After accidentally spooking a small herd of Marco Polo rams and ewes at approximately 1,500 yards, we carefully moved forward into the wind and spotted a large herd of around 300 moving down off of the ridge from the right to feed in the valley floor at around 14,000 feet. The time was around 9 a.m. and the temperature was still below 0° with plenty of snow. We had started at 5:30 a.m., driving for about 45 minutes before walking up a long ridge. Zafar said, “Let’s back up and circle around the ridge to our left and give them time to settle into feeding.”
Four days earlier we had traveled from Istanbul, Turkey, to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, arriving at 6 a.m. Tajikistan is home to some of the highest mountains in the world, including the Pamir and Alay Ranges — home to the Marco Polo sheep. Ninety-three percent of Tajikistan is mountains with altitudes ranging from 984 to 24,589 feet, with nearly half of Tajikistan Territory above 10,000 feet. After clearing customs we loaded in three 4×4 cruisers and were off to the south and the city of Khorog, following the main highway for sixteen hours. This major highway, labeled M4, runs north and south, and is only a single lane gravel road except for some pavement in the different villages. Khorog, a city of 29,000, is a university town located between rugged mountains on the border of Afghanistan and connected by a modern bridge for traffic and shoppers to cross both ways. We stayed overnight at the Presidential Guest House and then drove eight hours to camp the next day, arriving early enough to test our rifles and meet with our guides.
We were hunting in the Great Pamir Mountains of the Himalayas in the Southern area of the Forno Badakhshanskaja Region of Tajikistan for the greatest sheep trophy in the world, the famous Marco Polo (OVIS Ammon Poli). In mid-November, with the temperature averaging 10°to 20° below zero, the rams join the ewes for the rut in great numbers, as I was to witness. The name “Pamir” reflects the description of the fertile high mountain pastures and semi-desert areas of windswept valleys and ridges from 13,000 to 16,000 feet. The Great Pamir’s area borders to the North of the Wakhan Corrider of Afghanistan where sheep hunting first opened in the late 1960s and then closed, due to the war started by Russia. Our hunt was arranged by Bob Kern of The Hunting Consortium and was perfect in every detail, including helping us to obtain our U.S. Trophy Import Permits, Tajikistan Gun Permits and Visas. Over the past 20 years, Kern has arranged more Marco Polo sheep hunts than any other company in the world. The Pamir Mountains have been famous since the early travels of Marco Polo to the silkened courts of Kublai Khan 800 years ago, traveling thru Tajikistan.
I was finally there in the well known “Hot Springs Camp.” After months of planning and years of dreaming of hunting the famous sheep with long sweeping horns that live in the high Himalaya Mountains, I was looking for a ram worthy of being considered a true trophy. I was with my son, Barret, who was there to share this adventure with me and hunt a Mid-Asian ibex and wild Himalayan yak. We were also joined by Beau Bisso and Roy Buchler of The Woodlands, TX and John Charpienter of New Orleans, LA. Those three were hunting sheep, ibex and yak. We were all excited about our hunt, theirs being their first in Asia. We each had a driver, assistant guide and main guide. My guides were Zafar and Karim Bekmurody, brothers with twenty years of sheep hunting experience and who spoke excellent English. On all of Bob Kern’s Asian hunts, he has an employee in camp looking after all of the logistics, even meeting us at the airport and traveling with us all of the way to camp. This person was Oleg Stupar, whom I had previously hunted with in the far east of Russia. Bob’s hunters have always enjoyed 100 percent success in taking a trophy sheep and our hunt was no exception.
I can believe this success rate after personally seeing over 1,000 sheep each day of my hunt. With good advice from Dennis Campbell of OVIS, Grand Slam, the high altitude did not affect us at all, due to taking Diamox morning and evening along with plenty of bottled water as well as fruit juices and sodas. Plus there was a doctor in camp monitoring everyone’s blood pressure twice a day. Our camp was located at 13,300 feet and was very comfortable with heat and showers supplied by hot springs out of the ground. A generator and small wind turbine furnished plenty of electricity, even to charge satellite phones, computers and camera batteries. The food was very good with plentiful meat, rice and fresh vegetables. All of the hunting was from 4×4 warm cruisers or jeeps, with the final approaches by stalking in white camouflage. All of the guides were experienced using spotting scopes and range finders, calling out the distances for the hunters. Kerry and Carol O’Day, of M.G. Arms, had built 7mmSTW caliber rifles with 3-18X Z6(I) Swarvoski scopes for Barret and me. They also schooled us on how to set the dials on the scopes from 300 yards out to 600 yards. With a twist of the dials to the appropriate color spots, they proved to be very accurate as we practiced shooting at the long distances. With M.G. Arms precision rifles and handloaded ammo for all five of us, we were well equipped for the long range shooting that we all experienced.
After circling around the ridge that morning, we located some other rams on top and began judging their size and age. What a wonderful sunny day we had looking at sheep and having lunch within 10 feet of the Afghanistan border. Looking into the Aksu valley of Afghanistan with the “Little Pamirs” in the background we saw only two uninhabited yurts. Every direction was snow and ice for miles with no human tracks or presence of any army — only sheep and ibex tracks. I could feel the vastness of these snow covered mountains and valleys, and their sheer beauty equally awed me.
After lunch we spotted a group of thirty-five rams and were able to get within 1,000 yards of them at 15,500 feet. They started drifting off the top of the ridge to feed, and we followed them until about 3 p.m. With their sharp eyes they finally spotted us even in our white suits. Zafar’s and his brother’s knowledge of the sheep and their habits is incredible and contributes substantially to the success of all their hunters. They knew exactly which direction the rams would head. They started up the next high ridge before we were able to catch up to them. Luckily, my ram was bringing up the rear and Zafar started calling out the distances. My first shot was at 425 yards and it slowed him down. My second shot was at 500 yards and I shot over him, not remembering the bullet would go high when shooting up at a steep angle. The third shot, at 625 yards, put him down for good.
What a great ram he is and my quest for a trophy Marco Polo Sheep was realized at last. The big ram carried magnificent horns measuring 59”x 62” scoring 225 7/8 SCI. Barret collected a heavy-knobbed 41” Mid-Asian ibex and a giant Himalayan yak making number 4 in SCI, with Beau’s yak scoring as the new number 2. All of the yaks were guided by Oleg, Bob Kern’s employee, and all scored in top ten. Beau and the others also collected rams in the 56”x 57” class and trophy ibex. We all celebrated our great hunt at the camp and back in Dushanbe at the new Hyatt Regency Hotel.–Mike Simpson