By Pedro Ampuero
Mongolia — Altai Mountains
At 3,500 meters, the air is thin and our breath is heavy. We’ve been hiking straight up for five hours, trying to get above a group of bedded ibex billies. It’s my second trip in a month to the Altai Mountains, and after so many hunting days, you look at the bow in your hand and wonder why we like to make hard things even harder. I try to get my head together and away from bad thoughts while I climb down a scary cliff to get within bow range of the oldest billy.
At 80 meters, I reach a dead end. I cannot get any closer.
I range the bedded billy and get a compensated distance of 52 meters. It’s a complicated shot, but you need to come to this place with your homework done. I correct the multi-pin moveable sight to the exact yardage. I must be precise. Every meter counts. A lot of things come to my mind during the 15 minutes it takes the billy to stand up, but as I see it move, I take a deep breath, clear my mind, and draw the bow back.
The Grand Slam Club Ovis Archery Capra World Slam is the achievement of taking 12 different species of “capra” (goats) from around the world. Goats, more than any other animal, are known to live in some of the roughest and steepest terrain on the highest mountain ranges of the world. To some, this would be a goal to strive for, but I see it as a byproduct of my drive to the unknown. A drive to discover new countries, hike different mountain ranges, share campfires with hunters from other cultures, pursue animals that you have never seen before, and experience the beauty of the huge diversity this world has to offer. These wonderful animals are just the excuse for traveling.
Traveling the globe has allowed me to understand other cultures better and put things into perspective. Probably the most amazing thing about hunters, is that no matter where you are from, your culture, or your social standing, we understand each other, work together toward a common goal, and celebrate as equals. We don’t often think about this, but hunting breaks down barriers. I can have the same relationship and complicity with a guide from the Nubian Desert in Africa as I can with a guy from the Himalayas in Pakistan, or an outfitter from the British Columbian Rockies. There’s nothing like hunting.
Another common occurrence that’s exactly the same anywhere you travel, especially on mountain hunts, is the facial expression of your local guide when you pull your bow out of its case. With an excited smile you share your effective range and how bowhunting works, and you can easily tell by their faces and comments that they think you’re an idiot. That is why I never bring a rifle with me. When they realize there is no choice other than the bow, they reluctantly accept the situation and will try their best to make it happen for you.
Turkey — Taurus Mountains
It’s the 16th day of hunting for Bezoar ibex. Never underestimate a trip. Nothing comes easy when you are a bowhunter. We put a stalk on a group of billies, and I finally nock an arrow on my string for the first time in more than two weeks.
The wind is blowing hard, and the billies walk across the canyon at 78 meters. It is the last day of the hunt, and my first opportunity.
I can feel all the weight on my shoulders. I ask only for one chance and it’s there, so I draw my bow back, take aim, and release the arrow. It flies straight towards the billy, but the second my arrow encounters the wind blowing up the canyon I see the arrow start to drift. By the time it reaches the animal, it’s a complete miss.
When you accept big challenges, you must assume the higher odds that you’ll come home empty-handed. The key is to understand that far beyond getting an animal, the success of the trip must be measured by the quality of the experience. Some may see it as a drawback, but bowhunting forces you to spend a lot of time at each destination. It forces you to experience the places, cultures, and animals at a deeper level. It forced me to hunt Bezoar ibex for a total of 24 days, on three different trips, in four different parts of Turkey. I gained respect for the species, knowledge of the Turkish culture, and appreciation for the beauty of the country. I wouldn’t have experienced these things any other way, and I feel really lucky.
Of course, I was disappointed when I missed that opportunity the last day of the second trip, but not for myself. I’ve screwed up so many opportunities that I laugh at myself. I was disappointed because I had failed the whole team of people who had worked to help me. On every trip, there are a bunch of guys who are putting in as much effort as you, trying to help you achieve your dreams. Local guides, the outfitter, camera crew, translator, driver, and others are just as disappointed. When I make mistakes, those people always come to my mind first. How could I have failed the whole team?
You learn more from failure than from success; and I have found that mountains will shape you into the best version of yourself. I’ve been very lucky to have the best mentor in the world, my dad, who has taught me all these values. While growing up in my home country of Spain, where we can hunt ibex and chamois year-round, he taught me to build not only experience but also perseverance. I learned to love the chamois, one of the most underrated big-game animals I know of due to the small size of the “trophy,” because that animal has given me some of the most beautiful moments in the mountains all over the world, including the Caucasus, the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Balkans, the Picos de Europa, and the New Zealand Alps.
New Zealand — New Zealand Alps
The wind is blowing and the rain is pouring. There’s something about being miserable that makes you feel alive. I’m not sure if it is a survival instinct, or maybe signs of dementia resulting from the things we do. After several days, I am peeking above an old unicorn chamois that is feeding below us and unaware of our presence. I take my time to draw my bow back, waiting for a window in the weather. It’s a very steep shot, so I don’t want to rush the opportunity we’ve worked so hard to create. My rangefinder calls for a 20-meter shot on the 45-meter straight-line distance. The wind slows, and I draw back and settle my pin. Despite my brain wanting to finish such an intense situation as quickly as possible, it’s important to overcome that desire to rush. As the wind picks up again, I still can’t settle my pin properly and decide to let the bow down.
I draw for a second time, and then I need to let down again. The adrenaline and pressure are killing me, but I’m committed to not rushing the situation. I draw back for the third time, and as things start to line up properly, I let the arrow go…
Of all the places I have traveled to, my favorite mountain range must be the Caucasus. These mountains’ brutality is hard to describe, and they will redefine your concept of what steep is. The risk when you get into Capra country is always there. We manage that risk as much as we can, and we always work inside our comfort zone. Everyone has a different level of risk tolerance — something that you will develop with experience and time. The world’s mountain ranges have different degrees of complexity, and each place is different. If I were to rank the difficulty according to animal species, it would go something like this: Spanish ibex country 0-1, chamois country 1-2, Asian ibex country 2-3, tur and markhor 3-5. Building the necessary confidence is crucial, if you hope to have fun in these places. When you come to a spot you don’t feel confident crossing, never hesitate to say no. The local guides are a different breed, and they’re able to hike anywhere in cheap rubber boots. Do not forget they grew up there.
Azerbaijan — Caucasus Mountains
We patiently wait for the fog to lift without being sure what’s beneath it. We have been watching a group of tur over the last couple of days, as they come down from their bedding area to feed in the lower country where the new grass is growing. We cut the distance as much as we can, guided by the noise of the herd, until we reach a point where we can’t get any closer. I set up and wait for the fog to clear. After a half-hour, the wind starts to pick up and I see an opening in the clouds coming our way. My opportunity is about to present itself. The opening reveals 20 tur feeding across the valley, and the biggest one is easy to distinguish. My rangefinder calls for an 82-meter shot with a 10-meter cut, since it is slightly downhill. I draw my PSE bow…
Each day in the mountains is unique and special on its own, always leaving a little mark on you. There have been some amazing moments, but some really miserable ones, too — the second way more common than the first. If asked to explain why I’m completely hooked on mountain hunting, I wouldn’t say it’s the animals, the hunt, or the trophies. It’s the silence that allows us to hear ourselves; the immensity that makes us feel small, confirming we are part of something bigger; and the solitude, which gives us freedom and contrasts to the traveling. All of it can give you a “mountain perspective.” If that is what you seek, the high country is where you’ll find it.
Mountain Hunting Considerations
Hunting mountain game pushes the boundaries of what’s possible in bowhunting. You must master your archery skills to maximize your effective range. Don’t be afraid to train at longer distances, beyond 100 meters, to gain confidence. While the details of a mountain setup could be an entire article, I’d like to point out a few things I think are critical. I believe speed is important. A fast arrow offers more forgiveness on the distance measurement because of the flatter trajectory. Plus, it will spend less time in the air, reducing the effect of any movement from the animal. My current mountain setup starts with my PSE Xpedite set at 70 pounds with a 28.5-inch draw. My 385-grain arrow is flying at 300 fps. I carry the arrows on a side quiver adaptor from TotalPeep to ensure they don’t act as a sail in windy situations, moving the whole bow.
A quality mechanical broadhead is also important to ensure proper arrow flight under any conditions, and at any range. A wide cutting diameter will give you an advantage if the shot placement isn’t perfect. After a couple hundred animals, I have huge confidence in the Grim Reaper Razortip for a quick, clean kill. Finally, shots are often at steep angles and on sidehills, so it’s important to have a sight with a 3rd-axis adjustment that is set up at full draw to take your own torque into consideration. I am a huge fan of sights with five fixed pins for quick shots, and I use my center pin (it seems more accurate to me because it’s centered) as my adjustable pin on my Spot Hogg Hogg Father sight.
Born and raised in Spain, the author is a journalist, video producer, and manager of the European side of KUIU Ultralight Hunting.