Old Man of the Mountain
by Andries de Klerk
I first saw this animal a few years ago when a small group was introduced to our farm. Two males and ten females. This was by share luck. My dad received a call from a game merchant and inquired if we would be interested. Without any prior knowledge of this animal, we bought them. Why I can't say, but honestly we don't regret it.
He is handsome as he is majestic. The most noticeable characteristics would be the goat like appearance with a flowing golden beard that reaches from the chin down to his chest with more hair around the knees like a Zulu impi. He is the color of gold which makes it notoriously difficult to spot amongst the rocky country they enjoy to inhabit. Both sexes carry horns that are set high on the head which curves backward in a semi-circle. The bull's horns are heavy, lightly ringed and in old animals the tips tend to bend slightly backwards. The male is bigger in body than the female and a shade darker as well. The animal's front quarters has a slightly higher appearance with very well developed hind legs. All the attributes defines an animal made for scaling the largest and steepest mountains in Africa. This pseudo sheep, also known as Aoudad is found in the hills of Algeria, Tunisia, northern Chad, Egypt, Libya, northern Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger and Sudan.
As most exotics that has been introduced to countries the story of the Barbary sheep in South Africa is very much the same. Over flow of zoo populations to the private sector has assured thriving populations in the Eastern Cape, Freestate and especially the Northern Cape. Last mentioned was also the province we decided to conduct our hunt.
A good friend of mine has been hunting Barbary sheep for years and through asking advice on breeding Fellow deer on our property I also became quite familiar with the sheep hunting stories... My curiosity for this species came to braking point when I saw this season's umpteenth photo of spectacular sheep. I just had to pursue this wary animal. After speaking to Abrie Arlow on several accounts I was sure that we have everything planed to a T. I would fly up to Bloemfontein where I will meet my dad. Drive to the north of Kimberly where we will meet up with Abrie and fall in behind him for the last part of the route.
Just after one in the morning we made the last turn into camp; high in the mountains and bursting with excitement. It is hard to get much needed sleep in the few remaining hours of the night when there is so many expectations running through your mind. But alas sleep over came us and Morpheus where paid his dues.
The darkness was interrupted by an alarm and soon the welcome smell of coffee filled the air and the slight glow of the sun crept closer on the horizon. Night gave way to day and slowly the shape of the mountains started to reveal itself. Abrie briefed us on the lie of the terrain and the habits and keeps of the sheep. I was armed with a custom 300 Win Mag and dad with his custom 7X64, just in case I have a slip up. One thing I should mention is that the most important kit by far on this hunt is a good pair of binos. He is well camouflaged and spotting him with the naked eye is at best difficult.
There was a steady southern wind blowing crisp morning air in our faces. We were hunting into the wind, better hunting conditions could not be asked for. To my and my dad's surprise we spotted at least 60 sheep from the first vantage point! I was astonished by the numbers. There was nothing rare about this sheep on this property. Slowly we worked over the groups of sheep with our Leica's. A few decent rams could be spotted but not the quality we came for and what the property are known for, so we circled around to another vantage point. Here we had the element of surprise and were able to get within 30 meters of a small group. No shooters but a wonderful opportunity to study the young male and the difference between him and the females. We slowly continued with Abrie in the lead. The sun was up now but the slight over cast and fresh wind served for very mild conditions. With the coolness the sheep was still moving and feeding later then would be normal. We proceeded into the next valley. We had around 15 sheep to our left on the ridge watching us. Amongst them were the first glimpses of a mature male. Soon we spotted two more groups. One of these groups was intermingled with five kudu. This group consisted of 3 female and one peach of a male. It is like they say: the big ones look big. It did not take any imagination to see the quality of the male among them. A real brute with long curly horns easily distinguished amongst the females.
This was him, a ram of ages. We quickly advised a plan to get closer. But with all the eyes to our left and those of the kudu it turned out to be more than a challenge. We spotted him twice more. Sadly he evaporated into thin air. We spent an hour more in trying to find him but without any success.
It was midday by now and the pleasant coolness gave way to the summer sun. It was hot and we decided on a brake as well to sit out the heat of the day.
We crossed a couple of klofies on our way back and made most of it through some scouting. We saw a few ewes but nothing more. Back at camp we planned to return to the same area we were that morning. With that high numbers of sheep we were bound to find a decent ram, or even better, the male traveling with the kudu. After spending midday at camp waiting for the high temperatures to give way to the afternoon mildness, we were back at the ridge we saw the monster of the morning. We were greeted with nothing more than a pair of sheep. A completely different picture than that of the morning. It was still hot and the sheep were not moving yet. Abrie suggested we made ourselves comfortable and wait for the sheep to show themselves instead of unsettling the bush by moving through it. This turned out to be a good idea for in the next 30 minutes the veldt started to liven up.
Some sheep appeared but still no trophy males. We made sure that we did not see what we were looking for and moved on.
The ridge we were on ran for about two kilometers and then makes way to the flat plains of the farm. We preceded slowly the last couple of hundred meters of what was still suitable sheep country. My expectations slowly dwindle away as we took our last few steps before turning back to camp. In the next half an hour we would surely be beaten by this skillful opponent. Abrie said: it is time for a plan. Old man you circle back and get the bakkie and save us and yourself a bit of walking. Andries and I will just make sure the foot of this hill doesn't have any sheep.
Abrie there are nothing more than a mere two hundred meters and asked why don't we all go back? A silly question to a man that has put more of these sheep in the salt then you can shake a stick at. Let's go have a look I said with doubt. So we split up and with one last look back, we parted ways.
Impala! Dam it They nearly gave me bloody heart attack. I thought it was the sheep. We spooked the group that was feeding half way up the hill. Abrie suggested we have a closer look just to make sure that it is only impala. Something doesn't sound right. Could have sworn I heard sheep, boerbok like sounds. The neighbor farms have boerbok and we are not too far from the boundary fence. Maybe some slipped through? 轍uiet Andries, they are close. said Abrie. Mixed with the Impala was the Barbary sheep! The weary Impala sensed our presence and parted along the open flats. Luckily the sheep didn't follow the impala and circled back around the foothills. As they say, old habits die hard. We quickly cut across the summit to intercept their imagined path. I have spent a lot of time in the veldt and have seen some very interesting g things but what happened next is an encounter that will last in memory for a long time. We settled down in favorable place the sheep may cross. As we settled down the first head popped through the grass a mere twenty meters away and within seconds we had a small group of young males making their way directly towards us. This wasn't the same group we just saw on the other side but maybe there is a male among them? A total of seven young males kept coming towards us until they were so close that we practically share the same spot! They saw us, turned around and parted in top haste as expected but after a mere twenty meters they stopped, spun around and slowly walk back towards us.
The nearest one got as close as twelve meters, which I confirmed with my Leica Goevid range finding binos. For the next ten minutes we took the most beautiful photos to our hearts contend. They were so close that you could see the yellow of their eyes without optical aids. The only problem was that the herd we were stalking was coming up the hill and this group of males were raising suspicion. Once again the young males sped off. Once again they stopped and turned around to investigate us. Luckily this time they were on our backs. But the group of sheep we had our eye on was fully aware of things not being right. We moved position to make sure we had a good view of the group making their retreat up the mountain. I folded up my Harris bipod and got behind Abrie. This was going to be a quick shot if it happens. 鄭brie you just whisper the words and I will do the rest, don't you worry, and I won't miss I know the group consists of nannies and two nice Billies. In a mad dash they came past, nannies and kids first; the billies must be bringing up the rear. Then the first one made his appearance and stopped for a brief second. Shoot him said Abrie. My finger tightened around the trigger as I waited for the last billy. And there he was, same as the first, stopping just long enough to hear the words: aim, that's him, shoot? Flawlessly the 180gr Barnes X triple shock flew from the 300 Win Mag barrel striking the billy higher than would have been a good shot but with the downwards angle he was struck in the neck vertebra exiting behind his right shoulder and collapsed as if hit by a ton of bricks. The spent case flew from the chamber as I quickly chambered another round. I wanted to be ready, last thing I would like to see is a fine trophy run off, but he was down.
The next hour was spent admiring this handsome animal. The stern build, flowing beard, long face and of course the thick set horns that curls backwards in a semi-circle and the points bending back towards the rear. A marvel of an animal. It was late and the sun hung low in the sky. Just enough time to capture this amazing moment on film, well at least digital film. The amber glow of the sun enhanced the brick colored coat of the sheep. When the hunt is over and the dust has settled and the time in the veldt is exchanged for time in the office it is lovely to now and again to look back to these photos. For at the end of the day the only things we have left of a hunt are the memories and pictures, and if you are really lucky a nice mount. For this big Aoudad there is a special corner reserved in the trophy room for his reincarnation as a full mount.
For the hunter that has it all or looking for an extraordinary hunt I will strongly recommend this cunning specialist of the high and dry country. I would like to extend a very special thanks to a friend, colleague and professional hunter, Abrie Arlow from Pronk Safaris. He specializes in above average trophies and especially the exotic animals of this country. This hunt was so memorable that my next one is already planned and a mere two months away and a deposit paid for the third in 2013. Happy hunting.