Editors Note: On Fridays we dig deep into the Safari Magazine archives and dust off a gem from the past. Today we tag along on a hunt for blue sheep in the remote mountains of China. This story was originally published in the November/December 1992 issue of Safari Magazine.
Years ago I discovered that the formula for a great hunting trip doesn’t rest solely on bringing home record heads. Two components are important to me: experiencing new, wild country and learning cultures so different from my own that they bear or no comparison.
Having said that, let me tell you about one of the best sheep hunting locations in the world. China’s high, lonely Qinhai Province offers unparalleled hunting for blue sheep, which exist in some hunting sectors in the tens of thousands.
After a five-day tour of Beijing we flew to Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province. The trip to base camp was 12 hours by jeep through countryside that ranged from cultivated croplands to a sparse high-altitude desert.
The big, tawny mountains behind our base camp rose to 16,000 feet. No trees or brush existed, only calf-high grasses that supported the populations of gazelle and red deer, and more of the majestic, stone colored blue sheep than I could imagine. While the possibility of a good ram was my incentive for flying and jeeping halfway around the globe, I chose to concentrate on gazelle first, and save the best for last. I took a 12-inch gazelle the first day, but the sheep stories shared around the campfire that evening, were amazing.
Bob Dewitz told of seeing one band of 100 rams, seven of which he swore were world records. The problem was that the sharp-eyed rams bolted before Bob and his native guide could get close enough. I talked the matter over with my guide. The next several days, we would concentrate on blue sheep in another area that he knew held sheep.
Each morning’s hunt was much the same. On sure-footed ponies that appeared too small to carry Western riders, we scurried to peaks and ridges to glass the distant slopes. A good thing, too, because we never could have covered as much ground as we did without those horses. At elevations between 12,000 and 16,000 feet, climbing a few hundred yards can leave a man in good shape wheezing for air. The horses could cover miles without difficulty. The good news was that I saw plenty of sheep; the bad news was that they saw us at the same time and hightailed it for the next province.
At the end of the third full day, Bob carne in with the blue sheep of all blue sheep. (His ram would later hold the No.1 position in SCI Record Book of Trophy Animals.) Bob’s advice to me: “There are six more world records in the herd. It’s just a matter of getting close enough to let that 7 mag of yours do its magic.”
So we hunted Bob’s area. The next morning, we rode up a valley and found the herd, just as Bob said we would. For a sheep hunter, or any other hunter, to see a band of 100 rams is mind-boggling. But they were 1,000 yards away – tiny, even through the lens of a powerful spotting scope – and I had to get closer. That morning, I had two guides and one was sent around to flank the sheep and – we hoped – spook some our way. They spooked, but the wrong way.
We rode up the mountain to the point where the herd disappeared. Then there they were: Ten big rams were leaving the main herd and traveling almost parallel to the ridge that we were under. They didn’t see us, but they knew something was wrong. I was off the horse, running to keep up with them and hoping they would drop down the mountain closer to my level. Finally they did just that, single file, 50 yards in front of me.
The hard part was keeping my composure while I tried to pick out the biggest ram of the bunch. Due to my rocky position, I could never see more than two or three at any single time. When one old ram with exceptional horns walked past, I put the crosshairs just behind its shoulders, flicked off the safety and tightened the trigger. The ram that would round out my super slam of the world’s wild sheep dropped at the shot, one more notch for the 7mm magnum rifle that has served me well all over the world. It wasn’t as large as Bob’s ram, but it was a legitimate record book animal, a trophy that will hold a special place with the 11 others that contributed to my super slam.
We finished our hunt by joining in the villagers’ fall festival. Like our Thanksgiving, it celebrates an ample harvest. I can say I’ve never seen such a huge sampling of delicious food and drink in my entire life. We were treated like royalty, sitting at the heads of tables while villagers brought us dish after dish of food.
Would I recommend a hunt for Chinese blue sheep in the high mountains of Qinghai Province? You bet I would! For all I know there are at least six more potential world records up there, and someday, a visiting hunter is going to get lucky.—Gary Ingersoll