Taller Mountains

Any hunt can be easy or it can be hard. It depends a lot on your luck, which can be good or bad. For instance, both the bongo and the Derby eland are considered among the tough ones, but I have friends who were successful on their first hunting day. That first day might have been a long day, but by definition (at least by my definition) a one-day hunt is not a hard hunt. I was a slow starter on both those animals: I was at the mid-point of my second hunts for them before I got a shot at either.

March 20, 2017 on a hillside in Armenia. The flowers should be blooming but we got several inches of fresh snow on top of old. Many of the bears weren’t out and most of the sheep were behind snow-packed passes we couldn’t breach, but we had to keep trying.

Any serious mountain hunter, of course, will be quick to tell you that all mountain hunting is hard, but a lot of sheep and a lot of goats are taken on the first day. I apply my same definition: A one-day hunt can require a long, hard day, but it cannot be a tough hunt. However, it isn’t just a matter of the length of a hunt that makes it tough. When you’re seeing a lot of game, multiples of the specific game you seek, then you acquire the mindset that it’s just a matter of time before you find the animal you’re looking for. Uh, you could be wrong. It depends a bit on how picky you are and also the extent to which you push your luck by passing animals that maybe you shouldn’t have passed. But when you’re seeing lots of game, it’s easy to be optimistic—and that keeps a hunt from being really tough.

For me tough is when things go on day after day…without seeing much sign of the game you’re seeking. Extra-tough is when serious physical effort is required to not see the game you’re seeking! Usually you have a pretty good idea why you’re not seeing the game you’re looking for — weather, feed conditions, change in movement pattern — all the stuff you can’t do much about because you planned the hunt a long time ago based on what you thought you knew. After all, our personal crystal balls being imperfect, nobody would deliberately plan a hunt for the worst possible time or under the worst possible conditions. But stuff happens.

I’ve been back from Armenia for a week. My legs have quit hurting, but my knees are still a bit creaky and my pride could use a bit more repair. I didn’t pick a tough time on purpose. In fact, I thought I’d picked a very good time. Late March was supposed to be almost perfect, flowers in bloom, bears out, sheep and ibex enjoying the first new green of spring. This was not random opinion; March has been good for several of the folks I know who’ve hunted there. So how was I supposed to know the winter of 2016-17 would have the heaviest snowfall since 1971? Well, that’s something I couldn’t know and couldn’t plan around, nor could my outfitter. It was still winter up high where a lot of bears den, and some of the best sheep country was locked behind passes still choked with snow.

The outfitter’s literature predicted a fairly easy hunt, but it was not. I suppose the literature didn’t anticipate a late winter any more than I did. All we could do was try, so we tried. We climbed every day — fairly serious climbs. We saw a few random bear tracks, nothing fresh, and a few random sheep tracks, fresh enough but no sheep standing in them. We did see plenty of ibex, some of the easiest ibex hunting I’ve seen in Asia—but of course I didn’t want an ibex, did I?

Nobody likes to get beat, and for sure I don’t, but it’s part of our game, and it’s going to happen now and again. If you figure you’re in the wrong place or with the wrong people then you make a new plan. If you figure you’re in the right place with the right people but you drew bad conditions or an oddball year—which is what I figure happened—then, if the hunt or the game is important enough to you, you make a plan to try again. Which is what I’ll probably do.

The Armenian Highlands are beautiful mountains, essentially the gateway to the Caucasus. I did notice something unusual about them. As the days wore on, they seemed to get steeper and taller each and every day. It has to be that, right? It couldn’t possibly be that I’m getting older, wearing out a bit more quickly every day? No, surely not! But it was one of those situations that defines a tough hunt: Unfavorable conditions, success seeming less likely every day, but if you don’t try then there is no chance at all. So we tried, and I’ll try again. I’m convinced the mountains are getting taller and steeper, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got a few years left before they grow too tall and too steep for me to climb.–Craig Boddington

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