Rugged country. Long stalks and challenging shots. Hunting aoudad in West Texas requires equal doses of determination and the right gear.
Modern hunters obsess over their gear. What most fail to do is take the shot they’ll ultimately have to make, seriously. You simply cannot measure your true field-shooting ability from a bench rest, because there are no shooting benches in the field, and because shooting from a bench rest allows for false concentration distribution.
You see, when you shoot from a bench you can devote about 80 percent of your concentration to pulling the trigger, because it takes minimal concentration to hold the rifle still. This means you can shoot OK with a so-so trigger. In the field however, the concentration roles are reversed; it takes almost all of your concentration to hold the rifle on target. This leaves little attention to devote to trigger pulling. To make a difficult shot the trigger pull needs to be perfect, and almost instinctive. You cannot instinctively pull a bad trigger.
A hunt from a few years back perfectly illustrates the importance of being able to instinctively pull a trigger. I grew up reading Jack O’Conner, widely regarded as the best sheep hunter who ever lived, and I always wanted to hunt sheep. Ultimately, I was hit with the realization that sheep hunting is damned expensive. For most—including me—spending between $20,000 to $70,000 on a single hunting escapade is somewhere between a divorce waiting to happen and financial suicide. Fortunately, there’s an affordable solution.
The Barbary sheep, or aoudad, is a species native to North Africa. It’s not a goat, it’s not an antelope, and it’s not a sheep, but hunting aoudad is very much like hunting sheep. Aoudad thrive in precarious rocky environments and relish vertical cliffs and high walls. Weighing as much as 300 pounds, aoudad have incredible vision and love their privacy. Of course, I do not live in North Africa, but that didn’t matter.
Luckily, during World War II American soldiers in Africa discovered the Barbary sheep and realized its potential as a game animal. By the 60’s, importation to Texas was common and the aoudad became a common fixture on exotic game ranches. But aoudad are very hard to fence and it wasn’t long until a free-range population was established. It’s now estimated as many as 30,000 aoudad inhabit the mountains of West Texas. And, an aoudad hunt only costs about $4,000.
Aoudad hunting is a battle of vision and stamina. You have to cover lots of ground, and you have to be able to see better than the aoudad. Just as with any sheep hunt it is an optics-intensive adventure; you spend a lot of time behind binoculars and a spotting scope. Then, you cover great distances, and repeat. It took us three days to find a suitable ram. When we located him at about 800 yards, he and his buddy had located us, too.
We came up with a plan to dive back out the rugged—kill your kidneys—trail, and when we rounded the mountain the two rams were lounging on, my guide and I would bail out and sneak in their back door. Everything was going according to plan until I nearly fell to my death while attempting to scale the backside of the mountain the aoudad were on. After reaching the top and regaining a normal heartbeat, we crept to the edge and found them. But in true aoudad fashion, they had sensed something wrong and were moving out like they were late for behind-the-stage access to a Britney Spears concert.
We had to scoot, and cover a lot of ground in an attempt to find a vantage point that would allow a shot as the rams crossed over a saddle on the mountain. We soon saw them clipping along at a good pace at almost 300 yards. With no time to waste, I dropped into a seated position, slung up, and began tracking the largest ram in the scope. All my concentration was on the reticle, steadying the rifle, my breathing, and the proper hold. Just as the aoudad slowed to a walk, I sent a 168-grain Barnes Triple Shock his way. The trigger press just happened, right when it was supposed to. Had I had to think about it—concentrate on it—I’d have watched those magnificent arcing horns disappear over the horizon.
The hunt was a fantastic adventure in some of the most picturesque country you’ll find in Texas, and the aoudad is truly a worthy game animal. You need to be in reasonably good shape to hunt them, but maybe most importantly, you need to be able to shoot. I’m not talking about shooting little groups off a bench, I’m talking about being able to shoot on demand from field positions; shooting the way a rifleman was intended to.
The rifle I used was a custom Model Seven put together by the Remington Custom Shop. It has a host of cool features but the one that mattered most was the trigger. I’d specified a Timney Calvin Elite trigger because I knew when the moment of truth arrived it would allow me to interface with my rifle in an effortless way, and break the shot with as little concentration as possible. And that’s the key; with all that’s going on when it’s time to make the shot, you don’t have any concentration to spare on a trigger that takes brainpower to operate.
Timney triggers are precision machined out of the best materials available, using state-of-the-art technology. And, every Timney trigger that leaves the factory is actually installed on an action and tested before it goes out the door. Timney triggers are also engineered to be drop-in units. If you’re capable of installing new line on your weed eater, you can install a Timney trigger. You’ll still have to practice with that rifle in order to be able to place bullets properly in the field, but with a Timney you can devote most of your concentration to making the shot, as opposed to pressing on the trigger and wondering when it might make your rifle go bang.