Bill Swan Shares Mongolian Ibex Hunt

Friday, September 28, 2007 - by Bill Swan

Editor's Note: Avid big game hunter Bill Swan from Chattanooga recently returned from Mongolia. He shares this first-hand experience hunting Ibex with Outdoors readers.

After peering through my scope for more than 20 minutes at the sleeping Altai Ibex, I had blurred vision from eye strain. We had watched this group of rams for almost four hours waiting for the “big one” to stand long enough for a shot. Whenever he would stand, I would not be ready.

This cat and mouse game went on all afternoon with the animal only standing for 2-3 seconds every 45 minutes or so. Finally my interpreter/guide, Hagil upon hearing the thunder, said we that cannot wait any longer, and that it was now or never.

At nearly 400 yards downhill, a bedded animal is not a great target. I asked Hagil if he had the camera set; when he said “yes”, we watched my shot blow a large cloud of dust beside the sleeping ibex which awoke in full run. With that, the rain came along with thunder and lightening. Every step on the rocks felt as if I were trying to walk on greased Teflon coated rocks. Hagil is a 23 year old college graduate who speaks four languages and is 6’ 2” tall. I had requested a midget for a guide with short legs for slow climbs up the mountain and had received one with long legs who did not smoke. Life is good!

This was my first trip to Mongolia, land of the nomads, and I was looking forward to hunting in the mountains at 9000-10000 feet. Little was I to know this hunt would be even more difficult than Rocky Mountain goat hunting which had topped my difficulty list for many years.

My hunting partners for this trip were Chad Haney and Dan Atwood. We had flown from Atlanta for 14 hours to Soul, South Korea; hung out for more than 4 hours in the airport and then flown 3 ½ hours to Ullanbatter which is the capitol of Mongolia. Upon arriving we were met by our guide and taken to our hotel for the night. The next morning involved a 2 hour plane ride to Hovd, and worst of all, a 12 hour ride in an old Russian jeep over rutted dirt roads to our camp which was about 50 miles from the Russia and China borders. Needless to say we were glad to finally get some rest in our ger (these are the round tents used by Mongolian nomads).

Having been awakened at an ungodly hour the next morning, we once again loaded up in the Russian jeeps and watched our driver put a hand crank in the front of the engine and start it. Next was a 45 minute ride to the base of the mountain. All I could think is, “Am I going to climb up there?” At 7000 feet, we were looking at mountain peaks 3000 feet above us. Climbing on the rocks was closely akin to walking on marbles... two steps up and three steps sliding back.

By noon, we had reached the top and were glassing the slopes for a suitable trophy. Unfortunately my local guide was using my binoculars and my interpreter/guide was using my spotting scope. Now I can tell you that, in my eyes, the ibex is the most difficult animal to see in the rocks of the mountain, and without any assistance from my optics, I was for all practical purposes, blind as a bat! It was no surprise to me that my guides spotted a group of ibex halfway back down the mountain. Down we went slipping, sliding and hanging on to anything we could grab to maintain our balance.

Finally we could get no closer than 400 yards, and Hagil asked, “are you able you shoot that far?” I told him I have made shots at that range, and I have missed at that range. And, I after the shot mentioned at the first of this story, I added another miss to my hunting resume. The rest of the day was spent descending the mountain in the pouring rain, thunder and lightening. I had never been so glad to see a Russian bucket of bolts jeep in my life!

Upon return to camp, we saw Dan’s fine SCI record book quality Ibex he shot at 300 yards and took with one shot.

Unfortunately, the rain continued the next day with lots of fog on the higher peaks, and it ruined any chances for a spot and stalk. We returned to camp that night without seeing an ibex worthy of a chase. Spirits were low that night as we wondered if the rain would move out before our hunt was over. Hagil had informed me earlier that there was about a 60% success rate on the Altai Ibex, and Chad and I began to wonder if we were going to fall in the 40% group making a long trip home empty handed. It was then after the gloom and doom conversation that we walked outside of our ger to see a beautiful sunset. You know, “red skies at night, sailor’s delight!”

The next morning dawned with fog, just like the docks at Liverpool, on the mountain; however, this time, there was no rain. As the day wore on, the sun began to show through the fog until the mountains became clear by lunchtime. As we reached the highest peak for lunch, my local guide (he is the local resident who knows the mountains) and Hagil walked over to the top of the ridge and began glassing. After nearly an hour, they excitedly called on the radio and told me to come up. The spotting scope was positioned perfectly on a band of ibex about a mile and half away across the valley. At this point, my spirits rose even though there is no sure thing in hunting. Up and down we went around the back of the mountain climbing, slipping and sliding for nearly two hours until our local guide motioned for us to stay back. He then inched over the ridge top and then slid back down, and then placed three small stones on the ground in a triangular pattern which showed me the two on the right were the largest and one on the left which was the smallest. He then slid my vest on top of ridge and placed my .325 WSM Kimber rifle in position facing the ibex he wanted me to take.

As I eased forward and put the rifle to my cheek, there like an apparition was an old magnificent ibex 225 yards away standing broadside. Hagil whispered wait, but after three days there was no waiting.

My shot took the beautiful SCI record book class ibex through both lungs. He ran about 15 yards trying to reach the other two running off before collapsing. There is no doubt they heard me hollering all the way back at main camp!

After many years of dreaming, I had my trophy of a lifetime! It was a super animal with 11” bases. Hagil had wanted to take a last look at the three to be sure I took the largest one; however, after three days there was no stopping now, and it was mine.

On the next mountain over, Chad heard my shot while he was making his final stalk to a bedded trophy 300 yards away. One shot from his .300 Winchester magnum and he also had his fine ibex. We had a big night in camp celebrating our success! Even the thought of the jeep ride back to Ullanbatter did not diminish our spirits. The three of us had beaten the odds and were 100% for the hunt.

The next day in the city was spent sightseeing and shopping for our families. Mongolian Travel, who had put the trip together along with Cabelas, had done a wonderful job. The people of Mongolia are friendly and love the “crazy” Americans. If you plan a hunt there in the Altai Mountains, you should also plan on spending time in the gym in advance of the trip as we did.

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