SI Vault
 
Where The Deer And The Greater Kudu Play
Robert F. Jones
September 08, 1986
The Hill Country of Texas has become home to so many species of exotic wildlife that they've come to be known as Texotics
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 08, 1986

Where The Deer And The Greater Kudu Play

The Hill Country of Texas has become home to so many species of exotic wildlife that they've come to be known as Texotics

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

The stalk is usually directed by the guide as well, since he knows the country and the animal's habits—the vagaries of wind and cover, the prey's relative "spookiness" or what biolgists call its "flight distance." That leaves the client with only the killing part—the shot and the inevitable letdown from the tension of the stalk once that shot is made, successful or not. Aagaard allows only "fair chase" hunting on his territory—no blasting critters from the open windows of trucks, as too many "road hunters" do.

As we rolled out on our first morning, driving to the rocky ridges where we would begin our hunt, it was clear that the Bar-O's animals were far too spooky to permit road hunting anyway. Deer bounded away at the sight of the truck. The ranch straddles the center of the Llano Uplift, an ancient extrusion of granite in the otherwise limestone-footed Hill Country. Ridges of pink and gray rock, eroded into strange shapes by wind and weather, rose eerily over the scrub and mesquite. Near the base of one such outcropping we saw tan shapes bound away through the rocks. "Aoudad," said Aagaard. "Let's walk."

Climb was a better word for it. All morning we worked our way up, over and around a series of ridges that seemed built of giant atrophied gumdrops—huge boulders colored red, green, lilac and yellow by various forms of lichen. Ahead of us moved what Aagaard estimated to be from 70 to 100 aoudad, mainly ewes and lambs but with a sprinkling of young rams. Strange animals they are, with back-curving horns, long throat beards, "chaps" of long hair on their feet, amber eyes with the horizontally-slotted pupils common to members of the sheep family. They all looked exactly alike regardless of age or sex. "How do you tell a good ram from a mediocre one?" I asked as we took a short break.

"Experience," Aagaard said. "That's why you need a guide. Actually, the big rams are a bit darker than the ewes and the young'uns. But it's hard to tell."

That morning I learned that aoudads—unique to the rocky slopes of the northern Sahara mountain ranges, from Morocco clear across to Eritrea on the Red Sea—are as spooky as any game in the world. The moment they see, smell or hear something new, they head for the rocks. But they don't necessarily stop when they get there, sometimes continuing for five miles or more from their starting point. Fast and surefooted, they pay little heed to cattle fences, sliding under them at full speed like base runners hitting second. Aagaard says that even the eight-foot wire-mesh game fences, built at a cost of $10,000 a mile on many Texotic ranches, cannot hold aoudad. "They don't jump them; they tunnel under," he says. "Damned clever, the old Barbary sheep."

The following day, cold and rainy, we managed to stalk within shooting range of three good-sized rams. But Aagaard hadn't seen them as we came up toward the live oak they huddled under for shelter, and he couldn't hear my worried whisper of warning. When he raised his head a bit too high over the brush we were using for cover, the sheep upped their tails and bucketed madly off. Later, Eppridge stalked to within 100 yards of a sizable band of ewes and young rams, using the sun at his back to dazzle them as he shot pictures. Aoudad do not hear as acutely as they see or smell, but even at that they started at every click of Eppridge's shutter. So we learned it was possible to hunt close enough on foot to shoot aoudad either with gun or camera, but the stalking had been every bit as tricky as anything I'd experienced in Africa.

We had seen mouflon from time to time during our long stalks, but none of them a shooter. Late one afternoon we spotted a family group—two ewes and a gang of wobbly-legged newborn lambs—led by a ram I rather liked. He had deeply ridged three-quarter-curl horns that glowed amber in the late light and a dark pelt with a pronounced white "saddle." But Aagaard said his horns were "too tight"—too closedly curled to the skull to measure a respectable length. So we passed him up.

Finally, one evening as the light paled to pinks and yellows near Watch Mountain, we spotted a bachelor band of mouflon—five adult rams working their way down a brush-choked draw. "There's a good one," Aagaard said, glassing them. I saw him, too—his horns much longer than the others, flaring outward at the tips, heavy at their bases. We crouched and worked our way down the edge of the draw, the sheep sensing us, bunching up as they drifted away. Belly down in the cactus behind a rocky ledge, we looked them over again.

"O.K.," Aagaard whispered. "Crawl over to that persimmon tree—use it for a rest—and wait for him to open up." It was getting dark fast. I crawled, raised the rifle, kneeling on one knee, and sighted. The five rams were all in a row, my ram smack in the middle, his body protected by those of the younger bachelors. I waited. It grew darker still. The rams shifted, uneasy, looking up at us, ears twitching, heads turning, arcs of yellow horn in the fading light. Then—after what felt like 20 but was actually only four minutes—the two sheep ahead of my ram moved off to either side. The big ram turned sideways, 100 yards away, watching. I held the cross hairs on his shoulder, over the heart, and made a fist with my trigger hand.

"He's down," Aagaard said as the roar of the 7-mm magnum echoed out through the rocks. "He got up and ran off, but he's finished. Unless you break the backbone, they always run." We found him 50 yards farther on, his fine horns still holding the last of the evening light. The hunt had been too easy. It was almost as if Aagaard had put us on a kind of "fair chase" trip odometer, walking us through miles of gorgeous scenery, allowing us to make intimate acquaintance with the thorns and hills, the flighty habits of the wildlife, then at the last moment taking us directly to where he knew, all along, the animal we wanted would be. Of course, this is what good guides everywhere do for their clients, even in Africa. But in Africa, especially if you're hunting something that, as Hemingway put it, "runs both ways"—a Cape buffalo, a lion or an elephant—there is a special tingle in the stalk. A clarity of eye and touch and taste and feeling that elevates hunting from the mere shooting of something wild to a kind of minor sacrament. Or at least a sacrilege payable at some price short of hell. I would find that tingle lacking in Texotic hunts.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5