By Eric Boley
It was the first morning of my Aoudad or Barbary sheep hunt and I had already blown it. I couldn’t believe it. I had an incredible opportunity and now as we trudged back up the hill, I was devastated. We had spotted the sheep from almost two miles away, using good optics and tripods. We’d made a long drive in the trucks to close the distance and then had stalked to within 250 yards of the ram, when a ewe we hadn’t seen busted us. In an attempt to take the ram before he dove into the deep canyon he was standing near, I rushed the shot and ruined the opportunity.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and after spending a couple of hours looking and finding no sign of the ram, I realized I should have taken that extra few seconds to get rock steady on the shooting sticks, settle in to the rifle and squeeze off the shot. I vowed that if I was presented another opportunity, I would make it count.
I was hunting the Chinati Mountains in west Texas with Backcountry Hunts. The owner, Steve Jones, had allowed the Sportsman’s News team to give the hunt away in their writing contest and I was the lucky winner. I was joined on the hunt with the President of Sportsman’s News, Mike Deming and the camera crew that would be recording our hunt for a future DVD. When Mike called me around the first of the year to let me know I had won the hunt, he told me that this hunt was one of his favorite ever and it would be his seventh trip to hunt Aoudad. Needless to say, I was stoked to have been chosen as the winner and couldn’t wait to chase free-range Aoudad in the rough and rugged country of west Texas.
Even though I was disheartened by screwing up my first chance at a sheep, I was also encouraged because it was only the first morning of a 4-day hunt. We were hunting the 40,000 acre Nopolosa Ranch and it was crawling with game. I was confident my guide, Dave Callaway, could get me on another good ram and when he did, I would make it count.
During our hunt we glassed up javelina, desert mule deer, Carmen Mountain whitetail deer, elk, coyotes and tons of sheep. Aoudad are beautiful, regal animals that were introduced from the Barbary Coast of Africa and have thrived in their new environment. Mature rams sport long hairy beards and chaps with huge horns that sweep back instead of around like our bighorn species. A 27-28 inch ram is a true trophy with the 30 inch mark being the ‘Holy Grail’. The amount of game on the ranch was incredible and it seemed every time we stopped to glass, we found something new to look at. The timing for the hunt couldn’t have been better, with temperatures in the low 70s. The desert was alive with cactus blooming. Everywhere we drove, we saw huge coveys of scaled quail. It was an incredible time to be in the field.
Late in the afternoon on day one, we decided to take a look in a deep and secluded canyon. The wind was perfect, blowing straight up the canyon as we started side-hilling our way down the canyon, glassing carefully as we went. As we worked our way about halfway down the canyon and around a little outcropping, we noticed a sheep feeding on our side of the canyon, about 500 yards away. As we hunkered down behind a big yucca, we carefully and methodically glassed and discovered three rams, with at least one shooter.
They were feeding and moving through the thick brush and we would catch glimpses of them as they moved. We decided to try and close the distance and get above them to set up for a shot. We were able to work our way up to the rim of the canyon and then work our way down to where we would be directly above them. We had to sky-line ourselves as we crept over the rim and luckily the sheep didn’t see us as we settled into some rocks above them. Well, they must have sensed that something was amiss, as all of them all headed down to the brush-choked bottom of the canyon.
Dave kept glassing them as I got a solid rest on the shooting sticks. We caught flashes of their tawny brown bodies as they moved through the brush. They finally decided they were leaving and made their way towards a small opening in the bottom of the canyon, where they could drop off into the dry creek bed and disappear around the bend.
With the smaller ram leading, Dave pointed to the small opening and told me to get ready for a shot. The small ram walked through the opening and Dave said the shooter ram would follow right in his trail. As the big ram got close to the opening, he decided to move quickly and get back in cover and as he trotted out I had a split second to squeeze off my shot. I settled into the gun and squeezed off the round as the sheep trotted across the opening and we were elated to hear the thump of the bullet and see the ram stagger out of sight in the creek bottom.
As we made our way down the canyon in a manner that we described as “walking on bowling balls set atop marbles” because of all the loose rocks, I was hopeful my ram would be piled up close to where we had last seen him. As we got to the spot where the ram had been at the shot, we found no blood and doubt started to creep in. We took the trail in to the creek bottom and again, there was no blood. As we started down the draw, a ram came running towards us on the other side of the canyon and stopped at about 30 yards.
Dave glassed the sheep to see if it was my ram. But quickly determined it was the smaller ram. He said that was a good sign and that my ram must be somewhere close. We continued down the bottom and about 50 yards down the creek, we noticed the tawny brown color of a sheep in the bottom of the wash. With our binoculars we quickly determined it was a sheep and as we moved closer, we could see my ram lying on his side. I can’t describe the sense of relief and exhilaration as I placed my hands on those magnificent horns and admired my prize Aoudad ram. Having the whole hunt captured on video so I could share with friends and family only added to the experience.
With the sun setting on the first day of my hunt, we took time to take photos of my sheep and memorialize the adventure. We caped out the sheep and got the ram out of the canyon just as the sun sank behind the Chinati Mountains to the west.
If this had been the end of my adventure I would have been completely satisfied and had the memory of a lifetime, but it wasn’t the end. Included with the hunt, I was able to hunt and try to take a javelina or Collared Peccary. Javelina are a unique game animal and are a blast to hunt.
I had brought my bow along, just in case I got a chance to chase the little desert dwellers. We spent the entire next day looking for the little rodents. Dave indicated that they saw javelina everywhere and it was rare to go an entire day without seeing them. That wasn’t the case and we spent the entire day glassing, driving and scouring the ranch for a pig. Finally, with about an hour of light left, we glassed a herd about 1000 yards away. They were up eating before dark and were working their way through a prickly pear cactus and cat claw infested flat.
We grabbed our gear and quickly dropped off the top to try and intercept the herd before dark. It took a while to get close and as we got into the draws that had looked like minor depressions from above, it took us a while to get close and relocate the herd. The wind was perfect and we slowly closed the distance.
As is the case with javelina, they blend in with their surroundings and as we closed the distance, a pig we hadn’t seen busted us. The herd began to get nervous and move away from us. There was a nice pig standing broadside at about 50 yards. I was hesitant to take the shot because of the distance and the size of the little rodents, but went ahead and came to full draw, anchored my string and released an arrow. Unfortunately, my shot missed, sending the herd into a panic, with pigs running everywhere.
Javelina are much like quail. The herd scattered, but then started woofing at each other, trying to regroup. By staying still and because they have poor eyesight, the pigs began to regroup and before I knew it, I had a nice sized pig walking by me at about 15 yards. I already had another arrow knocked and quickly came to full draw, settling my 20 yard pin a little low as I released the arrow. At the impact of the arrow, the javelina gave a distinctive growl and sent the herd scattering in all directions again.
We watched the pig for as long as we could, but lost light quickly and could never really get on the blood trail. The night was supposed to be cool, so we decided to back out and come back in the morning when we could see. As we were making our way out through the cat claw, we stumbled across a rattle snake and decided that was another good reason to come back when we could see better.
The next morning found us back in search of my prize pig. We found very little blood and commenced a grid search. We had all but given up and I was devastated. I knew my shot was good and quickly said a quick prayer asking for help in recovering the javelina. I had the impression to check an area about 300 yards from where we had last seen my pig the night before and was humbled and happy when I looked under a cedar tree and found my west Texas javelina.
This was an incredible experience and I plan on a return visit to hunt with Steve Jones and Backcountry Hunts. I was honored to have hunted with Mike Deming and the Sportsman’s News crew. Mike took a beautiful ram on the last day of our hunt as well, giving us 100% success. I’m already looking forward to a return to the Chinati Mountains.