Barbary Sheep, also known as aoudad, have become a sought-after big game animal both in the US and abroad. Native to several countries of Northern Africa, they are also found in the Southwestern US, primarily Texas and New Mexico, where they have been introduced as an exotic game animal.
In New Mexico, aoudad were introduced in the 1940s on a private ranch and again in the 1950s by New Mexico Department of Game & Fish. While there is much debate today surrounding the topic of introducing non-native animals into the wild, there is little doubt these sheep provide a challenging hunting opportunity for many.
The animals themselves can weigh more than 300 pounds in the case of rams. They’re tough and agile, preferring rocky and precipitous terrain where they often elude predators and hunters alike. Aoudad are extremely nomadic and travel constantly via mountain ranges and corridors.
Mature rams sport a mane of sorts that extends from the throat area down the chest and then along the front legs that are often referred to as chaps. A mature trophy ram will sport horns from around 25 inches to well over 30 inches with some exceeding 35 inches in length.
Barbary Sheep Hunting License
Licenses to hunt Barbary Sheep in New Mexico can be obtained one of two ways. First, via the public draw system conducted in the spring of each year.
Or secondly, via a private land carcass tag purchased directly from a license vendor. This option requires having written permission from the landowner and hunting only on the owner’s private property during an existing Barbary season.
Recently I decided it was time to reacquaint myself with Barbary Sheep hunting. Over 40 years ago I was fortunate to have taken rams on two different occasions, one in the 26-inch class, the other about 27 inches.
My hope this year was to meet or exceed the 30-inch mark, if I could find the sheep. Being unsuccessful in the public draw for 2022, I was able to obtain written permission to hunt private land in big game unit 30 located in southeastern New Mexico and therefore purchased a private land carcass tag for Barbary Sheep.
My hunt period was for the December 3-16, 2022 season. There are other seasons in October, January and February for the unit 30 region.
Rifle, optics, and gear for the sheep hunt:
The rifle of choice on this hunt was my recently reviewed Mauser M18 Savanna rifle in 30-06 caliber. Weighing only 6.4 pounds minus the scope and mount, the M18 is ideal for a hunting rifle the steep rugged terrain Barbary Sheep occupy.
This rifle offers excellent accuracy due in part to the free floated, and the crisp direct trigger mechanism that can be adjusted. The barrel is also threaded to accept a suppressor.
The polymer savanna colored stock is extremely durable as I discovered climbing up to my ram and the stock taking some abuse in the jagged rocks and cliff face. With a 5 shot detachable and flush fitting magazine, the M18 Savanna is built for hunting.
I outfitted the M18 with the Lucid L5 4x-16×44 Rifle Scope. The clarity of the glass on Lucid optics is truly amazing and worth consideration by any serious hunter looking for a quality hunting scope. As you will read below, I made a quick elevation adjustment just prior to making the shot on the Aoudad Ram which was a breeze utilizing the 1/8 MOA windage and elevation adjustments on lockable, tactical style turrets the Lucid L5 offers.
I also made use of the Lucid SC9 Compact Spotting Scope. Aoudad blend into the Chihuahuan desert environment very well so quality optics for glassing are a must. The great thing about the SC9 is that it can literally be carried in a cargo pocket.
Barbary sheep habitat:
Hunting with my good friend and area rancher Mark Wilkie proved to be a distinct advantage as he knows the Unit 30 canyons well. We began each morning by moving slowly along a rough two-track jeep trail in the bottom of a canyon with towering walls.
Even though sheep could be found almost anywhere in this rough desert area, glassing was the order of the day. Stopping at strategic vantage points along our route and glassing allowed for covering large swaths of prime sheep habitat.
Mark was the first to spot sheep on both days afield. I found spotting sheep in this area much more challenging than on my sheep hunts long ago. The enormity of some the canyon walls and just how well they blend into to their background is nothing short of amazing. Mark had a knack for knowing where to look, and it showed.
The first day out was encouraging. The first group spotted had about 30 animals in it. Two were of particular interest; both appeared to surpass the 30-inch mark. However, that herd was having none of it and made their way quickly up the canyon face and to the top rim, making any shot nearly impossible.
Later that same day a second group of about 10 animals was spotted, again on very steep canyon walls, but with only one fair ram at about 23-24 inches in horn length.
Day two started in much the same way, moving and glassing. It wasn’t until around 9am that the first sheep were spotted very near where the first herd was spotted the day before. The number of animals was about 15 to 20, possibly part of the same group from the day before. Again, there were at least two very nice rams in the bunch.
Another good thing about this herd was that they were only about a third of the way up the canyon wall putting them in a good place for a shot. Realizing that another chance like this might not present itself, we moved quickly to get in a shooting position.
Using my small day pack as a rest I was able to get the Lucid L5 cross hairs on one of the two biggest rams. Another very nice ram, now in retrospect probably the biggest of the group, was bedded making the shot tricky as it would turn out to be about 300 yards and uphill to boot.
Taking the shot:
The M18 and Lucid L5 were zeroed at 200 yards. Considering the distance was pushing 300 and uphill I quickly dialed in 1 MOA on the L5. I settled the crosshairs just behind and center of the left shoulder of the biggest ram that was in a standing position. Mark had the ram in his binos when I pressed the trigger and immediately reported a good hit.
Upon the report of the shot, the entire herd scrambled uphill and for a few seconds my ram was lost. Mark quickly relocated him and reported he was moving up hill. Trying to get back on the ram for a follow-up shot if needed, Mark reported there was no need as he had turned back downhill, stopped on a ledge and went down for good.
What is truly amazing is that the ram had taken what we later discovered to be a through-and-through shot hitting lung and grazing the paunch, but he managed to go up hill at about a 50-degree angle for 100 yards or so before slowing down. Barbary Sheep are tough. But the ram was down with one shot utilizing Remington Core-Lokt 30-06 165 grain ammunition, a favorite old standby of mine.
Getting up to the ram was now the task and despite the distance not being that great, it took every bit of two hours to get the sheep field dressed and off the ledge back down to the jeep.
Field dressing the ram:
The field dressing and quartering job on the ram was made easier by a unique knife/blade design from STA Blades out of Jacksboro, Texas.
Jerod Johnson, owner and builder of STA Blades, sent out the model CJ-SK (named after his father, Captain Johnson). This blade features a swoop finger guard that protects fingers when inside the animal, decreasing the likelihood of slicing a finger or hand.
This knife is made from AEB-L, a high-grade stainless steel that’s great for harsh conditions. I put it to the test while field dressing the sheep and found the finger guard to be a nice feature, especially when inside the rib cage.
The ram measured out in the 28-inch class and is certainly a trophy class Aoudad in my book.
While a 30 inch plus sheep is always the hope and goal, the challenge of taking a Barbary on their turf makes any sheep you take well-earned and respected.
For more information on Barbary Sheep and licensing options in New Mexico, check out the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish web site.
Next, read our article on how to hunt Antelope.