The area surrounding Del Rio, Texas, does not look like sheep territory€¦not even close. This is pure on-the-border Texas brush country. The terrain is mostly pancake flat, with a few canyons and drainages cut into the landscape. There's not a rise that could be considered more than a steep, albeit rocky, hill. This is not a place you'd expect to find hunters in search of sheep.
But outside of high fences and pricey ranches that dot the roads around Del Rio, the brush gives way to a huge population of free-range Barbary sheep, better known as aoudad.
These stout exotics are born of the rough, barren, and waterless ground of Northern Africa, and they enjoy arid climates, steep cliffs, and canyon hideaways.
Aoudad were first introduced into the Palo Duro Canyon area of Texas in 1957, after soldiers stationed on the Barbary Coast during World War II decided they would make fine game animals in the similar Lone Star climate.
Ranches and high fences were not enough to hold the sheep, and they began to reproduce and spread quickly around the region. Estimates have populations around 28,000-plus in Texas today, with their most notable habitat being the Trans-Pecos region — most hunters picture these mountain-dwellers in the rockier habitat of the Davis Mountains.
No matter what seems to be a lack of hardcore habitat, the aoudad do quite well in the flat land. They're as tough as the cowboys this country produces, old males weathered and worn, the hide on their foreheads beaten down from hit after bone-crunching hit.
I've never seen it in person, but it seems to me that two aoudad rams facing off would be quite the sight. Butting battles are all about force — picture two locomotives slamming together, sometimes at speeds up to 20 mph — with enough power to make a crash-test dummy crumble. Some say the forehead crack can be heard from up to a mile away.
The ram I took home from Del Rio was one of this sort, an old boy that had seen his fair share of challengers. His forehead looked like a tattered road map, with lines and cracks twisting in every direction and hairless patches rubbed black with dirt.
He was a 10-plus-year-old stud — the equivalent of a 180-inch whitetail or a 350-inch bull — with horns 31 1„2 inches in length and tons of mass. He was the talk of camp€¦that is until fellow hunter Matt Rice's 32-inch giant bested him the next day.
To take down this built-like-a-horse beast, I employed the Smith & Wesson M&P10. In fact, the point of my trip to Del Rio was to field-test the newest AR in .308, in what would become a quick and dirty (although successful) Texas affair.
Tough Tested 10
Going into the hunt, I knew that the aoudad sported a tough, thick hide that would require some punch, and the shots could be relatively long. Rams are also known to leave little to no blood trail.
Given this evidence, it was clear that a flat-shooting, hard-hitting caliber would be required, making the .308 Win. a logical choice. Not to mention that like many game animals indigenous to Africa, these bastards have a will to live like you've never seen.
Having had significant experience with Smith & Wesson's M&P platform on various levels — from range time with the M&P15 to plinking with the venerable M&P15-22 — I was familiar with the ins and outs of the line. Now it was time to put the M&P10 (S&W's long-awaited large-lower-receiver M&P version) to the test.
Before picking up an out-of-the-box AR and heading into the field, I normally have three top-level hunting requirements (among the many, many other considerations): It has to be lightweight, versatile, and, of course, accurate. The M&P10 fit this bill pretty damn well.
For the regular guy who just wants an AR with more knockdown power, this offering handles like any other semiauto you've ever shot. The rifle weighs in at just a tick over eight pounds with no add-ons, which is just a pound heavier than popular bolt guns like the Remington 700. Even when you add the optic of your choice, the rifle likely won't break the nine-pound barrier.
It comes from the factory dressed in a Realtree camo finish with a fixed, slim profile Magpul MOE stock, a simple plastic M4-type handguard, and an 18-inch 4140 steel barrel, which is shorter than most hunting rifles but won't (and didn't) tangibly affect performance.
When hoofing through the cactus-filled landscape around Del Rio, it was a pleasure to carry the light, ergonomic rifle, and I can see enjoying these features on a Western elk hunt or when climbing into a deer stand. The recoil is more than manageable, as long as you keep in mind that this definitely isn't a .223.
On the versatility side of things, the M&P10 offers an ambidextrous bolt release, safety and magazine release — particularly handy for the awkward shooting positions you can encounter on spot-and-stalk missions and just a general upgrade from other AR-10s on the market.
The M&P10 sports a flattop receiver and low-profile gas block that both feature sections of MIL-STD-1913 rail for mounting an optic and backup iron sights if you so choose. The railed block makes it easy to co-witness the two, which is a helpful alternative.
The accuracy test was a three-day-long process during this hunt with an hour-long range portion to kick things off. On first impression the trigger on the M&P10 left a ton to be desired. It's a decent factory trigger, but at over six pounds, it has a lot of creep. Most folks who are looking for true precision will replace this with something from Geissele or Timney, but the factory version wouldn't deter me from buying this rifle.
That's mostly because when I first picked up the M&P10 it was no problem to slap targets at 100 and 200 yards, using a shooting rest of course. I shot several sub 2-inch groups, and was confident right off the bat that the aoudad were in trouble.
The next morning I set off with my guide, Korey Reichert of Acorn Outfitters, a passionate hunter and full-time Deputy U.S. Marshal with the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.
After an early morning spent watching a food plot where Reichert had seen several big rams days before, we moved on — there was actually little hunting that morning: I was too busy listening to Korey's numerous stories about kicking in doors and smacking down fugitives. After the first few hours in the truck, I was convinced that this dude was at a badass level at least close to Walker, Texas Ranger. If only the sheep had skipped a few child support payments€¦but I digress.
That afternoon, after spotting and not stalking for a few hours in the hot Texas sun, Korey decided it was time to hit the honey hole. A bit early for this last-ditch attempt, but this was a two-day hunt and we wanted to get a ram down€¦soon.
As the truck came to a stop in a cloud of dust, Korey gave me that look, as if to say "Don't mess this up! There's a big ram right over this hill!" I nodded with a nervous twitch and slammed the five-round magazine home.
We trekked cautiously for what seemed like no time at all until the truck faded behind the brush and the thick cover opened up into a sloped drainage, pushing forward into a modestly rocky canyon. I glassed the open space for brown specs in the rimrock€¦nothing.
"Right here, right the hell here," Korey said, throwing a right hook between my shoulder blades.
Before I could look up, I caught a group of aoudad (20 or more) scurrying up the hillside 100 yards to our left. Korey threw up the shooting sticks, and I buried the M&P10 into the fork. Now I had to pick out and zero in on the shootable ram €¦not easy.
It was a frantic few seconds before the right one flashed into my view. He stopped at 128 yards in the midst of the craziness, and I squeezed. The bullet smacked him through the top of the front shoulder and down into the vitals. He collapsed. But it wasn't over yet. It took two more .308 rounds to finish the deal.
"Ram down!" was satisfying to hear from my door-kicking, handcuffing guide, and the M&P10 made the opportunity count.
My only question: Was this a proper field test? Did I challenge this rifle enough on this one-day hunt? The answer was obvious; the M&P10 performed every task required and did so quite admirably. The advertised features worked.
This Del Rio brush country test proved the M&P10 to be versatile, accurate, and hunt-ready.
Blaser R8 Professional Success
One of the most innovative and unique rifles to debut at the 2014 SHOT Show was the Blaser R8 Professional Success
rifle. The Professional Success is a modified version of the company's existing R8 line-up, which uses the highest quality materials and is built with the highest standards in the industry.
Of course, with an MSRP of more than $4,500, you should expect nothing but the best. Instead of rotating the bolt to chamber another shell, the R8 only requires a quick pull-back of the bolt. The Professional Success uses the same reliable barrel, action and trigger, but it's mounted on an ergonomic pistol-grip stock. The trigger assembly and box magazine are a single, detachable unit, making the rifle one of the safest available. The Professional Success is also available in a left-handed model and dozens of calibers.
Browning X-Bolt Micro Buckthorn Pink
More kids are getting involved in the shooting sports and more young ladies are joining the ranks, as well. Browning
is hoping to capture that market with the addition of its new X-Bolt Micro Buckthorn Pink
rifle. It's a scaled-down version of Browning's venerable X-Bolt with a stock covered in pink, black and white Buckmarks.
It's chambered in .243, 7mm-08, .308, .270 WSM and .300 WSM, and it has a length-of-pull of just over 13 inches. It comes with a detachable box magazine, a top tang safety, a free-floating barrel and an adjustable trigger.
extended its M2012
line-up by adding three new bolt-action models in partnership with Cooper Firearms. Two stock configurations are available in .308 and one is chambered in .260 Remington.
The guns are ideal for a variety of applications, but they excel in long-range hunting and shooting thanks to a custom-fluted, chrome moly steel, match-grade barrel and a single-stage, adjustable Timney trigger. The .308 and .260 come with a handsome gray laminated hardwood stock and a Desert tan composite stock M2012 is also available in .308.
2,795 to 3,195
CZ Western Series 550 Badlands Magnum
Long-range hunting is the hottest trend in big game hunting right now, and numerous rifle makers are jumping on the train. CZ
is one of them. The company's new Badlands Magnum
is made for the wide-open spaces of the west and big game that is so abundant in the mountains and prairies.
Chambered in hard-hitting, flat-shooting .338 Lapua, the Badlands Magnum comes with a 25-inch medium-weight barrel, a recoil-taming muzzle brake and a full-length aluminum bedding block. At 9.2 pounds, it's not a light rifle, but the extra weight will help you stay on target and make a better shot at any distance. It also comes with an adjustable trigger and a fixed four-round magazine.
Howa Hogue Kryptek
Predator hunters and target shooters have the perfect package gun in Howa's Hogue Kryptek Full Dip package
. It comes in three Kryptek camo patterns that cover the stock, barrel and even the included 4-16x44 Nikko Stirling Gameking mounted and bore-sighted scope.
The rifle comes with a heavy, 20-inch barrel and is available in .22-250, .223 and .308. It also includes a two-stage, creep-free match trigger, a Hogue recoil pad and a three-position safety. It weighs 10 pounds and comes with Howa's Ammo Boost magazine conversion kit.
Kimber 84M Adirondack
Some rifles claim to be light and compact, but at a mere 4 pounds, 13 ounces — and with a barrel that measures just 18 inches — Kimber's new Adirondack Rifle
lives up to the claims. It's chambered in .308 and 7mm-08 and is perfect for long hours in a treestand, or long days slinking through thick brush and rugged mountains. It's also a great-looking rifle.
The action and barrel are stainless steel, while the reinforced carbon fiber stock is wrapped with Gore's Optifade Forest camo. The Adirondack's barrel is threaded for a muzzle break and the stock includes a 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad.
Mossberg MVP 762
Mossberg's popular MVP line-up
just got a little larger with the addition of a .308/7.62 NATO version. The MVP line accepts AR-style magazines, and the MVP Flex line looks very much like an AR platform rifle, including an adjustable butt stock and a pistol grip, but it's a bolt-action rifle. It's also available with a standard stock.
It comes in a variety of configurations, including a bull barrel, a flash-suppressor barrel and a barrel threaded for a sound suppressor. The Patrol model comes with a 16.25-inch barrel, a Picatinny rail and a 10-round magazine.
681 (rifle) or 829 (scope and rifle)
Ruger American Revolution
Building on the smashing success of its American line of bolt-action rifles, Ruger
is upping the ante by offering a scoped rifle package. Called the American Revolution
(A Ruger American rifle topped with a Redfield Revolution
scope. Get it? American...revolution?), it takes the guesswork out of buying and mounting a scope.
The package combines affordability, accuracy and quality at a low price of just $679. The rifle is available in seven popular calibers including .22-250 and .308 and has a 22-inch barrel and weighs between 7 and 7 1/4 pounds, depending on caliber. The scope is a 3-9 power and has multi-coated glass and a 4-Plex reticle.
Savage Axis II Xp
is just one of a growing number of gun makers to offer a high-quality, no-frills bolt-action rifle at a price point anyone can afford. The Axis is a straight-shooting, reliable tool that gets the job done. This year, Savage improved the Axis by adding an adjustable AccuTrigger and a mounted and bore-sighted 3-9x40 Weaver Kaspa scope. The Axis II Xp package
is ideal for hunters and shooters under a time crunch, or for new hunters who may not want to go through the trouble of mounting and bore-sighting a scope.
The adjustable trigger allows anyone the freedom to customize the rifle to fit their form and shooting technique. The Axis II is available in eight calibers and it is also available in a youth model and a pink camo girl's model complete with a matching scope.
T/C Venture Predator
isn't a new rifle this year. Neither is the Predator version, but it's a gun worth mentioning because it's one of the best rifles for predator hunters everywhere. Wrapped in Realtree HD Max-1 or Realtree HD AP Snow Composite, predator hunters can hide in plain sight in any situation.
Hogue grips on the forestock and pistol grips allow for a firm hold even with gloved hands. The Venture Predator is chambered in .204 Ruger, .22-250, .223, .243 and even .308 and 7mm-08. It weighs just 6.75 pounds, making it a great rifle for hunters who don't mind chasing coyotes and cats on foot. The Predator also has an adjustable trigger, a corrosion-resistant bolt and an available matching scope.
Is the youth and 20-something market a worthy target? Weatherby
certainly thinks so. The company unveiled its new WBY-X line-up
of shotguns and rifles. The bolt-action rifles are built on the same Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 actions and barrels, but with an extreme new look designed to appeal to a younger demographic.
The Whitetail Bonz, for example, uses images of antlers to make a camo pattern; Boneyard Camo Blaze incorporates images of flames on the stock; and the Hog Reaper uses hog skulls to create a camo pattern. There are also use models with adjustble stocks to fit young shooters as they grow. The various models come in a variety of calibers, from lighter centerfires up to .300 Weatherby Magnum.
Winchester Model 73
name is synonymous with history, and the new Model 73 Case-Hardened lever-action
will take you back to a different era. The rifle isn't just a historical artifact. It's a straight-shooting, reliable gun that is as fun to shoot as it is functional.
The Model 73 has a full-length magazine tube that holds 10 rounds, a 20-inch barrel and a color case-hardened crescent butt plate, receiver, lever and loading gate. It's available in .357, .44-40 and .45 Colt.
Ambush 6.8 SPC II
Ambush Firearms, a division of Daniel Defense, offers comfort and takedown power with the Ambush 6.8 SPC II
rifle (Ambush also has offerings in 5.56mm and .300 Blackout). At 7.3 pounds, the 6.8 SPC II is a relatively lightweight, modular offering. It comes with a 18-inch hammer forged barrel, adjustable stock, and a free-floating, modular rail. Oh yeah, and it's got a lifetime guarantee.