TOP OF TEXAS EXOTIC
TOP OF TEXAS EXOTIC
WRITTEN BY GREG SIMONS
They’ve been called a “poor man’s bighorn”. Some taxonomists do not even consider them to be a true sheep, since they also possess morphological traits that are more like a goat, but make no mistake about it, these hardy animals have become a popular quarry for hunters who are looking for a unique and challenging hunting experience.
Native to North Africa, aoudad sheep, also occasionally referred to as Barbary sheep, were brought into the United States sometime around 1900. For decades, these exotic sheep were strictly held in zoos and private breeding facilities. The first introduction into the wilds of the Lone Star State occurred in 1957, up in the top of Texas, just outside of Claude. This introduction project was a cooperative effort between a private landowner and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and many felt that aoudads could potentially occupy a habitat niche in the Palo Duro Canyon region that was not being filled by another animal, namely mule deer. Aoudad numbers from this release effort flourished over the next several years and eventually the state allowed restricted harvest through a limited permit and closed season structure. Other aoudad releases in various Texas locales took place through the 1960’s and these exotic sheep eventually gained a toe-hold in many areas of the state, both on high-fenced game ranches, as well as on free-ranging landscapes. Today, the Trans-Pecos region of Texas is home to the greatest number of aoudads, followed by the Panhandle, but you’ll also find some scattered free-ranging herds in the Rolling Plains, Post Oak Savannah, and Edwards Plateau, though the herds are generally more localized and fewer in numbers in the latter three of these eco-regions.
Aoudads are strong, hardy, and adaptive creatures. Studies have shown that they can make a living off a variety of grasses, forbs, and woody browse. They tend to thrive even during the most arid of conditions and can apparently metabolize much of the moisture that they need through their forage in-take, thus reducing their need for free-standing water. True to sheep and goat form, aoudads often seek the rougher topographies that are found in an area, and their ability to traverse steep, craggy terrain is simply amazing. They have extra-ordinary eyesight and they are also very high strung, making them a very challenging animal to hunt. Some landowners consider aoudads to be somewhat of a pest, perhaps creating unwanted competition with native wildlife, such as desert bighorns, while other landowners view aoudads as a resource that can be managed in a way that adds value to their ranching portfolio.
Interest in hunting aoudad sheep in Texas has mushroomed in recent years. Many consider aoudads to be the top exotic game hunt that’s available in the state. A telephone call to one of the most experienced aoudad guides in Texas, Jackie Murphy, provided a revealing account on what makes this such a special hunting option. “I’ve guided all over Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Alaska, and I can honestly say that aoudad sheep is my favorite hunt.” When pressed for more details on why he enjoys guiding for these animals so much, Murphy elaborated, “For starters, you must consider that the Trans-Pecos Region, where I do all my sheep work, is a very special place to spend time in the field. The big, raw beauty of this region is simply stunning. Then, add to the mix that these animals are extremely wary, hard to bring down, they often hang out in rough and remote areas, and the big rams make majestic trophies; all combined, you have a blend of features that make this a special hunt. I love it. I cannot get enough of it.”
Since aoudads are considered exotics in Texas, they can be hunted year-around, but the most popular time-periods are September, October, and January through April. Licenses are over the counter and non-resident fees for a special 5-day non-resident license is only $48. Regarding appropriate choice of firearms for hunting aoudads, a general recommendation is to not proceed under-gunned. A minimum of a 150 grain, well-constructed bullet is recommended, as aoudads have large muscle mass and are heavy-boned in the frontal potion of their body. Hunters should be prepared for shots that are often 200–350 yards. Good optics are a must for scanning the big country that you may be hunting, as well as evaluating sheep at distances up to 2 miles away. A day pack, comfortable hiking boots, and enough water and snacks for the day should be part of the normal drill. These hunts are generally best suited for a single hunter or small group, up to 3–4 hunters.
Hunt prices for aoudads can vary from $2500 on some of the high-fenced game ranches to $7500 on some of the free-range hunts in the Trans-Pecos, though most free-range hunts are generally closer to $4000–$5000. Compared to some hunting options, there are not that many hunting operations that offer free-range aoudad hunts.
Wildlife Systems, Inc. (WSI) was formed in 1987 and specializes in developing commercial hunting operations and wildlife management programs on various private lands. Currently, WSI provides a broad range of hunting services on some 900,000 acres of private lands, including free-range aoudad hunts on roughly 400,000 acres in far West Texas. These sheep hunts have become one of the signature hunts of this well-known hunting company. WSI aoudad packages are typically structured as a 3.5 day, 4-night affair, including modest meals and lodging, and guiding. Hunters have the option of booking as either a 2x1 or a 1x1 guided arrangement. For those hunters who are traveling via air-service, flights are generally booked into Midland, where hunters can rent a car and make the 3-hour trek to the hunting destination.
For further information, check out the WSI website at www.wildlifesystems.com or call (325) 655-0877.