CAREFUL…Do not step on any dry cedar limbs, and do not step on any rocks that might slide or make any kind of noise!” cautioned Jackie Murphy as we started our ascent.
I looked at the rocky, dry limb covered slope we were on and wondered if my guide expected me to levitate my way to the crest. Smiling, I put a toe here, a heel there and followed as best as I could. Somewhere up ahead were aoudad, several of them and hopefully a heavily chap-bedecked ram which had been around eight or more years. Eyes on the ground, I followed.
Suddenly my guide stopped abruptly on the steep, rocky slope, pushed his hand backward cautioning me to stay in my tracks. I obeyed. I watched silently as Jackie raised his binocular and peered through cedar at something in the direction of the head of the canyon. Moments later he looked over his shoulder and smiled. With his left hand he motioned the sweep of a horn, then pointed up slope. At that point he got on his hands and knees and crawled cautiously forward. I followed; sharp, jagged rocks poking into tender knees. When my guide waved me to his left side and I snaked my way forward.
“There are at least thirteen rams. They’re only 70-yards away. They have no idea we’re here. Bear with me while I look to see if there’s a shooter.”
Jackie evaluated each ram while I reflected upon the stalk that got us within Ruger revolver range. We had spotted the herd from a mile away. For the last hour we had been walking up and down, mostly up, through rough, rugged, rocky terrain typical of Texas’ Trans Pecos Mountains. Several times we had walked to where we had to back up and take a different path due to bluffs and blind canyons. When we first saw them at the great distance it appeared there could be mature rams in the herd. Jackie wanted a closer look, as did I.
It had been years since I seriously hunted aoudad, but in the past I had done a fair amount of pursuing aoudad including guiding for “Barbary sheep” on the ranches I managed as a wildlife biologist. As Jackie looked, I commented, “To me they look to be mostly in the 26 to 28-inch range. I don’t see huge bodies, nor the darker color I remember mature rams attaining with maturity.”
“Not bad Pilgrim!” responded Jackie. “Let’s ease out of here and do our best not to disturb them. Don’t want that herd running, possibly spooking other rams on top of the ridge. When aoudad run they tend to go a long way before stopping!”
We backed out slowly using every bit of cover just as we had with our approach. Once well out of sight of the rams. Jackie said, “That’s typical of what we’ll see. The breeding season is long past and rams are now mostly in bachelor herds. We may see a single ram, but usually if we see one there will be more.” He continued, “If we see a ewe or a group of ewes, we won’t spend any time glassing nor stalking them.”
Late afternoon slid to sun down and we headed back to camp. On our way back Jackie and I told hunting stories. Even though we had never hunted together, we shared many mutual friends including Greg Simons owner of Wildlife Systems (www.wildlifesystems.com) for whom Jackie works. I also knew of Jackie’s reputation. When I was setting up the hunt with Greg he had told me, “I’m not going to be in your aoudad camp because of other commitments. I’m going to have Jackie Murphy guide you. We call him “Mr. Aoudad” because of his passion for hunting aoudad and his success of guiding hunters to the biggest aoudad rams on whatever ranch we hunt through Wildlife Systems. I think you’ll truly enjoy the time spent with him.”
During our hunt, which we filmed for our “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television series which appears year around on the Pursuit Channel, I asked Jackie if he could only hunt one animal in the world, regardless of where it might exist, what would it be. Without hesitation he responded “Aoudad! Love where they live and how tough, tenacious and challenging they tend to be, and too, they are truly majestic animals!” What Greg had not told is how good a cook Jackie was, as I learned in our several days together.
Early next morning we were sitting, watching distant and near slopes at the first hint of the approaching day. We soon spotted several rams. Our spotting scopes revealed relatively young rams. While glassing besides aoudad we saw a goodly number of desert mule deer, elk and some whitetails. Jackie mentioned Wildlife Systems offers hunts for those three species on the ranch we hunted, plus javelina, hogs and of course aoudad.
As the day before, we hunted all day long, mostly sitting and glassing, crawling ridges and glassing blind canyons. We spotted and stalked several herds of rams ranging from two to twelve, only to turn all of them down. “Not what we’re looking for!” Or, “Too small!” were Jackie’s standard responses. I loved it! This was true hunting; spotting animals at long distance, planning and then executing the stalk, getting within rifle range, then backing out without the rams even knowing we were there. Great fun and I loved every moment!
Late that evening glassing a rocky ridge top we spotted three, then ten more rams. All were darker colored than those we had been seeing. It appeared the shortest horned ram was 28-inches, broomed at the tips. The largest ram looked like he could easily go 34-inches. Unfortunately, by the time we found them, it was late and the distance was easily a thousand yards. We watched them head to the top of the ridge to bed down for the night.
This hunter had always wanted to chase down a free-range giant aoudad, and he got his chance on the Kokernot 06 Ranch.
—story by LARRY WEISHUHN