Most of us do our hunting in some kind of logical order. For instance, in North America it’s more common to start with a whitetail rather than a brown bear or desert sheep. In Africa most people start the Big Five with a buffalo, but rarely with a rhino…and those of us who dream of spiral horns usually take a kudu before getting around to mountain nyala, Derby eland, or bongo.
If you think about these scenarios, the progression isn’t based altogether on difficulty, but on some combination of challenge plus availability and cost. Most of the time I follow the typical curve, with finances a major consideration! Just last week, however, I broke that mold completely. Our record-keeping system reckons there are 14 varieties of ibex. With Iran no longer issuing visas to Americans, the Persian desert ibex isn’t available, and although the Nubian ibex remains huntable, it can’t be imported. I’d love to have one…but it’s not an animal I’m willing to leave behind. So, last week, in the Tien Shans of Kyrgyzstan, I took what could well stand as my last ibex…the mid-Asian ibex.
Hunted in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan as well as Kyrgyzstan, the mid-Asian ibex is plentiful, available and, together with the Mongolian ibex, is probably the most affordable of the entire group. He’s also one of the largest ibex, with potential for the longest, heaviest, and most impressive horns. Hunting him is a great adventure that takes place in some of Central Asia’s most majestic ranges, so, all together, he makes a sound choice for a first ibex…and, if planning and forethought count at all, he makes a very poor choice as a last ibex.
Okay, so the Spanish ibex also offer a pretty good place to start. My own first ibex was in the Gredos…but since then I’ve hunted the rest of the Spanish ibex, both Mongolian ibex, the Bezoar goat, and the list goes on. While not taking the available and affordable mid-Asian ibex, I took an Alpine ibex in Switzerland, a kri-kri in Greece, and both the Sind and Himalayan ibex in Pakistan. I agree: It doesn’t make much sense!
I started to say that this wasn’t altogether my fault, but it actually was. I should have gotten one years ago. Tajikistan is not known for big ibex, while both Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan are. But on both hunts in Tajikistan, in ’99 and ’03, I saw very good ibex. I’ve often said in print and in seminars that, once you’re there, an extra trophy fee is a lot cheaper than going back…but that’s good advice that I haven’t always followed. On the first trip to Tajikistan I could have taken an ibex for an extra $1500, a pretty cheap ibex. The problem was that Marco Polo hunt was a big stretch, and I just didn’t have another $1500. So we glassed up a magnificent billy sunning in a perfect spot, and I watched from below while a camp-mate and guide stalked him for two hours. They got within reasonable range and the ibex was totally unaware. But stuff happens and the shot missed. I’d still love to know how big that ibex was.
On the second trip to Tajikistan I had the extra cash and evil intent toward ibex. However, to be honest, a second Marco Polo hunt was, in itself, of questionable purpose. If I was a true collector I’d have spent that money doing something I hadn’t done—but, honest, it’s such a good hunt. I’d do it again. Even so, I planned to take an ibex along the way; it just didn’t happen. We glassed some good ones, and a camp-mate took a dandy…but I was the last guy to take a ram, and he came very late in the hunt. You know how that goes: It was time to head for the barn.
Wow, that was nearly a decade ago. I considered hunting mid-Asian ibex several times, but just never got around to it. Then, seemingly suddenly and certainly surprisingly, I was running out of ibex (and goats in general). It was time to take the first ibex last. There are lots of options, but for an ibex-only hunt Kyrgyzstan probably offers the best combination of quality, price, and availability. I didn’t shop much and I didn’t quibble; my Macedonian buddy, Saso Ivanov of Hunt Europe, had been to Kyrgyzstan twice before, and he set us up with Vitale Sevian in the Tien Shan Mountains in the northeast corner, past the big Lake Issyk-Kul.
For me this was an added bonus. Today we call this big ibex “mid-Asian” because they occupy a large range—but in another time they were called Tien Shan ibex. Ninety years ago Kermit Roosevelt penetrated the Tien Shans from the China side to hunt these long-horned ibex, and his book, East of the Sun and West of the Moon remains a classic adventure.
Adventure we had, but not classic. Sevian’s base camp was an incredible surprise: Electricity, running water, heat, and no sleeping bags required. The mountains were high, but the horses were sturdy, so I don’t rate it as a particularly difficult mountain hunt, although we did spice it up with a few days in a tent spike camp in driving snow. We saw a lot more argalis than ibex, but that was just fine. The ibex were there, and for me it was early in the hunt when we got the drop on a group of 15 males and I dropped the hammer on what I thought to be the best one. I could have been wrong, and I might have been right, but he was a 12-year-old billy with heavy, wonderfully curling horns, and it couldn’t have worked out better. I doubt that he’s my last ibex, but he could be my last type of ibex for whatever goals we crazy hunters pursue. First, last, or in between, those big ibex of Central Asia are magnificent.—Craig Boddington