We ascended the Caucasus first on horseback, then on foot, partly leading and partly pulling the horses up a steep, narrow trail. Cliffs rose dizzyingly above us, and I wondered exactly what I’d gotten myself into. My hunting partner, Adam Biondich of Wisconsin, had similar thoughts but I couldn’t ask him; we launched from a comfortable base camp in separate directions with different guides and wouldn’t compare notes until we rendezvoused with (or without) our turs. As I struggled up a trail that seemed nearly vertical, if I was wondering why I was doing this Adam must have been going into shell shock. This was my third tur hunt, so I knew how steep these mountains were. It was not just Adam’s first tur, but also his first Asian hunt–an ambitious beginning.
It paid off for both of us. Though miles apart, we took our turs on the same day, early in the hunt and thus fairly easily as these things go. Adam’s was a monster, a fantastic trophy, although I’m not certain he fully appreciated that at the moment. Mine was, well, okay. I could make the excuse that my guide rushed me, and that would be true. It’s also true that I know better, and truer still that it was a conscious decision. The weather was good, but a storm was forecast. We had a herd of tur dead to rights at less than 200 yards, and my “okay tur” was standing clear of the group, broadside. I took the shot, and although Adam’s tur was a lot bigger I’m happy with mine…and happier that I got one at all!
Ours were the mid-Caucasian tur, among the least-hunted of all the world’s wild goats. There are reasons for this. We crazy hunters reckon there are three turs, collectively occupying a small range in the Caucasus Mountains that is less than 500 miles east to west and no more than 50 miles north to south. This is one of the smallest ranges of any Capra species.
The eastern, or Dagestan tur, occupies the largest portion of the total range. It has round, sheep-like horns that curve out and back, and was originally considered part of the Ovis or sheep group. That was never correct. The tur is a very large goat, tan to brown in body, with a goat’s hair, callused knees, and distinctive odor. Today we know the eastern tur as Capra cylindricornis, “round-horned goat.” At the western end of the Caucasus the western or Kuban tur has heavy, knobbed horns that tend to curve up and back, not out; they look very much like an ibex, but with shorter, thicker horns. Some authorities prefer the original Capra severtzovi, while others use Capra caucasica. Our SCI Record Book uses the latter Latin name.
In the middle, between Dagestan and Kuban, is the mid-Caucasian tur, a natural hybrid between the two, and they also look different. The horns don’t flare as much as the Dagestan tur, and are not as distinctly round…but they are also neither as knobby nor as straight as the horns of the Kuban tur. Hard science generally doesn’t recognize a natural hybrid, and certainly won’t award a separate species designation—especially to a population in such a restricted area, absent natural boundaries. We hunters are bounded more by appearance than pure science, so we call these hybrid tur of the central Caucasus “mid-Caucasian tur,” and we consider them separately.
The Caucasus range is not especially high; it’s pretty rare to get much above 10,000 feet on a tur hunt, with most hunting done a bit lower. It is, however, the steepest and most treacherous country I’ve ever seen, so all three turs are properly considered serious mountain pursuits and worthy trophies.
If you want just one tur, most hunters choose the eastern or Dagestan tur. It has the largest horns but perhaps more importantly, occupies the largest range and is the most plentiful. Hunting has been available in Azerbaijan since the 1970s, and although it’s a tough hunt, success is normal. In more recent years the Dagestan tur is also huntable in southern Russia.
The mid-Caucasian tur is probably hunted less than the other two. Relatively few among us are so obsessed as to covet all three turs…and I suspect fewer start with the mid-Caucasian variety as my friend Adam did. However, despite the physical difficulty, all three turs are fairly inexpensive as mountain hunting goes. The mid-Caucasian tur is less distinctive than the other two, but still a very cool-looking mountain animal. Understand that I pretty much hit the jackpot on turs: All three varieties in just three hunts is unusual. My luck notwithstanding, my feeling is the mid-Caucasian tur is overlooked and underestimated. They are relatively plentiful and fairly available as well as affordable; most outfitters and agents who either specialize in mountain hunts or do a lot of business in Russia offer this tur. Arrangements were perfect and simple, no stress and no problems.
Both Adam and I got our animals not so far above villages, and we both saw plenty of tur. Those facts suggest that hunting the mid-Caucasian tur is also fairly successful. The general feeling is the horns are the smallest of the three, but this has a bit to do with limited demand and a smaller sampling of record book entries. The big ones are there, proven not only by Adam’s big billy, but also by a whopper taken by Renee Snider earlier this year. I don’t think I’m likely to start a major run on taking the three turs, but the mid-Caucasian shouldn’t be overlooked…this third tur offers a fine mountain experience!– Craig Boddington