Another Gold Medal for the Lady
After spending a week in Reno, Nevada, enjoying the SCI convention, my wife and I were ready for another hunt. However, the question was where. The results of the oryx draw for White Sands in New Mexico had not been announced and there was too much snow in Canada to consider anything that far north. We began thinking about Texas again. I know that I sound like a travel agent for the Texas bureau of tourism. However, there are so many opportunities there that it is easier to head south in our truck rather than pay the airlines their obscene prices for trips to other parts of the country.
For those of you who don’t remember, or didn’t know, my bride of 22 years has had two spinal fusions and is severely limited in where she can hunt and under what conditions. She was one hell of a rider. Saddle or no saddle, Mary could sit a horse as well as any professional. We spent many days exploring the Rockies together while searching for mule deer. However, a few years ago, her big mare (16+ hands) zigged and Mary zagged, busting up her back pretty good. She is now bolted together with titanium rods, cages, screws and endures severe chronic pain, BUT, rarely complains.
There you have it in a nutshell. The reason why many of our hunts are in Texas: they are reasonably priced, not too far to travel by truck and the hunting conditions are not so difficult as to “wipe out” my wife. Don’t get the idea that my bride is a wimp. She can still out walk me any day of the week; can function on four hours of sleep and shoots like Annie Oakley. I am more like Barney Fife. I hate walking, I need eight hours of sleep (plus an occasional afternoon nap) and require a solid rest for an accurate shot.
I rang up our old friend and guide, Kevin Cross, in Crystal City, and asked if he had seen any free ranging sheep worth taking. There are literally hundreds of ranches in south Texas. Some with high fences, some with low fences and others with the conventional three-strand barbed wire fences. However, fences develop holes and collapse over time. Weather, predators (human and non-human) and just plain old age contribute to their deterioration. Under those conditions, “captive” animals often get loose and become completely free range. Such animals are fair game for anyone who can find them and obtain permission from the land owners.
Kevin informed me that he had spotted two very nice rams roaming over a several thousand acre area that used to be an oil pumping station. One ram was a large Black Hawaiian with a double curl and the other was an incredible Jacob’s 4-Horned that looked like something out of a horror movie. Although the area was now completely overgrown with prickly pear cactus and sticker bushes, Kevin assured us that the rams would be well worth effort; If we could find them.
We loaded up the truck for the two-day trip to Crystal City, Texas. As usual, we stopped at the La Quinta Inn the first night in Del Rio. Their rooms are reasonable, the beds are comfortable and you get a free breakfast in the morning. After filling up on waffles, juice and coffee, we headed south, meeting up with Kevin on the Double C Ranch at noon.
DAY ONE: We needed to sight-in our rifles to make sure that the two day ride in the back of the truck hadn’t jarred the scopes off target. Sure enough, they were off. However, after a couple of rounds, my bride was poking holes in the bullseye like there wasn’t anywhere else to shoot. I had trouble getting my rifle on paper and finally resorted to the old fashioned bore sighting method; look down the barrel at a 100 yard target and adjust the crosshairs of the scope to match. I finally got on paper at 100 yards. After a half dozen more rounds, my Ruger No. 1 was ready to go. Time to look for the sheep.
The drive to the old oil pumping station takes about 30 minutes from the Double C Ranch. The station is situated in the middle of a couple thousand acre “wilderness” surrounded by farm land and pecan trees. The owners recently opened the area up for hunting and had negotiated a lease with the Double C. The ancient 3-strand barbed wire fences looked like they had been erected over a hundred years ago, there was not much left. We drove around the perimeter roads and a couple interior trails, but saw no sheep. It was getting too late in the afternoon to try a push into the brush, so we headed back to the Double C Ranch for dinner and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow is another day.
DAY TWO: As usual, Kevin was pounding on our door at 0500. That is pretty early for a retired dude. Add in the fact that it was dark and cold and I began asking myself what I was doing there. Oh yes, I almost forgot, trying to find a large black Hawaiian for my bride. After fortifying myself with several cups of coffee, a couple of honey buns and cigarettes (yep, still hooked and politically incorrect), we headed out. Arriving at the pumping station before dawn, Kevin put us in a portable blind near an old irrigation pond. We sat in that blind until two hours past sunrise. Nothing showed except a flock of turkeys and a few Caracaras. However, they did give us a bit of excitement as they moved through the brush and we tried to "grow horns" on them.
Kevin remarked that it was probably too much to hope that the big Hawaiian would “wander by” our blind; but, it was worth a try. So, back to the truck for some coffee and a search for tracks or fresh spore. After four hours of searching, we couldn’t find anything that resembled sheep tracks. Lots of deer sign, but no sheep. We called it quits at noon, figuring that the animals had bedded down for the day. By the time we got back to the ranch, it was 95 degrees. After a lunch of pork ribs, potatoes and a salad we engaged in a time-honored NM tradition, an afternoon siesta.
By five in the afternoon, it had cooled down enough to give it another go. We roamed all over the dusty trails, searching for fresh sign. Unfortunately, the animals were still not moving. The unseasonably hot weather had really slowed things down. We returned to the ranch feeling pretty depressed. We hadn’t seen any sheep and darn few deer, but tomorrow is another day.
DAY THREE: I managed to wake up early and was on my second cup of coffee by the time Kevin came by. As predicted by the weatherman, it was overcast with a light breeze. The temperature hovered at 55 degrees, perfect conditions for hunting. With a bit of luck, the animals would be moving about to catch up on their feed after two days of blistering heat.
We parked the truck on the edge of the station and waited for dawn. As the sun started to define the details of our surroundings, we spotted something big and black moving through the brush. We weren’t sure if it was our quarry, but it was heading in the direction of an old water tank. Kevin put the truck in gear and idled down the perimeter road in the direction of the water tank. Mary climbed into another portable blind while Kevin parked the truck. After about half an hour, there was movement in the brush near the tank and a big black Hawaiian stepped out. There he was, heavy double curl horns and a “beard” that almost dragged the ground. It didn’t take long for my bride to draw a bead. As soon as he turned sideways, she dropped him with a clean shot through the shoulder. Down and out with one shot. That’s my girl, the only downside was that Kevin’s ears are still ringing from the muzzle brake blast, yet he still managed a smile for a camera.
Although the ram hasn’t been officially measured, Kevin took out his tape and unofficially scored him at more than 10 points above SCI minimum for gold. That will be Mary’s second gold medal in one year. I imagine it will be a while before I match that accomplishment (if ever). However, that’s really not important. As long as my bride is happy, I am happy!
After returning to the ranch to cape and field dress the Black Hawaiian, we decided to rest awhile. My bride insists on doing those jobs, even though it just about kills her back. She wants to do as much as possible on every hunt. Any readers who endure chronic pain know exactly what I am talking about. Sometimes you just jump in to perform a task, knowing that you will pay for it later; but, it makes you feel good that you did it.
At this point, you are probably wondering what happened to the Jacob’s sheep. In three days of hunting, we had not seen hide nor hair (literally) of him. My last chance to bag that big ram was to stake out the water tank at dusk and hope. Since this was the final day of our hunt, it was now or never.
We arrived at the edge of the station property at 5:30 and idled along the dusty perimeter road. As we approached the water tank, Kevin spotted the 4-horn ram, grazing 150 yards ahead on the side of the road. He was the biggest Jacob’s sheep that I have ever seen. When he put his head down to eat, his horns touched the ground, preventing him from grazing properly. We watched as he used his horns to rub ruts into the soil to get at the grass. His coat was off-color and in pretty bad shape, indicating that he was not only old, but wasn’t getting enough to eat. Yet, even with his broken horn, he was magnificent. Kevin remarked that if the ram had possessed a full set of horns, he would have scored high gold in the SCI record book, possibly in the top ten.
I like unusual and off-the-wall trophies and this was my chance for the most unique sheep of my life. I definitely wanted this critter in my den. As he turned to disappear into the dense brush, I fired once and it was all over. He may not be SCI gold, but in my book, he is pure 24 karat. As you look at the picture, you will understand why I call him “El Diablo.” The gray around his eyes betrayed his age.
However, for an old ram, his teeth were in remarkably good shape. This was undoubtedly because he couldn’t graze like normal sheep. I’ll probably never go after another 4-horned again, as none could ever be as special or unique as El Diablo.
Copyright 2009 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.