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“Unless a great deal of good luck enters into it, any sheep hunt includes among its necessary ingredients a lot of looking, a lot of climbing, and a lot of aching muscles and creaking joints.” — Jack O’Connor In a lot of ways, a wild mountain sheep hunt is the least attainable big-game hunt on the continent for the everyday American outdoorsman or woman. It’s not so much the physical challenge, but the financial burden and the long odds of drawing a tag that push a sheep hunt out of reach for most. And that’s why a wild aoudad hunt in West Texas might be one of the most underrated big-game trips out there. You get to glass, climb, feel your muscles ache, and hear your joints creak. And if you hunt hard and shoot well, you’ll likely come home with a very cool trophy and some great memories. Here’s why you should think about an aoudad hunt if you’ve always dreamed about chasing North American sheep.
1. Aoudad are just flat-out cool animals
Aoudad, or barbary sheep, are native to North Africa and were brought to Texas and New Mexico after WWII. They thrived in the rugged, West Texas mountains and now biologists estimate that there are more than 25,000 of the animals in the Lone Star state. Some scorn the aoudad as an invasive species (and they do outcompete native desert bighorns). But, I was on a recent aoudad hunt with Browning Hell’s Canyon Speed and Leupold and by the end of the week, everyone in our group had a new-found respect for the animals. They’re tough, wary, and totally unpredictable—you can watch a band of aoudad hang out in a canyon at sunset and they might travel to the other side of the ranch by morning. They’re also pretty tough to glass. How long did it take you to spot the ram in this picture?
2. It’s probably the cheapest sheep hunt on Earth
An Alaskan Dall sheep hunt can go for between $15,000 to $25,000. On the aoudad hunt I was on, Hidden Creek Outfitters was charging a little over $3,000 for a hunt with two hunters to one guide. You can also find semi-guided or “self-guided” hunts that will cost half as much. Or, throw your name in for one of the draw hunts on public land, but the odds of getting drawn are slim.
3. Aoudad live in beautiful country
We hunted miles and miles of rimrock canyons near the Rio Grande. Aoudad like to hang out just below the rimrocks, which are volcanic rock cliffs formed millions of years ago. It’s a desert environment full of cactus and loose rock, but it makes for a stunning view. If you’ve ever seen photos of Big Bend National Park, you’ve got an idea of the terrain.
4. The hunt is physically demanding
On some ranches you can hunt aoudad from a blind and over a feeder, but if you do that you’re missing a huge part of the hunt. Look for a free-range hunt that requires spot-and-stalk. The tough terrain calls for some physical and mental toughness. Expect to do a lot of climbing and even more glassing. Aoudad blend in incredibly well to the desert surroundings and you can spend a full morning picking apart just one canyon wall before a band of sheep appear (that’s where the mental toughness comes in). If you go, bring good, sturdy boots, gaiters to protect your legs from cactus, and a light-weight walking stick to keep your balance on the loose rock.
5. The shooting is technical
Aoudad have keen eyes and can pick off an approaching hunter from 500 yards or more. Shots typically range from 200 to 400 yards. Factor in a sharp shooting angle and some West Texas wind, and you’ve got a challenging shot for most hunters. Aoudad rams are big (300 pounds) and incredibly compact and muscular. Good shot placement and thoughtful bullet selection are critical. So spend a good amount of time at the rifle range shooting from field positions before the hunt. It’s all part of the fun. Photograph by Kevin Howard
6. You CAN eat the meat
There are a lot of posts on hunting forums about aoudad being inedible. Your guide might even tell you that no one eats aoudad. Well, that’s just not true. Aoudad are technically goats (everyone just calls them sheep), and when prepared properly, goat meat can be delicious. Here’s an aoudad recipe from my hunt.
7. An aoudad ram is an awesome trophy
Most people consider a big aoudad ram to tape out at 30 inches or more. That means one horn will measure 30 inches from base to tip. A big ram has thick, heavy horns that sweep back toward his shoulders and then hook in toward his neck. More mature rams have long, flowing hair (called chaps) on their chest and forelegs.