New Mexico Public Land Aoudad Hunt

Big ram Ewe down!

Hunting trips often unfold in unpredictable ways, and this one was no exception. When out hunting, sometimes reality surpasses our wildest expectations, but more often than not, it falls short of the grand picture we’ve painted in our minds. This adventure, which I will describe in excessive detail, exemplifies both scenarios.

My destination was New Mexico, where I eagerly anticipated my Aoudad (Barbary Sheep) hunt. Hunting free-range Aoudad on public land is challenging, and information on it is scarce. Though I prepared to the best of my ability, my expectations of filling a tag were modest at best. However, a week before the hunt, a call from my friend Josh changed everything. He introduced me to a seasoned hunter with an impressive track record, pulling Aoudad out of that unit for several years. Our conversation not only rekindled my hopes of spotting an Aoudad but also ignited a burning desire to bag a substantial ram. Once I met Otis and his dream team of seasoned Aoudad hunters, visions of 30-inch horns danced through my head.

Our group began the hike, covering a few miles as we scoured the cliff faces and caves along the way. Our initial sighting was a lone ewe or a small ram. Instinct begged me to take the shot as I’ve always been a proponent of “don’t pass on the first day what you’d gladly take on the last.” But the team believed there was much better soon to show itself. So, I exercised patience. After intense observation and a few strategically thrown rocks, we uncovered a herd of 25+ Aoudad emerging from beneath and overhang directly below us. They swiftly ascended, congregating on the canyon face about 625 yards away across the canyon. The situation escalated rapidly, and we sprang into action.

This is where I suggest you cue the Benny Hill theme music as you continue to read. My bow was left behind because stalking opportunities were slim in this terrain, and my trusty 30-06 wasn’t suitable for this shot distance. Instead, I dropped in behind John’s custom 300 Win Mag. My first shooting position was unstable, so I moved to a rock similar to a shooting bench setup. Yet, I still felt too unsteady to make an ethical 600+ yard shot, instead choosing to drop prone on a flat spot. Using an unfamiliar rifle was challenging enough, but the scope, unadjusted for me, proved to have a rather unforgiving sight-picture. A slight shift in my cheek’s position meant losing sight of the target entirely, making it incredibly challenging to locate the ram I wanted.

John, Otis and Clint… the Aoudad dream team.

Finally, the guys guided me to a twenty-eight-inch ram through binoculars. They detailed its behavior, which I confirmed in my scope. I steadied my aim, controlled my nerves, unclenched my buttcheeks (which I was later told were so tight you “couldn’t have hammered a nail in there”) and squeezed the trigger. In the split-second following the shot, I braced for feedback. Instead, silence enveloped the moment, stoking my anxiety about the accuracy of my shot into a wildfire. Suddenly, a voice rang out, “Or that one will do!” quickly followed by, “Holy sh*t! That’s one dead sheep!

As it turned out, the Aoudad in my scope and the 28-inch ram were separated by a binocular’s width and, at the time, exhibited identical behavior. Remarkably, my single shot dropped the target dead in its tracks. Aoudad can be tricky to judge, as both rams and ewes can bear horns. Fortunately, my tag permitted either, so we packed back up and prepared for a strenuous hike to retrieve my trophy.

After an hour and a half of hiking, we reached the sheep, and my fellow hunters graciously allowed me a solitary moment with my harvest. Standing before my incredible Aoudad ewe, I was overwhelmed with joy and disbelief. Then, the real work commenced. We snapped photos, quartered the ewe, and loaded up. A front and rear quarter, along with the head and cape, were stashed in my pack, and we descended the cliff face to begin the challenging pack-out.

While I didn’t bag the colossal ram I had envisioned, I consider myself immensely fortunate to have harvested this remarkable and utterly fascinating animal. My deepest gratitude goes to Josh for connecting me with this exceptional crew and to Otis, John, and Clint for an unforgettable hunt. What was initially planned as a one-off experience has me absolutely captivated. You can bet your ass I’ll be applying every year moving forward.

Taking a moment.

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