It was one of the most striking animals I have ever seen.
Cautiously easing down a rocky draw in, the limestone cliffs of Real County, a magnificent ram made its way toward my position. With a full,. deep curl and gigantic bases it was an animal any hunter would want to take.
Its coat was a mix of deep brown and black but it had a partial white saddle patch across its back.
This was my first sighting of a Hill Country bighorn.
These are a species developed by exotic hunting innovator Thompson Temple.
“Milt Sanburg outside of Montrose, Co. had a herd of mouflon sheep. Rocky Mountain bighorn rams from the nearby national forest periodically came over and bred a number of ewes. The result was 10 to 15 rams and ewes that were 1/2 bighorn and 1/2 mouflon. The rams were very impressive,” Temple said.
“Alan Baier of Collbran, Co. and I met with the Colorado Fish and Game. They were anxious to get the hybrids out of Colorado. An agreement was reached to transport the sheep to my ranch in Texas.”
In recent years he has attempted to replace the mouflon portion of the sheep with a larger breed of sheep called the Stumberg.
“I have also purchased Urial rams to do the same thing,” Temple noted.
His goal is for hunters to have a species very similar to Rocky Mountain Bighorns that hunters can pursue for an affordable fee. Bighorns cost upwards of $50,000 in some cases to hunt. Temple wants hunters to have a bighorn-like experience at a fraction of the cost.
My experience at the ranch showed these animals are super wild and have a very much Bighorn-like demeanor. I was just there to photograph them and thought it was such an interesting story to bring to hunters who like to do something different.
And while these creatures are not yet a common sighting on Texas ranches, there are numerous species that are and offer fun, affordable hunting on a year-round basis.
Corsican — This is the classic exotic sheep with horns that curl outward and often in a full double position. Their coats can range from burn orange to nearly deer color and some specimens sport an impressive mane of fur that makes them as attractive as any North American game.
Texas Dall — While most hunters will never be able to hunt Alaska’s dall sheep, the Texas dall is an affordable alternative that is essentially a white Corsican. The horn configuration is the same although the horns of this ram tend to be a lighter color. Some Texas dalls are pure white while others have a mixed reddish/orange in their coat.
Hawaiian Black — There’s something majestic about a large, black ram walking up a hillside and that is what makes this one of the most popular of the exotic sheep. They are often noted for sporting a heavy coat of wool although some have a thin coat and will occasionally have a chocolate-brown color mixed in.
Mouflon — A truly wild sheep, they are small but have large heart-shaped horns that almost never spiral outward like the Corsican. True mouflons are rare on Texas ranches but they do exist. Besides the horn configuration, the classic trait is a large white saddle patch on the back and a short tail.
Merino — A huge, wooly domestic breed from the Pacific, merinos often called “Rambo Rams” are the largest horned by far. Forty plus inch horns are not uncommon on these animals that can weigh upwards of 250 pounds on the hoof. Merinos seem to come in two varieties. They are either almost entirely tame or super wary. And while the wool may turn off some hunters, the horns are undeniably impressive.
Four Horn — Also called “Jacob’s Sheep”, these unique animals are mentioned in the Bible and date back to the earliest period of the Old Testament. They have goat-like horns on the top of their heads that typically rise straight up with a slight bow and then regular ram horns on the side. Colors range from white to red although most are a mix of colors.
Many four horns have sort of mutated looking horns with one growing tight to the head or not at all. If you take one of these with all four horns large and well-defined you have taken a noteworthy trophy.
Aoudad — Aoudad (Barbary sheep) were officially released into the Palo Duro Canyon in the Panhandle decades ago and have been stocked on hundreds of exotic ranches in the Hill Country and beyond. Aoudad will tear up deer feeders and could potentially outcompete native desert bighorn for food but they are highly embraced by the hunting community.
Texas hunters looking for off-season action can find plenty on Texas ranches. Most of these animals are available to hunt for a fairly affordable fee and provide great action especially for young hunters or those using crossbows or archery equipment.
The “Grand Slam” is the collection of all four species of North American wild sheep. The “Texas Slam” is the taking of a Corsican, Texas dall, Hawaiian black and mouflon. While it might not be as glamorous as shooting Stone’s sheep in Canada, hunting Texas rams can be every bit as fun and it is far more affordable.
And believe it or not, the meat of these sheep tastes great if cooked properly. The late great bowhunting legend Fred Bear once said the freshly cooked ribs of wild sheep was his favorite of all wild game.