World’s Weirdest Sheep?

When in doubt, the best thing to do is go to our online record book. The animal was there, all right, but I stumbled a bit because I didn’t even have the spelling right! The Racka sheep is a feral sheep that probably developed in Turkey and came into Eastern Europe with the Magyar tribe about a thousand years ago. Apparently the wool is not very good, and the breed was almost gone by the beginning of the 20th Century, when the Hungarian authorities made a conscious decision to conserve a remnant herd. The largest population is found in Hungary’s Hortobagy National Park, and is totally protected.

Here’s another interesting fact about the Racka sheep: Our record book lists the Racka sheep as a European animal…but there are no entries. That can certainly change, because the Racka sheep is definitely huntable. I just took one in Macedonia’s Tikvis concession controlled by Tony Tonchev and Saso Ivanov of Hunt Europe, Ltd. My ram appears to be a pretty good one but, hey, with no entries, how do you know?

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Boddington and Saso Ivanov with a Racka sheep from Tikvis, Macedonia. The horns spiral sort of like a markhor, but the animal is unquestionably a sheep rather than a goat.

I am not particularly keen on domestic sheep as game animals, but these sheep are so odd that they’re actually cool—and while most of the feral sheep seem to have horns that are fairly similar in shape, Racka sheep are unique and very distinctive. Instead of curling back and around like most sheep the Racka sheep’s horns grow almost straight out in a tight spiral, more like the horns of a markhor.  You could almost conclude that the horns are sort of like a cross between a sheep and a goat…except that the horn surface is not smooth, but carries the horizontal striations found on the horns of many sheep, but rarely goats.

The Racka sheep has a long, shaggy coat and a very sheepish face. The Macedonian herd is pretty much white, but the book suggests that 20 percent can be black. I can’t speak to that, but the book also says these sheep become wary when hunted. This part I can agree with. We went looking for the Racka sheep on a cold, blustery February day…and we couldn’t find them! I don’t want to overstate the situation; I’m pretty sure the conditions had pushed the animals into thick cover. Theoretically Tony and his team knew where to look for Racka sheep, but they weren’t the only animals missing. We saw a few fallow deer and fresh mouflon tracks, but also completely missing were Cretan ibex, aoudad and tahr. I’d spent the previous few days hunting tahr…we saw quite a number of them, and several ibex as well. But I never actually saw any aoudad…which, if you know anything about that animal, shouldn’t be too surprising!

We glassed a big hillside for quite a long time, long enough that I thought we were on a wild goose chase, and I was seriously contemplating a nap. Turns out the sheep were right there under our noses, bedded tight. One of Tony’s guys was ‘way down the ridge to our right, and just happened to have the right angle when a big ram got up and changed position, appearing for just a few seconds and then vanishing again. With the location more or less known we could have waited them out, but with the stiff breeze covering our noise we decided to try a stalk. Once there the ridge was a lot brushier than it looked, but a taller tree with dead leaves gave us a good mark to home in on. I shot my Racka ram at just a few yards—but I never actually saw him until he rose from his bed right in front of us!

Tikvis is not the only place where Racka sheep can be hunted. Our record book states correctly that Racka sheep occur in other Balkan states, and at least one has been taken in Serbia. There could be opportunity elsewhere, but Tikvis is the only place in Macedonia, likewise for Cretan ibex (kri-kri), aoudad and tahr. These latter three animals were also found in Macedonia’s Lakavica concession, but that area is not currently open to hunting.

I don’t expect to stir up a big run on Racka sheep, and I probably wouldn’t go all the way to Europe just for that animal—but the Racka is just one of ten huntable species at Tikvis, and it’s a pretty wild-looking beast. Hopefully we’ll get some entries, and then we’ll start to get an idea of just how big those crazy corkscrew horns can grow!– Craig Boddington

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