A MOUNTAIN HUNTING OASIS - SPAIN
Yes, Hunters think of British Columbia, Alaska, Mexico when the word “mountain” hunting is spoken. I had done a bit of research on the Internet, as I wanted to experience something different in a mountain hunt. My age seemed to be advancing rather quickly and I didn’t know just how many seasons I had left to pursue the sport I loved so much. Well, the country of Spain came to the surface like cream in the milk. I made some inquiries and received some rather “eye-opening” information regarding hunting in this beautiful and history filled country. So, I decided to follow-up on some of the data I had found. Soon, I was in contact with an excellent Outfitter, one who offered hunts throughout Spain. Next, was to decide upon which animal(s) to hunt.
All the time I was dealing with the Outfitter, I was relating to the way we hunt in North America and even the way hunting is conducted in some of the countries in Africa. Boy, was I “way off the mark”. This led to some difficulties, that is until I asked more questions and received creditable information from the Outfitter. He concentrated his hunting operation on government controlled lands for hunting purposes. It seems, once he applied for a species, the government officials in charge of hunting would assign him an area and the Gamekeeper(s) in charge of hunting in that particular area. Once this procedure had been completed, the Gamekeepers would proceed to find the species the hunter was wanting to hunt. They would determine the areas where these particular animals were and when the Hunter arrived, these Gamekeepers would have several animals to choose from during the hunt. This may seem complicated, but when one hunts these lands, it is clear the game-management procedures in place are definitely working, as all species seemed to be thriving and trophy quality was excellent.
So, on 11 December 2017 I boarded a Lufthansa aircraft and started my long flight to Barcelona, Spain where I was to be met by the Outfitter when I arrived on the morning of the 12th. Outside of being a long flight, with only one stop in Frankfurt, Germany, I finally felt “wheels-down” on the tarmac at the Barcelona International Airport. I picked up my luggage and proceeded to the main part of the Airport where the Outfitter was awaiting my arrival. After introductions, I had to ask, “Did I miss something, as I did not clear Customs before meeting you?” His reply was, “You are in Europe and we do not have borders, you entered in Frankfurt, Germany and that was all that was required.” Well, you learn something new every day – smile. We proceeded to the Parking lot where we loaded my gear in the back of the Nissan and off we went. I was not sure exactly what to expect as my international hunting experience had revolved around Africa [Namibia (2), South Africa and Zimbabwe]. The Outfitter spoke very good English and we had very little difficulty in communicating.
As we left the Airport and Barcelona behind, he explained in great detail the hunt for the next several days. Today we would travel north into the Pyrenees Mountains and stay in a hotel. On the drive we stopped and I had my first taste of Spanish food and to say the least, it was delicious. To see they also had my mainstay drink, Coke Zero, was absolutely rewarding. Now I knew this was going to be a great trip. Late afternoon we arrived in the city of Manted-Vernet and checked into the hotel (the rooms encircled the courtyard), got cleaned up and settled and then we went downtown or it could have been uptown - smile - for dinner. Another excellent meal and upon returning to the hotel, the Outfitter informed me that breakfast would be a 7 am sharp. I sheepishly requested if he would not mind knocking on my door at 6:30 am, as I wasn’t sure how much sleep I was going to take after the long flight? The room was a two-story affair and extremely comfortable. I settled in for the night and woke around 6 am (guess I didn’t require the amount of sleep I had thought I would?).
I jumped in the shower and got dressed and was ready for his knock at 6:30. We made our way to the place where breakfast was served in the hotel and it was absolutely an outstanding meal. Once finished, I excused myself and returned to my room to get ready for the day’s hunt. When I returned to the breakfast area, the Outfitter had been joined by the Gamekeeper for this area. After quick introductions, we were off to the Pirineo Catalan (Catalan Pyrenees) in search of a good representative of a Pyrenees Chamois. I have always been intrigued by this dainty little mountain dweller and now I was hopefully going to have a chance to see them in their natural habitat and with any luck would find a great trophy. I must interrupt this story to make a point which would, on several occasions, haunt me during this hunt and that is my paralysing fear of sheer drops and I have parachuted during my military career). Back on track now as we climbed in altitude the edge of the road seemed to have a longer drop down to where we had just passed. Well, there were guardrails of sorts, so I just looked the other way and put my faith in the Gamekeeper who was driving. Several times while climbing, the Gamekeeper pulled the vehicle over, usually where there was a pull-out, near bends in the road and glassed the mountainside for Chamois. This went on for about an hour or so and on about the sixth stop, he motioned to the Outfitter and they deployed the spotting scope. They had located a nice male Chamois bedded (sleeping) on an outcropping well above us. After observing him, the Outfitter looked at me and said, “He is a really nice trophy and I think we should take him.” When I am on a guided hunt, I put my complete faith in the hands of the Outfitter - he is the expert on the land and the animals inhabiting it. I had a look through my Leica Geovid (10 X 42) binos and ranged him at 393 yards. I will not hunt anywhere without this great piece of optics with the built-in rangefinder. Well, I looked around and was trying to figure out the best route they would select to get me into a shooting position. Well, my question was soon answered, when the Outfitter said, “We can shoot him from here.” Now, I do consider myself a decent shot, but like to keep my shooting under the 300 yard mark. I passed this info on the Outfitter and we had discussed my limitations on shooting comfortably on the drive from Barcelona.
The ruggedness of the Land
I looked at this magnificent specimen through my binos once more and was in awe of just how beautiful he looked. The Gamekeeper passed me his rifle, as before I would attempt a shot, I wanted to ‘dry’ fire it to get a good feel for the trigger. I found the trigger extremely light and the Outfitter said they liked the trigger at 2 lbs pull. The rifle felt comfortable and my confidence grew as the minutes passed. The Outfitter beckoned me over to the spotting scope for a better look at the Chamois. He was even more majestic through it. The Outfitter told me that we had lots of time, as the Chamois was still sleeping and we would be waiting for him to wake up and stand up before we would entertain taking a shot. The Gamekeeper went over the rifle with me once more to ensure I was as comfortable as possible with this strange firearm. I had decided to rent from them vice the hassle of trying to bring my own with me and risk getting them lost, damaged or delayed. The gamekeeper told me it was a Blaser rifle in 300 Wby Mag topped with a Swarovski 5x30.50 z6i scope and firing 180 grain bullets. This rifle has a Ballistic Turret and they both assured me all I had to do was keep the little red dot on the Chamois’ vitals and shoot.
Well, I lay down and made a rest out of the Outfitter’s backpack and my Fanny-pack. I was quite comfortable and the rifle was solid. We resumed discussing the animal when suddenly the Outfitter said, “He is up. You can shoot any time you feel comfortable.” I lay down behind the rifle and to my complete horror the rock where he had been laying just seconds ago was devoid of any living thing!! The Gamekeeper ask me if I was sighted on the rock and I replied that I was. He leaned over the rifle and dialed the power up. All of a sudden the Chamois materialized in the scope. He had blended in so well with his surroundings that he had become invisible to me when looking through the lower power of the scope.
He was standing, but was facing directly towards us. I did not think I had sufficient enough of a target to ensure a clean kill. The Outfitter reassured me that I had lots of time as the Chamois was not going anywhere. So, I relaxed behind the rifle for a few seconds and he took a step to his left, now providing me with a front ‘tight’ quartering shot. I took a deep breath and let it out ¾’s and gently squeezed the trigger. At the shot, I lost sight of the Chamois, so turned to look at the Outfitter, who had witnessed the whole event through the spotting scope. He smiled at me and made a gesture with both hands spreading out. I thought he was shrugging, because I had somehow missed? Next he came over to me and shook my hand and I stood there with what must have been a ‘stunned’ look upon my face, as the Outfitter and the Gamekeeper conversed in Spanish. He looked at me again and said, “Congratulations, Sir.” He went on to explain that his gesture was to show that when the bullet hit the Chamois, he collapsed on the spot and his legs spread out as he went down. The Outfitter felt it had slid off the rock, but would be somewhere close by. I put on my Fanny-pack (camera, extra gloves and other warm clothing). It was a steep climb to the base of the rock where he had been sleeping and the outfitter motioned to me that we would wait there and the Gamekeeper would scale the rock and recover the Chamois. For some reason I was sure the Gamekeeper would return empty-handed, but all my doubts were put to rest, when we observed him coming down the trail with my Chamois in tow. I was elated, happy and a thousand other emotions, that only the Hunter can understand.
The Pyrenes Chamois and me
After the picture-taking was completed, the Gamekeeper skinned the Chamois for a full mount and I can assure you this magnificent animal will don a special place in my Trophy Room and whenever I see him, it will bring back the fond memories I shared with folks on this superb hunt. Once the skinning was completed we drove to the Gamekeeper’s residence where he graciously provided tea and cookies for us. We spent the rest of the day cruising the mountain roads in the Pyrenees Mountains near where I had taken the Chamois. As stated earlier, I am not a fan of steep drop-offs and the rest of this day was spent with them on one side or the other of the vehicle. But, the scenery was breath-taking, to say the least and we saw other animals at every stop. We stopped for lunch in a rustic cabin, high in the mountains and then returned to our hotel in time for dinner. What an unequivocally perfect day.
View of the terrain on our tour
We arose in the morning, had a hearty breakfast and departed on the 5 hour drive to the Beceite Ibex hunting area. The landscape in Spain, may seem a bit desolate, but the underlying beauty is something to behold. I was able to learn about the history of Spain from the Outfitter and found it utterly fascinating.
Me standing in front of a Roman built bridge in a small Village
Soon we arrived at our Ibex hunt destination in the city of Fortanete and the hotel was absolutely first-class. Once in my room and unpacked I was able to fully appreciate the accommodations. Next was supper and here I was provided with another exquisite meal. Outfitter reminded me we had to be in city of Cantavieja – El Maestrazgo by 8 am to meet the two Gamekeepers who would be looking after us on this Beceite Ibex hunt. We covered the winding road and arrived on time, only to find them already waiting for us - another sign of professionalism. Upon departing the town, we climbed for several miles until we finally pulled over to glass a vast area of hills (steep) and valleys. They had seen an Ibex the evening before our arrival and were looking for him again.
After about one half hour they were sure he was not in this area with the females they had seen, so we moved on and now the fun began, as I thought the Chamois hunt had been on steep ground?? We left the comfort of the paved road and started down an dirt road, which did not seem that bad. But soon we left this dirt road and set off down a dirt track?? This was a bit bumpy, but the Gamekeeper driving was a very good driver and soon we arrived at a deserted stone building with a ‘parking lot’ (actually an old yard). We dismounted and started glassing in all directions. It did not take long for the Outfitter and the Game keepers to start seeing Ibex feeding on the steep hillsides. Soon they spotted a nice male with about 6 or 7 females. They were on a steep outcropping and just going out of sight. They let them continue on their way before we got into the truck and headed to another abandoned farm house when we hoped we could find them feeding and in a position for a shot. This is where it got extremely interesting for me - smile. We left one track for one which was even narrower and the one side appeared to be straight down, although upon further inspection I saw it was just a steep fall to the valley below - smile. I had resigned myself to place my trust and safety in the hands of these professional gentlemen, so just looked uphill as we progressed along this tight track. I was beginning to calm down somewhat when all of a sudden, right in front of us the already too thin (in my estimation) track, showed signs of a recent ‘wash-out’. The driver seemed very confident and I am sure he did not have even a remote inkling that I was exceedingly nervous in the back-seat? When we reached this point he causally drove one side of the vehicle a short ways up the off-side bank and we continued on to the abandoned farmhouse. Once there we had to side-hill a short distance and soon they spotted the male Ibex bedded on the steep hillside about 350 yards from our present location. I leaned toward the Outfitter and told him it was a doable shot. He looked back at me and said there was a problem. I naturally thought he might be referring to my shooting ability, but instead he explained the Ibex were on the far side of a stone fence, which divided two properties and the property the Ibex was bedded on belonged to another individual and we did not have permission to hunt there. So, we retraced our steps back to the vehicle and started our ‘interesting’ drive back to the main track.
We moved position several times over the next few hours as glassing certainly was the name of the game for this hunt. The Gamekeepers decided to return to the abandoned farm from where we had previously observed the male Ibex bedded. I just couldn’t wait for that drive again. But found myself a bit more relaxed during this drive in. The Outfitter and Gamekeepers made their way to the abandoned stone building and to their credit were able to pick up on the Ibex and he was moving, although slowly, towards the stone fence and the land on which we were allowed to hunt. After observing them for a short time, it was decided to move back along the track (oh joy) and drive higher up the mountain and see if we could work our way into a position well above them for a shot. The Outfitter was not really fond of doing this, because the wind would be blowing directly towards them and he definitely did not like that.
Soon we were about 100 feet from the edge of a cliff and above the Ibex. I have mentioned earlier my shaky relationship with cliffs, but was urged onward. The Gamekeeper crawled to the edge and placed a shooting bag on the ground for me. He was able to locate the male and he was in a position to shoot. He motioned me forward and I slowly made my way to the edge, but could not see the Ibex? All of a sudden I saw movement well below me and the Outfitter said, “He is the dark one”. I eased behind the rifle, which was a Sauer 202 chambered in 7X64 topped with a Leupold scope and shooting 140 grain Nosler Accubonds, and looked through the scope and all I could see were rocks and lots of them. I took my eye away from the scope and could see him standing broadside. Again I placed my eye behind the scope, but could not find him. I opened both eyes and concentrated on looking at him as I had been taught this would put the cross-hairs on him. Still nothing and now they began running in earnest and soon were out of sight. To say the mood didn’t drop a few notches would be a huge understatement. The Outfitter turned to me on the trek back to the truck and said, “It was a long shot and I didn’t think they would stay long once they winded us.” Once we were back to the vehicle, I had the Outfitter translate my apologies to the Gamekeepers, as they had done a super job at getting me within shooting distance of a very nice male Ibex. They just smiled, as if it were just another part of their day and we were off to find another one. I was really stymied as to why I could not see that Ibex in the rifle scope and upon further inspection found the scope to be turned up to its highest power – that quickly answered my query. I then had it moved to 5X for the rest of this hunt.
We spent another two hours glassing the area and saw lots of females and young males, but nothing of interest to us. During this part of the hunt we had experienced several different weather scenarios – sunshine, high cloud, wind, snow squalls and very low cloud which restricted our vision to 100 or so yards. This was quite an experience for me, but seemed the normal for this part of the world.
Soon it was decided to move to an entirely different area and look for an Ibex which the Gamekeepers had seen several days ago. We drove on pavement (to my delight) for about one to one and a half hours and soon we pulled over to the side of the road and stated to glass. The younger Gamekeeper disappeared with his 80X spotting scope and about 15 minutes later he reappeared and had found “my” Ibex. Adrenaline started pumping and off we went. We left relatively flat ground and soon I found myself, once again, along the edge of a mile or so long cliff-face. They studied the Ibex for a considerable amount of time and the three of them were in agreement this was the one to shoot. The Outfitter translated this information to me and also that we would pull back from the edge and make our way to a much closer shooting place. The walk was not too difficult and soon we were creeping our way to the rim of the cliff-face, but the top part - smile. The Outfitter got me set up with a nice rest for the rifle and told me the Ibex was standing on a rock. Wow, what great information for a person not used to this terrain - smile. I could not see him, but soon what materialized is what I thought was an animal laying on a rock, but something was out of place and that was the colour. I moved from the rifle and utilized my Leica binos and soon saw that what I had perceived as an animal was only a clump of dirt. I always carefully and methodically check things out before I take a shot.
The Cliffs from where I took the shot
The Outfitter motioned me to get up and follow them as the Ibex was on the move once again. We hurried along the perimeter of the cliff-face several yards removed from the drop-off. Soon we were approaching the rim once again and the Outfitter had me set up in a jiffy. He said calmly. “He is walking along that trail at the bottom of those far cliffs. As I was able to settle the crosshairs on his front shoulder, I heard one of the Gamekeepers let out a shrill whistle and the Ibex came to a screeching halt. I began to squeeze the trigger and at the shot, I could definitely hear the bullet impact flesh, as there is no mistaking that sound. But the recoil caused the rifle to lift and I lost the sight-picture altogether and by the time I had lined up once again on the spot where he had been, all there was, was just the desolate empty trail.
The Outfitter looked over at the Gamekeeper, who had been witnessing the whole event through his 80X spotting scope. He indicated a hit behind the ribcage and said he saw the bullet hit. The Outfitter had watched the Ibex crash through the brush and head downhill, but his run had not lasted long. The Outfitter was confident the Ibex was dead, but unfortunately, we were losing daylight and there was no way to safely get down to where we last saw him, that day.
Ibex was walking along the Trail
The plan was to return to the hotel, have a nice dinner, get some sleep and meet the Gamekeepers the next morning and they would bring a dog and use a shotgun while in the bush. The Outfitter had one concern and that was the foxes would get to him before we did. He said that they loved to eat the ears and nose and that was bad for the cape!!
Next morning we met the Gamekeepers and headed out to the area. We parked the truck as close as physically possible to where I had shot the Ibex. We walked down the trail he had been on and when we came to the spot where I had shot him, to everyone’s dismay there was not blood. We walked back and forth several times and these gentlemen knew their job and would have found blood, had there been any. I spoke with the Outfitter and told him, ‘gut shot” animals sometimes did not belled as the innards sometimes plugged the bullet hole. He agreed wholeheartedly. While the younger Gamekeeper along with the dog would systematically search the area where the wounded Ibex had run, we would move well in front and take up a position above, in case it were still alive and started to run in front of the other gamekeeper and dog. The Gamekeepers were in radio contact and soon I could hear conversation between the two Gamekeepers. The Outfitter looked at me and extended his hand and said, “Congratulations”. The Ibex was laying in an opening and when I first saw him I said to myself, “Good, looks like the foxes have not been here?” As I could see the nose had not been touched and the one ear we could see was still there. OH no, when I picked up his horn, I could see the other ear had been completely eaten. The Gamekeepers field dressed the animal and the long climb back to the waiting vehicle began.
My Beceite Ibex
We returned to where we had met the Gamekeepers that morning, I said my good-byes through translation and it is an incredible feeling just how fast true hunters bond. I had the feeling we had been hunting together for years?? I will remember both the Gamekeeper who helped me in taking a great Pyrenees Chamois and the two Gamekeepers who aided me in taking my Beceite Ibex, but most of all I am truly indebted to the Outfitter, who displayed such meticulous organization and thoughtfulness for this hunter. If anyone one is interested in a high-class hunt in Spain, please do not hesitate in contacting me and discussing the merits of this great hunt.
The Outfitter and I returned to the hotel, packed, said our good-byes to the owners who had looked after us so well and began the long drive to the Barcelona Airport. The return flight, again with Lufthansa Airlines was uneventful and the service aboard and on the ground was second to none. All in all it had been a perfect trip and the making of new friends was a welcome addition to it.