Accessing Peak Performance

On a West Texas hunt, where shots can go long, a capable rifle is only part of the equation. Success requires peak performance from the shooter, too.

by
posted on May 15, 2024
Accessing Peak Performance Lead

“Wait here for a few minutes. I’m going to try to slip around the side of these rocks and see if they’re over there,” Terry said. Red-faced and sweaty, I took a large, refreshing swig of water and leaned against the cool rockface behind me, willing myself to look out at the stunning panorama of the West Texas Chinati Mountains that the high vantage point offered. Better that than look down at the steep drop-off just feet in front of me that was sure to turn my stomach.

West Texas steep, rocky mountain.Steve Rokks

We had spotted a group of aoudad on the high, shadowy peak a few hours earlier that held what looked to be at least one mature ram. From our vantage, accessing the herd in their current location was going to be out of the question. They were roughly 700 yards out, and even though I felt confident with a shot inside of 500 yards, we would most certainly be busted before getting to that point, so we decided to take the long route and sneak around and up the back of the rocky mountainside.

The AllTerra Arms Mountain Shadow Carbon rifle in my hands was new to me, but I had spent the two days prior getting plenty acquainted with it. In addition to being fortunate enough to receive a crash course in long-range shooting—spending a significant amount of time on the range shooting at various distances out to 1,000 yards and learning how to utilize the natural terrain to build a solid rest for better accuracy—I also came away with a stark impression of what this fine rifle is capable of in the right hands. And it’s a good thing I did, because though aoudad are fairly plentiful out here, shots at aoudad are not. It was going to take plenty of patience and a potentially long shot to pull this off.

There are at least three parts to almost every big-game hunt: the stalk, the rifle and the shooter. If all three aren’t up to the task, then you might as well stay at home. Terry had proven his stalking skills many times over, and the rifle I was carrying, I found, was capable of accuracy at longer ranges than I would ever be comfortable shooting at game. As for the shooter, well, we all have our limits.

Based out of Boise, Idaho, AllTerra Arms has been churning out top-notch precision long-range hunting rifles since 2015. The Mountain Shadow Carbon is one of five custom-built rifle platforms the company offers. Available chambered in 10 of the latest high-BC beauties (I was shooting Hornady’s new 7mm PRC), the rifle starts with AllTerra’s proprietary Carbon Hunter stock. Hand-laid of carbon fiber, the Carbon Hunter is incredibly lightweight and rigid, providing the ideal platform for hunters covering a lot of country on foot. It sports a raised cheekpiece, negative comb, vertical pistol grip and a short section of Picatinny rail out front. A TriggerTech Primary trigger comes standard, and the 700-style action can be paired with either a Hawkins BDL hinged floorplate, or, in the case of my rifle, configured with a Hawkins Hunter DBM flush-mounted box mag well.

AllTerra Arms bolt action rifle on shooting bench.

Fitted with a Sendero contour carbon-fiber barrel (also made in-house) of either 20 (6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC) or 22 inches, the Mountain Shadow Carbon is topped with AllTerra’s V4T muzzle brake, though for this hunt, I swapped it out for a HUXWRX suppressor. The barrel is both cut rifled and button pulled, and lapped to near perfection. The receiver is made from solid bar stock of 416 stainless and is EDM machined using electrified wire to ensure it’s cut to the concentric center. The bolt, also cut from solid billet, is coated with an almost slippery nickel boron and is fluted for buttery smooth cycling. Even the fire-control system within the bolt has been perfected for accuracy, down to the fluted firing pin and floating firing pin spring that provide an ultra-fast lock time, which, according to AllTerra, goes a long way in reducing the effects of flinching.

While those premium components are impressive, it’s what you can’t see that really sets AllTerra apart from the crowd—a harmonically tuned action and barrel mating system, the key to repeatable accuracy. AllTerra’s near perfect bolt-to-bore alignment is achieved via two precise seating rings located on either side of the barrel threading. Known as the Dual-Lock Barrel Seat; when the barrel is threaded into the receiver, those rings “seat” into machined sleeves in the receiver wall, ensuring solid contact at these two points and the perfect barrel-to-bore alignment. This precise alignment results in balanced harmonics and an incredibly accurate bullet launch.  

But putting such a top-notch rifle in your hands doesn’t guarantee success, of course. One must have the ability to use such a rifle in order to reach the finish line of a successful hunt. I’ll admit on the front end that I’m lucky—and so was the aoudad and any future game I might set my sights on—that I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the range with Terry. The man is a legend, literally, with a past that would make James Bond shake in his polished loafers. Retired Master Chief Terry Houin is a 26-year Navy SEAL veteran, with operational experience all over the world. He’s got more action under his diving belt than I felt comfortable even imagining. His distinguished career, 17 years of which were spent at a Tier 1 command, has earned him a wealth of knowledge on rifles, ballistics and optics that is second to none.

Male shooting rifle prone on shooting range.Steve Rokks

I was a sponge, soaking up as much as I could while trying to maintain some semblance of self-esteem amongst such a contrast of skill. As a shooter and hunter, I will always trail miles behind such a man as Terry, but his humble tutelage pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of, extending my maximum range, and my confidence, in the field.

I grew up hunting in the East where shots at whitetail rarely stretch beyond 200 yards. And though I’ve had a few opportunities to hunt out West—my longest shot at game being 350 yards on a New Mexico elk—it was made clear that this hunt could easily require a shot farther than that. Aoudad, also known as barbary sheep, are an exotic species brought from northern Africa to Texas in the 1950s. Since then, populations have flourished, and pockets of free-ranging aoudad can be found all over the arid mountain peaks of West Texas. In addition to being difficult to spot due to their ability to seemingly disappear into their rocky surroundings, they have incredible eyesight, which makes it challenging to close the distance and get a shot before they bust you and disappear over the top of the ridgeline.

That’s just what we were hoping to avoid. As I said, we had spotted a group near the skyline of a rocky ridge with what appeared to be a shooter ram in the mix. With no cover to allow us to get closer without certain detection by keener eyes, our decided task now was to hike in from behind and hope to get into acceptable shooting range unnoticed.

Female hunter looking through binoculars for aoudad in Texas.Steve Rokks

Getting there was no easy task. Steep would be somewhat of an understatement. Aoudad live up high, so naturally, you’ve got to get up there with them. So we climbed. Out and up, over crags and rocks, careful and deliberate with each step forward. One slip and it would have been over—a broken ankle, or worse, God forbid. But we pushed on. Slowly. Safely. Nearing the top, we paused to collect ourselves, and Terry snuck a few yards ahead to scope out the terrain on the other side.

Just as my heart rate slowed to a mildly acceptable pace, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see Terry waving to get my attention. His thumbs-up and smile needed no deciphering. I grabbed my rifle and started toward him, crouching low to stay hidden behind the rocks. “There’s a real nice ram standing out in the open in that bottom, he’s only a couple hundred yards out.”

“Seriously? Standing out in the open?” I couldn’t help but let out a small chuckle. I’d spent a solid day and a half trying to spot these dirt-colored critters as they dipped in and out of the rocky outcroppings, and now a legal ram was standing out in the open. I wasn’t about to complain.

We quickly located a shooting platform, a waist-high rock shelf a few yards away, and crawled our way to it. Terry pointed out the ram below us, slowly feeding his way across the saddle, as I carefully positioned my pack on the shelf and slid my rifle atop it.

“You on him? He’s at 498,” he said. “I’m on him. You said 498?” I replied.

Female hunter resting rifle on rock preparing for shot on Texas aoudad.The AllTerra Arms Mountain Shadow, along with a spotter like Master Chief Terry Houin, can make the difference when shots go long. Steve Rokks

“Yep. No wind to worry about.” I dialed the Kahles K318i and hugged up to my rifle, pulling the pack in tight and tucked under my right elbow. “Whenever you’re ready,” he whispered. “Ready.” I clicked off the safety, took a deep breath, found my perfect moment and squeezed the trigger. Click.

“Great trigger squeeze. Now chamber a round.” If Terry hadn’t been so calm as he said that, I might have lost my nerve right then and there. But he kept his composure, his eyes never leaving his bino. “I can’t believe I just did that,” I blurted out, holding back louder emotions of embarrassment and frustration. Silently chastising myself, I quickly worked the bolt and prepared my mind to repeat the shot that felt so good, but clearly wasn’t.

Terry didn’t allow any time for self-loathing. “He has no idea you did that. He’s in the same spot, still facing left, head is down,” he said. “Now relax, breathe. Nice and easy squeeze, whenever you’re ready.” Boom!

Female hunter posing with West Texas aoudad.Steve Rokks

The hike down to the ram was far more challenging than the hike up. Adrenaline still pumping away, my legs were essentially Jell-O. The decline was water-slide steep, and grabbing onto anything for support was out of the question unless I desired a handful of cactus needles. I was pretty much guaranteed a few tumbles.

Female hunter carrying aoudad meat in backpack down mountain.Steve Rokks

By the time I walked up to my aoudad, I was sweaty, covered in a thick layer of dust and, despite my best efforts, had cactus needles embedded in more places than my hands, all of which I was blissfully unaware of in the moment. Instead, I knelt down in thanks, basking in the overwhelming sense of appreciation and gratitude for the magnificent animal before me and the knowledge and friendships gained.


Cibolo Creek Ranch historical fort.

Cibolo Creek Ranch
Located in the picturesque Cienega Mountains, Cibolo Creek Ranch is one of the oldest ranches in Texas, where historical artifacts, art and antiques create a unique, authentic 19th century atmosphere. Guests stay in one of the property’s three forts that were constructed in the late 1850s by Big Bend pioneer Milton Faver as defenses along the Comanche Trail.Two males standing at wood table inside historical Cibolo Creek Ranch fort in Texas.

These forts have been meticulously restored to their former glory by referencing surviving photographs, government and private archives, Faver family memorabilia and input from former ranch residents. Through ongoing habitat restoration efforts, much of the vast 30,000-acre ranch has been returned to its pre-pioneer condition. No detail has been spared in creating a truly idyllic hunting experience. To book your hunt, visit cibolocreekranch.com.

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