You don’t think of Eastern Oregon as a place to hunt aoudad, but there they were about 900 yards from us and about halfway down a monstrous high desert Oregon butte. As they grazed and interacted, coming in and out of 700 and 800 yards, a shot I’d practiced on the bench but was hoping not to force was there – a long shot across a windy ravine. My twin boys, Carter and Hayden, sat with me, about to start wrestling from boredom, and my guide glassed and threw out ranges for me while I watched eagerly in my scope. The aoudad were not coming into that 600 range I wanted, so we packed up and sidehilled back to the side-by-side to meet up with my best buddy and hunting partner, Kevin.
The new plan was to shoot from the top of the butte about 500 to 600 feet down at them. I would shoot and then Kevin would follow on another animal. I’d never shot at that steep of an angle, and apparently the guide hadn’t either, so we were wide-eyed when I killed my first aoudad at that angle. As we walked and glassed for them, the wind increased. Our guide, Zach Bruce from AOA Outfitters, spotted them further than we had originally seen them, but I couldn’t find them. Puzzled and frustrated, I glassed and glassed. Come to find out, I just wasn’t close enough to the edge of the cliff to look down and see them. With a 500-600 yard drop, I feared to venture too close, especially with two rambunctious 10-year-olds in tow and eager to explore!
My guide put me on a nice one. I turned my turret to 325 yardage as the rangefinder corrected for the 30ish degree downward shot we were taking. I waited for my ram to turn broadside, and I slowly squeezed a round off from my Weatherby Vanguard .300 Win Mag. Thump! The ram stood there looking around, so I squeezed off another round and made a clean hit. My Nosler round penetrated his chest and gave a good, quick death. Now it was Kevin’s turn. He fired two rounds, and on the second, the ram went skipping off, unsure if Kevin had a hit as the cold wind was getting stronger and stronger!
This is where the fun began, or the impossible pack out I should say. It was about 2:30 p.m. Our guide then said, “Well, let’s go back to where we originally spotted them and head in to get them.”
I asked, “Isn’t there a closer spot? A Forest Service road, a fire road, something closer?”
He said no. We had just been to the original place where we had seen them, and it was far! My boy, Hayden, was in charge of our lunch backpack but managed to forget it back at the house. With minimal water for the day and only some trail mix and the guide’s sandwich for the day, we started down the mountain. So early in the day, I managed to tweak my knee and didn’t think anything of it into now. There was a sharp, excruciating pain every time I stepped down the mountain. Come to find out, I had torn the meniscus in my left knee. The guides, Kevin, and Hayden went ahead at an impressive pace. Carter and I were on our own, and it was starting to get dark. With each step, I winced as the extra downward pressure going down that mountain was too much. Carter offered to turn back with me as he knew this was a bad idea and being smarter than all us crazy guys. However, I told him we had to push on. It was our harvest, and we must do right by the animal to process him and pack him out. Carter reluctantly agreed.
We finally saw the others on the lower side of the opposite mountain at about dusk and realized how far behind we were. We tried to quicken the pace, but my knee wouldn’t cooperate. Carter talking the whole way down said he didn’t like the forest, I asked why, which in hindsight I shouldn’t have. He said in all the movies he’s seen the animals in the forest attack the people at night and they all die. I said, “Carter, why would you say that? We are about to be in the forest in the middle of the night!” I laughed and hastened my pace while pushing through the pain.
We finally made it down the mountain and halfway up the other one. It was made of bald face rocks with loosened gravel and loose shale. It was hard walking on the loose earth, but it didn’t hurt my knee as much going uphill. My adrenaline pumped as I found myself using moonlight instead of sunlight to navigate the treacherous terrain. We found my ram, but we could not find Kevin’s, so we concluded he had unfortunately missed. Another hour and a half and our aoudad was caped and meat deboned. Now for that trek down this barren, God- forsaken mountain and up what seemed to be a mountain for Zeus himself. It was 8 p.m., and it would take us two hours hiking straight up this mountain to get to the side-by-side. My boys were incredible, a feat and trip that I will never forget
About halfway up, I snapped a picture of Kevin packing double the meat as anyone else, a true friend and tough as a mountain goat. One of the conversations with Hayden and Carter on the two-hour trek up the mountain was “Please, daddy, can we not do this again,” and “Can you bring us breakfast in bed tomorrow morning? Waffles!” I told them 100% I would make them and bring them waffles. They earned it! They literally climbed a mountain in the middle of the night and didn’t complain.
We reached the summit just after 10 p.m. Finally getting cell service about 10:30 p.m., the text messages started flooding in. My wife texted that she hadn’t heard from us tonight and asked if everything was okay. I replied, “We made it finally. We hiked a mountain. Tired! An adventure in God’s country with my best friend and my brave boys I will never forget.”