It was the first of February in 1991 and a cool, drizzly rain mixed with fog was falling when my guide picked up my wife Shirley and me at our hotel. We were about to embark on the rocky road to hunt for purebred Mouflon sheep, the smallest of the wild sheep of the world. My guide, L. R. Castleberry, assured me that he had imported the original animals stocked on the ranch we were to hunt almost 10 years earlier. We would be hunting the descendants of those animals today. Turkey Run Ranch on the Harper Highway near Kerrville, Texas was our destination as we drove through the dark, wet countryside. Arriving at the big wrought iron gate, L. R. punched in the combination and it swung wide in welcome. We were to start the odyssey of one of the longest, hardest, and most satisfying hunts for an animal that I've experienced in over 30 years of hunting exotics in Texas.
Another guide, Sonny, a friend of L.R.'s, greeted us at that time with another hunter, a 14-year-old youngster from California. He and his dad were spending a week in the Texas hill country, home to the majority of the exotic population of the United States, and pursuing a number of exotic species. His experience is a prime example of an old saying amongst hunters, "I'd rather have luck hunting than experience."
The Mouflon ram is one of the wariest of the exotics. But this young man was lucky enough to harvest a beautiful ram with 35 1/2 inch horns in less than an hour.
My story diverges greatly from his. Sonny took us out that day and it was a long and wet one. The first four or five hours was spent driving to the top of the ridges to glass for sheep. The best we did was see a number of animals running away from us at long distance. Finally, near dusk, with a drizzling cold rain mixed with fog, we spotted the ghostly outlines of five rams feeding along the top of a small hill. My guide instructed me to take the one at the rear. I was able to see only the outlines peeking in and out of the eddying swirls of fog. I had a hard time finding my ram in the Weaver 3 - 9 scope and asked the guide, "How far?" He replied that it was a distance of about 150 yards. Finally finding the ram in my scope, in spite of the moisture running down my eye glasses, I took a deep breath, let out 1/2 of it and squeezed off a shot. A miss. An inch or so over its back. Of course, the whole band just melted into the white blanket of moisture. Sonny said he saw the bullet hit over its back, but we climbed to the top of the hill anyway to check for any sign of blood. We found tracks but nothing else. Sonny said, "Sorry, my fault. That ram was closer to 50 yards so that's why you shot over his back." Well, too bad and too dark to hunt any more. Time to head back home to Texas City and the every day grind of work and normal life. But not before vowing to return and get that ram yet.
Two weeks later we were back on Turkey Run Ranch on a bright sunny day looking for that elusive Mouflon ram again. We hunted hard, glassing many bands of sheep and stalking a few of them, but to no avail. Mostly we saw rams and ewes both running away at 100 yards plus. We decided to take a break for lunch. Since our motel was only a short distance away in Ingram we left the hunting area. But as my luck was still on the downhill side that trip, as we passed the ranch owner's house we stopped to tell him that we were leaving. He said that he had friends coming out that day to tour the ranch and for us not to come back that weekend and I'd have to come back another time. My guide said he knew of a couple other ranches we could try. After lunch we tried again with no luck. We went back to the motel to wait for another try, another day, tomorrow. The next morning dawned clear and cool and full of expectation as we searched another ranch for trophy Mouflon. Search as we might we found nothing that we wanted to hang on the wall. We had a five-hour drive home, so we checked out of our motel and hit the highway. But not before setting a date to return for another try at the big one that got away!
It is said that the third try is the charm. So on March 1st of 1991 we were back with guide L.R. Castleberry on the Turkey Run Ranch to hunt Mouflon again. It was again a clear sunny day. But, unlike the last two hunts, the sheep were not as spooky as they had been. We were able to glass three small herds without their running away, but passed on them. We made two stalks and had shots, but not big enough. On a third stalk, L.R. spotted some good rams feeding in a big open area. We got down on our hands and knees and traveled about 100 yards. For some reason we couldn't get on the same page! I could never spot the ram L.R. wanted me to shoot. The rams ambled off out of sight, down into a small canyon. Of course, by that time I'd spotted the ram in question, but no chance for a shot. So it was back on our all fours and through the cactus and rock covered ground. After 300 yards of punishing my poor knees we came to the edge of the canyon rim. About 100 yards, almost straight down was our band of sheep bedded down. This gave us a chance to look them over and decide which was the best trophy. Having solved this problem, I was faced with another. When I tried to shoot prone I couldn't see the ram. When I tried to sit up and shoot across my knees, I only had a little green bush about 6-8 inches high and 4 inches wide to hide from the sharp eyes of the rams. I finally took the chest on shot which was all I had as the ram was facing toward me. The Remington Model 700, 30/06, shooting, a Remington 180 grain soft point bullet did its duty and the ram lurched to its feet for a final death run and piled up after about 50 yards.
It was quickly getting dark so we pulled the ram into some better light for pictures. We field dressed him and carried him to the top of the canyon where we could get the vehicle close enough to load him for the trip out. He was a dandy. His horns measured 32 inches around the curl with bases 10 inches around. Whenever I look at that mount on my wall I flash back to sore knees, the rocky road to success and the feeling that I really earned that trophy. It's a great feeling, isn't it?
Steve and the ghost