AH senior member
- Jan 5, 2015
- Reaction score
- Member of
- England, Scotland & Wales - Muntjac, Chinese Water Deer, Roe, Fallow, Sika Red, Goat, Soay Sheep, Wild Boar, Holland - Wild Boar, Germany - Wild Boar, Czech Republic - Mouflon, Spain - Ibex, South Africa - Various PG, France - Chamois, Majorca - Balearean Boc, Kyrgyzstan - Mid Asian Ibex
After doing a number of sheep and goat hunts over the past couple of years around Europe. I wanted to challenge myself both physically and mentally with a hunt that I have dreamt about since my passion for the capra and ovis species began. The largest capra species the mid Asian ibex resides in the high altitude Tian Shan Mountains also known as the rooftop of the world in the wonderful country of Kyrgyzstan. I was wanting a real adrenaline fuelled adventure with the hope of taking a mature billy. A couple of friends who had been on some of the previous mountain hunts with me had expressed interest and shared the same desire as I. There would have been three of us on this hunt, unfortunately one of them had to drop out midway through the preparation as his fledgling business was growing at a fast rate of knots, he predicted it may have needed attention over the 10 days we would be out of the continent.
Kyrgyzstan country consists more than 80% mountains which is nestled between Kazakhstan to the north, China to the east, Tajikistan to the south and Uzbekistan to the west. Although geographically isolated by its highly mountainous terrain this has helped preserve its ancient culture, Kyrgyzstan has historically been at the crossroads of several great civilizations, namely as part of the Silk Road and other commercial and cultural routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically come under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation-state only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
I did a lot of research before I booked the hunt, I got references from hunters around the globe before settling on the chosen outfitter.
The groundwork required for this hunt is like nothing I have prepared myself for before, I had to take into consideration hunting at high altitude, extreme temperatures, horse riding, no easy communication with the outside world in the case of emergency and the likelihood of a long range shot.
The preparation started the day of me transferring the deposit and agreeing the dates. We would be flying out on Saturday 29th October 2016 and would be due to return on Tuesday 8th November 2016. As there are no direct options a flight from London Heathrow to Bishkek – Kyrgyzstan, flying via Istanbul - Turkey was our only option. Annoyingly it seemed that British Airways in the past had offered direct flights to the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, this would of course made the travelling a lot easier and quicker, but experiencing the journey is all part of the escapade.
My next consideration was as the terrain where the hunt would take place, even at sea level the topography would have been hard on the legs and the lungs, let alone 4000 metres up. I needed to whip myself into better shape than I currently was in. I had to look forward to nights wearing an altitude mask whilst putting in the miles on my exercise bike, I also mixed my regime up with brisk dog walks over undulating terrain in my local Northamptonshire.
To be wholly prepared for the high altitude I arranged a prescription of Diamox tablets, we would be sleeping at 3000 metres which is nearly 10,000 feet with the potential of climbing to over 4000 metres (13,500 feet) in pursuit of game. Altitude sickness can hit anyone regardless of age or fitness, so better to be safe than sorry and have the Diamox at hand should I need it.
The extreme temperatures was one of the factors that I feared the most, night-time temperatures could drop to -30°C (-22°F). So I bought a suitable sleeping bag which actually cost more than my first car!! It would be a worthwhile investment for future cold or high altitude hunts, so buy once cry once!! I already owned quality merino wool thermals and had further merino and alpaca wool jumpers that would work very well in my layering system. My outwear was made up of the Härkila Pro Hunter jacket and trouser combination, which I knew would be more than adequate for the job in hand. I decided to purchase some new boots that were designed for the potential of -30°C temperatures, these will be used for future expeditions, expensive but definitely worth it.
Up until this hunt was booked I had ridden a horse for all of 5 minutes. So a steep learning curve was ahead. I did have the upper hand that for the best part of 2 years I had taken my daughters to riding lessons at least once every two weeks. With the constant verbal direction from the riding instructor my daughters had been subjected to, a lot of the theory was already instilled into my brain. So as long as I could turn theory into practise I should be OK! I spent around 5 hours in the saddle prior to my expedition, initially learning the basics of walking and trotting, quickly progressing to cantering, which was all I thought I may do whilst on my Kyrgyz horse. Although not everyone chooses to wear a riding hat when on a hunt like this, having lost a friend in a riding accident a few years ago that could have been avoided by wearing a hat, I would definitely be finding space in my luggage.
Regarding safety and communication in the mountains, my family were already worried regarding my plans of chasing goats around the peaks of mid Asia, to put their minds at ease I arranged the rental of a sat phone from a UK based company. There were various packages available, I opted for the package which included 25 minutes of calls which would be ample for a few 5 minute conversations with loved ones back in England. I also took some specialist insurance from Ripcord Rescue Travel Insurance, in the event of an accident a helicopter would be scrambled to my position for immediate medical evacuation, a service I hoped I would not need but worth having in the unlikely event of a trauma.
The right rifle and calibre and rifle was my next consideration. I already have a 7mm Remington Magnum in my arsenal, this was built by James Clarke from Jager Sporting Arms. James had sourced a Remington 700 magnum action, expertly chambered and fitted a 25 ½” Bergara barrel, the action is attached to the aluminium bedding block on the Bell and Carlson stock. James also made a muzzle brake to tame the recoil on the unmoderated rifle. The tack driving setup is topped with a Schmidt and Bender PM2, 3-20x50 first focal plane with MRAD turrets which was attached to the action with 34mm rings by Recknagel. The whole setup including bipod and sling tips the scales at 5.2kg (11 ½ lb), so a reasonably lightweight mountain hunting rig.
I meticulously worked up an exceedingly accurate hard hitting load, which from the bottom up consisted of Federal Gold Medal Magnum Primers, brand new Norma brass, 66.6 grains of Vihtavuori N-165 and 160 grain Nosler Accubond projectiles. I chronographed the load, the average muzzle velocity was just shy of 3000 feet per second (915 metres per second). Utilising the excellent Leica online software, I programmed the micro SD card for my Leica 10x42 HDB using all the data I had collected. The binoculars now were able to give me the necessary info I would need to dial right out to 1000 metres. I had put my setup to the test at Orion Firearms Training in Mid Wales prior to the hunt. I was able to hit 10” steel out to 1 kilometre with real consistency. In Kyrgyzstan I would of course only want to take shots at ranges that I was comfortable with, but having the confidence to take a follow up shot at extended ranges if called for, was nice to have practised.
With all the training and preparation time soon came round to getting everything packed and coming in at less than 30kg. A quarter of the 30kg was made up of gifts, chocolate, sweets and my Mum’s recipe of a nut mixture high energy bars and flapjack, just the kind of food you need when yomping up the face of a near vertical mountain.
I met my hunting buddy at Heathrow to start our epic journey to Kyrgyzstan. The firearms, ammo and bags were checked in, which as anyone will testify who has flown with guns it is never a quick process although the staff at G4S did an amazing job, we had hoped to have some time in the lounge for a decent meal and a drink before we boarded our flight, but despite being at the airport 3 hours before take-off we ended up rushing to get our seats before the chocks were away. The 5 hour flight to Istanbul passed quickly thanks to the endless talk of the action that was less than 24 hours away from commencing. The connecting flight to Bishkek was boarded swiftly but not without first checking with the airline staff that all our bags including our rifles and ammo were safety stowed aboard the Boeing bound for Kyrgyzstan.
Upon landing in Bishkek, walking down the tunnel we were greeted by a member of the VIP service, using this service costs $100 per person but expedites the checking in of the firearms into the country, whilst the necessary paperwork was being done I was able to relax with a much needed coffee and bottle of water. We were introduced to our translator who would be with us for the duration of the hunt.
We set off immediately to the base camp which was to the south of Lake Issyk Kul. We stopped for lunch on the southern coast of the 120km long lake and changed vehicles and drivers shortly afterwards. The total drive took us 10 hours, 3 ½ hours on the concrete and tarmacked roads and 6 ½ hours on rutted bumpy mountain passes which were unpaved. We passed all types of landscapes imaginable, from flat plateaus, rolling grassy hills, coniferous steep forests, dry craggy mountains and snow covered peaks. At the highest point we were at 4800 metres (15,750 feet).
After numerous river crossings we arrived at the camp after dark so was not prepared for the beauty of what was to become our home for the adventure ahead.
We were woken by the head guide to be told our breakfast was ready. Exiting our quarters we were both enamoured by the beauty of our surroundings.
We ate in the heated comfort of the old train carriage and was then introduced to the guides and camp staff.
Zero was confirmed, our rifles had survived the arduous journey across air, land and water. We were left to acclimatise to the 3000 metre elevation at camp, we spent the remainder of the morning relaxing and taking in the scenery.
At 2pm I set off with my two guides to the west of camp at around, whilst my hunting companion started his journey to the north east with his two guides.
No more than 2 miles from camp I spotted my first ibex, they were sunning themselves on the southern rocky outcrops and scree slides, all we could see was small males and females.
My guides and I stayed on the low ground whilst trying to find an old billy. We continued our horseback journey whilst spotting an ermin.
A small herd of female argali.
Also eagles and vultures along the way.
Another few miles on we rounded an arc in the meandering valley, with the naked eye my non English speaking guide spotted a mature ibex which was sat in a commanding position 750 metres above us.
We dismounted our horses beside a grassy knoll, this gave us some refuge and could stay away from keen eye of our quarry. Unfortunately this area happened to be in a large patch of thorny cactus like plants, hardly the most comfortable place to sit and assess the beast ahead of us, but it gave us the cover we needed. We setup the spotting scope whilst my guides deliberated, they had already asked me my trophy expectations and wants, I had said providing the ibex was a mature specimen I would be happy with the horns of 1 metre plus. The guides took their time chatting in Kyrgyz, initially he was sat with his head totally broadside, whilst evaluating he slightly turned, they finally concluded that the trophy exceeded 1 metre in length, the hunt was on!!! As we had now hit the snowline I put my white over jacket and trousers on.
Where the billy was basking in the mid afternoon sun, he was amongst a mixed herd of juveniles and nannies. We watched him for more than an hour whilst he was napping. Without warning he sprang to his feet and disappeared from view, we assumed that the rest of the herd had already started moving off to have their late afternoon graze and he did not want to lose them.
One of my guides and I setoff on foot, whilst the other guide stayed with the horses and bags. We started our stalk on the 45° snow covered slope. My guide despite being at least 10 years older than me and being a 20 a day smoker was hard to keep up with on this very tough terrain, my watch which had an altimeter on board showed our elevation was at 3500 metres (11,500 feet), the air was so thin, catching my breath was not as easy as what I am used to. My heart was pounding and I could strongly feel the pulse in my head. We went up and over the first crag to find an open area that gave us a colossal view to see the herd moving, but there was nothing there!! I was starting to think we had lost our chance.
We continued our way along the mountain side constantly looking up and down to see if the herd materialised. We travelled along the gorge for at least another mile, setup behind a big rectangular rock that gave us some support and cover, the guide was looking straight up, I was scanning directly in front of me. The light was fading, it was 6.40pm on day 1. Nannies and adolescents started appearing out of nowhere some 400 metres from our position, their evening feeding stint was about to commence. I pointed out to my guide, the herd was at least 50 strong. Above the feeding nannies there were 4 mature males, all looked massive to me. My guide and I had time to assess each head. It was decided the billy I was to shoot was the animal that was lowest on the face, I ranged him to be 354 metres, by bino’s told me to dial 1.4 MRAD. There was a very light 4-5 MPH left to right wind. I folded out the bipod legs and setup in the prone position with my rear bag for support. I dialled the 14 clicks of elevation correction on my scope, opened the bolt and closed on an empty chamber, I dry fired to make sure that I was totally comfortable and the cross hairs stayed on my point of aim …. perfect!! I was ready to chamber a round and take the shot, all the preparation of the hunt was about to be put into practise. I told my guide I was ready, found the shoulder of my intended target, he was ever so slightly quartering away from me and I held just less than 0.5 MRAD of wind and squeezed off the shot. I stayed on the target to see my billy fold up and start rolling down the mountainside. My guide and I jumped up, he was hugging me and slapping my back, shouting “kaput, kaput, kaput”. The elation of making a good shot in tough conditions on a hunt of a lifetime made me feel so happy to be a hunter, happy to be alive, happy to have the privilege of being in such beautiful surroundings and spending time with remarkable local people that call this mountain range their homeland.
It took us more than 5 minutes to get to the expired goat, due to the snow covered scree, 2 steps up and 1 step sliding down. The nearer I got the realisation set in, the sheer size, in both in body and head. The knobbly sweeping horns were just as I had hoped, a real trophy of beauty with very thick bases and overall mass. The photos were taken as best as we could in the fading light.
Darkness had fallen now. I then realised my head torch was back where we had originally left the horses at least a mile or so away, thankfully it was a clear night and with the shine from the moon on the snow we could see just enough to function. In the meantime my other guide appeared out of the darkness with 3 horses in tow (my guide was afraid to touch my backpack as my GoPro camera was strapped to it and he didn’t want to break it), handshakes all round we then started working out just how we would get the whole carcass on the horse, but we needed to lighten the load. The Kyrgyz people eat a great deal more of the animal than what we westerners tend to. I had in fact already asked them what their favourite part was, the resounding answer was the intestines. We removed all the organs that we did not intend to eat to lighten the load. With a bit of a tussle the carcass was draped over the horse’s neck just in front of the saddle. Wasting no time in getting back to camp my guide setoff trotting due east. I remounted my steed and headed back to where we had left my backpack, a few times on the pass I managed to lose sight of my guide having nothing but the natural illumination from the moon and the stars. I was glad to have my head torch on when we reached my pack. The rest of the way back to my hut I was grinning like a Cheshire cat still not quite believing that I had managed to harvest a mature billy on my first day of hunting, around the final bend I could see the dimly lit cabins. As soon as the word spread I had my animal down I was surrounded by massive smiles and countless handshakes, back slaps and cheering. Not only did we have a magnificent trophy in the salt there was fresh meat for the guides. My hunting companion heard the commotion and came out to see what the celebration was all about, although I am sure he must have known at this point. He was almost as pleased as I was to see my prize laid on the ground in front of the skinning shed, he too was in awe of the majestic ibex.
It was 8pm now, dinner was upon us and a few drinks to toast the terrific hunt, I bought some Romeo Y Julieta Cuban cigars in Istanbul. As soon as my cigar was out the tube the guides instantly recognised these were the same choice as Winston Churchill, this made me proud to be British that nomadic local people of the Tian Shan knew about our great Wold War 2 leader. I handed a cigar to each of my guides so we could enjoy this moment together.
It was decided that my hunting partner would be out before first light to head up to an area that they had seen ibex that day. It was a 4 mile journey which included crossing a very wide deep river to get to the foot on the 4500 metre mountain. I would be having a more leisurely day, the plan was to ride out around midday to try for a wolf. Wolves are more of a creature of opportunity, but I wanted to give it a go. In all honesty being on horseback in the most beautiful breath taking scenery I had ever had the pleasure of seeing was enough to get me out of my bunk.
Just after dawn my friends guides spotted some nannies and billies on the top of the ridge, they decided closing the distance was the right thing to do, on foot it took them 1 ½ hours to scramble to the summit. They got to within just 30 metres of some nannies who were unaware of their presence, a few younger billies were seen but nothing mature enough to consider putting in the crosshairs.
The top of the ridge was totally covered in snow as it is for 365 days a year, the knife edge had drops to either side that would have certainly ended critically if the worse was to happen. One of the young guides who has lived in these mountains his whole life started to get headaches and actually went cross eyed, he had a sudden bout of altitude sickness, and needed to descend quickly and as safely as possible. My friend carried on his way taking very careful steps and clinging to the rocks for dear life. Whilst on the summit they looked down and could see two wolves sleeping on the compacted snow on the other side of the valley, fortunately for them they were not in range. After losing 1500 metres and getting back to the valley bottom, lunch was taken from the saddle bags and shared between the group. The altitude sicken guide had thankfully recovered by this point. Whilst the horses had a much needed rest and refuelling. They headed back in the direction of camp along a snaking river. Up on the rock face above they could see a mature ibex, they crossed the river and managed to reduce the distance. It was ranged at 764 metres, there was no way of getting any closer. The Leica HDB made the calculation taking into account, elevation, angle of shot, temperature and distance. There was no wind to speak of, so he dialled 2.6 MRAD on his 5-25 x 56 PM2, pushed a round into the chamber of his 7mm Remington Magnum and held on the shoulder. It was a steep uphill shot, he readied himself behind the rifle and squeezed off a round as he exhaled. The shot felt good, the guides all said “hit” as the goat set off uphill and out of sight. It was only 1 hour from sunset, given the difficulty of getting to the strike in the time allowed it was decided to return to camp to retrieve the ibex the following morning. My friend and guides rode, quietly confident that the billy would be laid not far from where the bullet had struck.
My day was nowhere near as strenuous although I did cover a lot of ground on horseback. Along the valley bottom on the rolling grassy hills we came across a large herd of argali, they had seen us approaching and headed for the high ground. I managed to get my video camera out and capture the moment, there were 2 mature rams in the group, estimated to be 130cm (51”) and 135cm (53”). It was a sight to behold.
We continued our journey to the end of the valley, I spotted some fresh snow leopard tracks in the snow, it would have been astonishing to have caught a glimpse of this highly secretive, supremely camouflaged cat, I did I wonder if I may have passed one of these beautiful felines unnoticed during my short time in the mountains. We sat at the end of the valley and waited in hope of seeing a wolf.
Unfortunately none showed, although one of their smaller cousins the fox did make an appearance. It is on the extreme left hand side of the below photo.
Whilst sitting in the sun we spotted the same herd of argali at the top of the highest peak around, one of big boys was silhouetted against the skyline with his harem of ewes laid around him, it was of course the argali rut.
The 7 mile ride back to camp was remarkable, just over half way back we came across half a dozen of our horses, they are left to roam and graze but are brought back to be saddled up when required. As they were nearly 4 miles from their home my guide and I rounded them up and got them back to within a more manageable distance for the morning should needed. I arrived back at my lodge to be told the events of the day from my friend. It was a sleepless night for him wondering if his animal would be found close to where the strike was.
The next morning we saddled up the horses and set off to where the ibex was shot, the young guides had a 2 hour head start on us, by the time we arrived they had already made it up to the carcass and had taken it down to the river. My friend was relieved and overjoyed that his ibex had been found, celebrations all round.
The gralloch was performed, again saving all the delicacies the guides favoured.
We fortunately had a spare horse, after the initial field caping had been completed the head, horns, skin and meat was strapped to the horse.
I had now spent many hours in the saddle the previous 2 days, I wanted to put my new found skills to test. The track was relatively flat, mostly covered in small gravel and dust, with some gentle persuasion from me my horse setoff at a gallop which we continued for 2 miles until we reached the river. By the time the rest of the group had caught up my horse had a breather and was ready to cross the river en route for home.
The hunt was approaching the end, we had an incredible mind blowing time but I did feel a little sad that I would not be able to spend more time in this wondrous country. My only option would be to revisit in the not too distant future for another ibex hunt or maybe for argali or in a few years’ time, or maybe even to take my son for the same adventure I have experienced when he is old enough, one thing is for certain I will be back.
A 10 hour drive back to Bishkek along the same rutted bumpy roads taking in the landscape for one last time.
We checked into our hotel, it had a swimming pool, sauna but more importantly for us putrid smelling men, a hot shower. We spent a day in the capital city, visiting the bazaar and city centre.
Our translator who was with us for the whole trip recommended a steak restaurant, he had been very good to us for the whole duration so was naturally invited. A little unusual for us Brits, horse steak was on the menu so as well as the enormous t-bone and ribeye steak we had selected for our meal we had a cheval steak on the side, I had dined on horse a couple of times in France but my friend had not, he was surprised how delicious it was.
A visit to the airline office that was on the outskirts of the city, we were able to bring our flights forwards by a few days so we could get back home to see our friends and family, I was also able to get back to work a few days earlier than planned which given my newly announced responsibilities was a blessing in disguise.
My buddy and I truly had the hunt of a lifetime and would thoroughly recommend this hunt to anyone, although being in good physical shape is a prerequisite. It was professionally organised from start to finish.
Since my return I have a few friends that have expressed an interest in this hunt so maybe I will accompany them on my next trip to the Tian Shan Mountains of Kyrgyzstan, we may even put a group together so if you feel up for it drop me a message.
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