As the old saying goes, the third one is the charm and this trip would prove that right. Her first ibex, the Pamirs, fell to her rifle on the border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan with one shot on the third day. Her second ibex, the Bezoar, fell to her rifle in Turkey on the second day of the hunt. Her third ibex, the Siberian, was to be pursued in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia. Being her chief ammo packer and water boy, as she calls me, I would have the privilege of being on all three of these hunts. Her name is Lanceine, and we have been hunting for more than thirty years together. I have been fortunate to be married to her for as long. Hunting is our passionate weakness that we make no excuses for. The best part about being her ammo packer is she doesn’t use much and as I continue to age this is important!
The first evening in camp was the usual preparation for the early morning wake up. The round ger was large enough for three. Our brother, Jack, was along as he has this same incurable hunting weakness. The ger was kept comfortable by burning yak manure in the small stove. The temperature was around zero at 9,000 feet in the valley floor as dark approached. The next morning just before daybreak, someone pounded on the door and was kind enough to start the yak manure burning in the stove. It didn’t take too long to feel the heat and the layering of clothing began.
Lanceine got to laughing about the way we looked. We looked like we had been cloned, she remarked, including our brother. Our sleeping bags were all the same. The two stainless steel .338 Browning rifles topped with VX-3L Leopold 4.5-14x scopes looked identical. Our camouflage clothing was the same down to the camouflage gators for snow. We all had merino wool for a base layer and it would be justified and welcomed in the wind. We each packed a set of 10x Leica binoculars with built-in rangefinders up to 1,200 yards. After all, when you find what works, share it.
I know both of the rifles were zeroed at 200 yards, dead-on. Speaking for my wife, 400 yards was practiced and doable. The Barnes TSX 210-grain bullet was moving at 2,905 feet a second that was loaded by Superior Ammunition. One thing about ibex hunting previously, we knew long shooting would not be the exception. Ibex live in country that’s steep with no cover. Desolate would be a good description.
Breakfast was eggs, meat and some fruit. The vehicles of choice here are Russian-made 4-door 4-wheel-drive. One was fairly new, and the one we rode in was about twenty years old, but you could tell was well taken care of. As always, the first morning is the “get situated” morning and the rest of the mornings flow easier. We had heard some motorcycles leaving before us, but figured it was the locals going out to check livestock. Camp held no snow. Our ger was located by the locals’ gers. We found out later these locals on motorcycles were going out to scout for ibex ahead of us. This was a full court press by the locals and guides to find ibex.
Leaving camp the first morning, we started down a large valley before hooking to the right and continuing ever upward. This was the start of a true case of 4-wheeling with no roads. As with most mountain animals, ibex hunting is easier from above then trying to approach them from below. Their eyesight is exceptional and sense of smell is fantastic.
We crossed a high valley with the beginnings of snow and then continued higher to a rock vantage point and did some glassing for a lengthy period of time. Some ibex were spotted, but on the next mountain over. This country was expansive and the scenery was huge. The wind was strong and cold!
We kept moving and glassing. Eventually we met the motorcycles and they had good news. A herd of ibex with a nice male was spotted not too far away. We headed out and in a short time came to a halt. The ibex were quite a distance below us, but everyone felt they were worth a try. We geared-up and started down, with one of the locals leading.
After at least forty minutes, Lanceine was sneaking toward the local Mongolians who were cautiously peering over a rock bluff. Six hundred-plus yards downhill was a great looking male in charge of a herd. Brother Jack had joined on the decent, hoping more than one male was of trophy quality.
After some quiet discussion, it was decided that Lanceine would sneak on down the ridge with the two locals and see how close they could approach. They motioned me along and we dropped for another 15 minutes. We approached a small rock outcropping. You could tell by the guide’s cautious movements that the time was now. Lanceine belly crawled the last few yards. I slid in next to her and cautiously glanced over the rocks. The herd was moving to the right, but the large male was moving slightly to the left all by himself. He was one regal looking dude!
The guides motioned toward the male. I whispered to Lanceine that the male was facing left, the light colored one, the big one! She already had him spotted and nonchalantly said “are you going to range him?” In the meantime, above us Jack’s guide was watching from the first outlook and told Jack “get ready if she misses the large male could run past us!” Jack having hunted with Lanceine before remarked, “she won’t miss!”
I ranged the ibex at 234 yards downhill. I whispered this to Lanceine and the .338 spoke! It was a solid hit and the ibex hit the ground, got up, went 30 feet and fell over. It was picture time! The guides and helpers skinned and quarter the ibex after a slew of pictures.
Lanceine’s third ibex was on the first day with, as usual, one shot.
The trip up the mountain was three times more effort than the trip down. We got back to camp that night just before dark. The next day entailed more glassing from high windy ridges with a late evening stalk on a group of males in hopes of an ibex for Jack. We were busted by fickle winds, and watched the Ibex run across the nearly vertical terrain with very little effort. It was a long ride back to camp.
The third day was more moving and glassing. The snow was starting to accumulate and it was getting harder to make the tops. When things got wild, we would get out and walk until it was safe to get back in the vehicle.
Toward evening, a herd of male ibex was spotted a long distance below us. The only way was down and Jack was ready. We dropped on foot and kept dropping. Jack, Lanceine, four Mongolians and I were making footprints in the snow and slide marks down the rocks. The trick was to get within shooting range while still being above and ahead of them as they were moving. An occasional thought of the climb back up registered in my head. To help keep things interesting it started snowing, sometimes light and sometimes heavy as we kept dropping.
We finally set up, trying to see across to the other hillside on the mountain at between 400 to 600 yards. I couldn’t really tell the yardage, as rangefinders don’t work well when it’s snowing hard. An ibex was spotted on the hillside, but only for a moment before the snow blocked him out.
Things were not looking good when all of a sudden the guide was pointing at an approaching ibex male on our side, walking straight to us. Jack was moving into position just as the ibex sensed something was wrong and took off running. Jack, being an accomplish hunter, stood up and took the running shoot. It was very apparent the ibex was hit just as he went behind a wall of rock. The ibex burst out of the far side of the rocks, Jack was determined to put him down, shot, and the ibex slid into a hole, to everyone’s relief.
Just getting down to him was a challenge and it was a tough spot for pictures. The snow had made everything super slick for the trip out. It was uphill, in the dark and very slick for the next 3 1/2 hours. Toward the end of the uphill battle, you could see the headlights of the vehicles turned on as a guiding beacon. What a hunt! Lanceine’s third ibex was a charm on the first day. Jack’s was a whole lot tougher. Lanceine’s quest for ibex will continue. I hope I’m still packing her ammo, because really she doesn’t need me! After all, what does one bullet weigh!–Jon E. Ziegler