Tony and I had booked two hunts at the SCI Convention and though it was still six weeks away since Tommy’s passing, how could I garner the strength to go on? My eyes swelled and a floodgate of tears poured down upon my face. It shouldn’t have happened. There was no explanation. My son, Tommy, at the age of 35, was found dead in bed March 5th, 2017. No parent should ever have to endure the loss of a child. I have never felt such heartache and sadness. Life would not be the same. Memories, so many of them, were triggered with a word, a place, a thought. The tears found no end. How does a parent ever find the comfort zone of peace within?
As I wallowed in aimless direction, everyone convinced me I needed to get out of the house for the trip would do me good. Weak kneed, blurry-eyed and overwhelmed, Tony and I packed our bags and headed to the airport to catch our flight to Barcelona. I had already e-mailed the outfitters and forewarned Spain Hunting Ibex and Caprinae that not only was I not physically prepared but also very emotional.
On my quest for the Diana, the Committee wanted to see more mountain species in my collection. A Pyrenean chamois, Beceite ibex and an eastern tur were on the agenda. Hopefully, it would seal the deal. I have been in arm’s reach but never quite there. As a sidenote, so many Diana’s reached out to me when they heard of my loss. Not only are they inspirational and dedicated to hunting and conservation, they are without doubt, the heart of a culmination of women who truly care and offer the camaraderie of friendship and advice as needed.
We arrived as scheduled and were taken to a hotel where we would hunt the chamois first with our Outfitter, Inigo. I found myself absorbed in the beauty of the mountains and the abundance of chamois. The air was crisp and the skies so blue. I felt my son’s presence in a way I did not anticipate. Of course, that made me cry. Thank goodness I had warned everyone this could be expected. Being a flatlander from Florida, my legs surprisingly handled the mountains. On day two, I was blessed to have a beautiful chamois in my sight. He was just what I had hoped for, heavy and approximately 12- to 13-years-old. With a single shot, he was mine. Onward ho to Beceite ibex country.
We drove south, southwest for four hours and skirted the Mediterranean Sea before we headed north toward the mountains. I was in awe of the hundreds and hundreds of rock walls defining the terraces built in yesteryear. As we pulled up to the lodge, a bronzed ibex greeted the pathway to our suite where Alfonso XIII’s bedroom furnishings graced the room. So rich in history, we were impressed. An old chapel had been made into the dining room. Above the chapel, a sculpture of Jesus Christ soared in the sky. His presence was near. I needed that.
Salva Monforte and his assistant Natalia were our hosts and Tony and I could not have felt more welcomed. You meet people and you just know they are good people. Anyone in search for a Beceite ibex need look no further. Everything was handled to perfection. Our outfitter, Sorin, had done his homework and had seen some very large ibex in several locations. It was a matter of being at the right place at the right time. We were determined we would leave with an ibex and we did! It was day three and we had gone to a new location. Sorin had seen one a week earlier and said it was an early riser so it was important we get a head start before the sun came up.
Like clockwork, we headed up the mountain and, to our surprise, there he was! Had we been a few minutes later, we would have missed him. He was big, old and beautiful! I will never forget the burst of emotion from Sorin when we turned the corner. Hunters have seen it but if you are not a hunter, I guess the best way to explain it is having the winning lottery ticket and doing the double take to make sure it is really happening. I pulled the trigger and he was down. Sorin squeezed me so tightly I needed air to replenish my lungs.
We celebrated our success and with the extra time on hand, took in the sights of the nearby village of Morella. Established in the 13th Century, Morella is completely walled with gargantuas entry doors. Since it was Sunday, we went to Sunday service at Basilica De St Maria, which was built in 1270. Again, I was filled with emotional presence. It is the most beautiful church I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The details left us in awe. The small streets were filled with vendors selling cheeses, olives, vegetables and whatnots. Another perfect day.
Dinner plans were made at yet another fabulous location not far from the lodge. Built into the mountain was a restaurant and a small chapel. It has been said this specific location for a restaurant was chosen because there had been a vision of the Virgin Mary. Again, its presence had my heart feel close to Tommy.
I don’t know what came over me, but I became entranced in a pathway. (I believe, but do not normally go to church.) Salva and Natalia were not only able to provide a fabulous hunt but they single handedly directed me to the healing powers of life. Without spoken words, I felt as though my son had now reached his destination in Heaven, having taken the stairwell to everlasting life. Though I will continue to mourn and go through the steps necessary to find healing, Tommy made it. Tommy was with me! He had been with me through the hunt.
It was time to leave Barcelona and head to Azerbaijan. This part of the hunting trip had me concerned. I’m not normally afraid of anything much but I went so far as to order insurance from Global Rescue. Tony and I were told this would be a difficult hunt with steep mountains. They weren’t kidding.
We spent two nights in Baku before our driver took us on a 4 1/2-hour drive to Sheki where we would downsize and take only what we needed for the 2. 1/2-hour horse ride to the base camp. Both Tony and I would be hunting tur. We knew it was a large mission for the five-day hunt.
Base camp consisted of three one-man tents and two tarped areas, one called the “kitchen” and the other for the rest of the crew. Being a Florida girl, cold and I do not get along very well. I am cold at 75 degrees! Sleeping in two sets of long johns, socks and ear warmers would be the attire for the next few days in that mummy bag of mine. One rollover and I would be off the mat that the bag rested on. The restroom facility would be the tree of my choice and the sink would be a converted plastic coke bottle filled with water from melted snow. Oh, joy. I’ve had camps like this before, which wasn’t ever a problem, but as I get older, the convenience of a cot would have been the cat’s meow.
I knew the mountains would be steep but I didn’t think they would be that steep! Good Lord! Snow capped, rocky and slippery, I was personally thrilled that the horses could only go so far. By this time, I knew I would only be able to trust my own two feet. Our four-legged friends were on their own! The air got skinny or I just wasn’t used to such a steep climb. Figo, the 70-year-old assistant to the outfitter, grabbed my hand and kept me steady as needed. There is nothing more embarrassing than having someone older than you look after you. But, this was his life and billy goat, he was.
A monster of a tur came into my sight. Cuneyt, our interpreter, was excited. It would be a 270-meter shot. I had to run down the mountain a bit to find some kind of position where I could get a shot off. Of course, my kneecaps took fright and down I went and yes, I missed the tur. I don’t know how, but I did. We were all disappointed but no one more than me. It would mean I’d have to endure these damned mountains more than I was prepared for. We were already on them for nearly 10 hours. Again, luck was on my side and the Heavens were looking down upon me. Of course, that is a matter of opinion because we were above the clouds. Isn’t Heaven supposed to be there?
We came across another tur two hours later. Our interpreter and guide had been on top of the mountain to see if we would be able to reunite with the monster. Tony, the other guys and I were 100 or so meters down where one of the guys saw a tur headed in our direction. They hurried me into position. “Grande” was the term used and I had no reason to question them. I looked over the edge, saw the weight of horn on the last one in line, and shot as requested by my excited entourage.
They asked me to “shoot, shoot, shoot again” but my tur was kneecaps over bottom, tumbling down the mountain. There was not going to be the need of another shot. He was a done deal. He was approximately seven years in age with heavy bases and average length. Our interpreter went into a rage of fury for not having been brought into the decision to shoot by the guys. Though I am not fond of taking representative species, I took this animal’s life and I will honor him. He made book and he was mine.
It was now Tony’s turn to hunt tur. I was actually surprised that he was even able to walk the next day since we both felt our legs were jelly. The vim and vigor in us had got up and gone because of the extremely difficult day we had just survived along with the very cold night we had endured in our little pup tents.
Being the awesome, wonderful trooper he is, Tony got his mindset in place and headed up the mountain range. He did this for an additional couple of tough days. When I say tough, take it and multiply it by three. That would still only represent a fraction of the difficulty this hunt would have on a person. On the fourth day, Tony made an unbelievable 580-meter shot. The guys retrieved it and the cigars rolled out to celebrate this fantastic specimen of a tur.
We packed up what belongings we had, rode the horses down the rocky declines and followed the rushing, mucky waters back toward civilization. Again, awed by the inspiring beauty of these hellish majestic mountains and what we had just accomplished, I did my part to help fill the reservoirs as emotion overcame me realizing that it had now been eight weeks to the day and hour since my son passed.
Partly there, we met up with a Russian truck that took us to the checkpoint. For any of you who have this insanely crazy idea that you would like to hunt tur, forego the truck and ride the horses. Trust me on this one.
Our hunt was over. Sixteen days whisked by. As we got onto the plane to return stateside, a multitude of emotion again overwhelmed me, this time, the good kind. I thought to myself that it’s funny where we find strength. I definitely found it in Tony. Without his support during this journey, I don’t know how I could have dealt with life. It could be a hug. It could be a kind face from a stranger who didn’t even realize he or she impacted our life with what they said or did. It could be tackling something you thought was nearly impossible. The lesson learned here is our loved ones will always be with us, sharing their strength from their new surroundings. They will reach into the depths of our souls and let us know they are still with us spiritually. It took the pathway up the mountainside to find this inner strength to know we will never be alone.–Angie D. Hall