaline rush of “Is he big enough to put my tag on”? It is all about getting ready for the year or years to come and planning on where to spend those valuable bonus points for each state. This isn’t the case for everyone and a small percentage of one percenter’s travel the world hunting year around. That isn’t the case on a writer’s salary for sure and it isn’t for the majority of people in today’s economy.
Several years ago, I talked with some guys that had just returned from a Barbary Sheep hunt in New Mexico. They talked about the eyesight of these magnificent animals as well as their ability to elude them. Anything to do with sheep always meant big dollars, so I didn’t take much from the conversation. I wasn’t even sure what a Barbary Sheep was at the time.
The following year, I talked with Steve Jones of Back Country Hunts in New Mexico and Texas about doing some exciting “Off Season” hunts that would cost less than a typical western deer hunt. He said, “If you like mule deer hunting, you will love hunting Barbary Sheep”. I figured that it was time to do some more research on this sheep species I keep hearing about before parting with some of my hard earned dollars.
These wily creatures are a native of Africa and have been in this country since the mid 1950’s. They have done extremely well in the arid climate of Texas and New Mexico and the numbers here in the Unites States are greater than in their native country. New Mexico has a draw system for their tags, but Texas licenses can be purchased just over the counter for a five day hunt for around fifty bucks.
We made a call to Steve Jones to check availability on his Texas operation and he said that he still had three spots left near the end of March. Pro-staffers Josh Harris and Kevin Orton and myself made the trip as planned and Josh harvested a 33” whopper that graced the cover of Sportsman’s News in September of 2011, Kevin took an awesome 29” ram, but I went home with a new found respect for an animal I had never hunted before and unfortunately an unfilled tag. When we left the ranch, I vowed to return and seek revenge, but next time would be with a rifle instead of a bow.
Just as those off season blues were starting to kick in, it was March once again time to head to Texas. I was so looking forward to getting my revenge on these big rams that lived on the 40,000 private acres we had at our disposal for this hunt.
Hunting free range Barbary Sheep or aoudad as many call them is one of my new favorite hunts. It is a game of glassing, just as you would for a trophy mule deer. I have been spotted by aoudad at over a half-a-mile, while just grabbing a drink of water out of my bag. I’ve thrown rocks into canyons for twenty minutes and finally when you are about to give up, a big ram will boil out thirty yards from you. I’ve sat on a ram that was bedded for eight hours, knowing that I would get a shot when he stood up, only to find that he somehow snuck out with zero cover and nobody had a clue. These are amazing animals and an extreme challenge in a free range situation like Steve Jones offers.
I was sharing this hunt with my Pops and Sportsman’s News pro-staffer and cameraman, Buddy Adamic. Hopefully we would be capturing our success instead of the misfortune that I had experienced the year before. We hooked up with Steve Jones and ace guide Dave who had shared last years experience with us as well. We had plenty of daylight left and decided to head out for some evening spotting. Having several days to hunt, I wanted to see if we could top the bruiser that Josh Harris had put down the year before. So, it was going to take a whopper to get me excited this early in the game. Just before dark, I spotted what looked like a likely candidate for the morning’s hunt. He was all alone which is usually a good sign, but he was well over a mile away and hard to convincingly judge.
As the sun broke the horizon the following morning, we had been set up for almost an hour, picking apart the hillside where we had last seen the big ram. We were spotting elk, deer and javellina, but not the big ram we had put to bed the night before. Dave recommended that we take a big hike and get on the ridge above where we had seen him the night before. I was game for anything that might yield us a shot at the big boy. An hour later, we had a premium lookout of the entire valley floor as well as the benches below us where we had last spotted the ram.
The sun rose high in the sky and the desert started baking. I had just settled into a spot with some shade when I picked up movement 500 yards below us. Sure enough, it was a good ram, but I just couldn’t tell if it was the big boy from the night before. Buddy scrambled to get the camera rolling as I steadied on my pack for a shot. The yardage was 525 and an extreme downhill angle, which I was accounting for or so I thought. As the big ram cleared the next opening, I slowly squeezed the trigger and my shot sailed well over the top of him. The big ram disappeared without a backup shot being fired. I sat there in disbelief as I tried to figure out what went wrong with my shot. I think there was a little buck fever going on and I picked the wrong hash mark within my reticle, choosing the 500 yard mark instead of the 400 which I desired to use.
Since we never saw the big ram escape, we figured that he was still in the draw below us and with Pops and Steve coming up from the bottom, we figured that we just might get another chance. That was an understatement. The big ram bolted out of the thick cover when Pops and Steve were right on top of him. Pops was blazing rounds and so was I. That sheep had no idea that we were above him, but he was making tracks to get away from Pops. When my ears finally quit ringing, I had fired more shots at an animal than I had on all animals the past two years combined and Pops was in the same boat. It was a shooting display that I wasn’t proud of to say the least, but I guess we need one of those every now and then to get us grounded.
Later that afternoon, I reviewed the footage and found that we just might have had some divine intervention that caused all the misses. Although this ram was a good one, he was probably only in that 27” category and wasn’t what we wanted to put our tag on. He had been in the general vicinity of the big ram from the day before and I didn’t take the time to verify his quality. I wanted him to be that big boy so bad that I was going to will it to happen and had I connected, I would have been very disappointed.
The next couple of days yielded lots of ram sightings, but none that were the trophy quality we were looking to harvest. Buddy was taking a break from filming and partaking in some spotting when he said “Guys, take a look at this ram. I think he is pretty good”. Dave made one glance through the spotter and said “Get in! Let’s Go”! He was definitely what we were looking for. That ram was headed into an area that Dave knew well and better yet, there was a ranch road just below his location that could get us fairly close.
When we arrived at the desired location, we were too late. The big ram had already crossed the big open flat and now knew that we were onto him. He was kicking it into high gear and headed over the hill. We stayed in the Kawasaki Mule as Dave got us to the top of the ridge. I bailed out with Buddy and Dave in tow. We ran out onto a lookout point which gave us a fairly good vantage of the area below.
However, it was full of thick foliage and brush and my past experience with rams like this is that they are never seen again when this kind of cover is available. I had sat down and had a pretty good rest and was just about to give up when I saw the ram heading up the opposite slope. He finally stopped behind some brush to grab a breather and evaluate his pursuers. This was a big mistake on his part. I cranked my scope up to maximum power and this time took a good look at the horns on top of his head. They held huge mass and I knew they were close to 30 inches long. Buddy assured me that he was rolling the camera and I squeezed the trigger. Boom! The .300 R.U.M. barked and the big ram was down.
I couldn’t believe that this ram had done the unthinkable and went where I thought he should go and then actually stood still for a shot. This hadn’t happened with any of the rams that we had spooked or jumped in either trip, but I was sure happy that it was the case this time. As I walked up to the ram, I knew he was a real trophy. The “Chaps” which is the hair growing off of the back of their front legs is an equal part of the trophy. The chaps were better than any I had ever seen in the past and although my tape was just a half inch short of measuring out at 30” it was still a great trophy and an awesome hunt that I got to share with my good friends Dave, Steve, Buddy, and Pops. Josh’s trophy will stand for another year, but you can be guaranteed that I will hunt aoudad every year to get rid of the “Off Season Blues.”