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Exotic game species stresses desert bighorn sheep in Texas

Texas barbary sheep

Photo credit: Shutterstock

An African import has turned too prolific in Texas. Aoudads—also known as Barbary sheep—were brought to the Lonestar State in the 1950s as exotic game, but, now, according to Froylan Hernandez of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the non-native species has overpopulated to the point of hurting native desert bighorn sheep.

Hernandez is TPWD’s desert bighorn sheep program leader and spends time in a helicopter every summer, counting bighorn sheep. Unfortunately, he tends to see more aoudads than sheep during his aerial tally because the wild populations have thrived in the “dry, rocky terrain”—a terrain that is also home to roughly 1,500 native desert bighorn sheep thanks to careful recovery efforts orchestrated by the state, the Texas Standard reports.

“It’s not uncommon for us, when we’re flying, to see groups of two and three hundred,” said Hernandez. “They can pose a great threat to bighorns, not just [from] a competition-for-resource standpoint but also from a disease-threat standpoint.”

Because of the speed at which aoudads have flourished, they’ve become “a speed bump on the desert bighorns’ road to population growth,” according to the Texas Standard. Coupled with competition for habitat, several aoudads recently tested positive for the strand of bacterial pneumonia that has caused massive die-offs in bighorn sheep populations across the West. 

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This is why Hernandez will often cull aoudads with landowner permission while he’s completing his bighorn sheep aerial surveys. However, not every landowner is keen on having Hernandez remove the invasive animals because they’ve become popular among hunters—and hunters will often pay guides thousands of dollars for help in locating a trophy ram. Ans a portion of that money goes back to the landowner.

“A lot of that’s because of the publicity they’ve gotten over the past five or 10 years. They weren’t really looked at as a sporting animal that much; they weren’t really known to most people,” Bob Daugherty told the Texas Standard

Daughtery has been guiding aoudad hunts on land near Presidio for the past nine years. Because the animals are considered invasive, Texas does not have a limit on the number of aoudads a hunter can kill; however, because of the tough terrain, many hunters hire guides like Daughtery

“You know, I’ve been guiding all my life, and next to calling in bugling elk, aoudad – that’s my favorite hunt. And then, when a guy hunts them, I probably get a 70% percent return rate,” said Daugherty.

Because of this newfound interest among hunters—and the economic gain for guides and landowners—Hernandez believes that aoudads will never be fully removed from the state, despite the threat to native desert bighorns.

7 Comments

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tonechaser88
shawn f. - posted 2 weeks ago on 09-04-2019 07:13:46 am
Clovis New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

Very tough issue, I see the same type of situation happening on the sacremento rim in NM. They reintro DBH sheep in this area not long ago. The Aoudad though have been thriving in those mountains for years and years. I have a deep admiration for the aoudad and don't want to see them on the losing end of this issue but also understanding that a native species has priority over a non-native invasive species on the landscape. Furthermore complicating the issue though is the $$ and, in Texas, the $$ is going to be king. I'd love to see some more Barb opportunity in NM where desert bighorns would not be re-introduced. I've had lengthy conversations about Barbary sheep management with Conservation officers in NM, they do not get a whole lot of attention until Bighorns become part of the discussion. Be interesting to follow this TX issue.

SETH D. - posted 2 weeks ago on 09-03-2019 10:03:19 am
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

One more consideration. A private land over the counter desert bighorn sheep tag from Ted Turner Ranches is about $80,000. A private land New Mexico over the counter Aoudad hunt is about $2800-4000 in a good area. We don't get the same quality of Aoudad they do in West Texas, with a 28 incher being really good.

SETH D. - posted 2 weeks ago on 09-03-2019 09:54:01 am
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

The West Texas Aoudad/Barbary Sheep issue is a tough one. Most private land trespass hunts in Texas for Aoudad are $1850-3400, and most guided hunts are $2800-10,000. So getting rid of Aoudad would be a financial loss to anyone that had them and was selling hunts.

Texas has made Desert Bighorns a game animals, so even if the rancher wanted them on his property they couldn't manage them like they could aoudad or even elk (they are also considered to be an exotic in Texas).

I drew a Texas peccary tag on a area that has desert bighorn sheep, and I can kill other exotics that I come across even if it is an elk.

Aoudad are a great sheep hunt in rough terrain.

SETH D. - posted 2 weeks ago on 09-03-2019 09:54:02 am
Sunny New Mexico
goHUNT INSIDER

The West Texas Aoudad/Barbary Sheep issue is a tough one. Most private land trespass hunts in Texas for Aoudad are $1850-3400, and most guided hunts are $2800-10,000. So getting rid of Aoudad would be a financial loss to anyone that had them and was selling hunts.

Texas has made Desert Bighorns a game animals, so even if the rancher wanted them on his property they couldn't manage them like they could aoudad or even elk (they are also considered to be an exotic in Texas).

I drew a Texas peccary tag on a area that has desert bighorn sheep, and I can kill other exotics that I come across even if it is an elk.

Aoudad are a great sheep hunt in rough terrain.

Carl B. - posted 2 weeks ago on 09-02-2019 10:45:03 pm

Barbary sheep are a much tougher animal and have adapted very well . Only idiots who want more money want them gone. Barbary only fetch a few hundred for a tag here in new mexico. Where a big horn sheep fetches thousands of dollars so greed has raised its ugly head once again. What about the little guy folks everything cant be about money.......oh yeah never mind it already is ....

Drakeventures
Dan D. - posted 2 weeks ago on 09-02-2019 08:24:02 pm
RIGBY, ID
goHUNT INSIDER

U just need the texas hunting license. No tags required. However, most hunting ground is private, so getting onto a piece to hunt often requires and outfitter or good relationship with landowner.

Nicholas K. - posted 2 weeks ago on 09-02-2019 06:26:07 pm
Quarryville, PA
goHUNT INSIDER

I see that in New Mexico a non resident draw is $380. How does this work in Texas? If there is no limit do hunters need tags or just a standard non resident hunting license?