Sometimes you see something you know you'll never experience again. This is where these stories lives on beyond the campfire.

Tomo Svetic

Hunting in Kyrgyzstan

October 5, 2013 • Naryn, Kyrgyzstan
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“I grew up in a coastal region of Croatia, surrounded by high mountains and numerous islands in Adriatic sea. I’ve had the best of two very different worlds and maybe that’s why I am in love with the Alps and high mountains, maybe that’s why I spent years of hunting in mountains 900-1800m and always wanted to go higher. ”

Wild boar, bears, wolves, chamois, deer and birds were in my sight and still they are but the dream was slightly different. In my dream the main trophy wish was an Ibex, not any Ibex but the Mid Asian Ibex (Siberian Ibex) from Kyrgyzstan, the most glorious one and the biggest of all in wild goats’ subspecies world, the one which is hard to get.

Simon, Craig and I were on the main road from the airport in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, to Naryn, a province center in central Kyrgyzstan. The flight from England was 12h and we had another 10h drive to reach our camp in high Tian Shan mountain range. Even though it was the main road linking Kyrgyzstan with China most of the time we were driving on the gravely road abused by harsh weather for centuries. It is the part of an ancient road called “The Silk road” connecting Europe and Asia for more than 2000 years. At one point we reached 3030m. It was the highest road I’ve been ever driven on. Our comfortable modern 4×4 was eating the dusty road towards our first stop point to get all the tags and documents for the hunt. On our way we tried some of the local traditional delicacies beside the road such as horse milk and hard cow cheese. The paper work took us half an hour and we were again on the road to our base at 2600m. Shortly after we were off road meeting nomads on horses and their livestock around traditional houses called “Jurta”. Finally we arrived to our base made of two old rail wagons and greeted by our host Joke and few other members of staff. The adrenaline kicked in and suddenly we weren’t tired anymore, we just wanted to check our rifles and go chasing our dream trophies.

Very quickly we unpacked our luggage and went to check our rifles and scopes for tomorrow’s expedition. We were the first foreign hunters ever in this part of Kyrgyzstan and locals, who were also our guides, surrounded us. They didn’t want to miss the opportunity seeing our powerful rifles and scopes on the range. Simon used his Mauser M03 300WM, Craig used his BAT 300 RUM custom made and I had with me Christensen Arms. It took us some time to re-zero our rifles and adjust our ballistics to much higher altitude than at the WMS range in Wales. Locals enjoyed our shooting and some of them had a go at the targets. Confident with our equipment we ended our day and we were ready for some local dinner, planning our hunt drinking vodka and sleeping in very basic but comfortable “rooms”.

First day
It was 5 am and we were having basic but nice breakfast with traditional and very tasty tea or “chaj”. We checked our equipment and backpacks once again, had a brief chat and it was time to move on. We were ready to go hunting and stay in th mountains for few days. Our horses were packed up with so much staff and gear that I was wondering how that will work. I am big guy and those horses were much smaller and calmer than ours in Europe. There it wasn’t all about the size, it was more about the stamina and endurance. Horse riding was new to me, while Simon and Craig had some experience. It was amazing feel on that frosty morning riding our horses packed up with our rifles on our back through streams and canyons. The surrounding was just spectacular, like in the movies about exploring new world. On our way we picked up a few guides from their jurtas and the convoy of 5 guides and 3 hunters went uphill. Until afternoon we reached almost 3500m where the cave and our base for the first night were.

Even though we had 1 or 2 short stops to rest the horses and stretch our legs more than 6 hours in saddle riding narrow and steep trails was tiring but not as much as I expected. On some occasions I thought that my horse and I will end up rolling for hundreds of meters downhill, ending my hunt before the start. I was very pleased when our guides told us that we will spend our day in cave and our late afternoon spend observing Ibex positions close by. That late afternoon we were observing from high peaks Ibexes which roamed cliffs below. The point with any goat hunt is that you have to use the terrain in your advantage and be higher than your pray. Normally it works well giving you good advantage to check the animals, and analyze your plan how to get closer, aim without disturbing them. In this type of hunt that is considered one of the toughest and most challenging the time is crucial to prepare you for a long range shot and to choose the right animal. That afternoon we saw many females, youngsters 1-3 years old – nothing in trophy range, but still very exciting and enjoyable. After the stalk we had basic dinner of some cheese, canned fish, naan bread and tea in front of our tents and cave.

Second day
We got up early to get at one ridge where we saw few young male ibexes, which were interesting to watch but not what we were looking for. We moved on to another position where finally we managed to find 5 big trophies and 3 of them very big. We tried really hard to spot them in the pine wood 650m below us but our eyes couldn’t find them while our guides were observing them in excitement questioning our sight abilities. It is very common thing that on new terrain and on the species you don’t see often or very hardly, you need to adapt your eyes and brain. Craig managed to see a huge one but I was struggling while Simon was shivering under the strong sunlight. We were sunburned, but all three of us didn’t care because for the first time we were taking our positions around the ridge to wait for our trophies. We had a plan and good spirit.

Few hours later our trophies changed their position, but in the opposite direction and leaving us empty handed. Getting to our position was hard work and we had long walk down steep cliffs to meet our horses and most of the guides. By the spring water we had a good rest, something to eat and time to discuss the plan. It was late afternoon and we were far away from the next Ibex position so the plan was to go to a local jurta and from there to go by Lada Niva to our base and spend the night there taking more supplies.

Third day
Sleeping in our wagon was a good thing. We left the base in good spirit riding through the canyon on this frosty morning. The sun was getting higher and so were we. We got to the place below high cliffs where our scouts Nurlan and Koko noticed high above us some Ibex. We needed a few minutes to get them in our sight and this time it was so exciting seeing trophies we were after. My first proper Mid Asian Ibex looked impressive. Unfortunately they were 1000m+ away and had the advantage over us, so we had to climb to a better position. For the Ibexes it was time to go to sleep, for us to get to the best position before late afternoon, when they start moving again.

Few hours of riding through some pine woods was rough but climbing to the ridge over 4000m was scary. It was so steep that our horses were sliding back and at that point we had to climb on foot which was very hard for all of us. We made it to the top after some time and we were so happy that we conquered the biggest obstacle between us and our pray. Now it was time to ride to the ridges above Ibexes we saw earlier. Our guides picked 3 different points to observe and the three of us were left with one guide. We were observing and whispering about chances of getting at least one trophy when our main guide we called Geronimo galloped to us saying “Teke, Teke, big teke”. We jumped in a hurry on our horses and followed him for 700m. That was the place where they spotted some trophies.

We stalked in prone to get the sight of the trophies. They were there, five in group, one very big and two of them massive. In mountain hunting you have to use the first available chance, if you like the trophy. So we decided that we will try to shoot all at once at 3 different trophies. They were moving uphill and separating giving us chance for safe shooting. It was so exciting that I needed some time to get my breathing right and calm the illuminated crosshair of my excellent rifle scope. My Swarovski Optik rifle scope gave me the reading of 268m corrected range. We adjusted our turrets and were ready to shoot at 270-300m. Craig started counting. One, two, three and 3×300 caliber noise broke the air. Craig hit his hard and he went down, Simon missed due muzzle break blast from 300 RUM, I hit mine too but… Craig’s Ibex got up and moved higher, Simon’s and mine were running. Mine went lower down the cliff and I fired two times more to stop him. One bullet left in my chamber and I was just about to take a shot at the Ibex walking slowly downhill when Craig fired second round sending the massive beast down. Our guides said that two are down for sure even though only Craig’s trophy was lying below a big boulder. Three guides and Craig went downhill to get closer to his trophy and two of us were waiting for the news. The one down had two perfect hits in the chest by Craig’s 300RUM and long blood trail. Mine 180gr Nosler BT didn’t penetrate enough and there was no blood trail. It was late and we had to go to sleep. Spike tent, warm tea and noodle soup helped us to get through the frosty night. I couldn’t sleep thinking of my excellent shot with poor bullet performance and the biggest trophy there.

Fourth day
We all got up, happy that Craig got his trophy and we split in two groups. Craig will go with 4 guides to retrieve his trophy and find mine and I’ll go with Simon and two other guides to find another group of animals before they get back to sleep. It was a steep about the day ahead of us. After 15 min riding and climbing the highest ground so far, our scout Nurlan noticed a big Ibex. “Teke, big teke.” It was a mature big loaner just about climbing the rocks to get to his sleep after long night of grazing. “Simon, this one is yours. Take it.” Simon left on his horse following his guide Koko. Nurlan moved downhill and I went higher to get a good position if the Ibex decide to get in my way. Simon was 700m away from me, taking his position, measuring the distance and dialing up his riflescope.

Time passed and I was looking through my Swarovski Optik rifle scope at Simon in anticipation and excitement to see him firing the shot. First smoke and dust and then bang!!! 300WM echoed through high peaks and I could see the Ibex running towards the cliff. It was a good hit. The Ibex went slowly towards the mountain edge and disappeared. We all jumped on our horses to get to the position where we saw the Ibex going down. Everyone was excited and worried because before the edge there was no blood trail. Nurlan got to the cliff first and shouted “Teke, mrtav” (The Ibex is dead). We were too excited at least and I was so relieved that both of my mates got their trophies and that I saw both of them taking them. At this stage I didn’t even care if I’ll get another chance. Pulling out the big Ibex from the steep cliff was dangerous. But already an hour later Craig and his crew joined us with his trophy. Photographing and skinning took us some time and then we had to go back to our base. Our guides wasted nothing form Ibex so our horses were loaded to say at least.

Riding for hours downhill on these steep cliffs was very painful and not an easy task for some of us. My knees were in bad shape when we finally came to the valley near the stream which was our meeting point few days ago. Konut, our guide, prepared “Kurdak”- Ibex dish on open fire. It was delicious and well appreciated. Our host Joke in his Lada Niva brought some champagne and vodka to celebrate our success. After a good meal and celebration we went back to the base, so I could prepare for my hunt the next day.

Fifth day
A sleepless night didn’t help me at all, but I felt okay and positive. Leaving mates behind wasn’t fun, but I decided it is the best thing to do because less people cause less mistakes and I only had two days left to get a chance. With me were 4 guides and I got a new horse to ride on. The ground was very steep from the beginning of our ascending and our horses struggled to keep the balance and carry us through some thorny bush and pine trees. My horse tripped and we ended down sliding down the hill. It was a difficult position for both of us but while horse managed to stand up I was on my back attached to my stirrup only with part of my sole. Not a good start for the day but my rifle was okay, the scope was unattached and I was in a good mood.

On our way climbing up we saw 1 Siberian roebuck and 3 does. They offered me to take the buck that was big and much bigger than what we shoot in Europe, but I was on the mission and I didn’t want to do anything that could affect my chances on the Ibex. We reached the peak of 3900m and the plateau was very grassy, unusually flat with many cliffs on all sides. The plan was to start observing all the points so we split in 3 groups. The observation wasn’t successful and after changing our positions few times, it was time to take a good rest and try it again in the afternoon. I expected somehow that my hunt won’t be any easier so after few bites and bottle of water I laid on some green and soft bush to take a nap. All five of us slept for 2-3 hours exposed to strong sunlight.

When I woke up one of my scout was gone to another position and the second one was just about to leave. The other two were still asleep. We were tired after these days of riding and climbing dusty terrain. I took my Swarovski Optik binoculars and the rifle to check a few high points which looked promising. The sun was still high and it was very warm in the open but I could see 3 young Ibex grazing 450m down in the canyon. There in the shade it was cold, so they enjoyed themselves and if there was a big one he was probably still asleep waiting for late afternoon to stretch his legs before moving higher. My guides joined me and explained that we should move on. We moved to some new parts of the mountain where they saw an Ibex while scouting a few weeks earlier. The routine was the same, ride a horse to some place and then on foot or belly slowly get into the position to observe the terrain.

Hours passed and it was quite dark and we saw only females and youngsters. It’s not that I was worried but it made me feeling like I was getting too close to the end of my hunt and my chances. Anyway, riding horses in the dark on very dangerous terrain was pretty much demanding which focused me rather on the riding and staying alive. I will never understand how horses managed to pass the obstacles and how on earth we managed to find our camping position that evening. No GPS or any technology and yet we met our scouts. They were happy and finally they had some good news.

20min riding away they spotted few big trophies amongst smaller ones. For them the job was done, because they know the Ibex routine and places, where they’ll go to sleep. It put even more pressure on me because I knew that it will be probably my last chance and I’ll have to deliver an accurate shot at a long range. After dinner and some hot tea 4 of us squeezed in the tent and Konut slept outside. My night was sleepless and for the first time in my life I was stressed about my performance in the morning. I spent hours thinking of my ballistics, checking up the ballistic chart on my phone, thinking about the clicks and the range finder. It were all sorts of questions, which didn’t help, because I did that already many times and tried at the range before my trip.

At 4 am I sneaked out my tent and it was cold but I couldn’t sleep so I decided to walk around. Our horses were grazing around and -7 °C didn’t bother them. The sun was slowly getting behind mountains on Chinese side of Tien Shan mountain and the dawn looked amazing. My guides got up and we went riding towards our Ibex position. We didn’t eat and we left all our stuff except rifles and binos in our base. 15 min later we stopped and started to go forward by foot. 10 min later and we are on the edge of the canyon where they saw Ibex last night. Immediately we saw 6 females and 7 young at 800m. The big ones weren’t in that herd but they weren’t far from them. Going downhill wasn’t easy and the last 100 m we covered on belly. The dust and dried grass was in my nostrils, eyes and mouth. It was very unpleasant but necessary work to get closer to the stony peak. Everyone had the same problem and one of the scouts got something in his eye. He felt a lot of pain and last drops of water we spent cleaning his eye. Far away on the other side of the canyon finally my guides spotted a big Ibex and a few smaller ones. They were on 900 m going towards us. The sight was amazing.

We observed them for at least an hour and a half before they went downhill in the shade of the canyon where they normally spend the night. On their way down young Ibexes had some fighting. The big one was always there but not too close. It was 9:30 AM when the big one moved away from them trying to get his place to sleep. Now it was time for us to do some stalking. The Ibex was 450m from me down in the canyon, there was no wind and I had a chance to take some time and pull the trigger. They gave me a choice but even though I was able to do it and I did it many times in worse conditions I asked two guys to accompany me stalking to get closer to the animal. I really wanted to get closer and see him properly.

Stalking was really rough and a slow process. It was very risky because just one wrong move and my chance could be ruined. Small stones were everywhere in the grass and we had to take step by step to prevent them from rolling downhill. Sometimes we were going down, sometimes up on all four. We were in sweat, without breath and occasionally I’d think that my decision might be wrong. Beside a difficult terrain we had to keep an eye on the surrounding area because there were females and young ones around. An hour later and we finally got to the position. Last few meters we covered prone and all we wanted is to have a peak behind the ridge. There was “my” trophy, laying peacefully still digesting his food. The Swarovski Optik range finder showed me corrected range of 198m and my ballistic chart 4.8 clicks at that range. I dialed up my riflescope and put magnification on 6x. This was a routine shot for me and quite easy with a good rest, but when you take the trophy which can take the punch and ran with it for few hundred meters or just enough to jump of the cliff leaving you empty handed you must be prepared for the follow up shot. At this distance 6x was perfect to me beyond that 8x would be maximum, less magnification gives you this ability.

It took me 2-3 minutes to calm down my breathing and to rest my rifle using two backpacks before I was ready to squeeze the trigger. Normally I avoid shooting animals while they are lying down so with a stone in my left hand I made the noise and the ram stood up. The shot put him down but he got up again and moved under the tree. My next shot was through the hips just in case to prevent him jumping down 300m cliffs, that’s all I could see of him. The Ibex started rolling down for 100m and stopped. We needed 25 min to reach the Ibex and two guides, we left behind, needed one full hour to get to us with our horses. In that hour we experienced a very strong wind, gale, icy rain and horrifying thunderstorm but at this stage, it didn’t matter to me. I was well protected by the Deerhunter Recon suit and I got my trophy. We had a small celebration and then a quick photo session with the trophy.

In base everything was ready for the trophy preparation before our trip back home. It was time to pack our stuff for tomorrow’s drive to Bishkek and we knew that it would be a long evening spiced with vodka and few beers. In the morning all our guides came for the big farewell and it was very nice to meet them once again before our journey to Bishkek. In Bishkek we got all the commodities of the modern world. In one day we got all the export documents for our trophies and we had the whole day to explore the capital city with our Kyrgyz hosts.

This type of hunt is for an adventurous hunter seeking for rough terrain, unpredictable challenges and amazing trophy as a reward. It is a 10 day trip which will take you to astonishing mountains and a different culture.

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