Gold Medal Sheep Hunt on the Double C Ranch
It’s been almost two years since we were able to hunt on the Double C. Not that we didn’t want to get back down to the hill country, we just didn’t have time. Mostly because Susannah had taken up F-Class shooting and we were busy traveling to matches and reloading ammunition.
During these past two years, I have been literally haunted by the vision of an incredible Texas Dall that approached my position while I was waiting for an Aoudad to appear. He was absolutely the most magnificent sheep I had ever seen (not that I am in any way a sheep expert), but his full curl flared out to at least 30”+ inches and the base of the horns were truly massive. He appeared out of nowhere on the second evening of my hunt while in the Zebra blind. I had Mary with me, but she was so exhausted from the morning hunt that she was snoring like a lumberjack.
She had taken a record book blackbuck shortly after daybreak. Since we wanted a perfect mount, she chose to dress and skin it out herself. Those are daunting tasks for anyone and she deserved the rest.
That darn Dall sheep must have been stone deaf, because he acted like he never heard a thing. What a beast, his beard almost dragged the ground between his legs and his coat was as white as snow. I marveled at him at that time and have daydreamed about him many times over the past two years, wondering . . . maybe someday.
September 2008: Someday has finally come. Sus is in college and put her shooting on a temporary hold until she becomes acclimated to the new environment. I had called the ranch in late summer and asked our guide, Kevin, if anyone had seen that big Dall lately. He said that they occasionally caught a glimpse of a very exceptional Texas Dall, but that it never stayed around for a really good look. Kevin couldn’t be sure if it was the same one, but it would be worth taking a look. Consequently, I booked a hunt for Mary me. Once again I would be looking for Aoudads, or at least a pig.
No telling about aoudads, they are like ghosts in the brush, but pigs--take your pick. Big ones, little ones and all sizes inbetween. As I worte in an earlier article, there are two kinds of land in Texas: land that has pigs on it and land that is going to have pigs on it. The feral pigs in Texas are breeding like rabbits on steroids and beginning to become a serious problem for a lot of farmers and ranchers. As such, if I dropped a couple for the bacon and ham, I’d actually be doing the environment a favor. Hey, how do you like that, I’m a green hunter. That ought to frustrate the heck out of the bunny-huggers.
We had to reschedule our hunt from Sept 18th to the 22nd, compliments of Hurricane Ike, but being retired that posed no problem for us. We packed our kit on Saturday evening, Sept 20th, and hit the sack early, after double checking everything. Rifles, ammunition, coolers, snacks for the trip, rain parkas in case Ike was still hanging around and, of course, binoculars and cameras. Plus, two thermos bottles full of coffee. It has taken almost 24 years, but I’ve finally succeeded in addicting my bride to coffee. The trouble is, she wants sugar and cream in hers and I take mine black; hence, two thermos bottles.
Sunday – Sept 21st: Morning came especially early, 0500, but we wanted to get an early start, as we had to make 600 miles in one day. However, our early start turned out to be more like 10:30 AM. It seems that we had everything ready to go, BUT forgot to pack our clothes. Talk about not paying attention to details! But, then, who needs a clean change of clothes every day or a little deodorant? ME! So, we took off and headed south, double time for Del Rio Texas. The Double C is nearly 750 miles south of us, much too far for us to make in a single day. As such, we put in one grueling day to make it to Del Rio the first night.
The trip to Del Rio is a story all by itself. When you head south out of Fort Stockton, Texas, you travel through country that is loaded with whitetail deer. Great if you are hunting, but potentially disastrous if you are driving. They seem to hang out on the shoulders of the highway and dart out at the last minute. On previous trips, we have counted more than 50 deer that met their demise on the bumpers of Texas pickups. When that happens it really ruins your day, not to mention your truck. Fortunately, there were almost no deer on the road this trip. The locals informed us that it was too early in the year and the does still had their fawns back in the brush. So, by the time we hit Langtry, Texas, the threat was past and we resumed our normal cruising speed. I am not going to let you all know what is normal for my wife, as there might be a Texas Ranger reading this article. Just let me say that we had to slow it down and drop to a lower altitude in order to avoid the Canada geese and Morning Doves flying south.
For those of you not familiar with Langtry, Texas, it was the home of the famous (or infamous) Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pecos. According to legend, he had sentenced a man to be hung and somehow the guy was shot dead before the sentence could be carried out. The good judge, not wanting to have anyone escape his punishment, ordered that the man be strung up and "killed again." Historians now state that Bean only sentenced two men to death and settled all other cases by fines, which he kept, and that he never hung a dead man. However, it makes a neat story.
Bean named his saloon the Jersey Lillie, for the famed eastern singer Lillie Langtry, and hoped all of his life that she would come to visit him. She didn’t and he died an unfulfilled man in 1903. If you want to learn more about Roy Bean, stop by the Museum in Langtry TX on your way to the Double C.
We arrived at the La Quinta Inn in Del Rio at 10:30 PM. It was grasshopper time in north Texas and Mary’s new truck looked like it had been egged at Halloween. Oh well, plenty of time to clean them off later. Now it was time to have a final cup of coffee and hit the sack.
Monday – Sept 22nd: As tired as I was, we got up at 0700 so as not to miss the free breakfast. One reason we stop here on every trip is their breakfast. Waffles, eggs, muffins, bacon, toast, cereal and all the coffee you can drink. Plus, they are happy to fill your thermos for the next leg of the trip, all compliments of the house.
We finally got everything together and left Del Rio at 11:00 AM. F four hours for breakfast? Nah, just didn’t want to rush, as the previous day had just about killed us. We made it to the ranch, right on schedule and just in time for lunch. Talk about timing things for a change.
For about half an hour, it was like a family reunion. Everyone came around to shake hands and give us a hug. Jeff from the office, Estella (my favorite cook), all the boys from the guiding crew and of course Kevin, our good friend and guide of the past three years.
Following lunch, we hauled the rifles to the range for the requisite sighting in. Mary had her new Ruger M77 in the bull in two shots. Not bad, considering that we had just gotten it back from the gunsmith after having him work on the trigger and adjust it down to a 2 pound pull. I am not going to tell you what happened to me, except that I would have done better throwing rocks with my .270. Not only could I not get it to come in, it was pounding me to pieces. So, I brought out my trusty Ruger No. 1 in .243 Winchester and drilled the bull's eye a couple of times and called it “good”. Think I’m going to sell that old .270 of mine. It’s been a good gun, but I sure can’t seem to shoot it anymore.
Since we were booked for four days, we decided to spend the afternoon scouting around and taking pictures of the new animals on the ranch. Talk about an education, Jeff has introduced blue wildebeests and eland to the ranch. Never thought I’d see them outside of a zoo or in Africa. And were they wild. The eland never did give us a good look. As soon as they heard us coming, they started to move into the deep brush. As for the wildebeest, the young male was protecting his mate and their baby, so they remained back in the bush, while he snorted and pawed the ground to keep us away. No hunting for them yet, as Jeff wants to build up their numbers to a sustainable level. They are so ugly that they are beautiful. I wouldn’t mind hanging one of them on the wall sometime in the future.
We saw some of the most beautiful axis and fallow deer that I have ever seen, all silver and gold medal class animals. Then, Kevin spotted a large white Dall. We tried to get the camera up to snap a quick picture, but he vanished as quickly as he appeared. It seems that there is a herd of red sheep ewes on the place and he was trailing behind them, along with a handful of other sheep. Normally, Texas rams don’t run off; they rely on stealth and the natural cover. However, with the skittish ewes moving out, the rams were running after the girls like teenage boys. At least we knew that there was a big ram still running around, but how big was yet to be determined.
Six o’clock rolled around and it was time for dinner. Estella’s meal was superb, as always. Fried chicken (with her special spices), fried rice, homemade bread and banana pudding for dessert. Had to have two very, very large bowls of that pudding. I was ready for a third, but people were already looking at me after the second one, so I decided to wait until bedtime and sneak into the kitchen for my third bowl, when everyone else had gone to bed. I did, and topped it off with a strawberry-banana daiquiri made by Rachel, the evening hostess. I almost had a second one, they were that good, but passed, as Kevin planned to get us up around 5:00 AM. Besides, there was always tomorrow night.
Tuesday – Sept 23rd: Kevin beat on the door at 5:15 AM. What a guy, he gave me an extra 15 minutes to sleep. Guess he felt I’d need it at my advanced age. Anyway, after three cups of coffee and more cigarettes that I can remember (yep, I’m still addicted), we piled into his truck and headed for the blind. Mary was up and raring to go, smiling and joking with Kevin. Don’t you just hate folks that are so cheerful at that ridiculous time of the morning? I am barely coherent and feel every injury that has ever been afflicted upon my body for the past 69 years, while they are all but dancing. Oh well, I’ll sleep in the blind. After all, Mary is the one going after the sheep. I’m just along for the ride and might shoot a pig if I see a good one, or an Aoudad if one is stupid enough to lie down in front of me and plead to be shot.
Kevin dropped us in a blind and drove off, telling us to call him if we got anything. Otherwise, he’d be back in time for breakfast. All I could think about was breakfast and more coffee. However, as most of you know, you shouldn’t drink coffee in the blind, because if you leave the blind for obvious reasons, the game is over. So, I drank water, bottled water at that. Now, I don’t want to make a big deal of it, but why would you pay a dollar a bottle for an 8 ounces of water when you can fill your canteen or thermos from the faucet for free with perfectly good agua? However, it wasn’t costing me anything, so I drank the water.
As it became light enough to see I almost had a heart attack; there was a herd of whitetail not 75 yards in front of us, with three bucks in the gold medal class. Even in velvet, they were absolutely magnificent. Wouldn’t you know, it wasn’t deer season and, of course, I didn’t have a Texas deer tag. Maybe next year. As we watch the deer feed, Mary caught a glimpse of something moving in the brush. It was the sheep. First the red sheep ewes came out, followed by the young rams. Where was our big Dall? Then, she spotted him still in the brush.
Through our binoculars we could see that he was a magnificent specimen, almost perfect horns with a full curl that flared out symmetrically to each side. A good beard and very scarred up face from fighting. He was obviously the alpha ram, or whatever they call the number one Kahuna in sheep talk.
That sucker would not give Mary a clear shot. He managed to keep pretty well protected in the brush. When he finally turned away, he did the same thing that Mary’s blackbuck did two years earlier, showed her his butt. No repeating the words that were uttered, something like “Not again, #$%#$%” Then he was gone. We waited around for another hour before Kevin showed up to take us to breakfast, but no sheep this morning. The only good part of the morning was that we knew he was big and that he was there, at least somewhere.
Breakfast was highlighted by Estella’s famous omelets. Now, when I tell you that I want to adopt this woman, I mean it. Her omelets were so big, packed with so many goodies, that I barely had room for the three pieces of French toast, four sausages and three strips of bacon that I added to my plate. Ok, I’m kind of a pig when it comes to good food. My wife tells folks that I am on the seafood diet plan, I see food and eat it.
I almost told Kevin and Mary to go out after breakfast without me. The food was catching up to me and I could hear my bed calling me. But no, they wouldn’t hear of it. We came to hunt and besides, I might see a pig or really dumb aoudad.
We drove through more brush and around on more dirt roads than I have in my life. We spotted the herd of ewes and their escorts a couple of times, but no chance for a shot. As soon as they saw us, they were running in the opposite direction in high gear. We decided to head back to the ranch and take a nap until dinner, then try again.
At dinner I met a gentleman from Iowa, Randy Patten, and his son Jerome. They were down for pigs and I asked him how you could tell an average sized pig (75 – 130 lbs) from a big one in the 150 – 175 lb class. He told me that if the pigs looked like they had long legs, they were smaller ones but, if they looked like a walking brick with short legs, shoot it. It’ll be a good one. I’d never heard that before, but it sure made sense. That will be my “rule of thumb” for pig hunting from now on, look for a “walking brick.” Although I’m getting ahead of myself, I have to tell you that Jerome nailed a walking brick the next day with his T/C muzzleloader. That walking brick dropped like a rock.
Before I forget, dinner was incredible. Pork ribs cooked so slow that the meat just fell of the bone. Then, of course, there was Estella’s dessert. She had strawberry or chocolate cheesecake. The strawberry one was so good that I just had to have the chocolate version as an encore. This boy’s not going to go near a scale for at least a month. (Mary’s comment: “Seriously, he’s 5’11” and 145 lbs dripping wet! I can watch him eat and gain weight.”)
Back into Kevin’s truck after dinner for the evening hunt. As we bounced along the back roads of the ranch heading for the blind, Mary spotted that big Dall, but again all she had was either a butt shot or maybe (if she was lucky) a spine shot into the back of the neck. Mary is not one to take a questionable shot, so she passed. For two hours in the blind we saw nothing but whitetail, axis deer and small pigs.
Just about dark a huge sow came out. It was more like a walking pile of bricks. Mary had that sucker in her sights for what seemed like an eternity, and then put the rifle down and picked up her binoculars. When I asked her why, she pointed at the sow. There were half a dozen piglets all around the sow. Now, there is nothing wrong with shooting a big sow when the piglets are free ranging, nothing at all. The piglets will survive, as there are few predators on this ranch. However, for Mary, a neonatal nurse, she couldn’t do it. She just watched them and smiled. I guess I did also.
Every hunter has to make such a decision at least once in their life; when to pull the trigger and when not to. I made it 30 years ago in Colorado when I passed on a female mountain lion that had two cubs with her and never regretted it. Besides, there will be more pigs and maybe even more lions.
Upon returning to the ranch, we had to sample Rachel’s daiquiris again. I had two before hearing my bed calling me. Mary stayed up for awhile swapping stories with the guides.
Wednesday – Sept 24th: Our last full day of hunting. It was now or never. If Mary didn’t get a shot at that big ram today, it would be all over until next year. I was up before the guides today and wandered into the kitchen for coffee to wash down the handful of aspirin I needed to ease the pain in my joints. Mary wasn’t doing much better, but after several cups of coffee, we dragged ourselves into Kevin’s truck and headed out. I have no idea how he does this, seven days a week, all during the hunting season. The man is almost superhuman in his endurance. Four days of this just about kills me and he does it all the time.
We settled into our blind at 6:45, well before dawn, hoping that this would be the day. At five minutes before eight, Mary heard the sheep moving through the brush. They were anything but quiet and moving like race cars. They streaked across the clearing in front of us. The ewes were running like antelope and the boys (including our white Dall) were hard on their heels. They were gone before Mary could draw a bead. Talk about disappointed!
When Kevin pulled up to collect us for breakfast, he asked if we saw them. Mary replied, “Yes, if you count streaks of brown and white as seeing them.” Oh well, maybe after breakfast.
We wasted no time wolfing down the scrambled eggs, hash browns and pancakes that Estella prepared and headed back out. If we were to catch that ram, we’d have to find them before they bedded down in the deep brush for the day. We drove to where Kevin thought they were heading and slowed the truck to a crawl and there they were, off in the brush about 50 yards.
However, there was a problem. They were bunched up and there were red sheep behind the Dall ram and thick brush in front him. He didn’t get that big by being stupid. We waited, then eased the truck forward about ten feet. He stood up, obviously getting ready to bolt. He was facing straight at Mary. Her only shot was directly into his chest with no room for error. She had to hit him right in the sternum or not at all.
She took the shot. I could hear that 140 grain bullet hit him like a sledge. It spun him around, he staggered maybe ten feet and dropped, stone dead. She had drilled him right through the heart and the bullet lodged just under his spine in the back. She held her gun on him for another minute to make sure that he didn’t try and get up.
I didn’t think the smile on Mary’s face was ever going to go away. As we walked over to the sheep, we were all amazed. He was even bigger than we had thought. He scored 140+ SCI and had absolutely perfect horns. A exceptional gold medal Texas Dall.
After the congratulations and requisite picture taking, we headed to the ranch to dress and skin the ram. It took two of us to lift him into the truck, as he was no small beast. Once back at the ranch he was hoisted up for dressing and Mary set about the task of caping out her trophy. Our taxidermist has given us detailed instructions on how to properly cape him for a half-mount.
Of course, Kevin would have been happy to do the job, but this was one that Mary wanted to do herself. So, Kevin and I sat down and watched. Despite the hard work involved, Mary was all smiles from start to finish. Instead of using a skinning knife, she used the same razor-like utility knife blades that our taxidermist uses. After all the work she went through in getting this trophy, she was determined to do a perfect job. And she did. All the hunters on the ranch came down to the dressing area to take pictures of her ram and, without exception, they all said there could not be a better sheep. After the caping job was complete, we headed to the dining room for lunch and a well deserved afternoon nap. Our hunt was a success.
We decided to give the pigs one more try after dinner. Kevin dropped us off at a blind where he had seen some really large pigs. Sure enough, right at dark they came out. There was a huge boar in the crowd that looked like a razorback. He was ugly as homemade sin and covered with caked mud. We tried, but neither Mary nor I could get a clear shot. It was getting darker with each passing minute and still no clear shot. We finally gave up and put our guns away. Maybe next time.
As a point of information, there were seven hog hunters on the ranch during our stay, and they harvested a total of 14 nice hogs. We were just looking for something extraordinary, like “hogzilla,” and almost got him. Maybe next time!
Thursday – Sept 25th: Time to say our goodbyes and pack up. This is always the hardest part of the trip, as the folks on the Double C have truly become our friends. Every guide on the place came over to give Mary a hug and wish us a safe trip home. As we drove through the front gate and headed north, we were already planning our next hunt, as there are aoudads, axis deer and wildebeests roaming the Double C Ranch with our names on them. (They just don’t know it yet.)
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