Great Marco Polo and Ibex hunt

Discussion in 'Hunting Asia & Middle East' started by Diamondhitch, May 14, 2014.

  1. Diamondhitch

    Diamondhitch AH Legend

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    After reading about Bruces failed hunt I figured I should get off my butt and finally post my Marco Polo hunt report. Hopefully this is a good pick-me-up for your next try Bruce.

    I am not sure where to begin.

    As soon as you start looking around Bishkek the old Soviet influence is overwhelming, Statue after statue, Mig Fighters on pedestals, the police uniforms really everything you see tells the story of where you are.

    Mixed in with this Soviet influence is little signs of pre-soviet Kyrgyzstan, ancient monuments, shrines and graveyards adorned with what has to be some of the oldest headstones known to man, carved with ancient tools and weathered by centuries, I am sure one could spend weeks just touring and never run out of sights to see.

    The drive from Bishkek to the hunting area just west of Chatyr Kul lake currently takes about 9 hours, just a few years ago it was double that and in a couple years it will be cut in half again, made possible by the new paved highways being built by the Chinese mining companies that are flooding in to take advantage of the Kyrgyz gold rush. The remaining sections of the old “highway” are little more than ill maintained gravel roads, winding their way through a maze of mountain.

    The hunting area is large and lies many miles from the nearest road. The base camp is a comfortable cabin accessible by Jeep along the Arpa river, a major wintering ground for sheep from as far away as China and Tajikistan. Numerous large wolf killed skulls attest to the quality of the rams that winter there.

    The rugged mountains to the north are full of Ibex, to the south lay miles of rolling hills at the foot of yet another expansive yet less rugged mountain range, this is where the Marco Polo live. Although less plentiful there are Ibex there as well.

    Normal October weather is around 5-10C during the day and -15 at night, along with snow the Sheep start heading to the low hills at this time of year. However the weather while we were there was 25C during the day and 0-10C at night, hardly ideal. The Sheep stayed up high and scattered making hunting difficult.

    Bands of young rams were plentiful. Nearly every day we saw at least 1 band, sometimes more but the big rams eluded us day after day.

    On the 1st day while riding in to sheep country I noticed a horn tip behind a big boulder. We investigated and were astonished to find a true giant, a wolf killed ram, 10 years old and broomed off at 67 3/8” with 15” bases. This ram is just 1cm smaller than the largest Ram ever recorded from Kyrgyzstan, an amazing find. Currently the other hunter, Dennis Harris of The artistry of Wildlife, is attempting to get the ram back to the states so he can restore and reproduce this monster.

    H1050009.JPG

    Day 1 brought many Ibex sightings and just at dark when moving down to set camp 4 rams were spotted. After a quick charge with the horses, down into a deep canyon and back up to the base of some cliffs, a short run when I could hardly breath enough to walk at 12500ft, and the biggest Billie presented a shot at more than 500yds and I had my 1st Ibex. No monster but a beautiful animal.

    H1040010.JPG

    After killing the billie the walk off the mountain was interesting to say the least, with a new moon and on the back side of the ridge I fell in every single Marmot hole all the way down! I arrived with no grudge against the beasts but we are no longer on speaking terms!

    photo2.JPG

    Another week of hunting and many bands of young rams later my guide, Ulan, was still working hard to get me to shoot a young ram. Finding an older ram this time of year is never easy and with the weather damn near impossible but I had no intention of shooting a youngster, 1st or last day.

    We had worked our way higher and higher into the back country and while setting up camp for the night Ekes spotted a band of Ibex with a large ram. My faith in getting a Marco Polo was fading so a plan was made to try for him in the morning.

    The following morning we attempted to close the gap with horses but were stopped short by a box canyon with the only way out in plain sight of the Ibex, we would have to stalk from there. 2600’ of cliff, sidehill, shale and 2hrs later we were laying 350yds from the closest rams.

    Ulan Judged the ram on the far left to be the big one but upon inspection I found he had almost no knobs or character on his horns and the ram next to him looked to be only slightly smaller and had very big knobs and a good deal more curve to his horns, I quizzed Ulan as to his size and he reluctantly answered 1 meter but quickly restated that the other was 1.1 Meters. I tried to tell him that I didn’t like the look of the bigger one and had him confirm 1 meter on the other then shot the smaller of the 2. He never twitched. Ulan retrieved the ram and we found that his estimate had been very poor, the ram was nowhere near 1 meter, still he is a beautiful trophy. Ekis had watched the 1.1meter ram walk off the back of the mountain, cross a glacier and disappear into china while we were making our stalk.

    The night before I had not been able to eat supper and now after retrieving the ram I was feeling odd and despite wanting to continue deeper into the mountains after Marco Polo something told me I better head back down so we did.

    A third of the way off the mountain I was feeling quite bad, by the midway point I was losing my balance and handed the lead rope to Ulan so he could lead my horse, 2/3 of the way down I got rid of my lunch and immediately regained a bit of my balance but still felt like death warmed over. When we hit the valley floor we took off on a long bouncy journey that I will not soon forget! We made it back to the 2 track in the middle of the night and the jeep was called to haul me the rest of the way back to base camp, I remained there for a couple days unable to eat or function. Not what I had planned for this adventure but the choice was not mine to make.

    The morning of the last day Kairat, the hunt organizer, asked me if I wanted to try one last time. We would have to take the horses from the lodge and quickly travel 30km to get into sheep county and he said we had time to hunt 1 extra day. I was still quite sick, in fact my condition had not improved in days but I was also not getting any worse and this was my last chance so I took it and headed out with Ulan and Ekes, besides maybe the previous nights blizzard in the high country had moved some rams down for us.

    photo.JPG

    Normally the guides like to lead the clients horses but I had refused this from day 1, Still I followed behind them. Ekis waved for me to ride up with them and I gladly did. I did not know it at the time but this trip had earned enough respect for them to elevate me from the status of hunter to a companion, one of the men as they would later relate to me through the translater.

    The long trip took its toll on me, I had not eaten in 5 days and it showed. I rested at the river, a 20 minute nap, and then again at the foot of the mountains. The guides glassed and I rested at each new vantage point. I was less of a hunter on this leg and more of a liability but at least I was there. That day no sheep were spotted.

    The next and last day we quickly covered as much ground as possible making the most of our limited time. A small band of rams was spotted and one of ewes but no shooters, I was again asked if I would shoot a small one and I declined. Another band was spotted far in the distance in the low hills, too far to get a good judge on horns, even for the guides. At the same time another band of small rams appeared above us and we (read Ulan and Ekes) glassed far ahead and saw nothing.

    I kept looking down towards the far off band and asked about getting a closer look, Ekis already had that plan in mind, we circled out of sight and rode the horses quickly down the ridge. Ekis swung his horse back and knowing the story Ulan and I did the same laying low to their necks to avoid detection. Out of sight, Ekis asked for the spotting scope and slid back up the ridge and just as quickly slid back down, “Big Ram” he said.

    Still far off we pressed on a new path ending just below the skyline on the backside of the ridge, we halter hobbled the horses and made our way the last few steps to the ridge, no rams were visible. Along the ridge we crept still not seeing the sheep. Over the top and angling back the way we had come we descended 1/3 of the way down before the feeding rams popped into view one by one.

    I slid into a sitting position ready to shoot, judging the rams through the scope of my loaded gun. The scope found a fine ram, a definite shooter. His tight curls immediately angled out from his head ending in a long ground parallel tip, still a younger, slighter horned ram of 5 but undoubtedly impressive all the same. The other rams did not impress me, all young. Just to be sure I had missed nothing I asked Ulan “which one”. He motioned to the left, “number 1”.

    This made no sense, that ram was puny? I waited and scanned for more rams finding none. Ulan softly hissed “shoot, shoot”. I waited to see what he saw and out he came, a gorgeous ram, not as well curled as the 1st but far deeper and heavier, also older. The ram walked quickly up to the others and through to the front of the band. Just to be sure I asked Ulan again, he quickly looked and said “number 1” and motioned to the right. The 2 big rams were side by side now and it was clear that there was no comparison between the 2 rams, although he was probably 10% bigger the deep ram looked twice as impressive, an easy choice between 2 great rams that I am glad I didn’t have to consciously make. I moved the crosshairs to the big rams chest and fired.

    The big ram hunched and trotted 30 yards in a small circle and lay down dead. The rest of the band bolted then waited for a few seconds for him before bolting yet again and were gone.

    I could not have asked for a better end to this hunt or a better ram. Lightly broomed at 49” sporting almost unheard of 17” bases the ram easily broke the 200” mark and fulfilled my every fantasy.

    Marcopolo.JPG photo4.JPG

    My trophies are now safely home, shipped as promised by the hunt organizer Kairat. There was some confusion with shippers including DHL losing the original export documents but Kairat rose to the occasion and handled everything from his end quite nicely. Due in part to a family medical issue and as references had indicated, Kairat took quite a while longer than promised to ship but did ship them without me having to hound him.

    Overall communication with Kairat was always prompt and effective. All aspects of the hunt were taken care of and Kairat went out of his way to please on many occasions. I would not hesitate to recommend Kairat and Arpa-Marko Polo to anyone interested in this type of hunt.

    Although the guides do a great job of skinning, fleshing and salting, the hide was marginally acceptable by CFIA and the skull as well barely slipped through customs. Fortunately they deemed it acceptable to go for “disinfection” and released. The new CFIA rules are strict and standards are exceedingly difficult to satisfy on the side of a mountain half way around the world. If you decide to do a trip like this make sure your hide is blood free and the skull peroxide bleached until it is very white and dry before packaging for shipment to prevent problems.

    I do not recommend trying to bring hides back to Canada in your luggage unless you have at least a week of good drying weather before your departure and do not bag or wrap your trophies until just before your flight departs. My Ibex were brought home with me and, despite appearing dry when bagged up, had already started to soften slightly by the time I arrived in Toronto and I was warned by CFIA that any softer would have been grounds for confiscation.

    Having religiously taken my 250mg of Diamox both morning and evening I had almost ruled out altitude sickness but still hoped that our descent on the way back to Bishkek would miraculously cure me and save me from a trip to the hospital. I was pleasantly surprised when 6 hours after our arrival I was peckishly eating my 1st meal in many days, I followed that with a modest supper and never looked back. AMS no doubt about it, I guess I am just a high risk for it.

    My 1st day in base camp at just under 10000 feet I found myself breathing a bit harder and with elevated pulse just from walking between the cabin and outhouse, a slight grade. Over the 1st week I walked when I could and improved to the point that as long as we were not climbing steeply I could walk as fast as the horses with ease, breathing only slightly harder than I would at home, even as high as 14600’. I was fit and ready to hunt but still no match for AMS, its true that it is non-selective, it can hit anyone at any time and apparently Diamox is not a cure all. If I ever do it again I will be increasing from the 500mg/day that I took to the max dosage of 1000mg/day and hopefully that will help out.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 14, 2014
  2. enysse

    enysse AH Ambassador

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    Congrats again on your success! Glad you had a good hunt! For 49 inches it still looks very nice.
  3. Diamondhitch

    Diamondhitch AH Legend

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    Thanks E, length is a poor indicator of size for this guy. There are only 3 rams listed in the book with bigger bases!
  4. enysse

    enysse AH Ambassador

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    Was that a old ram, that just never grew long horns?
    You know I like my horns to be massive!! If I ever see that dream waterbuck with smoke stacks for horns, I'll have died and gone to heaven!!!
  5. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR GOLD BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Eric, you are one tough guy and the luckiest SOB's I know (health wise).
    Glad it did not shift to HAPE or HACE.
    Dancing on the edge man.

    Great warning to take more time for me to acclimate if I tried this hunt.
    Me thinks its the reason they walk to base camp on Everest. :)

    Glad you squeaked through CFIA. That would have been a catastrophe.

    Your horse sense impressed obviously.
    Good warning about being able to judge trophies and make sure of the target before you shoot.
    Awesome control on your part.

    Nice shooting and great trophies.
    Shitty hunting conditions, shitty health and you pulled it off. Congrats.

    Thanks for the report.
  6. Diamondhitch

    Diamondhitch AH Legend

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    Thanks guys it was certainly a hunt I will not soon forget.

    Ya I should have continued descending I guess but with base camp at 10,000 feet and feeling more like I had a stomach virus or parasite or something I chose not to end my hunt. Probably a poor choice looking back but it did work out.

    E that ram was only 6!!! I can only imagine him at 12!
  7. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR GOLD BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Risky choice, very good it worked out.

    That ram was eating well somewhere!
  8. Wheels

    Wheels GOLD SUPPORTER AH Elite

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    Diamondhitch,

    Congratulations on your hard earned trophies. It sounds like you persevered through a lot to obtain them.

    HACE/HAPE is no respecter of persons. One of the best conditioned individuals I know (former NCAA Division I athlete) can't drive up Pikes Peak or through the Eisenhower Tunnel without the beginnings of HACE.

    Glad you got better when you dropped altitude. Also glad you didn't have to deal with a Bishkek hospital or doctors.

    If you do this again would you go the same time of year or try to wait for winter when the MP/MA are at lower altitude? Since you have been there do you think, what do you think the best time of the season is to hunt?

    Thanks for sharing your story and photos.

    All the best.
  9. Biddleman

    Biddleman AH Senior Member

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    Congrats on a great hunt. Glad you made it back in one piece. Just for future knowledge what type of conditioning did you do before you left?
  10. arizona

    arizona SILVER SUPPORTER AH Veteran

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    great report, thanks for sharing.
  11. enysse

    enysse AH Ambassador

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    Thanks for the feedback. The hunt is on the dream list for sure. I'm in terrible physical condition right now anyway. You were mentally and physically prepared for the hunt. I'm proud of your success. Either alone or with a partner I'd like to tackle the hunt someday.
  12. bluey

    bluey GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    been waiting for this hitch ,
    definitely worth the wiat ,man .
    congratulations on both your ibex and the marco polo .
    he is a bueatiful looking animal .certainly must be glad you punched through the altitude sickness,mate .
    and that pick up head ,is just the thing dreams are made of .
    now all we have to wait for is the finished photos of the taxidermy .
    great write up thank you ,hitch .
  13. Diamondhitch

    Diamondhitch AH Legend

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    Oh ya, no pressure to get the mount done now lol. I need some days off for that!

    I would love to have had a copy of that pickup but unfortunately Dennis found out that US F&W will not allow importation of pickups period... idiots.

    Thanks, I would definitely hunt the Ibex in sept-oct while they are up high but it is easier later on when they are lower. MP definitely should be hunted later on in the season, once they are well established on the winter range IMO.

    I start out in pretty good shape but I always do a lot of power hikes in steep terrain. Not necessarily long ones but try to better my time each time without overdoing it.

    I also did a lot of stretch/strengthening by standing with as little of the ball of my foot on the bottom step an lowering myself down until I get a good stretch then raising up on my toes as high as I can until exhaustion (doesn't take long lol) this makes a huge difference especially if you can only train on flat ground or stairs prior to going. (when actually climbing a mountain you spend most of your time with your weight on the front of your foot unlike on flat ground or stairs.

    And finally I spent some time in a cliffy boulder area just getting my balance in the rock/cliff ledges. (the real deal is still way more of a challenge!)

    Thanks man that means a lot.

    Definitely do it someday. Its awesome. as much as climbing sucks, just being up there is worth every step, drop of sweat and aching muscle!!! I just cant get enough of it.
  14. Diamondhitch

    Diamondhitch AH Legend

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    I like this new system. Have been to busy to get on in a long while but it is great!
  15. Royal27

    Royal27 BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Fanatic

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    Really enjoyed the report.

    And,hearing about how you trained. I like the stair routine. I'm going to use that for elk hunting. I've found that strength is as, if not more important, than endurance. The stronger the calves and feet the better.
  16. garyleach

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    Great job Hitch!!! Impressive bases on the sheep and personally i like the looks of the Ibek, congrates!!
  17. rnovi

    rnovi AH Veteran

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    Talk about rising to the challenge! Outstanding effort!

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