At Home Sheep Hunt
Photos by Larry Weishuhn Outdoors
I had not yet crossed my “total frustration line,” but it loomed hugely on the horizon. My leg muscles ached, my eyes felt scratchy and strained, and I wondered if indeed it would ever happen.
Our vehicle was parked three steep and rocky valleys and two wide ridge tops away. Ugggg! Unfortunately, this had become the norm. The sun was setting on my fortieth day, scattered over a several month period, hunting sheep on the famed FTW Ranch in the rugged Texas Hill Country.
Who was it that said hunting behind a high fence was easy, like shooting fish in a barrel? I wondered if indeed the person who had initially made such a statement had ever tried shooting fish in a barrel. I tried it when I was a younger, shooting at fish in our horse trough with my trusty, Daisy Redd Ryder. Never did hit one!
Certainly that person had never hunted up and down 12,000 acres of steep, rocky terrain covered with dense stands of junipers and oaks. The acreage might be surrounded by a fence but animals within did not see the perimeter fence as a barrier. They see it as no more than a minor hindrance that can be jumped over, crawled under and in some instances going through. The species that live on and behind the FTW Ranch’s fence are there because they like being there.
Ef, as in Efram Hernandez, my guide and friend, lead the way back to our Jeep. I followed, falling only three times before getting back to our vehicle. Having fallen a few times in rocky terrain, I fell in a manner to keep my rifle and scope from banging on rocks. I knew the Trijicon AccuPoint scope on my Ruger M77 .375 Ruger Guide Rifle was tough and reliable, but it did not need any more “dings” than it already had.
Back at camp, Tim Fallon questioned if I had finally taken a sheep. I rolled my eyes, shook my head in a negative manner and headed to the gun rack. From there I walked to the FTW Bar where waited several of the ranch’s clients doing S.A.A.M. (Sportsman’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship) hunter training anxiously waiting to hear my day’s story.
“We spotted a small herd of rams on a rocky outcropping soon as we topped the first ridge. They fed off the west side and disappeared into the cedar-covered canyon. We followed, walking…nay crawling…up and down, across three ridges and four deep valleys, stopping only occasionally to glass. We got to the outcropping where they had been, but try as we might we could not locate the rams. Seated on the outcropping we spotted two more Transcaspian urial rams on a ridge to our far right. A quick look through the spotting scope revealed both were easily full curl.
We watched them disappear into the thick cedars. Not locating the original herd of Transcaspians, we headed toward where the two full-curl rams had been, heavily on the “had been.” Note to self…“seeing” is not an indication of being able to “take.”
That night after a most delicious supper and a wee dram of “safe water”–followed by lively discussions about guns, calibers and rounds, and, best places to hunt various species–I retired to my comfortable room. There I reflected on my sheep hunting experiences on the FTW Ranch. As mentioned earlier, I had put in forty days hunting exotic sheep on the ranch. It originally started as a hunt for Armenian red sheep, unsuccessfully. At Tim Fallon’s suggestion, I switched to Transcaspian urial.
During my thus far forty-day quest, I hunted mostly two day intervals when my schedule permitted. I had seen rams of both species at extreme ranges but mostly disappearing into dense cover. No time for a shot. I was beginning to wonder if indeed one of the FTW’s exotic rams was in my future.
The FTW Ranch is located northwest of Uvalde, Texas near the Nueces River Canyon, complete with unbelievably rugged and rocky terrain. The latter is one of the reasons various sheep, such as Trancaspians, Armenian, red, European mouflon and blue, as well as markhor and various deer species that can no longer be hunted in their native homelands, do so well in the Texas Hill Country. The FTW has done a fabulous job of breeding and perpetuating exotic species which now live on the expansive ranch. Hunting pays for the ranch being able to maintain excellent herds of these various species.
Wish I could tell you before my current hunt was over that I had Transcaspian urial venison in the freezer and a head and cape headed to Double Nickle Taxidermy…I guess I could have told you that, but it would have been far more than simply a little white lie!
It was a couple of months later before I could return to the FTW. Various writing assignments, work for the DSC Foundation, hunts for “A Sportsman’s Life”, doing podcast episodes for my “DSC’s Campfires with Larry Weishuhn” and work on my own place kept me occupied and away.
Finally, my schedule cleared. A quick call to Fallon. Yes, they had an open room at the lodge and Ef would be able to continue being my guide. I was truly appreciative of Tim and his staff, because I knew what I was allowed to do was not a part of their regular program!
I arrived in “camp”, stowed my gear, said “Howdy” to several of that week’s “students”, met briefly with Tim and then with Ef in preparation for my afternoon’s hunt.
“Been seeing a group of seven rams the past four afternoons. They have taken up residence in the canyon with the rocky outcropping where we saw them one time before. There are lush green forbs growing in burn next to it. I think we should head that way as soon as you make certain you’re still sighted in. I have a fresh target at 100 yards and another at 200 yards on the Lodge Range. Soon as you can, let’s shoot and head to where I’ve been seeing the rams. We can hide behind rocks that will make a solid rest…if they show up where they have been the last three evenings.”
I quickly changed into hunting clothes, headed to the range, loaded two Hornady Outfitter, 250-grain GMX (recently replaced by the 250-grain CX bullets), fired one shot at 100-yard and a second at the 200-yard target. Both struck exactly where they should. “You should be good. Where we’re going to set up, if they do like they have been doing, they should be between 100 and 200-yards away.” Sounded like an excellent plan. Now, only if it worked!
Thirty-minutes later I was comfortably seated behind a low, natural rock wall, rifle rested awaiting a hopeful shot. Ef and I glassed distant ridges. We soon spotted a couple of long-horned Nubian ibex, as well as three markhor. The two species kept us entertained for nearly an hour.
Ef checked his phone for the time. “If all goes like it’s been the past days, the Trancaspians should make an appearance in the next fifteen or so minutes,” whispered my guide. I so hoped he was right. “Put one in the chamber.” I bolted in a round, set the safety, cranked my Trijicon AccuPoint to 8x, then settled back to wait.
Ef and I spotted movement at the same time. Initially all we could see were the very tops of curved horns over a rise. As the rams strode toward us, more horn appeared, followed by full faces of the closest rams, then, their white-mane neck and shoulders. I lowered my 10x binocular and watched them through my scope. After so many days of hunting these sheep. I could hardly believe I was finally possibly going to get a shot at these elusive rams.
“Let them come, get completely in the burn. I’ll tell you which one to take,” whispered Ef.
From what I could see, they all appeared to be full curl or better and about the same horn length. The one that caught my attention was a full curl ram–both horns broomed–his left a bit shorter than his right. That ram’s horns screamed, “Character!”!
At near one-hundred yards the seven rams separated and started feeding on lush green growth. “The one in the center, left horn a big shorter than right looks really good. The one to his right too. It doesn’t look like he’s broomed, still has his lamb tips.”
“Keep an eye on the first one you described. Like him best.” I pushed the .375 Ruger’s safety to fire. “I’m going to shoot…” I took a deep breath, let it all out and started squeezing the trigger. At the shot, the ram pitched forward and lay still. The other six rams bolted and disappeared in the direction from which they had come. Soon as I had followed through on my shot, I bolted in a fresh round and settled the crosshairs on the downed ram. After making certain he was down, I accepted Ef’s congratulatory hand. “Finally! Congratulations! I really had wondered if we were ever going to make it happen!” I agreed.
I have to admit my approach to the ram was on slightly “shaky knees”. I was thrilled, but at the same time also a bit sad. My quest had finally been successful, but…
At the ram’s side I realized how much bigger the Transcaspian ram was compared to what I had thought it would be. His big body made me realize his horns were likely approaching 40-inches in length. He was truly handsome!
That night at camp after accepting Tim Fallon’s congratulations he asked, “What’s next?” Before I could respond, “You know we’ve got some great Nubian ibex here on the ranch. Ever thought about going after an ibex with one of your Taurus revolvers?”
The seed was planted!
Regardless of what is going on in the world, there are always small things, of beauty and splendor, for us to enjoy, admire and appreciate!
If you haven’t heard any of the “Campfires with Larry Weishuhn” podcasts, head to DSC Campfires to listen to all the episodes.