Mid-Asian Ibex Hunt: August 2017
International hunting enthusiasts have long considered the mountain ranges of Asia to be home to the best Ovis (Sheep) and Capra (Goat) hunting on the planet. The continent of Asia is quickly becoming our company’s most popular hunting destination due to the diversity of landscapes and amount of huntable game species.
The Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan as it’s commonly known, is a central Asian mountain hunter’s dream located in the western Tian Shan Mountain Range. The Tian Shan Mountains cover some 80% of the entire country. With affordable rates for both Mid-Asian Ibex and Argali, it’s no wonder that Kyrgyzstan is such a favored country to hunt. The altitude in Kyrgyzstan isn’t quite as high as what hunters experience in Tajikistan, and horses are used extensively on the hunts. Our outfitter has been operating in Kyrgyzstan since the late 80’s and has access to some of the best areas in the country. With all of this considered, Kyrgyzstan is a must-visit for all hunters, whether it’s your first international mountain hunt or you’re on your way towards your Capra/Ovis Slam.
After flying from Denver, CO to Houston, TX, I immediately met (with hugs) our good clients/friends, David Frisbie and Taylor Elston at a Mexican restaurant in the airport to toast to our adventure ahead and discuss what’s likely in our near future. Both David and Taylor had been preparing extensively for the hunt since their booking at the DSC Convention in Dallas, TX just eight months prior. David had lost 40 pounds up to that point, and they were both accurately shooting at farther distances than they ever could have imagined. I knew they were going into our hunt much more prepared, as my previous travel schedule set me back a bit. Although, I had peace of mind knowing that I live at altitude in Denver, CO. Most importantly, as both clients and friends, you couldn’t ask for two better hunting partners to share such an adventure ahead.
After a few margaritas and cervezas, we boarded our plane to make the 11- hour fight to Istanbul, Turkey via Turkish Airlines. This was the first time I had flown via Turkish Airlines overseas and it was much more comfortable than Delta Airlines. That is, for someone larger than the average bear. After a smooth flight, we landed in Istanbul and sat down at a comfortable setting for a few hours before heading over to our gate for our final leg to Kyrgyzstan. The airport in Istanbul is huge, and we finally made it to our gate to board after about a 20-minute walk. We did not have to go through customs once entering Istanbul, which was nice. After a smooth five-hour flight, we landed in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan.
As standard with all of our clients, we were immediately greeted by an airport VIP service employee to take us to the special lounge where we were able to bypass the common customs line and wait for our firearms/baggage. Our camp interpreter, Gulnaz (known as “Naz”), as well as the camp manager, Janish were waiting for us in the lounge. After introductions, discussing the recent travel and drinking some cold beer from Kyrgyzstan, our firearms/bags arrived and we were quickly loaded up into Janish’s Toyota 4-Runner to make the six-hour drive east to Janish’s home for lunch. We spent those six hours learning about Kyrgyzstan, the people, culture, food, beliefs, etc. Naz was a fantastic tour guide/interpreter. We stopped to take a few pictures at Lake Issyk-Kul, which is the second-largest mountain lake in the world. It’s beyond beautiful with the most blue/clear water you’ve ever seen. It’s so large that it looks like you’re looking out into an ocean.
Upon arrival at Janish’s home, we sat down to eat a very traditional Kyrgyzstan lunch, comprised of lamb, rice, bread, sweets, tea, and mouth-watering organic honey. They requested for us to try a glass of mare’s milk, a traditional drink of Kyrgyzstan. I have to say that it was the worst thing I have ever tasted in my entire life. But, it’s all part of the experience! It was from this point that we were to switch vehicles into Janish’s more rugged, mountain-equipped SUV for another three-hour drive to base camp in the hunting area. The ride was rough, simply put. As these things tend to happen on Asian hunts, we had a flat tire not 45 minutes into the ride on the rocky mountainside road. As Janish was quickly changing the tire, it started to lightly hail on us, simply to remind us that we’re on an Asian hunt. After Janish replaced the tire with the spare, we continued to trek across the very rocky, rugged road towards base camp. It was very difficult to not get nauseated sitting in the back seat of the SUV, as we were also now going on more than 40 hours with no sleep. Attempting to dose in and out to relieve the motion sickness, we approached a gated area that was armed by Kyrgyzstan government officials. They were posted at the gate to regulate any passing vehicles simply due to being so close to the China border. After checking our passports and validating our firearms, we had another 30 minutes to a washed-out bridge where Janish’s guides/staff were waiting with horses. The plan was to load up all of our baggage and ride the rest of the way to base camp. After getting adjusted to the horse and feeling comfortable, we had a brief two mile ride to base camp. We dropped our things in our rooms, shot our rifles to make sure they were still accurate, ate a Kyrgyzstan dinner, toasted (a few times) to a great hunt ahead, and quickly went to bed.
We awoke the next morning to a nice breakfast in base camp before packing up all of our packs to head out for the hunt. We were to be spike camping separately with our guides, so we had to ration our clothing, gear and supplies for the hunting days ahead. With full, heavy packs on our backs, we mounted up on our horses and headed east as a big group up the Kaindy River. David, Taylor and I had a few hours of riding together to chat before we split off for an unknown amount of time. The plan was that after each of us harvested our Ibex, we would then make the ride back to base camp to meet up. Crossing back and forth across the Kaindy River, riding up and down the mountainsides, and passing through local ranch homes, the reality was setting in that we had finally started our hunting adventure in Kyrgyzstan. The beauty of the mountains started to become overwhelming. After every new turn of the river, there would be a more stunning look than the one before.
Taylor and his guides broke off from the group first. They headed south from the river up another large valley for an unknown distance. David and I continued to ride east together for a few more miles until he and I split off simultaneously. David continued up the river, and I broke off and headed north with my two guides. It was at this point that I realized what the Kyrgyzstan horses were really made of. I simply could not believe how incredible of climbers they are, especially loaded with weight. It wasn’t maybe a half-mile after splitting off the Kaindy River that I found myself in one of the most nerve-racking situations I’ve ever been in. The horse trails were on the edges of cliffs and steep drop-offs so deep that you could only hear the rushing water below. Simply put, there were a few situations where my life was in my horse’s hands. My main guide, “Erik,” had me get off my horse in a few places and walk due to safety for the horse and myself.
After a few hours of breathtaking views and suffering from a sore ass, we stopped to eat some lunch next to a stream. Erik and my subguide, Urmat, gathered some water to boil so we could eat some noodles and chicken. Seeing that I was still a bit tired from all the travel recently, they gave me a mat to lie down on for about 20 minutes to take a quick nap. We drank some hot tea, and got back on our horses to keep on trekking north along the valley. While on the ride, I started to notice a few Ibex skulls here and there from Wolf kills, so I could sense that we were getting close to a good area. The few times we would cross the stream in the middle of the huge valley, I would spot some Wolf tracks, as well as a few Lynx tracks.
We finally got to a spot on the west side of the huge valley where we got off our horses to glass the opposite mountainside for some Ibex. It wasn’t after a few minutes that Erik spotted a large group of Ibex very high up on the mountain, just below the slow pack. Erik asked that I get out my spotting scope so that we could get a closer look. There were lots of pretty good billies, and I was so excited to be watching these majestic animals for the first time. Some would fight a bit, others would lie on boulders, while others would just simply stand and chew their cud. I singled-out a few billies in the group that I judged to be shooters. Erik and Urmat had previously scouted this area and knew there were some good billies, but they were happy to know that there were a few I would shoot.
Erik and Urmat set up our spike camp right in the spot we were glassing as I continued to observe the Ibex on the opposite side. I gathered that the Ibex stay up high for safety during the day and come down to feed on the grasses at lower elevation during the morning and evening time. We would camp there that night, and get up the next morning super early to cross the valley to be in position for the Ibex as they come down to feed. Once our two tents were set up, I unpacked my heavy pack and set up my sleeping bag and other essentials for the evening. It was starting to cool off extremely fast and it became quite chilly. Immediately after dinner, which included some more noodles, chicken and tea, I crawled into my zero degree bag (with liner) to sleep, and to stay warm. I didn’t even change my clothes. I was so tired and chilled that I was anxious to not only get warm, but to have the next morning come as quick as possible. I awoke in the middle of the night for a pee, and noticed flashing lights, almost like lightening over the mountains ahead. The sky was crystal clear and I assumed that maybe there was a storm far away, but it was actually the lights from China. We were hunting so close to the China border that the lights were from some sort of activity in the country, per Naz’s feedback later.
When we awoke the next morning at 4:30am, the inside of my tent was lined with frost. For any other occasion it would have been really tough to get out of my bag, but I was excited for the potential chance that morning of harvesting my first Ibex. I got my things situated using my headlamp while Erik and Urmat gathered up our horses. We mounted up and rode across the valley, crossing the creek and up the other side in the dark. Once we got to the first steep hill, we got off the horses and roped them off. Knowing that we were going to have to do some climbing to get into position for spotting, I put my trekking poles together and we started up the steep hill. It wasn’t 10 seconds until I was sucking wind. It made me feel a bit better to see my guides sucking some wind as well. Although I was in decent shape coming into this hunt, there was just something about the Kyrgyzstan air.
As we continued to climb the grassy, rock-sided hill, we finally got to a good spot to glass and wait for the Ibex to show up from the extreme, rocky cliffs above. After about 20 minutes of not spotting any Ibex, I could tell that Erik and Urmat were starting to question if the group happened to move a bit down the valley during the night. While still behind the hillside, Erik walked a bit up the valley to glass a bit in other areas while Urmat fired up the Jetboil for some hot tea and noodles (breakfast). As soon as Erik came back to us, he spotted the Ibex right above. The group was feeding on some high grass and slowly descending lower in elevation as they fed. Quickly, Urmat grabbed my pack and had me follow Erik to get a bit closer, while preventing the Ibex from seeing us climb. Crawling in a few spots, the intensity magnified as I realized that there would be a very good chance I was going to harvest my Ibex that morning. Erik was very careful, and very slow moving, which I could appreciate. He was concerned that they would see us, but the slow pace allowed for me to keep my breathing together. He would even stop a few times to let my heart rate get down. We quickly hit a point that would serve as a good position for a prone shot, and Erik ranged the group with my binoculars. With the sharp end of one of my trekking poles, he wrote on a rock “538”. I shook my head, crossed out his number and wrote “300.” After a nod, he and Urmat started to discuss a game plan on how we could get within my comfortable distance. Going into this hunt, I knew it would be fairly difficult to get within 300 yards for a shot, especially during the time of year we were there, but with it being early in the hunt I wanted to stick to it.
At that point, most of the Ibex quickly moved farther down below the peak of a hill in front of us, to where we lost sight and allowed for the perfect cover to get closer into position. There were only three Ibex that stayed up high enough that they could see us if we made a move to get closer. To stay covered, we all three crawled on our chest for nearly 100 yards beside a wall of grass before we lost sight of the three Ibex that stayed up high. Once we got to where we couldn’t see them anymore, we got up and moved closer. Little did we know that there was a massive ravine between us and the hill that we wanted to get to. After carefully dropping down and back up the other side, we approached our target spot to get the next look. While walking hunched over, Erik and I simultaneously saw two Ibex just over the hill! Really close! We immediately fell to the ground and started crawling. I knew they were so close that I wouldn’t even need to range them. I chambered a round. My heart was pounding with nerves, as I knew this was going to be it. Erik was about 10 yards ahead of me when he waved to me to hurry and get into position.
Once I met up with Erik I could see the entire group just less than 200 yards away! Looking through my scope, I had to quickly find one of the two billies I had picked out from the evening before. A bit nervous that we would be spotted, I was anxious to find the right one to shoot. After about 30 seconds of searching from billy to billy in my scope, I caught the right angle of one specifically that I remembered from the evening before. He had more width to his horns and his left side somewhat flared out to the side, different from the others. I focused in on that billy and Erik told me to shoot. Zeroed in at 200 yards, I put the middle of my crosshairs behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The billy dropped to the ground immediately at impact. Didn’t take one step. Erik and Urmat started celebrating but I quickly re-chambered a round and keep my sights on the grounded billy just in case he were to get up. Realizing he wasn’t moving, I took the safety off and received hugs from Erik and Urmat. I was so pumped. I couldn’t believe it actually happened; that I conquered the humbling Tian Shan Mountains and harvest one of the most striking animals on earth.
I took the bullet out of the chamber and we started the short trek to my Ibex. We had to drop down a ridge and back up, but I somehow did it all without taking my eye off of the Ibex on the ground. I was so excited to walk up to this animal. Erik and Urmat were ahead of me and let me pass to be the first one to its presence. The moment of touching the billy’s horn was one of the most fulfilling and special moments of my life. I was fascinated with the animal itself, and all of its features. It’s simply amazing how they grow such long, rugged, yet gorgeous horns. I was so proud that I made a good shot to make it a quick kill for this old billy. Erik started counting the age rings and said, “11.” Hearing how old this billy really was is what made it so special. He had tons of broom spots and gashes in is horns from fighting through his years. We set the regal animal up for photos and took nearly an hour of them. I love quality harvest photos, as I believe it’s the least you can do to show respect to an animal. I had to make sure there were enough decent ones given the circumstances of the language barrier, but once we were done, Erik and Urmat boiled up some noodles and tea.
I heard some barking in the distance, and it was a beautiful Red Fox smelling my Ibex just over 200 yards below. The sound of the bark and seeing that Fox I will never forget. The bright red coat in contrast with the green grassy valley and blue water was an incredible sight. Erik started to cape out the Ibex while Urmat went and fetched our horses to bring them up the mountain to us. Nearly every bit of my Ibex was taken and packed by Erik and Urmat, even the linings of many organs. Once the Ibex was caped out and the meat was packed into the saddlebags, we headed back down the mountain towards spike camp to pack up. My Ibex horns were in one of Urmat’s saddlebags, and I couldn’t stop starring at them sticking out the side as we descended. I guess I had the constant feeling of success. Once we reached our spike camp, we packed everything up and started the extremely long ride back to base camp.
The ride back to base camp was very taxing, but the site of my Ibex horns out the side of Urmat’s saddle bag reminded me how it was all worth the aches and pains. While crossing the valley bottoms, I did see Bear tracks, as well as more Lynx tracks. We also came across one location where there were more than five dead Ibex from Wolf kills.
If you do not have much experience with horseback riding, this adventure will certainly be an eye-opener. It’s not that you’re simply riding horseback for an extensive period of time, but you’re riding in the rugged mountains where use of your legs and back are constant. It’s a mental grind, and one of the most extreme grinds you can go through. Once Erik, Urmat and I reached the Kaindy River drainage where we split off from David, Erik turned on his radio to see if he could get word from David’s guide. Erik quickly received word back from David’s guide and after a few minutes of chatting, Erik handed me the radio to speak into. I assumed I would be talking to David and sure enough, he informed me that he shot his Ibex the evening before and that they were headed back to base camp. Excited, the next three hours of horseback riding game me something to look forward to. We stopped at Erik’s home and had a quick meal with he and his wife. It was certainly an experience, as their style/standards of living are very different than in the United States. They live simply, and get by with what they can. It’s a tradition in Kyrgyzstan to drop in to as many homes as possible on your way back from a successful hunt to share meat and eat a meal. I’m grateful to have experienced that.
We finally made it back to base camp and I woke David up from a nap to congratulate him on his successful hunt and fine Ibex. His Ibex skull was sitting outside and it was the first thing I could see upon arrival back. As a good friend and client, it doesn’t get much better than that. With little to no energy left, we still managed to have some dinner and drink some Vodka to two successful hunts with Janish, Naz and the guides. David and I decided to bunk in the same room to have a little bit of pillow talk about our experiences, for the little energy we had left. David harvested a fantastic Ibex, and certainly a trophy billy for anyone. David was more than thrilled with his trophy, and over the moon with the overall experience he had hunting it.
We awoke the next morning, a bit rejuvenated to have some breakfast and reorganize all of our gear from the past few days of hunting. We tipped our guides and began looking at each other’s photos from our hunts. All at the same time anxiously waiting for Taylor to return with his Ibex. It rained most of the entire day in base camp, and Taylor never returned that day from his hunt. We spent that evening sharing stories and whiskey, while enjoying the evening.
After waking up the next morning, Naz informed David and I that Taylor had shot his Ibex the day before and they were on their way back to base camp. Excited, David and I got dressed and decided to walk a few miles up the Kaindy River to meet with Taylor and his guides as they were approaching base camp. After about an hour of waiting, we spotted the three horses in the distance. As Taylor and his guides got closer, we could see his Ibex’s horns sticking out the side of a saddlebag that we were both very fortunate to have already experienced. We greeted Taylor with congratulations and hugs, and went back to base camp.
Taylor’s Ibex was a great trophy with an incredible story. Taylor was very happy with his hunt and wouldn’t have asked for anything different from his experience.
After waking up from our last night in base camp, we packed up our things and made the long ride all the way back to Bishkek. We stopped for lunch at Janish’s home as we did before. No mare’s milk this time! Once arriving to Bishkek, we checked into our nice hotel and spent our remaining days enjoying the city until our scheduled departure back to the states. Great restaurants, hookah bars, sites, etc., we took full advantage of our time in the capital city of Kyrgyzstan.
To say that the experience was a success for us three is an understatement. Not only did we each harvest beautiful Ibex, we started a new passion for international mountain hunting together. Hunting the Mid-Asian Ibex in the “heavenly mountains” (i.e. Tian Shan Mountains) was a life-changing experience for the three of us. I am extremely fortunately to have shared the hunt with two amazing guys. What we took away most from this hunt was the astounding sights, generous people, amazing culture, and the unforgiving environment. We can’t wait to get back to Asia, and Kyrgyzstan will always hold a special place in my heart.