How should I hold in this wind? While we were looking for the ram in the morning, I got a feel for how the vegetation behaved under various wind speeds. I had a pocket-size wind meter in my pack, and when a gust would blow across the top of the hill, I’d take a reading. Then I would compare the speed on the meter with the amount of movement the wind imparted to nearby cedar limbs.
The speeds on the meter seemed low at first, but then I realized the whippy limbs of the cedars didn’t take as much wind to move as those from the trees I used as indicators back home. I found that if I took 5 mph off my wind estimate based on the cedars, the result was pretty close to the actual speed.
Standing by the cedar, ready to make the last half of the climb to the sheep, I pegged the wind at about 10 mph, even though it looked more like 15. A glance at the chart on my rifle told me I’d need about 6 inches of hold-off at 300 yards and 11 inches at 400 yards. But that was only if the wind held steady and blew straight across in front of me when it came time to take the shot. I reminded myself to halve those values if the wind quartered.
Jared was in the lead as we pushed toward the rim of the valley, maybe 75 yards in front of John and me. I saw him drop to a crouch and throw his bino to his eyes. He had spotted the ram. We needed to get up to the guide now. I quickened my steps, and my heartbeat picked up the pace with them. I wasn’t out of breath when I knelt behind Jared, but I wasn’t breathing easy, either.
Will I be able to get steady with my heart hammering like this? The ram was a little more than 400 yards away, the thick curves of his horns clearly visible at 10X—that is, when I could keep the binocular from jumping along with the beat in my chest. The long hair running down the front of the ram’s legs—his chaps—fluttered in the wind. I wanted badly to make this shot, and to do that, I needed to get calm.
“We’re in good shape,” Jared whispered. “He doesn’t know we’re here.”
I put the glass down and took a couple deep breaths. We had spent all day working for this sheep. There was no reason to rush things now. I began to think about my shooting position. Considering the distance to the ram, I would need some kind of rest.
I wonder if I’ll be able to shoot prone. Undoubtedly, prone is my favorite position for long shots simply because it’s the steadiest. But it wasn’t going to work here. The rocks were too uneven for me to lie on, the grass too high to clear.
Jared handed me a set of shooting sticks. Sitting behind them with the rifle supported by the tripod was the next-best thing to prone. I had practiced from sticks many times. As I found the ram in the scope, I was glad for that practice. A little bounce and a bit of wobble remained, but the crosshair stayed on the ram’s chest.
The sheep had closed the distance while I was getting ready. There was just one complication: He was now positioned directly between me and the setting sun. The glare in my scope was so bad I could barely make out the ram’s silhouette.
“He’s at 328,” said Jared, reading his rangefinder. “Remember to hold a little for the wind.
Take the shot when you’re ready.”
“The sun’s blinding me,” I replied. “I can’t see to shoot.”
This was something I had not considered. I could hold for range and wind, but I couldn’t hold for sun. Jared hovered his hat over my scope, trying to block the rays.
“Does that help?” he asked.
“No, it’s shining right into my scope!”
I couldn’t take a shot at an animal I couldn’t clearly see. It was going to be another 20 or 30 minutes before the sun dipped below the horizon. Who knew where the sheep would go in that time. We couldn’t move to get a better angle; he was too close. What now?
The ram provided the answer by stepping into a patch of shade thrown by a group of cedars. I still had glare in my scope, but at least I could see the sheep. The green illuminated dot in the center of the Trijicon AccuPoint’s reticle stood out in sharp contrast against the aoudad’s dusky hide.
“Three-O-two,” said Jared.
It had been almost 12 hours since we first saw the ram. Twelve hours of steady questions had run through my mind. Now I addressed them clearly. The Nesika cracked, its muzzle rising from the sticks and causing me to lose the ram in the recoil. I chambered another round and searched with the scope, but the sheep was gone. There was one more question, and this one I asked out loud.
“He went right down!” John said. “He dropped right beside those cedars.”
That was the answer I had been seeking all day.