May 23, 2022
As a hunter, outdoorsman, and adventure-seeker, I’ve always been excited to step outside of my comfort zone and hunt new species in terrain I’ve never seen before. For most of my life, these hunts were on a shoestring budget and included a lot of blood, sweat, and tears — and great memories of sleeping in the back of my truck to be able to afford them!
So, in 2018, when I was asked by Bryan Broderick of Day Six arrows to come along on a free-range aoudad hunt with Scott Campbell, owner of Top O Texas Outfitters, in the Texas Panhandle, I was all in! At this point, I didn’t really know what an aoudad was, where they lived, or what they looked like. I didn’t care because it was something new, it only cost $500 for a trespass fee, it was a short drive from Colorado…and the word on the street was that killing an aoudad with my recurve would be next to impossible. Challenge accepted!
I could tell that Scott and his son, Wes, were awesome dudes from the get-go. It also didn’t take me long to realize that this was definitely going to be an adventure hunt, because the terrain was difficult, the aoudad were cagey, and there wasn’t a ton of them to be found.
We walked several miles each day, glassed until our eyes practically popped out of our skulls, and in the end, I was lucky enough to take a 12-year-old ewe with my recurve on Day Four…and that’s where my addiction for the poor man’s sheep began!
Most sheep hunts are priced far beyond what a blue-collar construction worker can afford — costing $18,000 to $65,000, on average. The aoudad, or Barbary sheep, will cost you the price of the tag on up to $6,500, depending on whether you go with an outfitter. These prices are a bit more realistic for the average hunter, but the adventure will be far more than the dollar amount may indicate.
As I write this article, I find myself in the Davis Mountains of Texas, guiding aoudad hunters for Scott. I’ve been doing this for three to four months a year since 2019, and I’m just as excited today as I was on my first hunt there for these amazing creatures! The areas I am lucky enough to guide and hunt in are the aforementioned Davis Mountains in far West Texas, and the Palo Duro Canyon in North Texas.
If you don’t think of Texas as a mountain-filled area with giant cliffs and 6,500 to 8,000-foot peaks, you’d be wrong, as I was. By no means am I comparing these Texas locales to the likes of the Northwest Territories, Alaska, Colorado, or British Columbia, but they do have their own special beauty, challenges, and adventure.
So, what’s so special about aoudad? To start with, they are one of the toughest animals I’ve ever seen or hunted. Not just because of the extreme weather changes they deal with, the rough country they live in, or the fact that they can eat up arrows like it’s their job. Beyond that, they are extremely crafty, very rarely bed for more than an hour, and typically hang out in large groups, so you have many eyes to deal with.
Being a longtime mule deer hunter, I originally planned on mimicking the tactics I use when hunting muleys in the high country of Eastern Colorado and the plains of Alberta to get close to these intelligent sheep. It only took a few days of hunting aoudad for me to figure out I needed to modify my approach. It wasn’t that my muley mindset wouldn’t work, because it did at times, but I quickly learned that my initial plan of bedding something down at 10:30 a.m. and then making a stalk wasn’t going to be my primary technique — that is, if I or my hunters hoped to experience any kind of consistent success.
So, what did I start doing differently? First off, I became more accustomed to running to get to a ram or ewe before it got out of its bed. Not on the final approach, obviously, but if the total stalk was a mile long, roughly three-quarters of it would be spent moving at a pretty good clip. I use the same technique for getting ahead of a group of aoudad so I can get set up for an ambush.
Something else that I really didn’t think about in the beginning was calling them in, but when aoudad are rutting, calling definitely works! The sound is hard to describe in text, but I use it frequently when coming in on an aoudad from above and I can’t get any closer. When using this call, the dominant rams will often charge in, which helps cut the distance down for a closer shot. Another call that has worked at times is the sound of a lost lamb bawling. This will sometimes bring the ewes closer, but it can also occasionally bring in the lead ram. Overall, I’ve learned to move fast at times, be more patient at others, and to spend a lot of time behind good glass.
To give a few examples, I will go over what techniques I used to kill my last three rams. All three were over 30 inches in length, between 11 and 15 years old, and were killed between four and 16 yards.
I was riding the struggle bus on my first ram hunt and pretty much got my butt kicked from beginning to end. To give you an idea of how bad it was, I had 49,000 steps on my watch the day I finally made it happen. Determination was really what helped me pull it off.
I had blown multiple stalks, missed a few shots, and was starting to doubt if I’d be able to make it happen. With a final desperation move, I had my buddy walk parallel to a field the aoudad were feeding in to push them into the canyons below. It worked like a charm as far as the pushing part of our plan but guessing where 50 to 60 aoudad are going to run is like throwing darts with your eyes closed in the dark.
I made my best educated guess, and then took off running in hopes that I could get far enough ahead of the aoudad so as to get a better idea of where they wanted to go and where to set up an ambush to intercept them. After a mad dash of 500 yards, I got a decent glimpse of a ewe that I hoped was leading the pack, and it looked like she was heading to a small pond about 100 yards from me. I quickly moved into position and got set up for a shot.
About five minutes later, I had multiple rams and ewes all around me, but nothing had winded me yet. I could see a ram coming in fast, and guessed he’d be within range in a few seconds. To my surprise, he veered even closer to me, and before I knew it, I had a four-yard shot! I didn’t totally panic, given the ultra-close distance, and managed to get a clean shot off. My arrow passed through the ram’s heart, and he expired 75 yards away. My amazing wife and Scott were watching all of this through a spotting scope. Having these two with me was just as important as the actual hunt. The ram ended up measuring just over 30 inches and was 11 years of age.
My second hunt was one of those experiences that only happens once in a lifetime. It was the first day of my hunt, and after about 20 minutes of glassing, we spotted a large band of rams with multiple ewes coming over the top of a ridge.
There was a lot of sparring going on between the rams, and I quickly made my way up the mountain to position myself above them. It only took me about 45 minutes to get above them, but the closest I could get was 85 yards — too far for a shot with my recurve.
So, I took a guess at where they might exit, in hopes they would cross in front of me. After a few minutes, 13 different ewes and lambs crossed in front of me at 25 yards, and all I could do was hope the rest of the group followed suit.
Out of the blue, a lamb and a ewe started coming straight at me. Seconds later, the lamb was a foot away and started pushing her head against my recurve’s limb tip. I was trying not to shake at this point, but it didn’t really work, and both lamb and ewe blew out of there and headed back toward the rest of their group.
The lead ram took notice of this and started coming straight at me to investigate. He followed the exact same path as the lamb and ewe, and before I knew it, he was 10 yards away. I made a quick shot, my arrow passing through his heart, and he dropped 45 yards from my position. I was on my knees when I took the shot, and that was probably a good thing as my legs were shaking uncontrollably. This ram was 33 inches and 13 years old. He was a true giant with any weapon, and one of my most-cherished animals to date.
I’ve been lucky enough to hunt multiple species all over North America, but my third aoudad ram definitely holds a place as one of my all-time favorite hunts. Although the ram was by far my biggest, it had little to do with the ram’s size and score and more to do with the crazy stalk and how it all came together. We had spotted a large group of rams and ewes in what you would basically call a “rut fest” — bashing heads together, hooking and chasing ewes. Having these rams butt heads at 80 yards was amazing, but it also allowed me to scoot a few feet closer every time they cracked heads.
It took me a long time to get within bow range, but after a couple hours of calculated stalking, I was 56 yards away and figured I better not push my luck. I got into a good shooting position directly above them, and then waited for something to push them closer to me.
Suddenly, one of the ewes started making an odd sound, which I could only figure was her signal to the rams that she was getting in the mood to breed. My hunch was apparently right, because moments later I spotted two giant rams coming out of the cliffs over my right shoulder!
The two rams came straight at me, and both were larger than any of the rams I had been watching in the group below me. I quickly made a 180 on my knees and repositioned to take an uphill shot. I barely had my fingers on my bowstring, when the rams had closed to 20 yards. I was comfortable with a frontal shot at this distance, but the behavior of the animals would dictate everything.
As I went to full draw, I told myself if the rams didn’t see me, I’d take the shot. When I hit my anchor, they had closed to 15 yards and had no idea I was around. I released the arrow and it quickly passed through the larger of the two rams. He dropped dead roughly 25 yards from the point of impact. I couldn’t believe what had just happened, not only the shot, but the rut activity I had experienced over the past three hours. It was truly something that I think about every day, and a story I tell anyone who asks.
So, while the aoudad might be the poor man’s sheep hunt, it is definitely rich in experience, adventure, and excitement. For anyone looking to try their hand at hunting these amazing animals, I strongly suggest making it happen… You won’t be disappointed!
The author is an avid backcountry hunter, survival expert, photographer, and owner of Kifaru International.