Breakfast was at 5:30 a.m. and our early “alarm” was the loud speaker for the first prayer of the day in the village of Yahyali, Turkey. It was early November and the animal we were pursuing was the Bezoar ibex. I was not one of the lucky hunters on this expedition, but my wife, Lanceine, was, as was my brother, Jack. I was the non-hunter this time, mainly due to limited finances, and the fact that it wasn’t my turn. When you have a wife who grew up in Montana and excels at hunting, sometimes it just isn’t your turn.
We made the trip from the U.S. to Turkey with no problems other than what a long flight always brings when you’re riding in the “cattle section.” We spent the first night in Istanbul, with great food and a good night’s sleep before continuing on another commercial flight to the city of Kayseri. That was followed by a scenic road trip to the village of Yahyali and check-in at the best motel in town, and the only motel I saw. This was our base camp, and it was quite nice if I may say so. Late that evening we met our guides and the Turkish game warden set the agenda.
After breakfast and an hour of sighting rifles, we started up the winding dirt roads to the hunting area. Trees were rare and the sparse ground cover would have been lucky to hide a squirrel. The higher we went, the more we could see the shining snow-laden peaks. According to our guide, the snow was unseasonably light for that time of the year. The lack of snow allowed us to drive higher than usual, but like the snow, the ibex were higher than usual, too. I guess that was an even trade, but the tops of the mountains are always steeper and, I can tell you, the air is definitely thinner!
My brother, Jack, had his own guide, driver and game warden, and was hunting in a different part of the area. Lanceine was the hunter in our group, and was riding in the front of the Toyota with the guide. As the ammo packer and water boy, I was shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of this downsized pickup with our English interpreter and the Turkish game warden.
After quite a climb, we parked the vehicle, gathered the daypacks and gear and started hiking to a place that turned out to be great for glassing. We were able to see a huge area! We were well below the snowline, looking into a basin that had snow-covered peaks and looked like it belonged on a post card!
After an hour, we spotted a herd of ibex well above us and just below the snowline, but there was no avenue of approach without being in the wide open. Patience, the guide said, was a necessity to get ibex. His father and grandfather had been ibex hunters, so his advice was well worth listening to. The waiting game began with the ibex bedding down, getting up to feed and ever so slowing heading our way. The ground reminded me of a porcupine, as it was “stickery” wherever you knelt or sat. We would be picking stickers from our knees and other places come nightfall.
The temperature was quite pleasant as we were on the sunny side of the mountain. Lanceine was much more patient than I, as I could hardly keep from looking to see how this process of waiting was working. The ibex were getting closer at a snail’s pace and I doubted that we would have a go at them by nightfall. I finally found an area large enough to lie down among the stickers and promptly fell asleep. I was just getting into dreamland when Lanceine gave me a violent shake and said with urgency, “we’ve got to move now!”
It’s hard enough to get the body moving at 10,000 feet when you’re awake, let alone dead asleep, not to mention my age. I got my old carcass moving and grabbed my daypack, then looked around to find everyone was starting up the mountain at a pace that I would not have liked while wide awake, let alone half asleep. I joined in the hot pursuit, but I was losing ground. Perseverance has been a trait I seem to always have, so I hung in there. After all, one must be able to keep up with the woman in his life, I kept telling myself.
The herd had dropped below a slight ridge and the guide was intent on closing as much distance as possible before we could be seen. The last piece of the final assault was up a steep bank, or small cliff, as this flatlander would call it. I made the climb with considerable effort. Then the guide motioned for us to get down as he studied the area for ibex. Lanceine has always had eyes that were second to none for spotting game, and in a brief moment, she pointed into the sun at ibex. I couldn’t see them at all, but the guide was quick to pick them up.
After throwing down his pack for a rest, the guide pointed to show Lanceine which ibex to try for. The interpreter was trying to get positioned to relay what the guide was saying in English, and I was trying to get close enough to Lanceine to hear what the interpreter was saying, while the game warden was joining in just for the fun of it. All of that was happening with a lot of whispering, finger pointing and mass confusion.
The ibex were about 300 yards away and very hard to see. The guide, looking through glasses, pointed farther to the left and tried explaining to Lanceine that she should shoot the one in the middle of the group. I was pointing at one, the guide and the interpreter were pointing at different ones. Lanceine was encircled by a bunch of guys who weren’t all on the same page, as well as having the sun in her riflescope. I’m sure at that moment she would have preferred to be all by herself to sort things out. After all, this woman has hunted a lot of places in the world. No doubt, all of that had to be a little disconcerting for her.
As always when you’re squinting into the sun, you are also highly visible. It didn’t take too long with all the whispering, arms pointing and bodies moving, for the inevitable to happen. We were busted and the ibex took off. They looked back at about 450 yards, but with no chance for a shot with the ibex all grouped up. Thus ended the first day of the hunt, and the fact that Lanceine didn’t turn the gun on all of us after that fiasco was enlightening.
The food on the hunt was a light breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, bread, vegetables and hot tea or coffee to start the day. The midday snack was bread, meats and vegetables. The evening meal was at a local restaurant that had great food! The meals at the restaurant were uncooked and in a glass display. Not speaking the local tongue, we simply pointed at what we wanted. We enjoyed beef, chicken and some of the best pizza and bread-wrapped meals I have ever had. Meals always taste great after a day in the field, and the first day was no exception. After learning our plan of attack for the next day, we hit the bunks.
The “loud speaker alarm” sounded much too soon and, after our morning meal, we headed to the same place we had been the day before, full of great expectation. We hiked to the very same spotting place and began looking. Sure enough, there the ibex were, only higher up than they’d been the day before. I asked if those were the same ibex as we’d seen yesterday, and: “No way,” was the reply. Those had been spooked out of the country by an entourage of bodies and, after discussing our current situation, it appeared the only way to take a run at these new ibex was to circle the mountain and come up the back side, hoping to get above them.
The guide assured us there were some great rams in the group and, as we had the whole day ahead of us, we backtracked and drove around the mountain until we hit snow. After unloading and gearing up, we started out. There was little snow at first and solid snow toward the top. We climbed steadily up, with the guide breaking trail in the snow. I’m sure I must have sounded like a steam engine in the back with that 10,000-foot elevation. All of the slopes were steep and you would not want to slip, as it would be one blistering-fast ride to the bottom. I’d witnessed my wife sliding backside down a snow chute during a mountain goat hunt some years back and, ever since that ordeal, I pay really close attention to near vertical slopes and snow.
The altitude kept rearing its ugly head, but eventually we made the top and took a welcome break. The guide kept peering over the top, but there were no ibex to be seen. The drainage was huge at the top, and they could have moved anywhere.
Over the top we went, ever so slowly, always looking, the guide first, Lanceine next and then the rest of us. The guide expected action at any time, and Lanceine was ready. She had practiced shooting at 350 yards and was proficient at that range. The .338 would do the job farther out if needed.
I could tell by the quick ducking of the guide that he had spotted something. He motioned for us to get down and stay down while he slipped closer over to the edge and started to glass. After a few minutes, he came crawling back and whispered to the interpreter. It was decision time. The guide explained there were two choices of action, 1) continue up the ridge to a sizeable rock for a downhill shot at 400-plus yards where I could watch, or 2) just he and Lanceine would butt slide off the face of the mountain, try to remain concealed, and close to about 250 yards.
Lanceine glanced at me and I knew she’d made her decision; she would take the close shot. We hadn’t come all the way to Turkey to miss or wound an animal because of a long distance. The guide told us again to remain completely hidden and not move or stick our heads up. He explained there were at least 12 sets of extremely sharp eyes looking in all directions below us.
The last I saw Lanceine, the rifle was lying flat across her, and she was butt-sliding off after the guide. I considered it a pure form of torture not to be able to look over. I could hardly hold still, let alone keep my head down. It seemed an eternity before that .338 barked, and though I knew I wasn’t supposed to, I looked anyway.
The ibex were hauling of out of the country. I couldn’t tell whether Lanceine had gotten the job done or not. She had closed to within 225 yards. She was pointing down the mountain for the guide, and then the handshake confirmed what I had hoped, and man was I excited. We started hopping off the mountain to catch up with Lanceine as she moved down toward her quarry. I caught up just as she was approaching her ibex, and wow — what a beauty! The sheer beauty of that ibex deserved a full body mount no matter the size of the horns, and they were great. The ram was 11 years old and the hide was just gorgeous.
In two days, Lanceine had gotten the job done and I’d had an exciting hunting adventure without even squeezing the trigger. We relaxed, took pictures and had a great time reliving the fiasco from the previous day, and the sequence of hiking up the backside of the mountain today, trying to find the ibex and the great shot. We had an enjoyable time waiting for the interrupter to go back and bring the vehicle as close as possible. It was quite a wait, but who cared? We just soaked in the sights.
Not all ibex hunts go quite so quickly. Just ask my brother, Jack. He had hiked his butt off and gotten his ibex the last afternoon on the seventh day — and he considered himself lucky.
The trip was a great time, with great people sharing great experiences. I’m hoping next time I will be the one behind the scope and in the front seat. But if that doesn’t work out, I’m going anyway. It was a great hunt and adventure!–John Ziegler