Brownwood guide David Davis (915-643-4182) has spent a lifetime hunting Texas game. But he discovered aoudads about a decade ago and has been hooked ever since. He guides 30 to 50 aoudad hunters each winter and spring in the rugged Caprock country near Post in the southern Panhandle.
"The thing that sells this hunt is when you're there," Davis explains. "Guys just get hooked on the hunting. The hardest part is selling them on going the first time. After that, 90 percent of them come back. It's something they schedule every year to fill in after deer season, when cabin fever sets in.
"It's the nature of the hunt that makes it what it is. You can certainly go to the Hill Country to kill an aoudad cheaper and easier," he admits. "It depends on if you want a hunt, or just want to kill something.
"I'd heard them described as the poor man's bighorn," Davis says, "but until you've hunted them, you can't appreciate that it's the sheep hunting experience without the cost."
There's another essential ingredient for aoudad hunters in the Caprock.
"You can't be afraid of heights!" Davis says with a laugh. "This is vertical country. Visualize this country as a flat plateau, with vertical walls.
"We're going to be on top 90 percent of the time," he says, "but if you spot a ram on the other side of the canyon, it may be a 12-mile truck ride around to him. And if you get down in the bottom and cut across, you may cover 1-1/2 miles, and you've lost the advantage of height on him."
Davis rates the aoudad's eyesight as uncanny, saying "They can see what you're thinking!
"If you're glassing sheep and walk out where you expose yourself, when you look at those sheep they'll have picked you out," he warns, "even if you're 1-1/2 miles away and 600 feet above them."
The canyon edges become a critical part of the hunt, he says. "If sheep are down below you in the canyon, you can drive a truck to within 100 yards of the edge, walk to the edge where there's cedar cover and glass the canyon, so long as you don't expose yourself," he emphasizes. "Otherwise it doesn't matter what you do. They're going to spot you.
"If they're close to the top, you can shoot from there, but at least 40 percent of the time, you have to fall off the top and mix it up with them in the cover. This country is so broken that you can get down in the canyon with them and put a stalk on them, if they haven't spotted you."
If that is the case, Davis says he'll leave one guy on top to spot them while the rest of the party works its way down to the sheep. Since it looks flat until you get down there, you can lose perspective, and when the sheep move around feeding it's hard to identify where they are.
These sheep travel considerable distances, he adds.
"One particular sheep, we watched one day, and saw him 1-1/2 miles away the next day - and that was a 3-legged ram! But the good news is that if there are not sheep on your place today, there very well may be tomorrow."
Davis agrees that there are lots of aoudads in the Caprock. He recounts one government trapper, working from a helicopter, who counted over 200 aoudad on just a couple of ranches in one day.
"Now you and I can spend a day to see 15 sheep," he says, "and some of those 2 to 3 miles away. On an exceptional day we might see 60."
An aoudad hunter needs a good pair of 10x binoculars, Davis says, a quality spotting scope and the patience to use them all day if necessary. Spotting sheep starts with a good location, with elevation and visibility, and the sun at your back.
"A cloudy day makes it 20 times harder to spot them. I've been watching sheep through a spotting scope," he says, "had a cloud pass over the sun and they just disappeared."
Beyond their tawny coloration, the sheep can also vanish in the countless breaks in these canyons.
"One minute you'll be watching a totally empty flat. You look away and then look back and there are 15 sheep in the wide open, where they just popped out of a little draw."
Amarillo's Scott Steinkruger, of Associated Hunting Consultants (806-353-3634), books hunting trips throughout the world. While he lives in the heart of the best aoudad hunting in the Panhandle, he also sends aoudad hunters to the rugged desert of the Trans-Pecos each year.
"We hunt a large ranch out of Marfa and Marathon, for free-ranging aoudads. For the most part, these are 100 percent success hunts, but it can be pretty rigorous hunting," Steinkruger admits.
"You might luck out and take a ram close to the truck," he says, "but if you're trying for a big aoudad you'd better plan on hunting hard for 2 to 4 days."
The rugged mountains preferred by the aoudads in West Texas are reminiscent of desert bighorn country - and much of this country was once home to desert bighorns.
Among the biggest fans of aoudads are serious sheep hunters who travel the world to hunt wild sheep, Steinkruger says.
"If you're a real sheep hunter, you're going to do this. It's relatively inexpensive, it keeps you in good shape and you get to hunt them like you would any other sheep.
"Because they're an exotic in Texas, a hunter can book a hunt for $2,500 to $3,500. If they were an indigenous species, there'd be special permits required and we'd be charging $7,500 to hunt them!
"They're very worthy game," Steinkruger concludes.
Take enough gun for aoudads
Aoudads are as tough as boots. They share the tenacity and ability to soak up lead common to so many African species. A ram hit solidly through the shoulder with any premium bullet from a rifle of 7mm or larger will go down - eventually. But don't expect to drop one in its tracks, even with a .338.
"My acceptable minimum for rams is nothing less than a .300 Winchester Magnum with Nosler quality bullets," guide David Davis says. "Remember, our average shot is 300 yards.
"They're tough, but the thing that gets you is the way they're built. You've got to hit them way up on the front edge of the shoulder," he says. "If you shoot a sheep standing perfectly broadside, in the crease of his shoulder, you've just gut shot him. You want to hit on the front edge of the shoulder."
The rugged terrain makes stopping a sheep in its tracks critical. Packing a big ram from the bottom of a rugged canyon makes for some serious work, since most sheep will be inaccessible to vehicles.
"The only head and cape I weighed after packing it 3-1/2 miles weighed 56 pounds," David said. "And that one we had to carry 600 feet up a vertical cliff!"
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