Two hunters are presented with back-to-back shots at big aoudad rams. The first is straightforward, the second steeply uphill and distant. Should they take the shots?
The West Texas sun shone brightly on our little cavalcade, illuminating the desert vegetation and glancing off distant white cliffs. A fly buzzed briefly around my hat brim before deciding there were more interesting victims elsewhere. A large band of aoudad sheep fed along the cliff tops ahead and out of sight, tempting us onward. They were the only huntable sheep we’d seen in three and a half days of focused searching.
A steep slickrock notch led upward through a ribbon cliff and we followed, crawling carefully into position atop the rise. The aoudad were there, only 300 yards distant and feeding closer. But almost immediately a vagrant breeze capered across the backs of our necks and the sheep broke for the cliffs. They’d scented us and were getting out of Dodge.
RIFLES, OPTICS, AND AMMO
My hunting partner Jake and I had both chosen to hunt with bolt-action rifles chambered in .280 Ackley Improved. The cartridge offers a sweet combination of inherent accuracy, shootability, and long-range terminal lethality. Jake is the head rifle bullet engineer at Federal Ammunition, and he knows his stuff. In the magazines of our rifles rested Federal Premium Terminal Ascent ammunition.
I don’t have exact ballistics from Jake’s rifle, but mine shot the 155-grain bullet at 2937 feet per second. His would have been similar. G1 BC for the 155-grain projectile is 0.586. The Terminal Ascent bullet features a solid copper shank (rearward portion) and a bonded lead core front, tipped with Federal’s Slipstream Polymer tip. It’s a projectile that bucks wind and carries energy well, and mushrooms beautifully at a wide variety of velocities. Terminal performance is universally stellar, which is why we chose it for this hunt. Aoudad possess a reputation for unprecedented toughness, often requiring multiple shots to anchor.
My rifle was topped with a 2-12X42 Leupold VX-6HD riflescope complete with Leupold’s CDS (Custom Dial System). My turret was custom engraved to match my rifle’s ballistics as well as the average local elevation and temperature. If an extended shot presented itself all I had to do was range the animal, dial the CDS turret to the corresponding number, and execute a careful shot. It’s a simple system that’s superbly capable out to farther than most hunters have any business shooting at game.
Jake’s riflescope was topped with a simple MOA turret, and to dial for a long shot he must range the target, enter the distance into a ballistic calculator on his phone, and then dial the solution into his turret. It’s an accurate system but significantly slower than using a yardage-engraved turret.
The last component of my system was a Zeiss Victory RF rangefinding binocular. The glass is superb, and the unit will provide an accurate distance reading at the press of a button.
Jake and I had driven, flown, and driven again to reach our hunting grounds in West Texas. Aoudad has long been high on my bucket list of animals I wanted to pursue, and I was excited for an opportunity to finally hunt the elusive sheep. After we reached our destination we checked the zero on our rifles and then hunted hard for three days without success. We were beginning to feel the pressure as our final hunting day dawned clear, sunshiny, and calm; a welcome change from the blustery, overcast days we’d had thus far. It was our last chance to find and kill some sheep, but hopes were high as we glassed distant cliffs, shining bright in the morning sun. Jake spotted a big band of sheep and the stalk was on, bringing us to the point where this story began.
TAKE THE SHOT(S)?
As the sheep bolted for the nearby cliffs we realized that the band must have split, since there were significantly fewer sheep than we’d originally spotted. Nonetheless, there was a big ram in this bunch and our guide Cross Moody quickly directed my attention to him. I was up to take the first sheep, so I glued my crosshairs to the ram as he ran upward and away, his long mane and chaps flowing. The band slowed as they moved toward an opening on the mountainside, so I quickly raised my binocular and ranged that opening.
Cranking my turret to the 350-yard mark, I re-acquired the big ram and watched as he slowed and then stopped to look back. He was roughly 360 yards distant, quartered away and looking back toward us. I was prone on the ground, a shooting bag under my rifle’s butt and a Spartan bipod as forward support. My crosshairs were steady on the ram’s vitals, and my finger tightened on the trigger.
Place yourself in my position: you’ve traveled far to hunt aoudad and worked hard to find a big old ram. Now, one is in your sights and you are prone and ready for the shot. Your scope is dialed; your rifle is loaded with a premium bullet, and your system is accurate enough that you could hit an apple at this range. Will you take the shot?
I took the shot. At the report, my ram ran about 40 yards, stopped, and tipped over behind a catclaw bush. Simultaneously, another band of sheep bolted out of the canyon-bottom brush and upward through the cliffs, a second big ram among them. I had a follow-up round chambered and kept my crosshairs on my downed ram as Cross directed Jake to the other sheep, even though I was morally certain my ram wasn’t going to get up.
Jake’s sheep kept climbing up through the cliffs, rapidly gaining elevation and distance. Cross was ranging the ram and updating Jake every few moments. Jake was adjusting his turret, trying to stay with his big ram. The upward angle became too much and he called for something to stack under his bipod, so I leaped up and shoved my backpack into position. He settled his bipod atop the pack and got his crosshairs back on the rapidly departing band. Finally, just before they topped out on the mountain face and disappeared, they stopped. Cross called out the range; 560 yards. Jake was on the ram but the shot was very steeply uphill, forcing him into an awkward position. He only had seconds to capitalize on what would almost certainly be the only shot opportunity he would get. Again, place yourself in his position: would you take the shot?
HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED
Jake must have been ready because the moment the big ram halted he took the shot. Hard hit, the sheep staggered downhill and then tumbled down the rocky face a short distance before coming to a stop against some brush. The impact had appeared a bit far back, but the ram never moved again. Turns out the shot was perfectly placed, resulting in a rapid, clean harvest. We climbed the mountainside to my ram, enjoying the crisp, sunshiny morning while we took photographs. Then we clambered our way up through the cliffs to Jake’s sheep and repeated the process. It was a spectacular morning, complete with two splendid rams, each cleanly harvested with a single shot.
My shot was simple, and given the circumstances, I’d take that shot every time. Jake’s shot, on the other hand, was very challenging. He was able to stay cool and improvise well as the situation progressed. When the shot opportunity came he was ready and executed an accurate shot. Thanks to premium bullets, both our rams were down and dead in seconds.
In my opinion, Jake’s shot should only be taken by a hunter who is very skilled, very familiar with his tools, and able to stay icy-calm throughout the event. As Jake proved, the shot was doable, but only just. Many hunters would be wise to pass on this shot.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Leave them in the comment section below.