United States -(AmmoLand.com)- It seems like just a few days ago I learned what hunts I received from the 2015 New Mexico lottery. I had put in for six species, but only drew one tag.
Now that my 14 year old daughter is hunting (and filling the freezer!), I have began to put in for the more coveted hunts (trophy/special units with low draw odds). I received only one of the six tags applied for as clear evidence of that. The sweet part was that I got my first fair chase public land Barbary Sheep tag for Units 29 & 30.
The double bonus was that my daughter drew the same hunt. We applied as a group hunt.
(Quick Note) – In NM the State manages Barbary Sheep as they do the other Exotic Game Animals previously introduced (Oryx, Ibex, and Barbary Sheep) and as part of the State’s Big Game Hunting Programs for resident & non-resident public lands licensed hunts. The State identifies them as Barbary Sheep. In Texas they are usually called Aoudad and in General are hunted as private land & high fence hunts. In NM it is a competitive and challenging hunt if you choose or draw for it.
My personal goal is to tag out on all three exotics in New Mexico in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) public land hunts. It would be the first time my daughter and I were both hunting in the field at the same time, or so the plan was. I have put in for this hunt several times before, with no luck. My daughter had better luck and drew two tags of the four she put in for. I was thinking there would be no hunting for me in 2015 because the Barbary tag was actually for Feb. of 2016. The consolation would be that I would have plenty of time to scout.
Fast Forward to mid-January 2016. Scouting didn’t happen as planned so Plan B was implemented. A buddy and his daughter had been deer hunting in the Game Unit I wanted to get into. He gave me some tips and pointed me in the right direction. That was the extent of my scouting. I also spent many hours on the computer screen with Google Earth & Flash Earth.
This hunt, like almost all my hunts, was purely a Do It Yourself hunt on the public lands. My plan has been honed into a few basic steps to find big game in new units that I have not hunted before. First, go big. Second, bring the basic hunting items along and have a solid, comfortable back pack.
Last, get out of the truck and walk – a lot. I know what you’re thinking, “Walk where?”
When I look at maps, online data, and GPS data, I look for two main things: Places where people cannot drive (wilderness or rough areas on a Topographical map – if you don’t know how to read one, you should) and then the worst/hardest area to get to on foot. (That means the place that looks like you would never go to in your right mind!) That’s what I start with. It is amazing how many hunters stay on the road, or stay within a half mile of them. Trekking the extra mile, you usually begin to see all the signs that you made the right choice. If you’re lucky, sometimes you're on game before you even get to the worst place on the map.
New Mexico Game Units 29 & 30 are more than a four hour road trip from my house. Plan B got altered again. Just 36 hours before opening day my daughter taps out. She said her school work load was heavy and she didn’t want to miss school since opening day was on a Monday. Darn kids and their priorities these days (shaking my head). Confident that I have everything I need, I brought Thumper with me again. (See the story of Thumper)
I made it late to Alamogordo, NM. I would try to get one advanced day of scouting in before opening morning. On the road at day break, and after twenty minutes on pavement, the excitement really started building when I turned on to a gravel road. I spent the day glassing, checking several watering holes for any sign, and searching the back roads to find the starting point for the following morning. The day ended without seeing a single wild animal, just a hawk that was hunting from above with seemingly the same kind of luck. However, I did find where I would start the hunt on opening morning: at a mouth of a canyon where I saw that a Barbary had laid down and rolled in the mud.
Opening morning was slow to arrive and I started at an equal pace. I left the truck about 30 minutes later than I had planned. I was over optimistic that the weather would allow for a good day of hunting. The winds were high with a cold front moving in calling for rain starting around noon. Heading up toward the canyon, I choose to hang right and gain elevation as quick as I could to get to the canyon rim. I spotted signs on the first ridge I came to. Barbary beds, casual tracks, and manure set my mind at ease that I was indeed where I wanted to be.
I also learned that their urine is so concentrated that it stains nearly everything it splashes – rocks, dirt, plants.
The higher up the canyon rim I went, the stronger the wind pushed against me. With first day enthusiasm I pushed on. Several hours later I came to a bowl up on top that I wanted to glass hoping to find animals bedded down out of the wind. The clouds had grown thick and heavy. After about 10 minutes of glassing, I thought the binoculars had fogged up. When I pulled them from my face I realized the storm front had arrived and I was in the clouds, not under them. The left side of this bowl was no longer visible.
The 150 yds between me and the ridge was now just a foggy bank of clouds. I smiled as I thought ‘lunch time’ and I could wait for it to blow over.
After an hour of waiting, snow started to fall. The weather man had called for light rain, but this was a fair snow fall. I decided to call it a day because my visibility was about 50 yards. As I headed back to the truck the wind doubled in strength leaving me white with snow on my left and dry on my right. An hour later I dropped enough elevation to get out of the wind.
Opening day was a bust, but wind whipped and half frozen, I found the truck.
Although the weather sent me home like a dog with its tail tucked between its legs, day two had to be better. I parked the truck about two and a half miles to the south of where I had started the day before. My plan was to head east, then turn north, to get on the back side of the peak where I was on the day before. I started earlier, hiked faster, and had covered more ground than I had the previous day. This time I sat on the eastern edge of the bowl that disappeared the day before.
After glassing it, I realized a truck was parked a few miles below me. I turned to go east, knowing I wasn’t the only one here. A few minutes later I spotted two people walking along on a ridge above me. I could catch them within ten minutes if I pushed. Normally I head away from other hunters. However, I didn’t think anyone else would be crazy enough to hike up here. I needed to just say hello and be on my way. This county was big enough we could still have our own hunts. Luckily for me, they stopped just over the ridge and I caught them in less than five minutes. I topped the ridge to find a large hell hole of a canyon and the two of them glassing it. After their surprise passed I got a tiny bit of information from them. One was a paid guide, the other a hunter, and both tight lipped, not wanting to give away too much information. I had no problem with that. I shared what my plans were so we wouldn’t bump into each other again. I waved to them and headed south east.
About a mile after leaving the other hunters my legs started telling me it was time for a break. I took lunch on top of one of the rolling hills, glassed the surroundings and chose to continue southeast. I wanted to be on the east side of the next canyon. About an hour after lunch I was looking into the canyon with great prospects. I knew there had to be sheep in this nasty, cliffy area. I slowly made my way around the canyon glassing into every side canyon as it came into view. I could see trails and beds, but no Barbary anywhere.
After a day of scouting and nearly two days of hunting I haven’t seen a single Barbary sheep. On top of that, my legs were now telling me all about the last two days of abuse. The canyon I was peering into curved out of view. If I wanted to see more, I would need to take about a mile long detour around a hill to the right. Alternately, I could take a narrow sheep trail along a very steep edge of the canyon rim for about a ¼ mile to the next little saddle. I took the challenge and made it to the saddle, rolling only one rock down the canyon wall. At the saddle I glassed again, ate again, drank a fair bit of water and laid back against my backpack.
I don’t know if any of you will agree, but I am going to put it out there. There are so many great things about hunting. I think one of the greatest is earning a nice harvest. The second best part of hunting is a great nap! I am talking about the refreshing kind of naps you can only get outside. The kind that only can happen on the hard ground, in the fresh air, hopefully under the warm sun, after you started your day earlier than normal and pushed your body harder than you have since the last hunting season. As I leaned against the pack I felt one of those naps coming on.
Just before I drifted off I had this thought, “I am going to get up, empty my bladder, walk over this next ridge and harvest a Barbary sheep.”
I snorted myself awake and felt that “take on the world” grin come across my face. I sat up, answered the call of nature, gathered my things up and started up the hill over the ridge. After about five steps the wind had gone from a light breeze to a solid wall. As I climbed the ridge the wind made it hard to breathe normally. I crested the top of the ridge to see a grassy bench below me at about 250 yards. I took three more steps before I realized I had found what I have been searching for nearly 3 days. There was a band of Barbary sheep grazing with their heads down on the farthest edge of the bench.
I hit the ground and backed over the crest out of sight. I checked just once to see if they had seen me. I pulled out the camera and crawled into place. I set it up, pushed play and tossed my pack across the ground in front of me. I reached for the range finder and started ranging. The first ranged 285 yards, the wind was moving me too much for a second focus, so I lowered onto the pack for support and ranged 298, then 304. Perfect! I pulled Thumper deep into my shoulder and rested the hand guard over my pack. There were over a dozen animals in view with two larger bodied animals that stood out from the rest. One fed over at the edge, the other was working to the left and broad side. I noticed I couldn’t hold the rifle steady in the heavy wind. OK. The animal I was watching had several others around it blocking any reasonable shot. More of them grazed out of sight but those blocking my shot soon thinned out as well. It was down to just one in front of him, perfectly blocking my shot like a shield. At the same time the two of them turned and walked over the edge together.
My heart sank, I had been holding my breath against the force of the wind.
I waited for a three count then gathered my things and headed towards the bench. I hurried to flank them. I reached the edge and slowed up looking carefully over to find a narrow little finger that would block my closer approach. They fed to the right and I continued downhill and covered about 80 yards before I felt like I needed to peek over the rise.
Hunched over I walked slowly, looking for the sheep. I scanned and saw nothing, so I crept forward. I noted a few darker rocks in the landscape but no movement, no shaggy sheep. I pushed a little further and it seemed I should be able to see the entire area below me, but nothing. I rolled my shoulders back and stood up straight. That’s when I saw those darker rocks start slowly moving downhill altogether. Sheep! I set the camera down quickly and saw the whole hill moving. The herd started to move away in alert formation. Instantly Thumper was shouldered and instinct took over. My thumb swept the control from safe to fire, both eyes open, and through the scope I found a larger bodied animal among those closest to me. With no time to range the distance I guestimated 200 to 300 yards. I split the difference on the holds in the scope as the animal stopped on top of a large flat rock. The hold mark was buried deep in the armpit of the sheep’s front leg as my finger squeezed the trigger.
My brain recognized the sound of “thump”, that unmistakable sound of impact when a bullet finds its target in the field. I watched the sheep go over the edge of the rock and try to steer through the rocks in front of it. Lowering Thumper, I saw it come to a rest quickly. The whole hillside seemed to be moving as the herd left going downhill. I paused a couple of minutes before I closed in and checked on the Ram. Just before that, I pulled out the rangefinder to check the rock he had been standing on and found the shot really had been at a steep downhill angle and only 150yds. I also noticed my truck down the canyon in the distance. It looked a little more than a mile as the crow flies.
My tag being an either sex tag allowed me to confidently pull down on the largest bodied one closest to me. It was a decent ram. My first fair chase, NM public lands Barbary Sheep could officially be checked off the list. I got a few photographs and shot a bit of video before getting to work on skinning and breaking the animal down using the gutless method. It always seems to take longer than I think it should to get an animal ready to pack out when I am alone. This one was going to be two trips. I had my smaller pack with me so I choose to leave the heavier things for the return trip with the larger pack. My small pack was loaded to the brim.
I found the truck with the light from my head lamp. It was a fast turnaround. The meat went on ice in the cooler. I moved a few things to the larger pack, downed a Gatorade, pinched my nose and threw back an energy shot drink. In the dark, I started back for the last trip at a fast pace. That trip went great until the last half mile, my legs wanted to cramp. I was in the truck with everything packed away and heading out just after 9 pm. Nothing feels like the hard earned success of a Do-it-Yourself hunt. In an hour and half I was back in town for a hot meal and a bed.
Next Hunt: last of the NM exotics – a July 2016 “Off Range” NM Oryx hunt. Things are looking much better for 2016. I got lucky enough in the draw to get 4 tags. Stay tuned.
About the Author:
Nathan S. is an avid DIY Hunter, Massage Therapist & Healer, and Husband & Father. A Colorado Native who has lived and explored in AZ, AK, and NM. The wondering spirit has taken him across a lot of the western US; from winters in the desserts around Tucson AZ to the summers of the wide open Alaska. He is a top of his field Licensed Massage Therapist who has worked in some of the very best destination spas in the world. This has placed him between two very different world views and clarified his love of hunting. Nathan astutely studies the best odds for good Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Hunts in NM & CO. He has tagged a NM trophy bull elk with a Muzzle Loader from a unit that doesn’t always grow them to trophy class. His “The first priority is to fill the freezer” attitude is also laced with goals related to hard DIY hunts. He has taken deer, elk, pronghorn, & bear in CO and NM over his hunting career. The lessor known species he has taken are NM Javelina, a NM Ibex with a Muzzle Loader, and also chased NM Oryx that ended in tag soup. He continues to apply for tags of species he has not taken in NM and CO. You can find him with his family in tow often times with his daughter keeping pace with his hunting record (more about her soon). We expect Nathan to share some great DIY tips for ARHunters.com and keep Thumper working.