I’ve been an avid sheep hunter since 2010, when Veteran Outdoors took me on a Corsican ram hunt in West Texas (not shown above). I’d just returned from Afghanistan. That hunt changed my life, just as VO’s hunts have improved the quality of life for dozens of vets struggling to reintegrate themselves into civilian life. I returned from that hunt with an Ambush Firearms 6.8 SPCII and a newfound love of spot-and-stalk hunting . . .
Now I’m on a quest to take as many different rams as I can. I’m inspired by the beauty and the challenge of the animals. I’m also motivated by the stark grandeur of their habitat. In general, you’ll find rams living in sweeping hills and majestic mountains. To bag a ram, you have to be prepared to make really long shots or stalk up and down hills. Likely both. And that was a problem.
I sustained a few injuries in Afghanistan. One particular IED blast damaged my right leg. A year ago, my mobility depended on a cane. The pain was growing increasingly unbearable. Doctor after doctor – some 12 in all – told me there was no solution. My pain and incapacitation would only get worse. One of the side-effects: I couldn’t get up and down those hills and traverse those mountains. Those rams were up there. I just couldn’t get to them.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Thanks (again) to Veteran Outdoors, I joined a veteran friend on a ram hunt in the hills of west Texas. It was a prideful mistake. My leg took a significant downturn. By this summer, it was time to start seriously considering more extreme surgical measures, including amputating my right leg just above the ankle.
A friend recommended yet another surgeon. I grudgingly agreed. The latest – and last – in the series of medical advisors examined my MRIs and X-rays. “No problem,” he pronounced. “You’ll never be 100 percent, but we can get you to 80 percent in a year or so, maybe better later. Thursday good for surgery?” Thursday was good. So was the doctor’s word
The rehab is long and ongoing. The bottom line: eight months later I was good to climb those hills again. It will be a while yet before I can put on a heavy pack or dead lift more than my weight, but I can shoulder a rifle and get up there with the big boys.
One day, I received an email from Veteran Oudoors. They’d booked an Audad ram hunt for me. I stared at the screen for quite a while. The Audad’s been high on my list since I first glimpsed one in the wild. It’s not a sheep. It’s not a goat. It’s kind of a sheepgoathorse thingy. (There’s probably a German compound noun that would take up this paragraph.) Audad’s are fast and strong: masters of their domain. They’re also blessed with some choice cuts of tastiness, and I’m an enthusiastic meat eater.
The hunt took place at Benson Farm and Ranch. Like most Texas hunting ranches, Benson specializes in deer and dove hunts. It’s a high fence ranch but a far, far cry from a “canned hunt.” The landscape’s not as rugged and open as Texas’ Big Bend, but they don’t call the Austin environs hill country for nothing. You could stalk an animal for days and days and never cover the same ground twice, and never run up against that fence.
Brant O’Day was my guide.
About a year ago. I met Brant on a Black Buck antelope hunt. I took one with a flintlock rifle. I was hoping to do the same with the Audad.I told him I needed a sub-100 yard shot to take an audad with my flintlock. So Brant put me in a ground blind, about 80 yards from a deer feeder. He didn’t seem hopeful that a good ram would come down to feed. They spook easy, and don’t seem to be tied to the feeders at all.
After the first fruitless afternoon’s hunting, it was obvious time constraints were working against the flinter. If I had weeks to pattern the animals and stalk them, if I laid-up an ambush at a bedding sight, maybe. But I had three days and it’d been raining in the hill country. The audad had plenty of watering holes to choose from.
So I was surprised when, about 300 yards away, I saw some lambs and ewes heading down a draw toward a feeder. Daddy was bringing up the rear. I was ready. There were no less than 20 deer standing by the feeder. All I had to do: wait for that ram to come slowly walking his way in front of my muzzle. Then they stopped and laid down.
At about 250 yards they just laid down inside a shallow wash. I could barely see the tops of the ram’s horns. Someone must have sent out a signal. I watched the horns moving, and moving fast. The lambs and ewes came out of the draw, running full force. The ram remained at the rear. The herd bee-lined for the feeder, running off all of the deer gathered there. And followed them out.
I sat there, dumbfounded. The audad never even slowed down. They just popped up, ran off the deer and headed for the hills. Apparently, this is typical behavior. But that was a shot I wouldn’t take: a sprinting ram surrounded by sprinting, very expensive deer. Even with the best MSR and great optics it wouldn’t have been an ethical shot. I certainly wasn’t going to take it with my old school flintlock.
So I ditched the flinter. I went to my trusted Underground Tactical suppressed AR chambered in 6.8SPC. I’m supremely confident with this rifle. It shoots 3/4 MOA all day long. I’ve taken well over 100 feral pigs with the gun, countless deer and javelina. As for the round, I’ve taken two other rams with the 6.8SPC. When my son was eight he took a monster Texas Dahl at 117 yards. All of these shots were using a Nosler 110gr. Accubond moving at 2550fps.
Brant was concerned that the UT 6.8SPC wouldn’t be enough gun. He regaled me with stories of Audad hit with .270 and larger caliber bullets, wounded animals that just ran and ran and ran. I told that at 300 yards, the Nosler 110gr. round generates well over 800 ft-lbs of energy, more than a .30-30 at 200 yards. I was limiting my shots to 300 yards. Besides, it’ all about shot placement, right?
I spent the next two days in a combination of wait-and-see and spot-and-stalk. While the wait-and-see strategy is usually more successful, we increased the odds of success by deploying two guides to find a suitable ram. Even so, our luck was limited. Other than that one, very fast, sneaky and just plain mean-spirited group of audad, I didn’t see a single ram.
The weather was a not-so-glorious mix of rain, thick fog and mist. Glassing at distance was impossible. The climate also kept the rams from traveling any great distance. But all the rest of God’s creation surrounded me. There were deer in droves, fighting and feeding, and turkeys constantly calling.
After the first day, I called what had to be the most desperate Jake in the world. This kid needed some lovin’ bad. Every time I would cut or gobble he would gobble right back. I called him in so close I could actually touch him with my rifle. He eventually spotted me and ran – but came right back when I cut again. A feeder went off far in the distance. He stuck his head up, gobbled, and ran after some perceived threat to give it a beat down. All I could think was, “Don’t worry son, it gets easier.”
No rams were spotted, but all was not lost. I spent the three days wandering around some of the most beautiful land in Texas. It was a challenging hunt. Up and down the hills, through draws and spurs, most of the time by myself.
Benson sells true “fair chase, pay-to-play” hunts. You pay your money up front. If you don’t get your animal, well that was your chance. I should have been disappointed. I wasn’t. My leg was pain free. It was great just to be in the hills, moving, alone, alive. But Brant was disappointed. And determined. So we switched strategies.
One man went up a hill with a phone and glass while Brant and I took another hill and glassed. The weather had finally cleared. From those two vantage points, with some walking, we should be able to get an eye on audad if they weren’t bedded down in the brush. The plan paid off.
Walking down a very steep hill, trying to keep my footing, I heard Brant call out. “There he is!” A big ram, by himself, faced us. He was staring right at us from another hill-top. The animal was a solid 300 yards away. I could only see his head and body down to about mid-chest. To make matters worse, I was halfway down the hill. He was at the top of a higher hill.
Without a good brace, our relative positions left me facing down, shooting high up. With a 10X scope and a solid shooting position I could have taken that shot with confidence. With a 6X scope, a really weird angle and no good position, I shouldn’t have taken the shot at all. But I did. I missed clean. He ran down the back side of the hill at a break neck pace.
I was sure I didn’t hit him. Even so, we all gathered and combed the area to make sure. Standing in his former position, we knew there weren’t that many places he could go. We headed down a road to the bottom of the hillside. We drove for a while, walked for a while, and drove some more. “Well man, maybe we can get you out here some other time and try again,” Brant said. Suddenly, he stopped talking.
“There!” he whispered. “There! Right there!”
There they were: lambs and ewes and one big daddy. They were halfway up the hill, about 250 yards away, running like hell. It was still an uphill shot, but I had a much better angle on my prey than before. My first shot rang out and hit. I saw the round hit the big ram too far back, high in the hams. He didn’t even slow down. Breath. Relax. Aim. Squeeze. Shoot.
My follow-up shot was true, striking him just behind the shoulder. I watched it strike him and saw the blood. But again he kept running, up and around the hill. Two hits. What should have been fatal had what we in the medical world call “No Discernible Effect.” I took two more hopeless shots as he ran father away, neither striking home.
We kept tracking him. Not ten minutes later we found the group, laying down. They were about 100 yards away and a little farther down the hill. We saw them. They saw us. They ran. For the first time the ram ran in a different direction from the rest of the group. He was running uphill and away from us (instead of diagonally). I aimed for the head and squeezed. Misfire. Slap. Pull. Observe. Release. Tap. Squeeze. Shoot. I watched his head snap sideways. Finally, he stumbled. I followed up with another shot. He flipped all the way over and laid still.
Long, slow, breaths. And then a walk up the hill. Four of my rounds had struck him. The first would have been fatal, but not for a long time. The second shot would have likely killed him within minutes of us finding him. It was a solid double lung hit. I recovered both of these rounds in the flesh of the opposite side of the animal.
The third strike, the first one that showed any actual effect, took a chip out of his horn. The final shot, the one that made him lay down, was a through-and-through right underneath his eye.
Brant and I carried the beast down the hill. With the adrenalin wearing off, I was glad it was down instead of up. The ram was a large animal. Of course there were big smiles all around. I love it when a guide is as excited, or more so, than the client. Brant was awesome. Three days of good hunting and a hell of an animal.
We took the audad back to base and cut it up. I’m looking forward to trying out my first taste of Audad. I also plan on mounting the trophy on the wall of my house. I want to remember the first day that I got back up into those hills after so long without any hope of doing so. I’ll be grateful – for a lot of things – every time I see it.