Outside our world the word “ibex” is probably most often encountered in crossword puzzles. We hunters know there are at least a baker’s dozen of these long-horned goats scattered across Europe, Asia and North Africa…more if you include hybrids and turs. The Nubian ibex, bridging from North Africa to Southwest Asia, is almost impossible to hunt right now, but the European and Asian varieties are all available.
Hunting a dozen-plus-varieties of any animal is a daunting task. But you gotta start somewhere. It’s sort of like going into a swimming pool. Some of us dive into the deep end. That would be any of the Asian varieties — true adventure hunts. Most of us step into the shallow end. With ibex hunting that is Spain. Mind you, this is not knocking the shallow end where the water is comfortable and you grow accustomed to it gradually! The Spanish ibex offers hunting that is highly successful, usually in mountains of moderate difficulty, with highly organized and experienced outfitters, awesome accommodations and food at affordable prices.
On this last, to some extent international hunting is based on supply and demand. When I started hunting, a Spanish ibex—then we considered just one—was a difficult goal and very expensive. After World War II, the population was at a low ebb and permits were almost impossible. Wild goats are generally more prolific and hardier than sheep; given protection they can rebound quickly. Spain got her act together and her ibex received the protection they needed. Populations rebounded, permits became available, and the rest is history except, as Spain’s ibex continue to expand in both numbers and range, there are more permits every year.
It was more than 25 years ago that I shot my first Spanish ibex in the Gredos; what we now call a Gredos ibex. This is because, based on regional body and horn size and typical horn configuration, we hunters now consider four distinct Spanish ibexes: Gredos, Beceite, southeastern and Ronda. The ability to offer four different ibexes in one country has been an obvious boon to Spanish outfitters, and Spain has the largest outfitting industry in Europe. Exact science behind this differentiation is squishy, but I’ve hunted them all and there are distinct differences in habitat, size and physical appearance.
That’s not the point. With planning, luck and a larger budget than I’ve ever had, it is possible to take all four Spanish ibexes in one extended hunt. I didn’t even try; I took about 15 years to take all four. That said, I never had an unsuccessful hunt; I just didn’t do the hunts back-to-back or year-to-year. Donna also got a Beceite ibex when I got my first one about 13 years ago. She has been kind enough to step back while I completed some goals, but it’s really her turn, so in October 2017 we planned a Spanish ibex hunt that was altogether hers, with me along purely as an observer. Ah, at last, here’s the point: The price for her Spanish ibex hunt in 2017 was about the same as for my first Spanish ibex hunt in the early 1990s.
If you factor in inflation, you could say that prices have come down, but the real point here isn’t cost but availability. Spanish ibex have increased dramatically and continue to increase all across Spain’s diverse mountain habitats. The price is the price, but with more permits available the costs have stayed down. At SCI 2017 Donna booked a Spanish ibex hunt with Pablo Carol’s International Wild Hunting. The intent was to hunt Gredos ibex, by record measurement the largest Spanish ibex, and in my experience a classic mountain hunt. We planned to be in Mozambique in late October, so this hunt would be a European stopover on the way.
I think we all knew mid-October was too early for ideal ibex hunting. Spain has a Mediterranean climate; October can be warm, and these ibexes don’t rut until late November or December. But it’s still a numbers game, and ibex are now plentiful. I figured it would work, until it didn’t. Pablo and his partner, Joaquin Vadillo, met us at the airport with long faces. It was hot and dry and the ibex weren’t moving. The gamekeepers in their Gredos area weren’t seeing any good males. We could try, or we could switch to southeastern ibex in the Sierra Nevadas or to Ronda. The weather wasn’t better in either area—still hot and dry—but in southern Spain the mountains are more open and the guys were seeing more ibex. Our chances were better.
I know what I would have done, but it was Donna’s hunt and her decision. I had really pumped Gredos as the most classic Spanish ibex hunt, so I (mostly) kept my mouth shut. Donna has a Beceite ibex, but not a Gredos or a southeastern or a Ronda. So, very wisely, she asked Pablo for his recommendation. He said the Sierra Nevadas for southeastern ibex offered the best opportunity, given the conditions. Shortly, we were headed south from Madrid.
This was a good decision, but also a totally amazing opportunity. In my time, just a couple decades ago, all available permits were spoken for long in advance. If the timing wasn’t right, too bad—there was no reclama or chance to switch areas. It was obviously very good of outfitter Pablo Carol to be honest and offer the best opportunity—in contravention of plans—but also a reflection of how hunting Spanish ibex has changed, and how available permits are today.
So we bombed down to Granada and then on along the Sierra Nevadas almost to the coast. In switching areas, we had lost nearly a day, seemingly serious since Spanish ibex hunts are typically short and we hadn’t planned extra time. Pablo and Joaquin checked us into a wonderful little hotel in a mountain village. We changed clothes, grabbed gear, and quickly made up for lost time. We drove to the ocean, turned left, met the local gamekeepers, drove up into some coastal hills and immediately started glassing ibex. Lots of ibex!
Honestly, we could have shot a fantastic ibex that evening at sunset. Donna had him in her crosshairs, but instead of stopping to offer a shot he vanished into a cut and the light was going too quickly to reposition. No worries; we now had plenty of time. Better, we’d seen this good ibex and another at least as good, and we knew where they were.
At sunrise, we were on a rocky ridge looking down into a deep arroyo alive with ibex. We waited, and one of the big males we’d seen—I’m not certain which one—started making his way toward us. There was a cutbank in the bottom of the valley. As he approached, Donna set up over packs and when he stood clear, she hammered him at about 250 yards. He was a fine southeastern Spanish ibex—certainly better than the average Gredos ibex she might have gotten! And, although it was a short hunt, we now had time. We enjoyed the Mediterranean coast, went to a flamenco show and worked our way back to Madrid. That, too, is part of Spanish hunting and why ibex hunting in Spain, if not the best of ibex hunting, is for sure the most enjoyable!–Craig Boddington