Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family’s Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.
Texas has a lot more to offer than just four million deer and world-class buck hunting. Exotic species are common across the state. The most common of these exotics are axis deer, blackbuck antelope and aoudad sheep. Middle Texas has the highest concentration of these common exotic species, and many more super exotics on some properties. Some are found on high-fenced ranches, but almost as many are found on low-fenced properties.
There is no closed season or bag limit on these introduced, exotic species. Management is basically left in the hands of the landowner. Depending on where you hunt, ranchers might want their exotics shot on sight, since some compete directly with native whitetails. Others foster those populations and charge trophy fees for harvested animals.
It’s always smart to ask about exotic opportunities when you hunt deer in Texas. Before a 34-inch axis buck or 24-inch blackbuck walks under your corn feeder, know whether or not the rancher says it’s okay to shoot one! And if so, how much?
Beyond the oaks and rolling hills of middle Texas, one of my favorite exotics to hunt is the aoudad sheep. Native to North Africa, they were introduced across the Panhandle and West Texas in the 1950’s. They now roam rugged landscapes as if they’ve been there since the beginning of time. They are free-ranging and wild-as-hell.
Aoudad sheep are always challenging to hunt. Big rams with their crescent-shaped horns, sand-colored hide and long chaps and leggings make fine trophies. Whereas it takes five to seven years to grow a trophy deer, the biggest aoudad rams are usually 10 years old or older. It takes even longer to grow a big ram.
I shot my best-ever aoudad ram in October 2010, with outfitter/guide Hunter Ross of Desert Safaris (desertsafaris.com). Hunter and I scaled a lung-burning spire of rock called the Chinati Mountains. We found a large herd of sheep and slowly dissected the herd. We found a monster.
Laid up in the shade, the massive-horned ram had long horns like mutant bananas. When he stood broadside, my tack-driving rifle, a Nosler Model 48 chambered for .270 WSM, hit him through both lungs. He stumbled 20 steps and tipped over.
His horns were 35 and 35 ½-inches long with huge 14-inch bases. The biggest ram of my life. I’ll never kill one bigger.
To hunt aoudad in wild country you need some essential gear. Tote an accurate, lightweight rifle. Whatever you use for deer is probably fine. I prefer synthetic stocks since a fine piece of walnut would only get scarred up in the rocks. Top the rifle with a 3-9×40 or 4-14×40 power scope. Expect shots from 50-300 yards. The last three aoudad rams I shot with a rifle were taken at 285 yards, 75 and 65 yards. I’ve never felt the need to shoot past 300 yards in almost 20 years of hunting wild aoudads in open landscapes.
Best calibers for sheep hunting would be anything from a 25 caliber up to 30 caliber. In recent years I’ve killed sheep with the .270 Winchester and .270 WSM using 130 and 140 grain bullets respectively. Both of those rounds are close to perfect for sheep hunting. Flat-shooting, manageable recoil and plenty of energy to put even a tenacious aoudad ram down quickly.
Wear top-notch boots. I like Danners with all-leather tops and Vibram or air bob soles for gripping the rocks. Make sure they lace up above your ankles for good support.
Wear 10×40 binoculars around your neck and tuck a variable power, 60mm objective spotting scope in a daypack. An angle compensating rangefinder, like the Nikon Riflehunter, is an essential part of my gear list. Since shots at rams are often at steep angles, the angle compensating rangefinder will tell you where to hold the crosshairs.
When I shot that monster 35-inch ram in West Texas, the true distance was 285 yards, but due to the steep downward angle, the rangefinder said hold for 249 yards.
During the fall of 2011, I saw numerous big aoudad rams while scouting and hunting deer in rugged canyon-country of the Panhandle. I was being picky, but when you see the right one, sometimes you just know it’s time to forget deer and hunt sheep!
I spotted the mud-covered ram rolling in the sand and grit on the edge of a steep cliff. Rutting rams often roll in the dirt, sort of like elk rolling in muddy wallows. He had long, heavy horns and thick, flowing chaps and leggings. A shooter anywhere on planet earth.
I snugged into my pack, dropping off the rim of the canyon, down through thick cedars and prickly pear, then up the opposite side to cut the distance. I hoped to loop way around to the south, in front of the traveling ram.
Despite the skiff of snow still dotting the canyon walls and frosting the fall air, I was overheated and shedding clothes after the ½ mile jog. I eased a 130 grain Hornady bullet into the barrel of my HS Precision .270 rifle. Then I cranked the power down to 4X on my Leupold scope. If the ram was still traveling along the rim of the canyon, the shot would be close.
Just as I stopped to glass, movement caught my eye. A skinny ewe stepped out at 80 yards, walking a trail on the edge of the canyon. Three more ewes followed her. Bringing up the rear, covered in mud from his horns to his hooves, was the big ram. At 65 yards I shot him through the left front shoulder. He stumbled, then tipped over the edge of the canyon, snagging in the tops of a juniper tree like a fly caught in a spider web.
Each horn was heavy and just shy of 30 inches long. I estimated his live weight at 300 pounds.
Exotic game is yet another reason why the hunting never stops in Texas!