Aoudad, also known as Barbary Sheep, are native to the arid and barren mountains of North Africa, where their populations are classified as being potentially vulnerable for extinction in their native range. The species has found a safe haven in West Texas, though, more than 7,000 miles from their historic home.
In the late 1950s, a limited number of aoudad were initially released in several areas across Texas. Today excess of 20,000 of them reside on private ranches and it’s estimated that more than 5,000 free-range aoudad now run wild in two remote mountain ranges on public land in the western part of the state. Only 10,000 still roam free in their native North Africa.
The presence of wild aoudad in the Lonestar State has caused controversy related to their competition with native bighorn sheep, but their status as a respected game species is growing thanks to the accessibility and affordability of the hunts.
Earlier this month, JD Wilbanks from the SCI West Texas Chapter set up camp near Blue Mountain Texas to hunt aoudad with a few good friends.
This is JD’s story:
“On a Friday morning earlier this falls a few great pals – Alex Beal, Trevor Partridge, Seth Clark, Thomas Beal, Sammy Hajar and I set out for our hunt from base-camp near the top of Blue Mountain. Thomas, Sammy, and I in my pickup and Alex, Trevor, and Seth in another. My truck headed toward the face of Blue, and the other truck headed to the backside of Blue. We spotted a group of about thirty aoudad at about 1,450 yards after glassing the face for about half an hour and found a stud of a ram in the mix behind the ewes and in the trees.
Sammy and I decided to put a move on him while Thomas kept eyes on him and the rest of the group from the truck. After one hell of a hike up the face, we finally worked our way around a series of bluffs concealed this group of aoudad. I put my crosshairs in between the ewes that I saw waiting for the big guy to pop out.
I waited longer and longer until the ewes crept back behind the tree line. After about an hour of waiting and Thomas stating that he had no idea where they went, I decided to make a new move around another bluff to get a better look, but nothing…
This group gave us the slip one way or another. We cut our losses and started hiking back down to the truck when we heard two rifle shots about two miles East of us in the foothills. Seth had put a great ram down. At that point, I was just getting started with excitement.
After a quick bite of lunch around 2 pm we decided to press toward the east side of Blue to hit some canyons and foothills. No luck. We finally decided to finish off the day by hitting the face of Blue again. I got into a position in the flats below the face where the entire South Face of Blue Mountain could be seen.
So, we began glassing, leaving no stone unturned.The glassing paid off when Thomas spotted a small group of ewes at the highest Blue Mountain point about 2,800 yards away. I then caught a flash of ram horn in the sunlight just above those ewes. I quickly determined that there were four shooter rams in the mix and that one was worth pursuing. Time was not on our side, with the sun slowly creeping toward the western horizon of the mountain. We decided that our only chance was to drive to the top of the mountain and then hike in on top of them or level with them. So, we start the trek up the mountain and finally get as far as we can get without destroying my pickup. With little sunlight left, we hiked up the rest of the way to the top-most ridge of Blue and got our bearings straight. We hiked onto a bluff across from the top white rock bluff of blue in which the aoudad were below. We spotted the group and let me tell you – this group of rams was worth the pursuit.
Thomas, Sammy, and I crept around some rocks and brush that was blocking my shooting view and finally found a flat rock about the size of me to lay prone on. I stripped my pack off my back and slid it onto the rock to use as my rest. Not knowing exactly where the rams or herd was, I belly crawled onto the rock, slowly creeping my body, pack, and rifle into a shooter-ready position. I raised my head to peek over the rock, and there they were. Miraculously, They had no idea we were there. I picked out my ram, ranged him at 320 yards, and squeezed the trigger of my Best of The West 6.5 x 284 rifle…
Big Papi down.
The rest of the herd scattered, and the other rams disappeared. I lifted my head from my scope to look back at Thomas and Sammy when a rogue ram comes shooting out of the rocks and brush right above where my ram bit the bullet. In the blink of an eye and knowing that Sammy was up to bat next, I grabbed Sammy by the back of his hoody jacket, threw him onto the rifle, and told him to shoot that ram that came running out of nowhere. He took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger of my rifle. Another Big Papi down!!!
We were overwhelmed with the excitement of how all of the hunts came together… We then booked it to our rams down the jagged peak and bluffs they fell below, roped and dragged Sammy’s ram out of the top of an oak tree that it fell off a bluff into, took our pictures, and got to caping them out. It was a beautiful situation that rarely occurs—three great rams down in one day.
The next day we focused on getting Alex a ram. We went most of that Saturday getting busted by aoudad that had seen us before we saw them and failed to catch up with them.
However, on another last-ditch effort situation at last light of that Saturday, we ran into a stud ram. I had to put the pedal to the metal to get Alex into a decent spot to hop out of the truck and get into a shooting position. There was no time for an optimal shooting scenario, so Alex jumped out of the truck, sprinted to the ridge where this ram was and shot that ram on the run free-hand at 100 yards. 4th Big Papi down.
Aoudad hunting is in my top three favorite hunts. Especially in my favorite part of the world – the Davis Mountains of Far West Texas. This hunt took place just West of Ft. Davis on Blue Mountain. I have dreamed about putting a “Big Papi” of an aoudad ram down on the face of Blue for most of my life. When I think about the terrain and the unforgiving environment in which this species now thrives, nothing but respect and appreciation for aoudad exists for me. So, when I learned that I was up to bat on shooting an aoudad on Blue Mountain, I was ecstatic to say the least. We made it happen that weekend, and this hunt will be in my heart and mind forever. Onto the next!!”