The Barbary Diaries
It has been four days since I shot my New Mexico Barbary Sheep, ending the 2020 big game season for me. My wife just pulled, what I believe to be, the last of the cactus from my and legs and butt. I guess I finally feel comfortable enough to sit down and write this.
I guess I need to start with my backstory, several years prior I decided to put Barbary Sheep on my “list”. New Mexico, with it’s vast public land and available Barbary tags was the obvious choice. I have and probably always will be, a 100%, DIY, Public Land hunter. That commitment started out as a financial necessity but has morphed into a religion I profess proudly. I don’t have as many animals on my wall as some, but the ones there are, others admire when they come over. They all came from hard work, and have good stories to go with them!
In 2019, about two weeks before the application deadline I told a friend of my Barbary plans. He was also applying in New Mexico for elk and deer so decided to drop an application for Barbary. Clint, is “that guy”, in every sense of the word. “That guy”, who shoots the biggest animals anyone has ever seen in that unit, even though it was the first one he saw! “That guy” who drew a tag, first year in the drawing! Needless to it was game on.
Here is where I will drop my first piece of advice. Look at draw statistics, harvest rates, and if available, horn measurements. Do your own homework, and figure out a tag that gives you what you are looking for. For example I drew a “nanny only”, Colorado Mountain Goat tag in three years. The season dates were funny for that unit, but they worked for me. When I got the tag I shot a 9” nanny and have only had one or two people over who knew it was a nanny before I told them. I know others who have been on three and four sheep hunts in Colorado, without winning a raffle! They were all ewe tags, but they sure had fun doing it.
Draw statistics and harvest information are available to anyone on various Division of Wildlife websites. Don’t just send in for the unit/tag that is popular, or that everyone talks about, or the unit that had one 35” ram taken out of it last year. Be realistic about what you want to shoot and send in for a tag that is the easiest to draw and will give you that animal.
When you find the tag you want to send in for, get ready for the long haul. New Mexico is a lottery state so you’re in the drawing, but your odds are still long. Don’t expect to draw your first year, like Clint, or even your second year, like me. Our tags historically run at 7% draw odds for non-residents applying without a guide, that’s 14.2 years, statistically.
My second piece of advice, having hunted Barbary Sheep two years in a row now, and speaking with a LOT of people about these animals. If you are on a DIY Public land hunt in New Mexico and you see a +25” Barbary, you should be pulling the trigger. I can personally tell you, in two years, with over 120 miles of hiking, and 14 days in the field, I have seen ONE sheep that meets that requirement. I will say too, I honestly believe he was well over 30”! He had huge chaps, and his horns made a halo around his head the size of a hula hoop! We hunted that sheep for two days after spotting him and never saw him again.
When you draw your tag, start making phone calls, call anyone and everyone you can, and milk them for as much information as you can. Don’t ask where to go, because they don’t want to tell you, and that’s what really makes a DIY hunt in another state so challenging and fun, anyways.
New Mexico specifically, has quite a bit of land locked BLM, which means you can’t access it without permission from a land owner. In unit 37 where Clint and I ended up hunting, access makes no sense. The county there stopped maintaining certain roads and sections of roads, and you can literally drive up to a paved road listed as a “county road” on the map and there will be a locked gated across it. You can’t access that road any further. There are other roads you can drive down for three miles with zero turns off of them, and run into a locked gate. Again, it’s possible that’s where the county maintenance ends and so does your access.
This leads me to my third piece of advice, get OnX maps or something similar and use it. Much of the BLM is also leased for grazing and there are fences run across sections of BLM to control cattle movement. These fences mean nothing to you if you are hunting. A BLM grazing lease does NOT stop you from hunting that same ground. On the other hand, some state owned land is leased differently and you may, or may not be, able to access that property.
Again, this is where a call to the County Road Maintenance Department, can save you days of scouting. Also, call the local BLM office, there is one in Roswell, and they can tell you better than anyone what you can access. Side note, if you call the BLM Office ask to speak to one of the Law Enforcement personnel. Generally speaking the intern working the counter, answering the phones, won’t have the information you are looking for. Have specific properties in mind you wish to access, this will keep your conversations brief and make them feel like you’ve done some homework already. Fourth piece of advice, the more effort you put in, the more others will be willing to help you.
In the process of figuring out where you can get, I will add this final piece of advice. Pretend your elk hunting, you’re most likely not going to see any Barbary from your truck. Find the nastiest most remote pieces of land you can hunt and start looking there.
My brother, Tyson, was the only one who could make this hunt with me this year. We hunted for five days, hiked about 62 miles in that time and saw nine sheep total, in two groups! We camped on one of the pieces of BLM we were hunting, and had a good time doing it.
Don’t get discouraged when you aren’t seeing sheep every day, you probably won’t see any most days. Just embrace the grind, and remind yourself, you took vacation to do this, and you deserve every minute of it, you love it!
On Clint’s hunt it was day four before we saw our first sheep and day eight before we saw the second two groups and actually got shots at one. On my hunt it was day three the first time we saw sheep, and day five when we saw the second group and finally got a shot at one. The big ram I spoke of earlier was in the group of three we saw on day three.
Bring a spirited partner, Tyson was that for me. When we saw the big ram, we checked the maps and found it would be an eight mile hike to get to him. Tyson, never thought twice about it. He said, I brought a tent, we can stay out for two nights if we have to, “it will be totally worth it”. I was trying to decide whether it would actually be worth it or not, but wasn’t going to let him down. It was late in the afternoon so we decided to hike the four miles back to the Jeep and get our stuff ready for the next couple of days.
With packs loaded with water for two guys, for two days, and camping gear, we hiked the three miles from the Jeep and set up spike camp. From there we went after, “San Judas Tadeo”, as we started calling him. We never laid eyes on a single sheep that day, but did see about 70 Mule Deer. We froze our butts off night four, and day five went straight back to where we had last seen him. We had seen him limping slightly and hoped that combined with the +30mph constant winds would keep him holed up. No such luck, Saint Jude was nowhere to be seen again. We left out around 1400 hours, planning on making it back to the Jeep not wanting to freeze in a tent for another night were going to head back to our main camp.
Again, Tyson said why don’t we just head south on this other ridge and we can catch a drainage at the end that will take us back to camp. Hard to argue that logic, other than we were eight miles from the tent so far that day, and I was starting to get wore out.
We just sat under a Juniper to glass a large valley, and eat some lunch. Tyson had just got water boiling for his Mountain House, when I spotted a group of six sheep, a mile away and on the move (Seeing the pattern yet?). I told Tyson we may be able to head them off, but we had to move. Tyson poured the water in the bag, sealed it up, threw it in his pack and said let’s go. We headed south along the border of a big ranch and the BLM we were hunting. We were almost to the end of the BLM and Tyson said let’s go one more draw. We crested the next draw and Tyson spotted the sheep in the bottom, 402 meters away. I adjusted my elevation knob to 1.0 mils, ran a wind calculation in my head. Rounding it off to .5 mils, I let one fly from a seated position off my backpack. Swing and a miss! I should have held about .2 mils of wind, causing me to miss just in front of her. All six sheep ran about twenty meters closer. I made the windage adjustment, held on the sheep with the biggest horns and good chaps, and smoked her right in the boiler room.
Now I’m shooting a .338 Norma, with a 270 gr. ELD-X at about 2800 fps, so it’s got some knock down power. The entrance was caliber size and the exit was about the size of a plum. That sheep took it like it nothing happened and ran 75 yards before stopping behind a small bush. She was still standing and Tyson said she’s going to go down. I shot again to make sure she did. When we got to her, we found the first hit had totally destroyed her lungs, breaking one rib on the way in and two on the way out. It shows how tough these animals really are.
From where we shot the sheep, we hiked about three miles to the head of a drainage that would eventually take us back to the Jeep. We dropped our packs there, made a two mile detour back to retrieve our camp. Then, just a three mile hop, skip, and a jump back to the Jeep. All this put us a little over 16 miles on the day! We headed in to town to call our wives and take showers, happy to be done hiking.
That ended the 2020 big game season for both of us. We broke our main camp the next day and headed back to “God’s Country”, Western Colorado! I hope this encourages someone else to go on a DIY Public Land hunt in another state, for something you’ve never seen! At least now you’ll have an idea of what you’ll be getting in to. And if it’s Barbary you’re after, follow the rules in bold letters and GOOD LUCK!
“Public Land Parishioner”
Clint and I 2019
Tyson and I 2020
Couldn't be happier!