This trip started with a decision for my hunting buddy, Brad, his son, Caden, and me to do a self-guided aoudad hunt deep in West Texas. Was this a good decision? Well, it was a little bit yes, a little bit no, and a big wad of what the hell have we done?
We had hoped the first week in October would have given us some milder weather, but that was not the case. We had clear skies and highs right at 100 each day, not exactly ideal for a couple of guys who had let themselves go some in the last few years. Hitting camp late the day before the hunt started, we quickly set up and did a little glassing before the sun went down. The evening allowed us to tell tales of past hunts and the weekend’s hunt to come.
The first day of hunting started as many do in camp, and that’s with a trip to the latrine. Seeing as our designated facilities were some distance from camp, I brought my binoculars to glass along the way. As I started back to camp, I glassed the mountainside, and wouldn’t you know it, a group of about 60 sheep walked out of the shadows. As soon as I returned to camp, I announced, “We have sheep, boys.” We quickly set up spotting scopes and started glassing. Out of the 60 sheep on the mountain, we saw what looked to be three shooters all over 30".
With a group discussion on whether we could even get close enough for a shot without busting them, we decided to gear up and head up the mountain. We had to work our way up to a ridge that would keep us hidden from all those sharp eyes on the top of the mountain. Once we hit our targeted ridge and caught our breath, we got out the spotting scopes and started glassing. We spotted the herd almost immediately as they had not moved and were starting to shade up for the day as the sun was starting its brutal assault. Although they were in almost the same location where we had last seen them, about two-thirds had gone over the top of the mountain and out of sight. We glassed and glassed but did not see a single one of the 30"+ rams. Brad suggested we work closer because at that spot we were 500 yards to the sheep, but I convinced him to be patient and see what the sheep would do. After all, they did not seem to be too interested in moving and we knew the big boys had to be close.
We were right. One of the big guys had come over and was bedded behind a large prickly pear. How Brad saw him that far away with only half his head and horns showing, I have no idea. We knew immediately that he was one we needed to try for. About the time that I was happy with my rifle setup, the big boy got up to follow his ewes who had decided to find a spot out of the sun. With Brad and Caden on the glass and calling yardage, I waited for a nice broadside shot. It was not long when he stopped and presented a perfect shot opportunity. Caden called the yardage at 500, and I dialed my scope for the shot. Boom! A splash behind the sheep. How had I missed? My rest was solid, and I was on him. I had no time to second guess my shot because the whole herd was now on the move. Brad had him in the spotting scope and was trying in vain to help me relocate the ram in my scope. Getting frustrated, I had to make myself slow down and focus. After finding him again, he was still at 500 yards but moving left towards a ridge. We would soon lose them. With my rifle ready and on target, I waited for a pause in his escape. In what would be his worst mistake, he stopped on top of a boulder with a perfect shot presentation. I squeezed the trigger and sent #2 his way. Wham! It was a perfect shot that rolled him up, but it was not the last shot I would make because he stood back up in obvious pain, moving slowly towards his ewes. I reacquired him quickly this time and sent a third shot. Again, it was a perfect shot not three inches from the last one. He went down for the last time.
With high fives and hugs all around, we celebrated taking such a big sheep the morning of day one. We should have reveled in the celebration a bit longer as the next six hours were going to be the biggest hunting test Brad and I had experienced. That said a lot as the two of us are regularly thrown into questionable and sometimes dangerous situations when we travel together. Some are just bad luck, but many are of our own volition.
Brad started with a quick drone flight to verify the ram’s location. We decided to leave a majority of our gear at the location that we took the shots from to lighten our load for recovery. We all knew we had a big job ahead of us getting this ram back down. The fact that he went down at the very top and on a steep slope did not help one bit. With the temperature already working its way into the 80s, we set off to retrieve my ram. After many stops to rest, I made it to the ram. This was a bit after Brad and Caden had already made it to the top. With more high fives and a lot of pictures, we got the ram caped out and loaded into my pack.
At this point in our hunt, things started to go awry and Brad and I realized we might need to do a little more cardio and weight training before the next trip. We were already worn out with the trip up, and now that it was close to 100 degrees, the trip down was looking to be a chore. After an hour, we had made it down maybe a third of the way, we were out of water, and the 100-degree heat had taken its toll.
Brad and I had fallen multiple times. With the realization that there was no way we could make it back down with all our gear, and even questioning if we could get down at all, we had to make a decision. Brad and I would leave our gear and the ram on the mountain. Caden was still feeling fresh and strong, so he was going to head back to the gear we had left earlier in the day and hike back to our camp. He would then drive around the mountain to where we would climb down to pick us up. With the plan discussed and finalized, we all set off trying to get ourselves off the mountain without a trip to the hospital afterwards. Caden made it down with ease, traveling twice the distance his dad and I would be traveling. The next hour was a blur. Both of us were stumbling, sliding, and blacking out on our feet due to the heat and dehydration. I cannot tell you how I made it down without falling headfirst into a boulder, but I did. Thinking the trip down would never end, I exited the final wash. To my relief, Caden and Brad met me with water and support back to the truck.
With all three of us being totally spent and with the knowledge that we would need to retrieve our gear and my ram, we decided to head into town for a stay in a hotel to get ourselves a shower and a good meal.
The following morning, we made the decision to split up. I would stay and break down our camp while Brad and Caden would head up to gather the gear and the ram we left on the mountain. With the temperature in the 60s and a good rest, they had gone up and back down with ease in just over an hour.
Although this hunt was short and only one of us took an aoudad, it turned out to be a true team effort, not to mention a true test of our mental and physical limits. Now all we have to do is decide what our next adventure is that will put us into another dangerous and possibly questionable situation.