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Sheep Hunting on a Budget

September 2020
Author: Jerrod Lile

If you’re hoping I’m going to reveal the secret to an inexpensive option for any of the sheep species that qualify for the elusive Grand Slam, you might be disappointed. However, if you recognize that part of the allure of sheep hunting is hunting a species that goes where we can’t go, spends most of its life in habitat that we consider uninhabitable, and tests the limits of our physical abilities, then it might be time to consider a different kind of sheep hunt.

Aoudad, or Barbary sheep, originally hail from the rugged, arid mountain country of North Africa where their numbers are currently in decline. Nothing could be further from the truth here in North America where they have quickly acclimated to southern desert habitat that spans from Oklahoma to California and south into Mexico. According to the Invasive Species Compendium (ISC), most of the intentional aoudad releases in the United States occurred in the 1950s when they were released into California, New Mexico, and Texas. Additional releases occurred in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma. However, it is widely known that many of the releases had more to do with dilapidated fences, disbanded private zoos, and abandoned estates than it had to do with intentional introduction of these hardy sheep. Regardless, aoudad are here to stay, at least for now.

Like all invasive species, they certainly get their fair share of scrutiny, especially when it comes to their apparent competition for resources with Desert bighorn sheep. With that in mind, if you’ve ever thought about an aoudad hunt, it would be hard to argue that there’s ever been a better time than now. These interesting circumstances inspired me to sit down with long- time Huntin’ Fool Endorsed Outfitter Wes Mundy. He is the owner of Double Diamond Outfitters, and I knew I could trust him to give me an honest low- down on aoudad hunting in West Texas. It’s important to note that although the focus of this article is on guided opportunities in Texas, there are many other ways to hunt aoudad, including public land self-guided hunts.

I hope you enjoy the following Question and Answer between Wes and me. More importantly, I hope that this article inspires you to look into a sheep hunting opportunity that is far less expensive than the other North American alternatives are. With that being said, let’s dive right in.

Jerrod: Can you dispel some rumors regarding free-range vs high-fence aoudad in the state of Texas? Are both free-range and high fence aoudad hunts available?

Wes: Yes, both exist in Texas. I have done a few high-fence aoudad hunts over my 15 years of being in the business (guys with limited mobility or who physically can’t handle a free-range hunt in West Texas), but 99%+ of my aoudad hunts are free-range.

J: What is the high-fence experience like, and what is the cost range?

W: High-fence aoudad hunts are different from free-range hunts in that you’re typically hunting over a feeder while sitting in a blind. You can kill some big sheep in a high fence, but you’re typically not stalking/walking much and your shots aren’t very far (typically 100- 200 yards). High-fence aoudad will cost $3,500-$6,000, depending on the size of the ram.

J: What is the free-range experience like, and what is the cost range?

W: Free-range aoudad hunting, especially in West Texas, is a real sheep hunt. The terrain is rough, and you have to be able to hike and shoot and really work for your aoudad. All of that combined makes it a much more challenging, but more rewarding, hunt than hunting aoudad in a high fence. Free-range aoudad hunts will range from $3,500-$8,500.

J: How many square miles (or acres) of habitat is common on the better hunts?

W: I typically like to hunt 30,000+ acres when I’m hunting free-range aoudad. If you’ve got the right 5-10,000 acres that’s right in the heart of sheep country, you can still have a good hunt, but these sheep can move around a lot, so having more country is always helpful so you don’t run them off the property you can legally hunt on.

J: Should you be in “sheep shape” to make this type of hunt happen?

W: I tell all of my hunters to be in as good of shape as they can get in. The better shape you’re in, the more you can hike and the more sheep you can look over. That allows you to be more selective and greatly increases your odds of harvesting a bigger ram.

J: Can you legally shoot more than one per year?

W: Yes. Aoudad are considered exotics in Texas, and you can shoot as many as you want...or want to pay for.
J: Is the season open “year-round” or is it more regulated than that by the state of Texas?

W: Aoudad are exotics, and exotics aren’t regulated much by TPWD. You can hunt them 365 days a year and 24/7. You can spotlight them, hunt them at night, hunt them year-round, etc. The best time to find the big rams is in September and October, which is the peak of the rut.

J: How many days are most aoudad hunts booked for?

W: Most are a 4-day/3-night hunt.

J: What does a typical day of aoudad hunting look like?

W: You spend most of your day out in the field. You will leave the camp/ lodge/house as the sun is coming up and hunt all day. You drive around and glass a lot. Once you find a good ram, it’s time to grab your pack and rifle and start stalking in for a shot. We typically take a break for lunch in the field and then get back to hunting. Sheep will come down to water midday, if water is readily available, so you can catch them down low while getting water. Then it’s back to driving and glassing for the rest of the afternoon until the sun goes down. After that, it’s time to head back to camp for dinner, shower, and sleep to get up and do it all again the next day.

J: What can you expect from various seasons when you might book an aoudad hunt?

W: Most people hunt aoudad in September and October and then take a break during November and December, which is mule deer season in West Texas. They pick back up with the hunts January-March. We will hunt them as an add-on animal when hunting mule deer, but most ranches want you to hunt mule deer during the mule deer season. In September and October, you’ll see big herds of aoudad (100-300) and the big rams all come out of hiding to breed the ewes. During the winter and spring, you’re looking for bachelor groups or small bands of rams (typically 3-8 or 10 rams). Most people don’t hunt aoudad in the summer in West Texas because it can get really hot and their hair/cape gets pretty rough. Unless you’re in really good shape and used to the extreme temps/sun in West Texas, you’re really risking getting someone hurt hunting in the summer.

J: What should I wear and pack for an aoudad hunt?

W: In the fall, I wear good hiking boots, Carhartt pants, a long-sleeve tall collar, lightweight shirt (KUIU Tiburon), a hat, and sunglasses. In the spring, I’ll wear the same boots, hat, sunglasses, and pants, but I’ll switch to a wool shirt and add or subtract layers as the temp dictates. When riding in the buggy to/ from camp, I will add layers and then take layers off before we start hiking.

J: Do aoudad breed year-round, or is there an annual rut?

W: I’ve seen rams with ewes 12 months out of the year, so I believe aoudad ewes come in cycle 12 months out of the year, but the peak is September and October.

J: What are the typical accommodations for these hunts, and how are the hunts conducted from a logistics point of view?

W: Like most sheep hunts, you are in a remote part of the world, even in West Texas. Since you’re in such remote areas, the majority of the lodging is going to be in modest ranch style homes or something very similar. There are a few places in West Texas that have five-star lodging, but there aren’t many. Every place I hunt has a nice, clean house or double wide with central heat and AC as well as nice, warm showers, comfortable beds, and most have flat screen satellite TV.

J: What is the typical mode of transportation?

W: I use a Lannom Ranch buggy specifically made for West Texas. It’s based on a VW chassis, but it’s been modified and handles the rough West Texas terrain very well. Some people use UTVs and/or pickups or jeeps, but you just tear them up so bad on the rough roads/terrain that I don’t use them anymore.

J: What do you do with the meat?

W: In Texas, aoudad are an exotic, so you don’t have to take the meat. I’ve eaten plenty of aoudad and the flavor isn’t bad, but on these big, old rams, it’s very tough. If you have teeth like “Jaws” in that 007 movie, you could eat it no problem, but unless you have teeth like that, I’d suggest donating it or leaving it. It’s your animal, so if you would like to take it with you, that’s not a problem. Just bring your coolers and a good pack to pack the meat out and you’ll be good to go! Ewes and kids are great eating, though. It’s very similar to cabrito, and I really like it.

J: What is a big one?

W: Anything over 28” is considered a trophy, but I do my best to not shoot anything smaller than 30" unless it’s just a big, old ram that’s broomed off 3-4" of his horns. My commitment to chasing large rams has resulted in Double Diamond Outfitters putting two rams in the top 25 in the world in the last two years. I do make an exception if a hunter is struggling to get around in the mountains or the elevation is bothering him. I would still do mybesttogethima30"ram,butifwe have a nice, mature ram that’s not quite 30" but he’s in a good spot for the hunter, then we’ll go after him.

J: Do you pay more for a bigger sheep?

W: I don’t know of any free-range aoudad hunts that charge by the size, but there might be some. My hunts are a flat fee (currently $5,950/hunter for a 2 on 1). I know quite a few high-fence aoudad hunts where the price increases as the size/score of the ram increases, but that’s typically not the case on free-range aoudad hunts.

J: Do you find bigger rams in Texas or New Mexico?

W: Texas hands down. I know New Mexico is producing some nice aoudad, but across the board, West Texas produces more big aoudad rams than anywhere else in the world. Just take a look in the SCI record book and it gives you an idea of the difference between Texas aoudad and New Mexico aoudad.

J: If there is a size difference, is it age, genetics, or both?

W: I think the difference comes from a combination of age, genetics, and groceries. I think that there are so many more aoudad in West Texas, and they have been here longer than in New Mexico and are more established that it’s also just a numbers game. I’ve never hunted New Mexico, but from the videos I’ve seen, it looks like there’s more for the aoudad to eat in West Texas. Once again, nobody knows hardly anything about aoudad and these are just my opinions/ guesses based on 15 years of hunting them professionally.

J: How old does a ram have to be to become “trophy sized?”

W: The general consensus is 10 years old or older.

J: Is archery equipment OK for this type of hunt?

W: Legally, you can hunt them with archery, muzzleloader, and rifle. Getting close enough for a shot on a spot and stalk hunt will be tough in West Texas. It’s very dry and rocky, and it’s like walking on a bag of Cheetos everywhere you go. If you’re going to try spot and stalk archery aoudad hunting in West Texas, you better be in really good shape so you can attempt multiple stalks or be really lucky!

J: For firearms, how long is the average shot distance?

W: I tell all of my hunters to be prepared to shoot out to 400 yards. We typically get closer than 400 (250-350 yards), but being prepared to shoot 400 yards greatly increases your chances of going home with a big, old West Texas ram.

J: What is the outlook on aoudad hunting for the future?

W: The outlook for aoudad hunting in West Texas is great! They are increasing in numbers, and as they increase, you’re going to get more big rams and hopefully we’ll keep killing those big top 25 size rams.

J: Is the price increasing, decreasing, or stable?

W: Like anything else, aoudad hunts aren’t getting any less expensive. Landowners know the value of these aoudad. Combine that with Texas being 98% private land, meaning landowners dictate the price, and the demand for good aoudad country increasing almost daily. It’s just supply and demand.

J: Are there any rumblings in the state of Texas that could significantly impact aoudad hunting as we know it today?

W: TPWD doesn’t like aoudad. They consider them a non-native, invasive species, and in the name of protecting our Desert sheep population, they kill aoudad any chance they get. During Desert bighorn surveys, which are conducted in August from a helicopter, they shoot as many aoudad as they can from the air. They can only shoot aoudad on state land or private land if they have permission from the landowner. The belief is that aoudad are carriers of numerous communicable diseases that can kill Desert bighorn, but to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been one documented case of a Desert bighorn dying from any disease it got from an aoudad. Once again, because of the lack of definitive scientific knowledge/ proof/studies, I think it would be hard for anyone to say definitively, but that’s the party line. Currently, there is a study being conducted by a Texas Tech grad student, and hopefully that will give us some real concrete data. If nothing else, it will definitely increase our knowledge of aoudad in West Texas. We’ve been collecting nasal swabs as well as blood, hair, fecal, and tissue samples on harvested aoudad as part of the study, so I’m anxious to see the results and gain some more knowledge on such an amazing animal.

J: How far in advance should you book to secure the better outfitters?

W: Any good outfitter is going to be booked at least a year in advance, if not more. You can sometimes get lucky with a cancellation hunt, but if you contact an outfitter in June or July and they still have openings for their fall aoudad rut hunts, I would be asking some serious questions as to why they still have openings when they will start their hunts in September.

As usual, Wes was filled with information on one of his favorite species to chase. I hope that he was able to answer some questions and perhaps spark an interest in chasing these stout desert dwellers. We have great aoudad outfitters we can connect you with, and we can certainly discuss self-guided options too. Give us a call if you have questions, and good luck this fall!

Texas Bighorn Sheep Hunting