A loud crash broke the silence of a quiet morning in the rugged hills of Real County.
It came again but this time was followed by the more familiar “baa” of a sheep.
While glassing the crest of a hill, I could see movement just behind a row of junipers. Two rams were fighting and it looked like there were numerous onlookers just behind them.
Even for someone like me who is in fairly decent shape, this was a steep climb, especially carrying a bow and arrows, a camera and backpack loaded with much needed water and electrolyte drinks.
It was 92 degrees and fluids were a must.
A careful stalk, crouched with my bow horizontal out front to break up the human outline brought me within 40 yards.
This was just within effective bow range and here I could see these were two very large snow-white Texas dall rams. One of them seemingly tired from battle started to walk downhill and turned broadside.
And just as I drew back and lined the sight pin with the vitals, something caught my attention.
Walking at the very top of the hill about 75 yards away was an incredibly large, heavy-wooled chocolate brown, white and black sheep with thick, curl and a half horns.
Its face was solid black and it dwarfed everything around it.
This was a monster.
My heart humped as I realized what I was looking at, so I drew down.
It has been 17 years since I hunted exotic sheep and here I was at my friend Thompson Temple’s ranch looking at something I have been dreaming about hunting-an arapawa sheep or at least a very close cousin.
A true feral sheep species found in New Zealand, I only knew of one ranch in America that had imported arapawa for hunting and it is in Ohio, yet here I was looking at one in Texas.
It seemed like a dream and then as soon as I got my bearings, the big ram disappeared on the other side of the hill.
Returning to camp for lunch (and to cool down), Temple told me, my friend Josh Slone, his son Jaxon, nephew Amos Spell and brother-in-law Jeff Busby he had released a couple of unusual looking sheep onto the ranch that fit the arapawa profile a while back.
That afternoon I hit the field with Josh and Jaxon, as they tried to get in his first crossbow kill. The goal was to help Jaxon score but an hour after starting the climb back up the big hill, we spotted the arapawa.
“Me and Jaxon got this,” Josh said.
“We’re going after another herd. You go get that ram of your dreams.”
In the months leading up to this hunt, I had spoken with Josh about this breed numerous times. I love wild sheep more than any other kind of game animal but realistically, unless I win one of the lottery tags I apply for in Texas, Nevada or Colorado, I will never hunt bighorns.
I don’t have a spare $50,000 laying around to make that happen.
But I can afford to hunt exotic sheep and with a bow, it is quite challenging, especially when you choose to spot and stalk in tough country like this.
I had thought of saving up for a few years to fly to New Zealand to hunt arapawa where they are super cheap ($750). I would probably be the only hunter in history that traveled there just to get one of these wooly boogers but this wildlife journalist can’t afford red stag and chamois.
A big-horned, heavy-wooled arapawa sheep would do me just fine.
Working on a book called Higher Calling: A Conservation & Field Guide to Wild Sheep Of The World, since Jan. 2020 made me have an even deeper appreciation for these animals.
It didn’t take long to find the herd but they disappeared soon after.
After a water break, I caught up with them on a small flat just below the same juniper thicket they came from this morning.
The big arapawa was hanging out with a couple of Texas dall and an urial cross but as they often do when pursued, the targeted ram was dead in the middle.
Ethical hunters only take ethical shots and although I had got to within 30 yards I had to draw down twice due to other sheep in the background. An errant arrow could wound another and that would do no one any good.
Luckily, I had the wind to my face and enough cover to try and get a tad closer.
As I reached the 20-yard mark, the herd moved to my left and that put the arapawa in front of a short bush. It would not be a clear shot so I waited and waited.
After what seemed like forever, the big ram moved out by itself, I drew back and put the sight pin right on the shoulder.
Then I gently tapped my release.
This time the sound on the hill was not rams butting heads but my broadhead penetrating bone and sending the ram downhill.
In 2019, the Lord impressed two words upon me-“Higher Calling”.
I could feel the weight and depth of it in my bones, as I knew a significant shift was coming to my life. It was one of those few times where I knew the Lord had a message for me to unravel.
That prayer time began a journey of soul-searching and a path back toward the very beginnings of my career as a wildlife journalist and even younger.
For starters I knew the Lord wanted me to dedicate more time to Him, studying His word and praying. That was first.
But there was more.
I started to get back deeper into hunting and a deep personal and journalistic pursuit of mountain and forest wildlife. In 18 months saw me photograph bighorns in four states, the grand slam of turkeys in as many and now harvest the exotic ram of my dreams.
I took time to thank God for thinking of me.
An arapwa ram in Texas on the ranch I happen to be hunting while I am studying the breed? Are you kidding me?
I did not take the moment for granted.
It let me know that even during the concern of COVID-19, the chaos happening in America’s streets and outright scary future prospects, that God is real and He has good things for His followers.
I’m no one special but I get to do special things.
Exotic sheep hunting may not be for everyone but for those who want to hunt beautiful animals on a budget, pursuing them, especially with a bow is incredibly fun.
When I collected the ram who died quickly with the heart shot, I felt so excited and was giddy at the prospects of all of the meat. If we kill it, we eat it in the Moore household and wild or exotic mutton is excellent if you know how to cook it.
A little while later, Jaxon scored on another arapawa. Add to that Amos’ first bow kill, a beautiful Texas dall he took that morning and Jeff’s strawberry Dall that afternoon and it was an incredible day.
A dream of mine came true at the Thompson Temple Ranch and it gave me hope that even greater things lie ahead-perhaps on a higher mountain somewhere in the wild where wildest dreams can come true.
—story by CHESTER MOORE