It would probably be a good start to pull out a detailed map of the Big Bend area of Texas before we get too far along with this story. The setting is The Quitman Mountains, just south of the small community of Sierra Blanca in Hudspeth County. The Quitman’s are typical of many of the ranges there. The Baylor, Apache, Eagle, Chinati, Sierra Viejas and of course, the highest of the lot, the Davis Mountains all are separate from one another and isolated by miles of flat to slightly rolling grasslands and desert shrubs.
I believe it was in the 1950’s that a few ranchers from New Mexico introduced an animal from North Africa called the Barbary Sheep (Ammotragus lervia). Most people call this animal the Aoudad. They drifted east along Palo Duro Canyon and are plentiful there. They also drifted south into the Big Bend region of the state and are now numerous in all of the aforementioned mountain ranges.
They are robust—they have to be to thrive in this harsh environment. Their habits are very similar to the Desert Bighorns of Arizona, SE New Mexico, Nevada, Sonora Mexico and the Baja Peninsula. Both animals have terrific eyesight. Both can see isolated summer rains that may hit one mountain in the distance and overnight or over several nights, the animals will migrate to that site in order to take advantage of the fresh growth that follows. This is one of the reasons they spread into Texas.
A Desert Bighorn hunt can cost up to $25,000. The demand is high. But, with both animals inhibiting the same terrain and sharing the same habits, an Aoudad hunt can be tens of thousands of dollars less but the thrill is the same. Aoudads are often called a “Poor man’s Big Horn.” I was hunting desert mule deer in the Quitman Moutains and the ranch owner said if we bumped into an Aoudad that was a freebie.
Now think of this. Look at your typical cell tower. The tallest you see is usually 500 feet high. Now envision 1,000 feet of almost straight up tumbled rock pile. Some rocks as big as your car, and some the size of a baseball, then add a variety of thorny desert shrubs with an occasional cedar tree and you get the picture of these mountains.
It was still dark when I started my hike up the southern mountain. I was carrying a Winchester Model 70 using 130 grain Speer Hotcore reloads. I had binoculars and a walking stick, and that’s it. The idea is to travel light. I shake my head when I see current TV hunting shows with the characters packing a bulging backpack. During the 1,000 foot ascent I would sweep the horizon and scan the side draws looking for those hard to see grey mule deer standing stationary in their grey/tan environment when I stopped to catch my breath.
Up and up I walked, switch back in a zigzag pattern to lessen the steepness of the ascent. Finally, I topped out and planted my rear end on a nicely shaped sandy spot with a small rock back rest. I started glassing in earnest now. After about 30 minutes, I spotted a lone Aoudad ram across the canyon on the north mountain. He was bedded near an isolated cedar tree, an easy landmark. As I watched, it peered across the landscape slowly chewing its cud. I assume he was thinking about past and future romances and battles. As a crow flies, the distance to the ram was probably three-quarters of a mile.
I wanted this animal. There was no option but to lose all of my hard-earned altitude, so down I went. At the road back at my truck, I ate an orange, downed some water and then bowed my back and started up again, but this time on the north mountain where the old ram was bedded.
I decided my best route was the direct approach as wind was not an issue. Because of the nearby cedar tree, I had him pegged for location but his bed site was just over a small rise and down a few yards of what was basically a small finger canyon. He was lying at the head of this small canyon.
When I got within 100 yards or so, I really put it in slow motion. Each step was deliberate. I put my foot down, slowly tested the traction by adding weight gradually, then I moved for the next step. The last 100 yards probably took 30 minutes. As I approached the little rise where it was lying, I was bent over so it could not see me. When I straightened up, I could see the curve of its horn and the small ears flicking unseen gnats away.
At this point, I was prepared for it to launch into a run at any moment and I was expecting to whittle it down while running. Slowly, deliberately, quietly I crept. Now standing straight and in plain sight behind it. For a fleeting moment I thought this may be how a mountain lion feels on the last leg of its stalk. Finally, the animal slowly turned its head and looked directly at me. I had my rifle up at this moment and settled the crosshairs. When the echo of the shot quit reverberating down the canyon, he lay dead in his bed with a neat entrance hole between the eyes. The bullet never did exit. It lodged somewhere in its heavy neck muscles and neck vertebra.
I sat a moment taking in all of the senses. The beauty of an old trophy ram, the heavy dark rubbed horns, the slick tan coat, the long hairs along its neck and front legs called “chaps” stirring slightly in the dry cold breeze. Below me I could see my truck looking like a toy. I could see the white winding road and the meandering white threads of sandy arroyos treading their way off the mountain range into the desert flats to the east. I was on top of that small section of the world.
Now the fun part begins. I cut off the cape and carried it, my rifle and the back strap down to the truck. Back up I went and this time made a purse with a rope and carried over one shoulder the hams and the other shoulder its shoulders. This was a heavy stumbling load of 4 quarters.
When I staggered to the truck and flopped down, I chug-a-lugged a cold beer in record time! My legs were aching and I thought that’s that. When I dug through my pile of equipment and looked in and out of my truck, I could not find my cherished binoculars. They had to be on the mountain so up I went and luckily found them near the solitary cedar tree that marked the bedded ram.
Thus the title of this tale – The Climb the Mountain Four Times Ram
- I climbed the South Mountain early morning and spotted it.
- I climbed the North Mountain and shot it.
- I climbed the North Mountain to retrieve a load of meat.
- I climbed the Mountain again to find my binoculars.
Again, look at a cell tower and double the height to roughly 1,000’ then climb that 4 times.
That ram is one of my most cherished trophies. I never measured it. It does not matter to me. I know it was an old grandpa and I know I took it the hard way, fair and square in its natural habitat. A spot and stalk hunt such as this draws out the drama over a longer period. During the time between spotting the game and actually killing it, you have subdued excitement. I made a perfect stalk and finished the deal with a perfect shot.
I have it mounted resting above our fireplace and my wife constantly nags me about taking it down but so far I have kept it there. As I get older, every time I gaze at it I reflect on the time I was young and could generate enough oxygen through my lungs, had knees that did not creak when I walked and had enough iron in my muscles to carry me four times up and down extremely rough mountains to cleanly take an interesting trophy. Every now and then I even imagine it as being a Desert Bighorn!