Hunting the Bezoar Ibex in Turkey
Don’t miss Turkey! Touring this country which has been washed over by so many cultures is extremely rewarding. Istanbul is one of the world’s truly great cities and the Blue Mosque, Haggia Sophia, grand bazaar and spice market are not to be missed. The battlefield at Gallipoli stirs the emotions as do the ruins of Troy, Pergamum and Aspendos. The Church of the Virgin Mary projects an ambience rivaled by few others as do the underground cities and Christian churches of Cappadocia. The library of Celsus at Ephesus is awe inspiring. I believe the best time to take in these marvels is late November or early December. The tourists have largely gone and most importantly the Ibex are in rut!
I first hunted Turkey two weeks after 9-11. I had booked with Orhan Konakci of Safari Tours for a bear, boar, chamois, and bezoar ibex hunt with a two week tour for me and wife, Sammie Lou. She decided not to go because of her anxiety over the terrorist situation and thought that I was a fool for persisting, but not wishing to seem out of character I went anyway. I had an incredibly good time even though bear season did not open, and I didn’t get a boar or an Ibex. I got a very good Anatolian chamois, and had a great time touring. Orhan, however, had experienced a disastrous season because of the cancellations of hunters and the virtual absence of tourism, and admitting that he owed me money, asked if I would accept a future hunt in lieu of cash. Believing him to be honorable I accepted and later regaled my friends about my fabulous Turkish experience.
I have taken all the Spanish Ibex and the mid Asian Ibex, but consider the Bezoar to be the handsomest of the group, with the Spanish Greedos a close second. The Bezoar ibex is a large animal with the male at around 250 pounds being about twice the size of the females. A bezoar is a compacted mass of undigested vegetable fiber, about like a stone, found in the stomach of certain animals (and humans), but not all ibex have such and I have been unable to ascertain why this particular critter was so named. The Turkish animal has a dark brown shoulder ruff and a coal black goatee when mature. Horns over 40 inches are considered very good trophies.
I met Orhan in Antalya, a busy resort city on the southern coast, where I departed from the ladies for my hunting excursion while they continued on to Cappadocia. We had fun renewing our past adventure and then with admonition to have fun and shoot anything around 36 inches he put me on the plane to Adana via Istanbul. Traveling with my gun in Turkey was not the usual nightmarish experience. At each airport I simply showed my custom entrance form and was on my way. In Adana, the fourth largest city in Turkey, I was met by Hitchie and Omar, my attractive female interpreter and driver respectively, for a two hour drive up into the mountains where at about 3000 feet we encountered significant snowfall. I was taken to a lodge just outside a small hamlet and ushered to a comfortable room. I then met Arturo the head guide, and Yusef the local game warden who along with Omar completed our hunting party. I found that I was not only the only hunter there, but also the only guest. Supper was whenever I decided to eat, usually after returning home sometime after dark thirty, and whatever I requested from a reasonable array of choices. One night they suggested fish and when I settled on that the cooks’ helper went forthwith and caught a fat trout from a pond on the premises. I like Turkish food and had no problem with meals.
Five AM resulted in an American style breakfast, and we were off each morning thereafter. We would pick up bread, cheese, sausage, tuna or sardines at a small shop open to regulars at this hour, and then collect the others and be off for the mountains. Our conveyance was a Russian built four wheel drive Lada into which we barely fit with guns and gear. The little beast was very crude, and since all vehicles seem to be given some type of name or initialese, I thought this one should be called the Lada P.O.S. (You’ll figure it out!). Amazingly enough, we only got stuck when the snow got too deep for the machine to push, and I actually developed a grudging affection for it. It took us places I wouldn’t have imagined before we had to climb on foot.
The first morning we drove well up into the mountains and still in darkness walked off the road to a rocky outcropping where I was left alone presumably to glass whenever it became light. I settled myself into crevices in the boulders as it began then to rain. As light slowly illuminated the scene I found myself looking through the fog at a sheer canyon wall about 300 yards distant, and then realized my left leg was hanging out into space. I felt gooseflesh on my arms and neck as I looked down at the river a sheer drop 500 or more feet below.The opposite wall was pock-marked with caves, ledges, and crevices of all sorts, and at different levels. I presumed my side looked the same but the vertical wall prevented confirmation. My location was unsettling at first, since it was unsuspected, and it was certainly no place for someone with acrophobia, from which I fortunately do not suffer. It was on the other hand a photographer’s paradise, and one of the most spectacular areas I had ever hunted. I inquired as to what I should do if a suitable animal appeared across canyon since the range at some levels was consistent with a high probability shot, and was informed that of course I should shoot it. I’m used to not shooting certain animals such as elk, moose, and mountain goat when they’re in an area that can’t be climbed to or packed out of, but I was told that was not my worry or concern! “O.K.,” I thought, “I’ll play your silly game,” but I saw nothing move that morning. For lunch we drove down to a small village where we were welcomed by friends of the guides and taken to a comfortable home where we were given soup, bread, and cheese. The men said their prayers at the Ezans call and although I did not know the etiquette of the meal time or prayer call, I was made to feel comfortable. The Turks are 99% Muslim but are most moderate and respectful of the beliefs of others and definitely not inclined to cut the heads off of those who do not practice their religion. I was in several homes and was always made to feel welcome.That afternoon the rain had changed back into wet snow and my eyeglasses, binoculars and scope required constant cleaning. The P.O.S. got stuck fairly early, and so we climbed up into the walls of intersecting canyons where we had great views from the promontories. After settling down on one likely spot we heard rocks sliding below and a group of ibex bounded out into view, but contained nothing shootable. Then we spotted a bezoar ibex group on the opposite hill side. The ibex males were gathering their harems and usually that meant one mature male, maybe a juvenile with high hopes, and four to five females. I got very excited when a male showed himself with horns I could see well with the naked eye. He ranged at 270 yards and I thought he was at or beyond Orhan’s suggested length, but Arturo and Yusef said he wasn’t big enough and besides had four to five inches broken off one horn near the tip. Maybe a last day Ibex. Well, I’ve been through that before, where my ignorance would have caused me to take a marginal trophy, but then I’ve also been where the guide insists we can do a lot better and I pass on an animal never to see another! I do consider myself a trophy hunter, but I most treasure the experience of the hunt itself, and on high dollar low probability hunts I’m satisfied with a good representative mature head as being better than nothing. In any case we held off.
The following two days it rained or snowed intermittently all through the day, and we did not see an ibex. I did not initially communicate well with Arturo because of the language barrier and became concerned because we were not moving much but mostly spending the day viewing from suitable vantage points with binoculars and spotting scope. We sat down for a conference that evening and with Hitchie to interpret accurately, voiced my concerns. Well it seemed that Arturo’s last American clients preferred to hunt that way, and didn’t want to climb around the canyons even though he agreed it provided more opportunities, but really just wanted to be called when the group had acquired a probable target. Some who were younger than I by far were in poor condition or didn’t like traversing the sheer walls. I told him I wanted to hunt more aggressively, and could handle the effort required. Orhan was calling daily to see how things were going, and told Arturo that we should hunt as long as necessary for me to collect a reasonable animal and that he would take care of the girls. God bless him.
The next day I feared I had shot my mouth off once again too often. We went over the roughest sheerest terrain and glassed a vast area compared to our earlier efforts, and I knew they were inwardly smirking over giving “the old man” all the climbing and walking he could handle. On the afternoon of the fourth day, we had our first chance. Yusef spotted a good male ibex off to my left on a sandy outcropping above the river almost directly below us. It ranged 450 yards and although I constantly reminded myself to shoot horizontal yards, not vertical yards, the animal with horns just shy of 40 inches looked very small in the scope even at 14X. He lay down on a flat rock in the center of a terrace on the sheer hillside, watching his small band browse about him. Arturo told me to shoot when he stood up, and in the prone position with a solid but uncomfortable rest in the sharp rocks I waited. After about 30 minutes looking through the scope I was fatiguing and Arturo spoke to me, so I looked up to respond. You guessed it; the Ibex got up and began to walk rather quickly away. I was in “shoot” mode and did so, but shot over him in spite of a direct hold on, and he ricocheted off the canyon wall on his way across the river. I thought he gave me a crude hoof gesture during his inelegant departure. Well, that was that. Darkness came without further incident to cloak my discomfort and embarrassment.
The next day was clear, but as the front cleared out the clouds, the temperature dropped sharply, and the wind became fierce. Arturo had reports from a friend who worked at the local chromium mine of a large male in his area. I had thought all the roads we were following were logging roads, but they were, in fact the products of the chromium miners with a lot of yellow chromium oxide ore piled in front of occasional exploratory tunnels.In any case we drove the Lada to the termination of a very steep trail with precipitous drops off the shoulder until landslides blocked further progress. We then soldiered on to the top, glassing the canyons as we progressed. It was really an improvement to have good visibility without precipitation, but when exposed in the blustery wind on the ridges it was very cold. Finally by late morning we ran out of road or path and nestled among the rocks to glass the barren faces remaining opposite us. The area consisted of a deep gorge with scattered evergreens and low bushes with near vertical sides of coarse jumbled stone. As usual, I saw nothing, but after a few minutes the others began to point excitedly at a group of ibex just off the jagged pinnacles to our left, and yet another nestled among a collection of cedars on our right. With a lot of prompting made more difficult because of the language barrier, I finally saw them after several anxious minutes of being unable to pick out the marvelously camouflaged animals that were almost indistinguishable in color from the rocky terrain. Unfortunately they were at least l000 yards off, and no way could we gain ground on them in the total absence of cover between our positions. The two groups each consisted of a large male with five or six females and one or two juvenile males. The group on the right was led by the larger bezoar male, and as we watched and lay shivering behind a rocky wall, cresting our ridge, this band began to very slowly filter toward us. When they were about 600 yards I began to harbor a serious hopefulness. As they moved if I took my binoculars off them, I’d occasionally experience momentary panic as they seemed to disappear and only reappear with diligent searching. I finally learned to fix their position with a landmark I could regain easily when I took a break from the fatigue of glassing. I found myself even holding my breath as they moved closer and closer, and the dominant male would pause and look all directions before moving. I was certain they would turn away at any moment, but they continued, finally gathering in a flat grassy bottomed bowl with steep and sharp encircling rocky walls. The opening in the encircling wall through which they would pass, were they to continue their downward progress, ranged at just over 400 yards. The range I thought was manageable even with the significant altitude change, but what was really bothering me was the wind. Over the past two hours it had been very strong in the 40 knot area, but directionally it was a disaster-first in my face, and then swirling from my back. I knew I could not begin to predict a hold. It did not appear that the animals could get any closer, but only increase their distance, so it seemed one of those now or never situations. My plan was to hold directly on the ibex, (figuring 300 horizontal yards with a 300 Winchester Magnum sighted in three inches high at l00 yards), and wait if possible for a lull in the ever-changing wind. I discussed this with Arturo and he agreed. The ibex meanwhile grazed the grassy area while their leader snoozed invisibly beneath an overhanging ledge. We took the opportunity to move about 50 yards to our right, and came down on a more sheltered ledge where I had a better rest. We waited. I was so fearful of the ibex sneaking out of their enclosure that I kept diligent watch on their movement. Finally the “boss” awakened from his nap, and after making a head count moved directly toward the opening Arturo had predicted as his exit point. The by now huge ibex disappeared momentarily as the wall blocked my view through the 14X Leupold, and then he moved up the narrow defile to stand posed magnificently on the rim of the wall. He was even a better trophy then I had at first thought. There was nothing to do now but settle down and squeeze and perform as per our plan. I had a nice rest, a good hold, and was calm. I squeezed with remarkable constraint as a lull in the wind answered a prayer, and as I regained my sight picture following the recoil I looked for a prostrate form at the site. My “prostrate form” was running many miles per hour across the incredibly rough terrain and looked like a supercharged ping-pong ball! I had missed him clean. Fortunately, the ibex had no idea from where the shot had come and ran right towards us. Unfortunately, he disappeared virtually directly below the overhang we were shooting from and we didn’t know whether he would come out high to our left or low to our right when he, if ever, reappeared. Arturo and I exchanged questioning looks. “Do you think your bullet could have gone through the ibex at that range?” he queried. “Well,” I answered, “it certainly could, but the way that animal was moving he certainly wasn’t hit badly if at all.” “I asked”, he replied “because the rock flew from the wall immediately behind him as you shot.” While I was assuring him I had truly missed we were up and moving when one of our compatriots we had left at the earlier vantage point came running towards us yelling that the ibex was up in plain view to our left. I ran as hard as I could go up the treacherous path and cresting the ledge indeed saw the ibex 150 yards off standing broadside to me looking back toward his band. The cross hairs were on his shoulder and I was about to fire when Arturo grabbed the gun and said, “No”. He was fearful that the bullet might not clear the canyon rim immediately in front of us even though it was not in my sight picture. He was absolutely right and I had erred in not reducing my scope magnification consistent with the range, but things were happening much too fast. I quickly re-acquired a new sight picture as the ibex began to run to my right, but I was not at all in sync this time and missed as he entered a cedar grove and began to weave through the trees. I led him just a little as I anticipated him coming into a small clearing and let fly with my last bullet. The bezoar ibex fell as if pole-axed and tumbled back down the steep slope to end about 300 yards further down. There was much cheer and backslapping and I couldn’t grasp for a moment that we had been successful. Arturo was grinning widely and asked if I wanted to try to get down to the ibex for photos. “Damn straight!” was my reply, and down the precipice we slid. The ibex was magnificent, but the bullet placement when identified confirmed my inner suspicions. I had shot the wondrous creature through the right ear. Once again, dear reader, you have ascertained the truth. I was not aiming at the ear hole, and had made nothing more than a lucky shot I had no right to make.
Nevertheless, carrying out my impersonation of an experienced international trophy hunter, I looked at the entrance wound and modestly admitted that I had, in fact, aimed a tad lower. Arturo estimated the ibex at 44 inches, and I didn’t care, I thought he was beautiful. I got my just reward climbing out of the canyon after our photo shoot when Arturo had to reach down on two occasions when I could not get a solid grip on short segments of vertical wall. We literally flew back to the P.O.S. and had a much needed pull at the water bottle and a bite of bread and cheese while we waited for our crew.
Now Bezoar ibex in rut are very pungent, to say the least, and Orhan had warned me that full mounts smell bad for years even after all the tanning and preparation. So it was that after the ibex had been loaded and all four of us were crammed in, I turned to the guys in back and loudly proclaimed, “You guys sure stink!” We had a good laugh and a great celebratory dinner that night.
Arturo phoned Orhan, delighting him with the good news. Orhan then expeditiously arranged passage the next day on a flight from Adana to Istanbul where I would rejoin the ladies. There I was to begin my next and greatest adventure, a foray with the ladies into the wilds of the Grand Bazaar and spice market!