Neil with Marco Polo ram.
I had an opportunity at the end of February to go on an adventure I have been dreaming of since I was a kid. I recall as a youngster reading of sportsmen hunting the mighty Marco Polo sheep in Asia and had always hoped it was a species I would pursue on day. This winter, I had an opportunity presented by a friend and booking agent in Europe whom indicated he could organize a last-minute Marco Polo and ibex hunt in Kyrgistan. I had a hard look at it, did some research, looked at my schedule, negotiated a price and said ‘What the hell, this opportunity isn’t going to come around every day.’ So, in February I was on a plane heading to Kyrgistan! It was a long trip, but I landed in Bishek (capital of Kyrgistan) in the middle of the night and was met by my interpreter/assistant whom eased my transition to this very foreign land. We immediately headed out of the city and started on the long drive to the hunting concession. I was amazed by the beauty of the country but also a little awed by the poverty of the people living in the rural areas. It is a very poor country and are still finding their own way since breaking from the USSR in 1991. Due to this apparent poverty, I was also apprehensive if the locals would have overhunted the game for sustenance and income. This worry was to be quickly laid to rest.
The drive to base camp was slow and some poor roads covered. This camp was extremely remote and required crossing a military-type checkpoint to gain access. When asked why this checkpoint was necessary, I learned it was because we would be close to the border of China and also to strictly control access due to the wildlife values of the area. This gave me a good idea how strictly they control their hunting and part of the reason I was to see so much game in the area. When we arrived, I found it to be very comfortable and had exotic, yet good food. I proceeded to sight-in my borrowed rifle for the trip (a nice Remington SPS in .300 Mag), had dinner and headed to bed for some well-needed rest. The next morning we jumped in a Russian jeep and slowly made our way into spike camp where we would base out of for our hunt. Once in spike camp, we immediately headed out hunting. Game on and I was stoked! We rode the little Kyrgz ponies about 45 minutes and set up to glass on a high vantage south of camp. Within minutes we had spotted several herds of sheep and ibex! My fears of depleted game populations were quickly laid to rest. We immediately started a stalk on a herd of Marco Polo. The first herd had no good rams, so we kept riding. We kept seeing herd after herd of sheep throughout the day. No real big rams were spotted on day 1, but it was apparent that with this many sheep, it was only a matter of time before we spotted ‘the’ ram. Day 2 was basically the same – ride and glass and put several stalks on rams. At one point we glassed a herd of about 25 rams across the valley from us, and decided to ride over to that side and get a better look. Where they ride their horses is simply amazing. They are small horses by North American standards, but extremely strong and sure-footed. We slowly made our way to where we saw the big herd of rams and eventually relocated them, but just as we were easing over a ridge to make a final assessment for big rams, the wind shifted on us and they took off in a huge cloud of dust and rolling rocks. We could see, though, that there were at least 2 big rams in the group. We were very disappointed, but made a huge circle around the mountain and one of the guides and I went ahead on foot to see if we could locate the herd again. After a long hike, we were almost back to the valley floor where we were to meet the other guides and the horses, when my guide excitedly pointed uphill where we could see a small group of rams. We got down into rocks and got positioned for a possible shot, but could see they were only young rams. Where was the rest of the herd? We kept watching and the young rams got nervous and took off uphill to the left then kind of hooked around and started downhill to the valley floor. Hmmm… Looking down below these rams, we saw the rest of the rams from the large herd walk out into the open. Holy crap about 20 rams knotted up in a bunch! A quick assessment revealed a good ram out in the open a bit to the left of the group. I quickly got the rifle around and my bipod kind of level on a small rock shelf and contorted my body to get steady. My guide was very excited and urged me to hurry up. Easy for him to say, but I know what it is like to be the guide in that situation. I am sure it was only a few seconds, but seemed like it was taking quite a bit of time to get organized for the shot, then there he was, large-as-life in my scope and boom! Ouch…scope came back and nailed me. I can’t see where my ram went since my eyes are watering badly, blood is obviously pouring down my face and there are sheep running everywhere. I was confident in my shot, so was not too worried and proceeded to apply pressure to my wound while my guide sprinted down the hill to see where the ram went. Within a minute he was whooping and hollering and waving frantically to me. I sort of got the bleeding stopped then made my way down to see my ram. What a beauty! I was thrilled.
The next morning it was off to hunt ibex. The guides rode us through the bottoms of very steep canyons and we kept scanning the canyon walls for ibex. We some several groups before one of the guides excitedly exclaimed something in Russian and soon they were spurring the hell out of the horses and we all raced up the frozen stream bed. Certainly not how I expecting to be hunting ibex. Oh well, go with what the guides do and hang on! I could quickly see the cause of the excitement – a large group of ibex billies we running parallel to us on the canyon wall and only about 100 yards up from the bottom. It was also obvious that there were a least several shooters in the group. We gained on the billies and once beside them, everyone bailed off the horses and they beckoned me to quickly get set up for the shot. I scrambled for a rest and one of the guides dropped down on his butt ahead of me and beckoned me to rest on his shoulder. OK…your ears. I picked out a good billy and got on him as he was running across the scree. Give him a bit of lead and hit the trigger. Crap, must of missed. Crank another round in. Just as he was about to clear a small ridge and gain safety, I got on him and let rip. Sounded good, but couldn’t see what happened as he immediately disappeared. I gather myself and calmed down a bit and watched as the guides quickly rode ahead to see where the ibex had gone. Within a few seconds they were whooping and hollering again, so it was evident I had made the second shot count. I rode up on them and could see a great billy lying at the toe of the slope where he had obviously fell at least 300 vertical feet to land on the ice. What a sight!
This ended the hunting portion of my trip. I spent a day in base camp and relaxed while the camp taxidermist prepared my trophies. We then made the long trip back to Bishek where I spent a couple of days sight seeing. I had a number of days to kill since the actual hunt was a lot shorter than I had anticipated, so I changed my flights a bit and then headed to Istanbul, where I also spent a couple of days of sight seeing. I had a great trip and fulfilled a life-long dream. The outfitter was extremely well organized, has been in business for over 20 years and has great concessions to hunt. I highly recommend this adventure and if anyone is interested, I would gladly assist them in getting their own trip organized.
Great mid-Asian ibex.