May 01, 2022
A few years ago, I ventured out to West Texas to hunt aoudad in the mountains south of Alpine. We arrived at the ranch, where I was questioned about my rifles and given the standard briefing by the ranch manager. The rifles I brought were a Schultz & Larsen M65DL in .358 Norma and a custom Mauser in .250-3000.
The manager was not familiar with either one, but after I explained, he seemed to think the .358 Norma might do the trick. After all, he said, “aoudad are hard to kill, and they don’t leave much of a blood trail.”
What’s more, he added, unlike desert bighorns and similar animals, an aoudad’s vitals are located farther back in the body. “Don’t shoot behind the shoulder,” he said. “Shoot farther back.”
That last bit was news to me and more than a little puzzling. What little I knew of aoudad, I’d learned from an article written by Jack O’Connor after he hunted them in Chad in the late 1950s, in the company of Elgin Gates, another recipient of the Weatherby Trophy. O’Connor, hampered by lingering injuries from a bad car accident, shot the first decent aoudad he saw and called it a day. Gates, true to form, made it his mission to shoot a bigger aoudad—preferably much bigger—which he did.
O’Connor used his usual .270 Winchester, while Gates carried a rifle in .300 Weatherby. Neither had any difficulty killing his ram, and O’Connor made no mention of anything unusual in aoudad anatomy. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed I should rely on my own experience.
For the record, the .358 Norma unleashes a 225-grain Partition at 2,750 fps, while the .250-3000 shoots a 100-grain Ballistic Tip at about 2,900 fps.
As it happened, I was carrying the .250-3000 in the afternoon when I got a shot at a good ram, 285 yards up the mountainside at the base of a cliff. I put the crosshairs just behind the shoulder and low in the chest and squeezed the trigger. The ram bounded 50 yards, then collapsed and slid backwards down the slope, finally hanging up in a thorn thicket. With his horns caught in the branches, he looked like he’d just settled down for a nap.
The Chinati Mountains are not terribly high—the highest peak is 7,700 feet—but they are as rough as they come. O’Connor, who grew up in Arizona and lived briefly in Alpine, Texas, hunted in these mountains and called them “the roughest in North America.” The slopes are steep, and every step is treacherous, like walking on a mix of ball bearings and razor blades, interspersed with cactus and thorns.
The tortuous climb up to my ram took almost an hour, stopping frequently to look for any sign of life. When we reached him, he was stone dead, with a bullet through the heart.
Afterwards, I pieced together what I’d been told by the ranch manager and came to the following conclusions. First, since the heart and lungs are right where you’d expect them to be, the ranch manager was actually recommending that I gut-shoot the ram. Gut-shot animals leave little or no blood trail, and they can travel a long way, which would suggest aoudad are even tougher than they are. Whatever his reasons for giving that advice, if his hunters followed it, the legend of super-tough aoudad leaving no blood trail would become self-sustaining.
Finally, the insistence on a rifle chambered for .338 Win. Mag., .375 H&H, or .358 Norma makes sense if you are unknowingly recommending a gut shot. Under those circumstances, the more powerful the better. But if you know where the heart is, and can put your bullet there, a .270 Win. or .250-3000 will do just fine.
I managed to get up and down those mountains, then back up, and back down, without sustaining anything worse than one nasty fall, which put a couple of honorable scars on my rifle’s walnut stock and a bad bruise on my hip. My aoudad, suitably mounted, is looking down at me as I write this, and my .250-3000 rifle is leaning against a bookshelf. The trophy aside, it’s pleasant to reflect that I got it by trusting my own experience.