Editor’s Note: On Friday we dig into the expansive Safari archives and bring you a story from one of our earlier issues. This week we are hunting the steep and dangerous Caucasus mountains for Russian tur. This story originally appeared in the November/December 1983 issue of Safari Magazine.
It was getting late. We had perhaps an hour of daylight left. I had no idea whether we were going to make a stalk now or wait until the next day, though I thought we should try. The tur was downhill and about a thousand yards away from where we sat.
I touched Shariz on his boot and motioned with my trigger finger in a shooting manner. He nodded.
We gave the shepherd my backpack and everything else we didn’t need. Shariz signed to me that he wanted to carry my rifle because of the steep shale slope. I had no idea how bad it was until we hit a stretch that was nothing but shale scree for about 45 to 60 feet across and 60 feet deep, with a 100 foot sheer drop below that. We climbed as high as we could. He scrambled across the shale and landed about six feet from the end. I didn’t hesitate. I took off-and half way through I realized it was going to be close. Shariz had positioned himself a little higher than where he had landed. When I got within two feet from stable ground and two feet from the lip of the drop-off, I threw myself face down and he caught my jacket to stop me from plunging over the side.
We got up without words or signs and proceeded as though this was the way a stalk was supposed to be made. We had, at any rate, come down on the right side of the spur. The ram, we thought, was just about even with us on the other side of the spur. We slowly crawled over; he was not in sight. Naturally the first thought in my mind was that he had heard the shale falling and had left. But Shariz motioned me to be still while he looked up and down the ridge. He came back slowly and indicated that the tur was about 200 yards further down. I crawled out as far as I could without being seen, took a prone position and looked through my 6X power Leupold scope. All I could see was grass. I got on my knees, then stood up, but I could see only grass until I stood on my tiptoes. At last I could see the ram, but his left horn was blocking a clear shot at his shoulder.
I whistled; an old whitetail deer trick. He stopped grazing and looked across the small valley from which the echo came. His shoulder was clear,the cross hair right where I wanted it. This would be the true test for my new K. 15 Kleinguenther rifle chambered for a .300 Weatherby cartridge. I fired. The ram turned downhill and started running. I chambered another bullet, my heart sinking.
The first hunting day we went up river and climbed for about three hours on foot. Our guides started the first drive for tur with about fifteen men on a slope opposite us shooting blank shotgun shells while moving towards us. The other hunters saw a few young rams, ewes and lambs, but I didn’t. We went back to camp empty handed.
The second morning we walked down river for about an hour and climbed for three. We were pretty well whipped. When the drive began, one big ram and two small ones ran by Anthony’s blind and he took the big one with a 200-yard running shot. There was a big celebration in camp that night. His ram was 37 x 14 for an SCI score of 162-5/8.
The third day the guides decided we would climb the mountain directly across from camp. We were instructed by our interpreter that at any time we felt uncomfortable, we could turn around. We felt that the three of us could make it. It was quite steep. In some places, so steep that the guides had to cut holes in the earth and grass for us to put our feet in, so that we could climb in step fashion.
The drive was made, but only two small sickle rams came by and they were not good enough to shoot. When we were halfway back down it started to rain, then hailed. We put rain coats over our heads for protection, and huddled together for about an hour.
Bob and Sharon used ropes the way mountain climbers do. I asked Shariz in sign language if we were going to use rope too. He laughed and motioned to use the sticks we had, and never grab a bush or bunch of grass. If it tore away I would go tumbling down the mountain.
We went to bed early to rise at 4:00 a.m. and leave at 5:00 for a seven-hour climb to Mount Benmodad. We arrived tired but ready to hunt. The beaters had gone on ahead down into the valley and the drive was going to come up to us.
Sharon was placed in the first stand, Bob next. When I got to my pile of rocks there was a shepherd with about 400 sheep and 200 goats! What kind of luck was this?
After about twenty minutes the shepherd came over and extended his hand to us with a big smile. While he started talking to Shariz, I
wandered off to take some pictures and enjoy the scenery. Then the shepherd let me know that he wanted to see my binoculars. I took them from around my neck and handed them to him. He took them, put them confidently around his own neck, and tapped me on the shoulder in a thanking motion. More of that fine luck?
I then and there decided that if I was going to give up a pair of Bushnell 8 x 21 glasses, I was going to get something in return. He had a good-looking Russian tur hat and I indicated to him that I’d like to see it. He handed it to me. I took it, put it on my head and tapped his shoulder in a thanking motion. He smiled then gave a short laugh.
The drive started and ended. None of the turs came my way. All that went by Bob and Sharon were ewe and lambs. The shepherd was leading the way as we started walking back toward his camp, and I wondered whether he was going to depend on his dog to bring his herds back to camp. Suddenly we turned right, away from the trail, and started crawling up a ridge. I didn’t know what to make of it, being so tired by this time that the last thing I felt like was scouting for the next day’s hunt, which was to be our last.
Now that the shepherd had the binoculars, Shariz had to borrow them from him when we reached the ridge top. Shariz looked for a moment, turned to me and said: “Tur.”
With his hands he gestured that it was long and big around. I crawled up to him and looked through the binoculars and could hardly believe my eyes. The size of those horns made the animal look small! I slid back down and waited while they looked and talked some more.
I could not understand what they were saying but I began to understand something quite else. It was the shepherd who had shown us where the big ram was. After the drive had failed and we were about ready to head home, he had taken over. Apparently he had known all along where the ram was. Now it struck me that my binoculars – and my willingness to part with them in trade – might have had everything to do with the fact that I had seen this prize tur at all. What if I had demanded the glasses back? It was a fair bet that the shepherd wouldn’t have bothered to show us the trophy.
A lot of things can go through a person’s mind just in the time it takes to chamber a cartridge. I shouldered my rifle to shoot again but the 180-grain Nosler partition bullet had done its job, as it had always done for me before. Shariz started hollering as the big ram went down; we had him.
He grabbed me bear-hug style, kissed me on both cheeks, then shook my hand till I thought he’d broken it. I’ve never seen a guide before or since who was so elated over a kill.
We had climbed down to within ten yards of where the ram had fallen when he gave a last kick that started him rolling down, tumbling head over heels, never stopping until he hit the river bottom. When we finally did get to him he was all in one piece, and those big horns looked even bigger at close range. We hurriedly took pictures with the little light that was left. We finished caping for a half mount, quartered the meat and left it to cool. We would pick it up early in the morning. We sure didn’t want the meat to go to waste because it’s the closest to Stone and Dall sheep in taste of all the other sheep that I have eaten. I think if I had to vote on whether the tur is goat or sheep I’d vote sheep. The taste of the meat would be the tiebreaker.
We arrived in camp that night at 11:30 after the hardest climb I’ve ever had in my life. Shariz made me hold his climbing stick so he could help me up the last hundred or so feet. A more dedicated guide I’ve never met.The next morning I finished the caping chores and put the tape on those horns. The left was 38-2/8 x 16 inches,and the right was 37-6/8 x 15-7/8inches, for a total of 178-1/8 SCI points-the largest anyone in camp had ever seen.—Albert Cheramie