Aoudad Hunt Texas – Winterwonderland
Aoudad Hunt Texas is a year round excitement. Being an exotic, there’s no closed season on them and all that’s required to hunt them is a $48 (for non-residents) Special 5 day hunting license. Having said that, most of us serious aoudad hunters only hunt them from September through the end of February. If you go much past February the risk of their hair slipping and needing a new cape increases substantially. They start to molt and get their summer coat in late February so you are always taking a risk if you hunt into March and April.
Back in January we were trying to hunt aoudad and got caught in a blizzard, so as I headed West in February I was hoping for a little less snow and a lot more sun.
Aoudad Hunt Texas – Getting ready
After Jerry’s bison hunt I loaded my Jeep on the trailer and headed to another one of my ranches to get ready for Jeff’s aoudad hunt.
I was hoping the fuel issues I had been having on my Jeep were behind me (see previous blog about Jerry’s bison hunt), but quite honestly I wasn’t holding my breath. I had been having so many issues while on Jerry’s bison hunt that I had pretty much lost all of my confidence in my Jeep, but I had a day or two to see if I could get things worked out before Jeff showed up so…..
As I pulled out of the gate I must have run over a mesquite thorn because not even 2 miles down the road I had a blowout on the trailer. That’s not exactly an ideal situation with a Jeep sitting on the trailer and the sun going down, but I figured it was a good omen. Like I’ve said before, when things go perfect with the trip the hunting sucks but when you have issues with the trip the hunting is great. I got the flat changed before it got dark and made it to my other ranch and began to get unpacked and settled in for Jeff’s aoudad hunt.
After breakfast the next morning I unloaded my Jeep and went out scouting for aoudad. I wasn’t even 100 yards into the pasture when I looked up on the mountain and saw a herd of about 60 aoudad, with a couple of really nice rams in the bunch. A little further down the road I saw another herd of about 50 aoudad and it had a couple of real nice rams as well. The Jeep was running better and I already had about 4-6 shooter rams located, so things were definitely looking up!
Aoudad Hunt Texas – Let the hunt begin
Jeff was coming in from Arizona and had been making better time than we expected and since I already had aoudad located I told him to come on to the ranch and we would start the hunt. Once he arrived, we got the paperwork filled out and his gear put away and loaded up in the Jeep and were off in search of aoudad.
Just outside the gate I spotted aoudad on the side of the mountain in almost the same place but it didn’t look like there were any rams in the group. It’s not uncommon for rams to be separated from the ewes and kids in the early spring, but I still wanted to get a closer look just to make sure. As we drove around the back side of the mountain and started up into the valley I spotted another herd of aoudad about a mile away. We studied the group trying to see if there were any good rams in the herd, but the mirage was so bad that we really couldn’t tell much about them. We drove as close as we could but it still wasn’t quite close enough to tell much about them. They were in a real tough spot to get to but we decided to hike up a little further and see if we could get a better look. After a pretty tough 15 minute hike straight up the side of the mountain I got close enough to tell there really weren’t any aoudad big enough in the herd to go after them, so we headed back to the Jeep to try and get closer to the original herd we had seen.
We were almost to where I was going to stop to begin our second hike when my Jeep died. Knowing I couldn’t really do much about my Jeep we grabbed out gear and headed up into the mountains to get a better look at the original herd. After another pretty tough hike we got up to the aoudad, but it was just a herd of ewes and kids. There were no rams in the herd, so we headed back down to the Jeep. Luckily the Jeep started and we headed back down out of the valley. I knew from Jerry’s bison hunt that once my Jeep started acting up it wasn’t going to stop so now it was a race to get back to camp before the Jeep left us stranded. We were making good progress, until we had to go up a little hill. My Jeep died and just didn’t have enough power to get over the little rise. It was about 3 miles back to camp and just before I was about to start walking I gave it one last try. It just barely made it over the little rise, but once it did it was all down hill back to camp and we made it without any other issues.
My Jeep just wasn’t going to cut it so we loaded up in the Ranger and continued the hunt. We circled back around the mountains from the opposite direction, stopping every half mile or so to glass. We located another herd or two of aoudad, but they were all just ewes and kids. I knew there were some big rams in the area, but we just couldn’t find them so we headed back down the valley and to the complete opposite side of the ranch.
We were almost to our east boundary fence when a huge herd or about 100 aoudad appeared out of the brush right in front of us. There were 6 really big rams in the herd and I knew as long as we didn’t spook them across the fence that we were going to get a shot. The aoudad herd ran up into the mountains so we raced around the corner in hopes of getting another look at them when, to my amazement, I looked up and there stood the whole herd looking at us. This ranch hasn’t had much hunting pressure in recent history and you could tell by the way these aoudad were acting. The whole herd stood there looking at us at about 250 yards. We looked the herd over and there were 6 shooter aoudad rams with 2-3 of them being over 32″.
Jeff and I got out of the Ranger and eased up to some big boulders and started to set up for the shot. The aoudad could see us, but just milled around on the rocks above us. They weren’t totally calm, but they weren’t all that nervous either. We had a real steep angle for the shot so it took Jeff moving to a couple of different positions before he felt comfortable enough for a shot. Once in position we picked out the biggest ram in the herd, I ranged him one final time and Jeff squeezed off a shot. Unfortunately aoudad fever kicked in right before the shot and he missed just a little high. The aoudad ran around the rocks but were a little confused. They weren’t really sure what had happened and that gave Jeff enough time to ready another round. Once he was ready we located the biggest ram again and he squeezed off another round. Once again he was a little high but this time the aoudad didn’t stick around. They had had all they wanted of us shooting at them and in about 2 jumps were over the ridge and out of sight.
Light was fading fast, but I thought the aoudad might settle back down after they got over the top of the ridge and we might get one more chance at them so we raced up the steep cliff face. When we got to the top the aoudad were no where in sight. They had gone over the top of the ridge, down the valley below us and were already headed up the next mountain. With the light fading I was having difficulty locating the herd, but I could hear them walking over the loose shale rocks on the mountain across the valley from us. Knowing there was no way we could get on them before dark we headed off the mountain.
There was just enough light for us to make it off the mountain and we knew where they were going to bed down and would be there waiting on them in the morning.
Aoudad Hunt Texas – Day 2
Early the next morning we were headed up into the mountains. I wanted to get most of the way up to the aoudad before it got very light so we began out hike into the mountains before the sun peaked over the horizon. By the time the sun got up enough to get the aoudad moving we were already inside of 1,000 yards to the herd. It was almost straight up on really loose shale, so we decided to just hang out and figure out which way the aoudad were headed once they decided to start moving. We got lucky and the whole herd started moving in our direction.
The herd was level with us but as they started to slowly move our direction, stopping frequently to feed on the sparse vegetation, they gained altitude and now above us but feeding directly toward us. The winds had picked up to around 20 mph and it looked like they were going to be about 4-500 yards above us so we circled the edge of the mountain and climbed straight up trying to get inside of 300 yards to the aoudad. It was really slow going, but after about 15 minutes we had gained enough elevation to be inside of 300 yards as long as the herd continued on the same path they had been on.
We hunkered down below the ledge we had hike up to and found some nice soft rocks and got comfortable. I would peek over the ledge ever so often checking on the progress of the herd. It took them about 20-30 minutes, but they worked their way right to us.
We had aoudad as close as 100 yards to us, but we didn’t have a shot on any of the big rams. We tried to be as still as we could, but when you have 10-20 aoudad 100 yards from you it’s only a matter of time until you get spotted. When the ewes spotted us they weren’t sure what we were, but they were spooked enough to make the herd nervous. The big ram Jeff shot at the day before was behind a little brush and we still didn’t have a shot. Finally as the herd got more nervous and started to head up to the ridge the rams cleared for a shot. With all the aoudad running around the rocks above us it was pretty tough for me to tell Jeff which ram to shoot and they were about to make it over the top of the ridge and disappear again. In all of the excitement and confusion Jeff missed the big ram and the whole herd disappeared over the top of the ridge.
I couldn’t believe it. We had a 32″+ ram at 130 yards but just didn’t have a shot and now the herd was gone. We had one heck of a hike to get up to the aoudad, most of it in the dark, and had nothing to show for it. It was a long hike back down to the Ranger, and both Jeff and I were pretty bummed to say the least, so we just sat there on the rocks for a minute trying to gather ourselves. As we sat there on the rocks not knowing what to say or do Jeff looked up at the top of the ridge and said he saw an aoudad. I looked up and to my surprise the whole herd had come back over the ridge. I had never seen aoudad come back down a ridge where they had just been shot at, but it’s always better to be lucky than good so I was going to take it!!
The only thing I can think of was that it was so windy, well over 20 mph, and cold on top of the mountain that the herd wanted to get out of the wind and came back on our side of the ridge. Now they were at 300ish yards but at least we were going to get another shot. Jeff and I went back and forth on whether he should use my rifle for this shot, but he felt more comfortable with his rifle so we picked out a big ram and got ready for the shot. The big ram cleared all the other aoudad, turned broadside and Jeff squeezed the trigger. This time his round found it’s mark and the ram stumbled. He was hit and heading down hill, but was still moving, so I dropped my binoculars down to my chest and shouldered my rifle and put one final insurance shot into him. When the second round hit him he piled up against a yucca.
It took a little luck, and a whole lot of effort, but Jeff had gotten a great aoudad!!
Now the real work began. The big ram couldn’t have died in a worse spot. It was almost straight down on very loose shale and every time we tried to move him he slid further down the mountain. We finally got him to a spot that was a little more flat and were able to take some pictures and have a little room to move around while I caped him. It was still pretty precarious, but not near as bad as where he died.
After slipping and sliding 20 or 30 yards downhill we got him caped and loaded in my backpack. Now if we could get down the mountain without sliding down on our heads the worst would be behind us. It took about 45 minutes to hike down the steep shale. You never had solid footing. Half of yours steps the shale would slide out from under you, so it was slow going but we finally reached the bottom and solid ground.
Aoudad Hunt Texas – Celebrating a great hunt
When we got back to camp I fired up the BBQ and cooked fajitas. We had worked up quite an appetite and a big, hearty lunch hit the spot. After lunch Jeff decided to go ahead and start heading back to Arizona and drop the aoudad off at my taxidermist in Alpine, TX. He had a long drive and leaving after lunch he could get a good portion of the drive out of the way before the day was over.
After Jeff left I slowly began to gather my gear and pack up. I was leaving in the morning but had to stop by Alpine as well and grab the meat from Jerry’s bison hunt a few days prior (see previous blog and video if you would like more info on that hunt). I hooked up to the trailer, loaded my Jeep and headed to bed. It had been a long hard day, but very worth while seeing the smile on Jeff’s face once he got his hands on his big aoudad ram.
The next morning I headed over to Alpine to grab my bison meat. I had been in West Texas about 10 days and was ready to get home. The bison Jerry killed was the biggest my taxidermist had ever seen and Jeff was “Tickled as shit” with his aoudad. It couldn’t have worked out better!
Aoudad Hunt Texas – A little adventure on the way back
The drive home was pretty uneventful, and I was making pretty good time, until I got to Segovia. I heard a noise and looked in the mirror and saw a huge cloud of black smoke. The way my truck was slowing down, and with all the black smoke, I thought I had blown my turbo but luckily it was just another blow out on the trailer.
Luckily I had stopped and bought another spare and after my best impression of a NASCAR pit crew beating and banging on their car just to get it back on the track to get some points I was back on the road and made it home safely and without any other issues.
I always say it’s an experience/adventure on every hunt, a new chapter in my book, and saying this hunt definitely live up to that is quite the understatement. Over the years I’ve learned to deal with it and take it all in stride. These days it’s just part of the job. The most important things, in my opinion, are that my hunters had a great time, they went home with great trophies and we all made it home safely to do it all again on our next hunt.
I really want to thank Jeff Neal, of Jeff Neal, Inc., for trusting me enough to take one of his clients hunting and for Jeff, my hunter, for driving from Arizona to give me the opportunity to take him aoudad hunting. This wouldn’t have been possible with both Jeff’s and I really appreciate it!by