In Search of the Golden Fleece

IMG_9125.jpgJust after World War II a band of North African Barbary sheep were released in the Hondo Valley of New Mexico, and since that time these animals have spread throughout the mountainous areas of the desert southwest, taking up residence in the Big Bend area of Texas as well as several mountain ranges in New Mexico. Since they are desert-adapted and capable of surviving in arid, rocky environments the Barbary sheep–or aoudad–thrived in its new home. Today, there are large numbers of these sheep ranging throughout the region, and that has become a problem.

It’s become a problem, primarily, because aoudad are capable of spreading disease to native desert bighorn sheep. For that reason states like Texas offer aoudad hunts year-round without the need to purchase a tag. For hunters they offer a great opportunity to pursue mountain game at a very affordable price. You can hunt free-ranging aoudad for a few thousand dollars today in many areas, and that’s a fraction of what it will cost you to hunt horned sheep elsewhere in the country.

But don’t think for one second that their status as an exotic makes these animals easy to hunt. Aoudad thrive in really rough country, bouncing around on steep cliffs and hanging off rimrock ledges that would give most experienced hikers the sweats. If, like Jason and his Argonauts, you set out in search of the ram with the golden fleece be forewarned–this is not a hunt for the faint of heart. Sure, you might find a ram in low country that’s easy to access, but odds are if you want a big one–thirty inches or more around the curve of the horns–you’ll have to climb.

That’s just what I had to do on my last trip to the Big Bend area of Texas with Steve Jones’ Backcountry Hunts. There were plenty of aoudad where we were hunting, and we saw hundreds of animals a day, but the big rams, well, they stayed out of sight and out of reach. When we found one that looked good guide Robert Curry and I started climbing, moving up a shale slide that was so steep I dared not look down for a full forty-five minutes. We finally got our ram, but it was a real challenge. If you’re a serious hunter and you aren’t afraid of heights scribble aoudad somewhere on your bucket list.

To read the full story of the hunt check out the September, 2017 issue Rifleshooter Magazine.

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