Super Sheep Hunt
By Chuck Hawks with Bob Fleck
I'd been sitting partially concealed behind the low branches of a small deciduous tree for over half an hour. I was waiting for the silver trophy class (estimated) cinnamon Dall ram that guide Shane Abbott and I had selected to work his way into the clear and present me with an acceptable shot. The small band of sheep of which he was part had endured a tough morning and were spooked. They were tending to stay closely bunched and were unusually wary.
The shooting position known to shooters and hunters as "sitting" is not the most comfortable to assume for an extended period of time. However, it is the unsupported field position from which I prefer to shoot and I was determined to out-wait the ram. I watched the flock both over and through my Leupold 3-9x40mm riflescope, which at that moment was set for about 5x magnification.
Shane and Guns and Shooting Online Technical Advisor Bob Fleck had taken Shane's truck and driven off to execute a wide loop around and behind the sheep's position. The hope being that the noise and disturbance created by the vehicle when it passed behind them would move them in my direction so that I could get a shot.
The plan seemed to be working as the sheep filtered out of the stand of small trees in which they had sought shelter and onto more open ground. They were also moving generally toward my position, but the rather brisk wind was steady and in my favor, so I wasn't particularly worried about them getting my scent.
As the sheep slowly worked their way closer they nervously changed positions, but never in such a way as to give me an unobstructed shot at my prey when he was either broadside or facing in my general direction. I could not risk wounding another sheep, nor would I take one of Elmer Keith's famous quartering away shots. My policy on the latter can be summed up as, "never shoot at an animal's ass." So I sat there, hunched over and as completely motionless as I could manage.
I had glimpsed this particular Texas Dall ram the previous day, and just after dawn this very morning, both times without an opportunity for a shot. I was hoping our luck would change, mine for the better and his very much for the worse.
The range from my position to the sheep slowly decreased as they moved toward me, nervous but not panicked, by the noise of the vehicle in the distance. The range dropped to 50 yards, and then to perhaps 35 yards, and I still hadn't gotten an opening for the shot I wanted. Other sheep were constantly either directly behind or in front of my selected ram, or he was facing the wrong direction for a shot during the brief moments he was in the clear. Nor could I afford to move a hand to reduce the magnification of my scope to its lowest setting now that the sheep were practically in my lap.
At some point, and pretty quick, one of the flock would notice me and the jig would be up. My outline was partially blocked from their position by intervening leaves and branches, but I was not entirely concealed. Fortunately, sheep are not the smartest animals on the planet, and their sense of smell is not as acute as a deer's, although the wind remained brisk, steady, and blowing directly from them to me. Nevertheless, the time that I could remain there undiscovered was rapidly running out. Sheep have good eyesight, particularly for motion, so I was careful not to move.
The range had gotten down to only 25 yards when, finally, the sheep blocking my chosen ram stepped forward and I had a full view of my target. He was at that moment pretty much broadside to my position. The scope's crosshairs were steady on his body where I figured the bullet would go through both lungs on a course for the offside shoulder.
My finger took up the last of my Larry Brace built custom Husqvarna rifle's 2.5 pound trigger pull and the 7x57 bucked against my shoulder. The cinnamon Dall ram simply collapsed where he had been standing, his front legs folded under his body. His back legs kicked a couple of times as I worked the bolt to chamber a fresh cartridge, so I drove a second bullet through his chest and all movement stopped. (For pictures and an article about this rifle, see http://www.chuckhawks.com/husqvarna_7x57_rifle.htm )
That second bullet was unnecessary, as I was sure that the first had gotten both lungs (it had). But, a cartridge is cheap compared to the cost of a Super Sheep hunt on the Double C Ranch in Texas and I was willing to waste one for insurance.
That is the way our April 2007 hunt ended for me, as the cinnamon Dall ram was the second of my two allotted sheep. Here is how it started.
Guns and Shooting Online reader and contributor Dr. Jim Clary had booked a Super Sheep hunt with his wife and daughter late in 2006 (see "Return to the Double C" on the Hunting Stories and Articles Page) and had a great time. It sounded like a good idea to me, so Bob Fleck and I booked our own Super Sheep hunt for mid-April, 2007.
Last year at the Double C my guide had been Shane Abbott, who is a game biologist as well as professional guide, and I specifically requested his services again for this hunt. A guide who knows more about the animals than they know about themselves is a gem, indeed.
The basic Super Sheep package is for two hunters, three days and two nights at the Double C ranch, and includes one Aoudad sheep and any three among the ranch's Jacobs (4 horn), Texas Dall, Corsican, painted, and Hawaiian sheep. In addition, two feral hogs are also included in the package. Since we had previously hunted with Jeff Myers ("HuntingWithJeff.com") on the Double C ranch, we knew that our chances of seeing a rare and elusive Aoudad were minimal. So we had three sheep that we might realistically bag and two hogs to divide between us.
The two hogs were easy to divide, but dividing three sheep (not including the Aoudad that we, correctly, figured that we would never see) by two hunters doesn't work real well, so we decided to share the purchase price of a fourth (non-record) sheep. That gave each of us a realistic opportunity to collect two sheep, and possibly a hog. Bob was particularly interested in bagging a black Hawaiian ram and a large feral hog, while I was focused on a Texas Dall ram and had no particular interest in a hog.
Jeff Myers owns the Double C ranch (named for his lovely daughters Carly and Courtni) near the town of Crystal in South Texas and has the hunting concession on neighboring ranches, so the total huntable area controlled by HuntingWithJeff.com amounts to something like 22,000 acres of lush land with plenty of water and vegetation to support a bountiful supply of game. 28 hunters--full capacity based on double occupancy--on 22,000 acres with some 60 available stands means that there is never a crowd. In fact, you rarely if ever encounter another hunter on the Double C except at meal times. There is a lower hunter density on the Double C than there is in the high Cascade Mountains during the Western Oregon deer season in my home state.
And Jeff just keeps improving his operation. He told me the business is his daughters' inheritance, and the beautiful Carley is now the ranch's office manager. (Last year when we were at the Double C she was a Hostess.) The Double C is an absolutely first class hunting ranch in every way. There are 14 three-star class hotel rooms designed for double or triple occupancy, a very nice recreation room, outdoor and indoor bars, gift shop, swimming pool, fishing pond, 25 yard pistol and 100 yard rifle shooting ranges, informal clays shooting, three meals a day included in all packages, and all of the amenities you would expect at a good resort. The best feature (beyond the hunting, of course), is the friendly and accommodating staff.
While on the subject I should mention that Jeff offers hunts for a wide variety of exotic animals year around, as well as hunts for native Texas game (in season, of course) such as feral hogs, javelina, whitetail deer, turkey, upland game and game birds, varmints and small predators (coyote, fox, etc.). For more information about the Double C, see the HuntingWithJeff web site at: www.huntingwithjeff.com
Bob and I arrived at the Double C ranch after two days of travel. Reveille for me the first morning had been 7:45 AM and driving from Eugene (Oregon) to Portland, flying to Dallas/Ft. Worth (Texas), and then on to San Antonio got us into SA at about midnight local time after interminable airline delays. On arrival at San Antonio we collected our luggage and took a shuttle bus to the Hertz rent-a-car emporium to pick up our reserved vehicle. Knowing that we would clear the San Antonio airport late, we had reserved a room for the night at a local motel; a wise decision, as by then we were tired puppies.
The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we drove generally south, departing San Antonio on I-35. A couple of hours and a couple of highways later we reached the town of Crystal, and shortly thereafter the nearby Double C ranch.
We checked-in about 2:00 PM and immediately hit the ranch rifle range to verify that the airline baggage handlers had not managed to knock our scopes out of alignment. (They hadn't; kudos to Leupold and Redfield for building solid products.) After that we had time for a nap before dinner began at 6:00 PM, followed by an evening hunt from one of HuntingWithJeff's many elevated stands.
The nearby Box Ranch is where most HuntingWithJeff clients are taken to hunt for sheep. That first night I saw plenty of whitetail deer, a couple of elk, and numerous blackbuck in the vicinity of my stand, but no sheep. We had gotten a glimpse of a glorious cinnamon Texas Dall on our way to my stand, but he did not put in an appearance that night.
Bob was luckier as the band we later ravaged paraded past his stand, but he held his fire, preferring to still-hunt the next day. He was treated to the sight of a couple of Corsican rams butting heads to establish dominance, just like you've probably seen North American Big Horn sheep do on TV nature programs. An impressive sight in person, as I was to discover the next day when I was treated to a similar show.
The next morning we were up early for a quick cup of coffee in the dining room at 6:00 AM and then off in the pre-dawn blackness to another pair of elevated stands on the Box Ranch. This time Bob's stand drew a blank, but at first light sheep began wandering down the dirt road leading to the automatic feeder that my stand overlooked. (It's both legal and common to bait animals to a stand in Texas.) Unfortunately, my only glimpse of a good Texas Dall--my primary objective--was at extreme range and moving away. In this group, however, was a representative, but not record class, 4 horn ram.
That "non-record" distinction was important, as I decided that this would be the "extra" sheep the price of which Bob and I had agreed to split. The difference in fee between a "trophy" and a non-record sheep is several hundred dollars, so it pays to be careful. Thus I passed-up two larger and possibly trophy class 4 horn rams, concentrating instead on my intended victim, easily identifiable due to his light colored coat.
This flock was relaxed and reasonably dispersed, having not been shot at recently. I let my intended ram wander as close as I figured that he was going to get--the animals seem to pay no attention to the elevated blinds--and when he stopped broadside to my position I let a 139 grain Hornady BTSP bullet fly. Hit through both lungs, he dropped at the shot and never got up.
This might be a good time to mention that the airlines and the TSA require ammunition to be in factory packages, so factory loads are the easiest solution for the hunter who flies commercial. Both Bob and I had carefully zeroed our 7x57 rifles for their maximum point blank range using standard Hornady Custom ammunition, which claims a MV of 2700 fps for a sleek, 139 grain Interlock boat-tail spire point bullet. This is a fine load for all CXP2 class game.
Shooting is easy from one of those little enclosed, fiberglass blinds. A chair is provided for the hunter and there is a shelf running around three sides of the blind's interior, below the shooting ports. (The forth side is where the door is located.) I had even thought to borrow a face cloth from our room, which I folded and used to pad the forend of my rifle when I rested it across the sill of blind's shooting port.
In the West this kind of hunting would be strictly forbidden, but I had learned last year during a hunt on the Double C Ranch (see "Texas Feral Boar/Aoudad Sheep Hunt") that Texas hunting is very different from hunting in my home state of Oregon. I had also learned to go with the flow and adapt to the local hunting rules and techniques.
When Shane arrived in his treasured, 4-door, Ford F-150 4x4 pickup at about 9:00 AM to collect me and my 4 horn ram, I was ready for breakfast. A stop at the Double C's barn sized cleaning shed, where Shane quickly dressed and skinned my 4 horn ram (customers do not field dress their kills when they hunt with Jeff), and we were off to the dining room for a hot breakfast and plenty of fresh coffee.
After breakfast Bob and I clambered back into Shane's wonder truck (you should see the cool, remotely controlled spotlight he has on the roof) to cruise the ranch roads in the area Shane knew the sheep to hang out, looking for a Hawaiian and a Corsican for Bob and a Texas Dall for me. Once located, we would stalk these sheep on foot. This is similar to the way we typically hunt deer in Oregon and a more familiar method for Bob and I than shooting from a blind.
That South Texas country is green and lush in the Spring, offering plenty of cover for animals who wish to remain unobserved, so it took a while to find a mixed flock of sheep. This band included a very nice full curl Corsican, probably the best ram we were to see the entire time (Shane estimated him to be "silver"), and Bob decided to take him.
After a short stalk to within about 25 yards, Bob waited with his rifle supported by an impromptu rest for a clear shot at the heart/lung area. Then, as Shane and I watched from the cab of the truck, Bob's 7x57 Mauser 98 based custom rifle spoke and the ram dropped. A second shot into the chest for insurance and the morning stalk was over except for loading, transporting, and cleaning the ram. We were keeping Shane busy (and bloody).
We were back at the Double C by lunchtime. Best not to miss one of the excellent meals prepared by the Double C kitchen staff! Bob and I were feeling pretty good as we lingered over coffee. We had each collected a ram that morning and we had the rest of the day and the next morning, if necessary, to look for more.
So look for more we did. After lunch Shane took us back to the same area in which Bob had harvested his Corsican to see if we could find the flock again. After considerable cruising we spotted some sheep in a stand of low trees. A black Hawaiian was conspicuously present, so Bob began his second stalk of the day. This time the flock was understandably nervous about the presence of our vehicle.
A deadly game of hide and seek between Bob and the sheep ensued, with Bob eventually forced to take a standing shot at the black ram. The ram fell at the shot, but the bullet hit a couple of inches too far back, and he regained his feet and staggered off. Two more shots were required to put him down for good. These sheep are not very smart, but they are tough.
While all of this was going on the remainder of the flock had naturally quit the scene, but they did not have time to go far. So, with Bob's Hawaiian ram in the back of the truck, we were able to locate the survivors in another stand of low trees not far away. Shane, knowing that I was primarily interested in a Texas Dall, pointed out an excellent cinnamon ram with a 3/4 curl. This was the same ram that I had seen before. Now it was up to me to outwit a sheep, and the stalk began.
As you read at the beginning of this tale, that cinnamon Dall's luck eventually ran out and I was successful. We were back at the ranch complex in time for dinner that night, while poor Shane had to clean and skin our third and fourth sheep of the day. It's a lot less work to be a hunter than a guide on the Double C ranch.
For me a very successful hunt was over. Theoretically I could still take a feral hog as part of my package, but I had no interest in so doing. Two big game animals in one day were enough for me. But Bob still wanted to shoot a good feral hog, something that we had not managed to do the previous year, although Bob had harvested a medium size pig at that time.
So, after dinner Shane and Bob departed for a stand on the neighboring La Espuela ranch where Shane hoped that Bob might find the boar he sought. These South Texas feral hogs are relatively intelligent and definitely wary. They are frequently hunted, and they know it. As a result they are almost completely nocturnal, especially the biggest (and therefore oldest and wisest) individuals.
Big feral hogs are almost always shot from stands near water and feed after sundown. There is a relatively short window of opportunity between when the hogs begin to venture out of hiding and when it is too dark to see the crosshair in your scope or clearly make out a target. There are a surplus of feral hogs in South Texas, but bagging a braggin' size boar is an uncertain business at best.
On this particular night Bob got lucky, but first he was unlucky. A very large hog, perhaps 250 pounds or more, was the first to appear near his stand. Unfortunately for Bob, the owners of La Espuela maintain a pair of bison on their ranch. These animals are, you understand, not to be hunted or harmed. There are just there for atmosphere.
Bison are not only the largest animals native to North America, they are also notoriously unpredictable, as well as accustomed to doing pretty much whatever they please. No other animal dares to oppose them or stand in their way. On this evening the bison were lingering near Bob's stand. One of the bison took a dislike to the large boar as soon as he appeared, and in an instant wheeled and charged! The big boar, being no fool, immediately bolted into deep cover to evade the bison, ending any chance Bob might have eventually had for a shot. The bison, clearly pleased with himself, walked over to Bob's stand and looked Bob straight in the eye from a distance of only a few feet.
Fortunately, as darkness descended, the bison lost interest in both Bob and feral hogs and wandered off maybe a hundred yards. At the tail end of the available shooting light a group of four good sized hogs emerged from the underbrush. The largest among these was well worth taking, but for a time Bob couldn't shoot for fear of his bullet passing through the biggest boar and hitting one of the bison, now wandering around behind the hogs.
Eventually the bison cleared Bob's line of fire, the biggest hog turned broadside, and Bob dropped him with the first shot, which (we later found) blew through the boar's lungs as intended. However, a hog that big is tough and Bob was taking no chances in the by then near total darkness. He put two more bullets into the front half of the big boar before it stopped moving.
When Bob and Shane got back to the ranch it was after 9:00 PM, and poor Shane had a fifth big animal to clean and skin before his day was finally over. First class guides like Shane deserve every penny they make. At least we were able to give him the next morning off, as we had limited-out our hunting package except for a single hog that I had no intention of shooting.
A good night's sleep followed by a hearty breakfast and plenty of time to pack before setting off on our long journey home the next day turned out to be a wise precaution. Due to additional weather delays, we did not finally arrive home until about 4:00 AM the next morning. And American Airlines no longer serves any meals on domestic flights.
Being as we were about 2000 miles from home and traveling by commercial carrier, we donated the meat from all four of our sheep and Bob's boar to a church in Crystal City with which the Double C ranch has an arrangement. The ranch butchers and processes the meat for them at no charge to help feed the poor. And that way we didn't have to trouble the airline to check boxes of bloody meat onboard as extra baggage. Goodness knows what the TSA security people would have made of that!
A Super Sheep "Hunt With Jeff" on the Double C ranch is not inexpensive, but the experience and the memories are worth far more than the price!
Copyright 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.