Hunting Barbary Sheep in New Mexico
Largely as a tune-up for a planned August 2007 Dall Sheep hunt (subsequently postponed to 2008), I had been looking for an off-season hunt during the winter. Free-range barbary sheep (also known as Aoudad) became a focus, and I tracked down an outfitter in New Mexico who offered a trespass-based fee hunt for a reasonable price. When I discussed this during elk season with one of my hunting partners, Kent Bendel of Post Falls, Idaho, he decided to come along.
I drove from Denver down to Albuquerque, where I picked up Kent at the airport. We continued the drive to Roswell, about 2 and a half hours, and overnighted. We met the guide, Chris Flanagan, the next morning, and followed him out to the ranch where we'd be hunting.
Chris had grown up near Roswell. He had gone to school with a lot of ranch kids and had good contacts with the locals. Trespass fee hunts were pretty common in the area, and Chris would buy spots with local ranchers and resell a few to out-of-state hunters such as myself and Kent. Neither of us had ever even seen a Barbary Sheep before, so we were glad to accept Chris’s offer to tag along with us on the hunt.
Barbary Sheep, natives of north Africa, had been introduced in to the Roswell area when they escaped from a private enclosure in the 1950s. The sheep have thrived in the barren, dry country of eastern New Mexcio. These are free-range animals, able to jump stock fences as easily as the local mule deer. As we were to find out, they are spooky and hard to hunt, much harder to approach than the mule deer on the ranch.
Aoudad have an exotic appearance. They have long, blocky faces, with a much longer snout than native North American sheep. Their ears are long and relatively pointed, more like a mountain goat than a sheep. Their copper-colored bodies are big and blocky, a build that offers an indicator of how tough they are to kill.
Their horns do not curl like those of native sheep do, but rather sweep out, back, and down, each forming a sort of crescent shape. Like other sheep, both sexes have horns, but the ewes are considerably smaller. Mature rams will have a horn length from 27 inches up to maybe 35 inches, although realistic expectations for a trophy are in the 27 to 30 inch range.
An equally compelling part of the trophy are the chaps and beard of a ram — long, flowing blond hair that cascades from the front of the ram’s neck and from his front legs all the way down to the knee.
The first day we hunted we easily saw over 100 animals, including some nice rams. But we could never get closer than 350 yards in the wide open country, and even then, that was only for a moment.
Hoov's Sheep.On the second day, the three of us returned to an area that had held a big mixed herd and a bachelor band of large rams the day before. Chris went one way to glass, and Kent and I went another. Kent quickly spotted a pair of rams moving across an adjacent ridge. At which point he had a catastrophic need to have a bowel movement. The rams were moving fast, so I took off after them alone.
They stayed about 250 yards ahead of me, and everytime I would see them, they'd just be dropping over a ridge. This cat-and-mouse continued for several ridges. After about a mile, I finally caught up to them at the bottom of a draw. A herd of about a dozen mulies was on the far side of the draw. The mulies were staring right at me, but hadn't spooked ... so far.
The rams were moving steadily away from me in a straight line. I put down the legs on my Harris bipod, and settled in behind my .300 WinMag. The lead ram stopped for a moment, and I lined up for the only shot I was going to get before they climbed out of this draw and dropped over the next ridge — a 200-yard shot along the spine of the biggest ram.
I took the shot, lost my sight picture during the recoil, and then tried to sort out the resulting chaos. One ram was charging up out of the basin to the left, and mulies were scattering all over the place. I was sure I had dropped my ram in his tracks, but couldn't see him in the tall grass.
Kent suddenly came up to me, having been following behind me as I tried to catch up to the rams. We started searching for my ram, and Chris soon joined us as well. The ram had not dropped in his tracks as planned. Kent followed the trail of the ram I had seen running off, and Chris and I followed the direction of travel the sheep had originally been taking.
Chris picked up a profuse blood trail fairly quickly on the rocky soil, and after about 200 yards, spotted the ram bedded 100 yards ahead of us in a patch of cholla cactus. The ram jumped up, and I made a hurried off-hand shot that hit him in the liver, flipping him over and putting him down. Kent came up and we all moved towards the cholla patch.
As we approached the ram, his horn twitched. In an instant, he was up and running low through the cholla patch. I was stunned. I had put two kill shots in him, and he was still moving.
We tracked him through the cholla to a fence line. Moving through the chest-high cholla after such a tough animal, I felt more like I was pursuing a wounded Cape Buffalo than a Barbary Sheep. Kent went one direction along the fence, and I took the other. Neither of us found blood. So we hopped the fence, and immediately found some more blood. I couldn't believe that this mortally wounded animal had chosen to jump the fence rather than travel along it.
The three of us started scouring the open country for my sheep. It took a good 15 minutes before I bumped in to him and kicked him off his bed. He took off running, amazingly, yet again. Kent and I both fired to put him down. Kent made a nice ear shot (thanks, Kent), but my shot through his vitals was the one that dropped him. STILL, he was moving when I approached him, and I made another finishing shot from short range.
I have never, never hunted such a tough animal. My first shot had been through his neck, about an inch from his spine, causing profuse bleeding. In total, I made 4 shots on him that I believe would have been immediately fatal to any other animal I've ever hunted.
We took pictures, caped him, and packed the meat back to the truck. Our respect for these tough desert sheep was immense.
Kent's Sheep.After putting my ram on ice, we moved to another part of the ranch to check it for sheep. Chris stayed with his truck to cape my ram, and Kent and I set off in my truck. We parked and climbed a ridge to glass, immediately bumping a lone ram.
The ram took off over the next ridge, mildly spooked. We figured he was lost to us, but weren't seeing much else, so we followed him to see how far he had run. When we topped the ridge, there he was, on the next ridge, crossing over it. So we repeated the process a couple times, always one ridge behind him.
When we carefully topped the last ridge, Kent suddenly said "I smell sheep."
"That's me" I pointed out, rolling my eyes. I was covered in sheep blood from my ram of a few hours ago and could smell the ram's distinctive scent all over me.
As soon as I said it, though, we spotted the ram, only about 60 yards away from us on the ridge.
We hit the deck. Luckily, the wind was with us, and we had seen the ram before he saw us. He was very stationary, apparently bedded. So Kent set up on his shooting sticks with his .30-06 to wait for the ram to stand.
And we waited, and waited, and waited. After about an hour, Kent asked me to ease up and glass the ram.
As I did, I quickly realized that the sheep was standing.
"He's standing, broadside, facing to the left," I whispered. "Stand up and kill him."
We had been waiting on the ram so long that it took a second for Kent to adjust to the fact that the ram was now standing.
"Stand up and kill him," I quietly reiterated.
Kent stood, took an off-hand shot, and after only a few seconds reported that the ram was down. After our earlier experience with my ram, neither of us could believe that the ram could really be down that easy. I lept up and we sprinted towards him in case he suddenly got back up.
But the ram was down. The 165 grain Ballistic Tip had not exited. We started taking pictures, but still half-expected the ram to jump back up and start running.
Kent's sheep was almost an identical twin to mine. Both had 28" horns and 14" bases. The chaps and beard were gorgeous on both. Kent had to fly home, so I took both sheep home with me and dropped them off with Jonas Taxidermy in Broomfield, CO. Jonas is a top-shelf operation, and they make their own forms. I requested that they add some leg extensions to the basic aoudad head-and-shoulder form so that the chaps could be included as part of the mount. For a nominal fee (about $150 each), they custom-made forms to suit our request. It was a great decision. The chaps are an excellent part of the trophy for a Barbary Sheep.
I took the meat from both sheep back to Denver to get processed. The taste is good, but the meat is tough. It made for excellent sausage.
Barbary sheep proved to be a fun, challenging off-season hunt for a beautiful animal. The hunt is particularly enjoyable when it's for wild, free-range animals. I won't get down to New Mexico to hunt them often, but I'm glad I did, and a return trip to hunt them again is definitely possible. Chris Flanagan's semi-guided package was affordable, and provided just the right level of support for those who prefer to do things themselves, but are new to barbary sheep hunting.
Chris Flanagan is now guiding for Cedar Creek Outfitters of Logan, NM. For a 2009/2010 season forecast from Cedar Creek Outfitters, see our January 5th update. To contact Cedar Creek Outfitters, visit their website at www.cedarcreekhunts.com.