Skip to main content

Exotic Excursion: Chasing Aoudad Through the Mountains of West Texas

aoudad

Can-Am invited us on a big-game, spot-and-stalk hunt we'll never forget.

You can't define the essence of a pursuit by simply recalling your success or lack thereof. You can't honorably describe the beauty of wildlife with only colorful words and gripping metaphors.

Some things you just have to feel.

As I glassed across a vast, rocky valley in West Texas, and into the even-deeper, golden irises of an aoudad ram studying my presence, a suffocating emotion fell upon me.

The Best Kind of Phone Call

There's almost nothing better than the day you get the invite to go on a big-time hunt. It's like being a 9-year-old kid on Christmas morning, but without the teeth-grinding anticipation or the inevitably high hopes. Instead, it comes out of nowhere and turns your entire upcoming agenda upside down, taking priority over just about everything you have going on.

The only thing that makes that phone call better is the sound of a familiar voice. So, when I saw Can-Am's Andrew Howard's name light up my phone, I knew my schedule was about to change.

Managing Editor Eric Pickhartz received the same phone call shortly before I did, so when I went to message him, I already had one from him that read, "How are we going to decide who gets this tag?"

Andrew had told us each he had opportunities for an aoudad or a cow elk, and that we could take one and decide amongst ourselves who'd get to do the shooting.

I'll admit I did a little begging. I'm not afraid to say it. Big-game hunting opportunities like this just don't come along often, so I figured I might as well go all in, regardless of how pathetic I may have sounded in the moment.

Luckily for me, Eric had just returned from a successful hunt and was feeling particularly generous, so he let me jump in the driver's seat. He'd assume cameraman duties and still get to experience the trip, and if the opportunity presented itself, we'd all get a shot at a javelina or wild boar.

So it was settled: I'd be the one eyeing my first-ever aoudad hunt, and the guy in charge would be holding the camera.

Needless to say, I don't owe him one. I owe him several...

A True Texas Hunting Camp

aoudad

A flight and a three-hour drive later, we were pulling a flatbed trailer full of gear into 40,000 acres of West Texas mountains, desert and rolling hills.

It took us at least an hour to drive from the road to the camp, as the country we'd be calling home for the next four days was so overwhelmingly vast. We set up shop in what was once a pitstop for cowboys in the late 1800s, sleeping in two sheds made of sheet metal and plywood, keeping warm with sleeping bags and a propane heater.

Amenities were actually pretty nice, considering how old the camp was. Plus, the food was unbelievable, as one of the guides helping us with the hunt had appointed himself as the camp chef and dedicated each day to preparing our meals.

Like any great hunting camp, strangers quickly became friends, old stories intersected and predictions clashed. Fortunately, though, the wait to find out what was in store was almost over.

aoudad

Before we did anything, we needed to sight ourselves in on the rifles we'd be using for the week, which were provided by Mossberg and transported by Andrew so we wouldn't have to travel with our own. There were five Mossberg Patriot bolt-action rifles for us to pick from. One was chambered in .30-06 Springfield and the other four were chambered in .270 Winchester, all sporting Vortex 3-9x optics.

Since Andrew brought his own .300 Winchester Magnum to fill his elk tag, we decided to let the other hunter with an elk tag take the .30-06. The rest of us each grabbed a .270, walked to the range, and zeroed in.

Can-Am Cruisin'

aoudad

Once we gathered our gear for the day, we went ahead and broke up into two groups, as there were two aoudad tags and two elk tags. We decided to pair an elk hunter and an aoudad hunter together, so Eric and I hopped into one of the two Can-Am Defender Max Lone Star Edition UTVs.

The Defender is already the Cadillac of off-road utility vehicles, but as an adopted Texan, it's hard not to love the Lone Star Edition's extra Texas-specific touches. Featuring a 72-horsepower V-twin engine, 28-inch Maxxis Bighorn 2.0 tires and 13 inches of ground clearance, this machine took us everywhere we wanted to go.

Maybe the best part of having the Defender for this particular hunt was the amount of space we had. We had more than enough room for all our gear with the space in the cab, the roof rack, the bed and the toolbox. We were able to pack up and stay out for the entire day.

Since we were hunting a 40,000-acre property, we would cover a lot of ground each time we looked for the next spot. Cab comfort became an important factor throughout the day, but the Defender's roominess paid dividends.

aoudad

While hunting with a UTV has a number of advantages, perhaps the best is ability to find places you couldn't with a truck. Hiking into a great spot is hard to top, but when covering so much ground, a Can-Am Defender is as good as it gets.

We'd drive through rough terrain to reach high points within the mountains, kill the engine and hike into some of the best glassing locations you could ever hope for on a spot-and-stalk hunt.

Elk Evasion

aoudad

Truth be told, I'd never been on a spot-and-stalk hunt quite like this before. I'd attempted to hunt whitetail, hogs, and turkeys this way a number of times, but it never really panned out. This was different.

First of all, we're talking about serious big-game animals. Second, the land we were hunting allowed for some of the best glassing and strategizing a hunter could ever hope for.

Not long after we fired up the UTVs, we heard someone from the other group call over his walkie to let us know a cow elk was making her way through a draw about a mile from where we were.

The guide who was driving our Can-Am quickly turned the wheel in a new direction and began looking for the best way to hike in.

He decided to park 100 yards or so from the ridge he suspected was dividing us and the cow, and we packed up and started hiking.

Once we found ourselves high along the ridge, our binoculars didn't magnify any four-legged life. The mountains were still. All we could hear were our steps rearranging rocks and a subtle wind tunneling through grooves of the land.

Certain we missed her, we continued walking to glass another valley, hoping to see where our quarry had escaped.

Trailing the group, I found myself in a precarious predicament. As I watched the other three follow a tree line that blocked half their field of view, I locked eyes with the largest wild animal I'd ever seen.

There was no way to tell them, as I was 30-40 yards behind and yelling out would only equal disaster. So instead, I just watched her and she watched me. I knew she was going to spook when my fellow hunters surprised her in a matter of seconds, so I savored the moment as long as I could.

As expected, she ran, but we continued to pursue. We saw her once more, only this time, she had high ground and bolted in no time.

We decided to start from scratch, going to another place our guide had in mind.

Eventually, we put eyes on an elk that didn't already have its eyes on us. It was another cow, but this one wasn't alone.

Once we were about 350 yards from the cow, we counted seven other cows, all bedded down or behind brush, so there wasn't a shot available.

We sat and glassed for close to an hour, waiting for one to move into a shooting lane. Since Andrew had a cow-only tag, he was hoping to shoot a bigger one, but he knew as well as most that any cow elk was going to put a lot of meat in the freezer.

Just as we started to debate whether to move in or continue with our patient approach, one of the other cows stood up and walked into an opening, standing broadside to Andrew.

Without any hesitation, he whispered, "I'm taking that one."

The rangefinder read 340 yards.

No more than five seconds passed before his .300 Win. Mag discharged. The group we saw, plus four or five more including a spike bull, jumped up and scattered.

Confident he hit her, he muttered under his breath, "Wait for it...wait for it."

Then, her neck swung above the trees as she fell to the ground.

As we approached, we saw indications of a perfect lung shot.

Although I was anticipating an elk on the ground, no one can mentally prepare themselves for their first up-close encounter of an elk.

The others quickly got to work, splitting the elk into two sections so it would fit in the bed of the Can-Am. But, getting it back to camp was the easy part. They knew as soon as that elk fell to the ground they had at least half a day of work ahead of them in butchering.

As soon as we got back, we heard a voice say over the walkie, "Elk down," which meant the other hunter was successful, too. It also meant the group had just collectively filled its elk tags in the first day of hunting. Knowing the property sees less than a half dozen bull elk hunts a year, we knew the pressure was almost nonexistent. But we didn't anticipate it being this good.

On to Aoudad

As a bird hunter first and foremost, my list of big-game hunts is a short one. Most of my knowledge stems from what I've read in books or on the internet. But like any hunter, I've done plenty of daydreaming about big-game, spot-and-stalk hunts out in heart-stirring backcountry. Undoubtedly, this was one of those hunts.

When we loaded back up into the Can-Am, our goals were modest, arguably even absent, as we weren't expecting to shoot one. We'd already filled our elk tags, so the idea of us striking gold again wasn't even on the radar.

We went out with the intention of scouting for the following day, hitting a number of hot spots our guides had noted in previous hunts.

We drove, stopped and glassed. We then repeated this pattern a number of times, trying to see as much as we could before the sun went down.

Aoudad hunting is odd in that females also sport horns, so unless you're looking at a brute of a ram, it's hard to tell the difference.

It wasn't until our last stop that something stuck out to us. A few in the party quickly spotted a large herd, and we began whispering our thoughts on prospects for the following morning.

Then my eyes began to wander. About 30 minutes after we initially sat down to glass, I spotted horns--big horns.

The biggest ram I'd seen since stepping onto West Texas soil was standing by himself, looking right at me.

Often when people talk about top-shelf, big-game hunts, they recall some kind of moment they have with an animal. This idea has always been foreign to me, as I've spent most of my time afield reacting to the sudden flush of wings.

As I glassed across a vast, rocky valley in West Texas, and into the even-deeper, golden irises of an aoudad ram studying my presence, a suffocating emotion fell upon me.

"I think I found one," I said softly to our guide, who was about 20 feet away from me. "Look about 150 yards down from the herd and another 100 to the left."

"I'm still not seeing him," he replied, quickly scanning the mountainside.

Suddenly, Mother Nature's powerful hand hit the mute switch. Everything went silent. I couldn't hear a word anyone said to me. I could only see this ram, which seemingly could only see me.

I sat frozen, watching the steady breeze blow his mane in a way that seemed to beautiful to be real.

"Grab your rifle," the guide's voice began to echo as my sense of sound returned. "You're taking that shot."

"You see him?" I asked, making sure we were talking about the same ram.

"Oh yeah, we're definitely looking at the same animal," he said. "That's your ram, David."

We covertly snuck back to the Can-Am to grab our gear, which included the .270 Mossberg, as well as a box of shells and shooting sticks.

"You're sitting at 315 yards," Andrew said.

"You OK with that?" the guide asked. "You can't take an animal if you don't shoot at it."

It seemed like there wasn't really an option on the table, though, as the doubts I had about my ability to make a good shot were just noise. I set myself up.

Once again, I found the ram in my scope, and all the sudden the mute switch flipped back on. I couldn't hear a thing. I could only see the same golden eyes holding the same expression as before. I could feel my leg begin to shake and my heart begin to race, so I tried my best to breathe slowly.

I began to squeeze, flipping the switch once again, as the discharge rang my ears back to working order. But the ram began to run.

Fairly sure I hit him in the leg and certain I didn't want to lose him, I tried to take him on the run with two more shots. He fell, but it seemed to be more a result of the first shot.

He sat still with his head up, offering what could be the last shot before he breached the ridge and disappeared, so I took it.

Once we saw him begin to roll, we knew it was over.

aoudad

We packed up our bags and took the Can-Am through the valley and up to what was my biggest harvest to date.

As we made our way toward him, I found myself fixated on one thing, though, and that was his eyes.

It was almost like recognizing someone after years without communication and suddenly recalling your most recent encounter.

aoudad

We made our way back to the camp, where the other aoudad hunter had managed get the job done, too. We harvested two elk and two aoudad, all in the first day.

Javelina Send-Off

aoudad

In the following days, we drove the Can-Am Defender in pursuit of javelina through the same country, which was equally as fun as the first day. We ended up taking up the same spot-and-stalk strategy we used for the elk and aoudad, except we all got a shot at one of these.

Similar to the first day, we took care of business and finished before sunset. The rest of the time was spent preparing meat to be transported home and talking shop with some of the luckiest, most experienced guides I've ever gotten to work with, not to mention the most genuine fellow hunters I've shared camped with. Some of the memorable lines from everyone involved are still making me smile when I replay them in my head.

I have to send a special thank you to Can-Am and the hosts for an awesome hunt with such incredible people. I brought aoudad, javelina and even some of the extra elk meat home, and I'm more than ready to experiment with these new wild-game harvests. My aoudad is sitting in a taxidermist's storeroom, awaiting its mounted fate.

In hindsight, though, I might not have needed such a strong reminder hanging on my wall. It would be pretty hard to ever forget this hunt.

NEXT: CAN-AM DELIVERS THE PERFECT HUNTING ATV

WATCH

oembed rumble video here

you might also like

Exotic Excursion: Chasing Aoudad Through the Mountains of West Texas