There is an animal roaming freely in the wilds of Texas than is harder to hunt than a mature whitetail deer.
In fact, this animal may very well be the hardest game animal to hunt in North America.
Whitetail purists are liable to balk and those who have pursued Stone’s Sheep or Mountain Goat are likely to disagree and that is perfectly understandable. But if you read on you will see my point. You might not agree but I think anyone can understand this animal is something special when it comes to wits.
It is the aoudad.
Yes, the aoudad is an exotic.
But they have been living on free-ranging in the Palo Duro and Caprock Canyons of Texas for more than 60 years on open land and inhabit much of the Hill Country, parts of South Texas and the Trans Pecos.
Aoudad can be extremely hard to hunt on even fairly small high-fenced operations but on open range the challenge is at a whole other level. Many hunters in the Hill Country see aoudad on their game cameras at night and kill plenty of free-ranging axis and even sika and blackbuck but rarely aoudad.
There are extremely elusive animals.
Native to North Africa, the aoudad is rufous tawny in color according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
“The insides of the legs are whitish. There is no beard, but there is a ventral mane of long, soft hairs on the throat, chest, and upper part of the forelegs. The horns of the male sweep outward, backward, and then inward; they are rather heavy and wrinkled, and measure up to 34 inches in length. Females also have prominent horns although they are not as large as those of the male.”
According to Wikipedia aoudad are fond of mountainous areas where they both graze and a browse.
They are able to obtain get all their moisture from food, but if liquid water is available, they drink it and wallow in it. They are crepuscular which means they are active in the early morning and late afternoon and resting in the heat of the day. They are very agile and can achieve a standing jump of over seven feet and will flee at the first sign of danger.
“They are well adapted to their habitats which consist of steep rocky mountains and canyons. When threatened, they always run up and bounce back and forth over the tops of the mountains to elude predators below. They stay in rough, steep country because they are more suited to the terrain than any of their predators. Aoudad are extremely nomadic and travel constantly via mountain ranges.”
Over the years I have collected several fascinating stories of the aoudad’s ability to elude hunters.
Two hunters were driving up a mountain in the Trans Pecos to stay at a lodge near the summit. When they looked in the rearview mirror they saw two big aoudad walk out in the road about 100 yards from them. They gradually slowed down, took a rifle out of the rack behind them and eased out of the truck.
The aoudad were gone.
One of the hunters heard that aoudad always went uphill so they scaled the ridge to their side thinking the aoudad would be below them. If they were it would be a pretty easy shot. The back side of this ridge was clear and these men were prepared with shooting sticks and able to shoot long distances.
When they got to the top they saw nothing so disappointed they headed back to the truck.
As one put the rifle back in the case and the other stretched his legs they turned back and looked at the spot they first saw the two aoudad. The grass on the side of the road was about two feet tall. Out of the grass, the aoudad gradually rose up and had simply laid down and hid themselves until the men were back in the truck.
Like I said-elusive.
One rancher had a 640 acre tract in Real County that was high fenced and had aoudad on it when he bough it. If you were to take all of the surface acres with canyons, hills and caves it is probably more like three times that size, at least it feels that way when I have been there.
Aoudad have rarely been killed there although herds as large as 30 have been seen.
He came across an aoudad ewe at a game sale and had the idea to fit her with a bell around her neck. When she got with the herd, he could hear the area they were in on the ranch. It is often extremely quiet out there.
The herd completely rejected her.
Another ranch had an aoudad in an acre pen that had grass grown up several feet high. They went to find the animal to try and lead it into a chute to put in a cage for the sale. It took them an hour to find the aoudad in an acre pen. They animal kept quietly crawling around on its knees.
Whitetail do some crazy stuff to avoid hunters but I think when it comes to elusive innovation this African import has them beat.
Chester Moore, Jr.