Spanish Ibex-Part I
Posted on February 21, 2014
Part I of a two-part series. To read Part II, click here!
With long, backward sweeping horns, and sure-footed as any mountain goat comes, the ibex of Spain offer a tremendous bowhunting trophy worth pursuing.
By Denny Sturgis Jr.
One of my most memorable hunts actually started as a text message joke. The night before receiving the message, I was whining to my hunting buddy, Randy Cooling, that I needed to cool it with booking so many hunts. Randy agreed that we had overdone on hunts the last few years and were fortunate our wives still liked us. The next day Randy received an email from Neil Summers of Bowhunting Safari Consultants about an Ibex hunt in Spain. It sounded like an awesome adventure with a quality outfit at a great price. For laughs, he texted “How about Ibex in Spain? Spring 2012.”
The problem was that he sent it to our other hunting bud, Tom Moleski, also. Tom is always pumped about hunting trips. His contagious enthusiasm along with an ability to make things happen caused Randy’s joke to backfire (not that we minded). Less than a week later, we were all booked to hunt Spain. Our wives would accompany us to Barcelona, where they would stay in a luxury hotel on the beach while we traveled to inland mountains to hunt.
The word Ibex has always sounded exotic to me—
almost mythical like the word unicorn. I did some research on Ibex and found there are over ten different species of these wild goats native to the mountainous regions of Eurasia and northern Africa. They have brownish gray colored hair that turns darker on the underside of the body. Males have a beard and large backward curving horns while the females have short horns. There are several subspecies in Spain that have smoother, more spreading horns including the Beceite Ibex that we would be hunting.
STARTING THE TRIP
We arrived in Barcelona, checked into the motel and spent some time with our wives before being picked up early the next morning by the people from our outfitter Salvaforcaza. Our hunt took place in the spring green-up period and we would typically hunt the early and late hours of the day. This is when the Ibex got up to feed much like early whitetail seasons at home in the states. There are also fall rut hunts and they hunt all day that time of year with the extra movement and shorter days.
Driving approximately 200 kilometers south we entered the Maestrazgo mountain range and arrived at the hunting house (what we call lodge) that rested on a hillside above the village of Vallibona. There were several of these villages in our hunting area. These villages used to be home to thousands and now many are less than a dozen full time residents.
Our guides said most of the younger people were moving to the coast for more “comfort”. After meeting Salva Monforte the owner, Natalia his assistant who spoke English very well and the rest of the friendly staff we moved our gear inside. We had the choice of a small single room or a room with two beds. Since Randy usually snored the loudest, he took the small room with a short entry door and Tom and I bunked together in the room next to it. We ate lunch and organized our gear. After shooting a few arrows on the practice range, we felt prepared for an afternoon hunt.
After pairing off with our guides for the day, we loaded into vehicles and drove to our hunting areas. My guides name was Benjamin. He didn’t speak any English and I don’t know many words in Spanish. We drove about 40 minutes to the area Benjamin had grown up in. Many of the mountain slopes were covered with stone walls and ruins. Most had been built for the ancient dry land farming technique of terracing. Some of the work dated back to Roman times. While Benjamin and I got along fine hunting despite our language barrier, I sure would have loved to have been able to ask him questions about the area we stalked through after parking the vehicle. He led me to a brush blind on the edge of a terrace field of green grass. We spotted a few Ibex including a ram. They didn’t feed into range and there was no way to make a good stalk that I could see so we retreated to the truck at dusk.
Arriving back at the hunting house I met up with Randy in my room and we were talking about our hunts. Tom walked in a couple minutes later and said, “Did you see anything? I got a picture of one but I don’t know if it was big enough to shoot.” He pulled his phone out of a pocket and held it up. “What do you guys think?”
It was a picture of Tom posing with an Ibex. Randy excitedly exclaimed, “I need my reading glasses!” He ran out of our room. Tom and I heard a loud thump and “oomph.” We looked at each other and stepped out expecting to see Randy stretched out horizontal on his back. He was standing holding his head, but OK so we laughed out loud even though we shouldn’t have.
Now back to Tom’s success. Well, earlier, Tom and his guides, Jose and Miguel, spotted a ram and Tom stalked into shooting range making use of a super thick, Juniper-type bush as a movement blocker. The shot hit a little forward, but there was a good blood trail. The tracking dogs of Salvaforcaza are legendary and some of the guides have their dogs with them at all times. Miguel released his dog, Txusca, on the trail and she bayed the ram in a steep, cliffy section of the mountain. Tom and his guides climbed around and over Txusca and the Ibex, but couldn’t see the ram from the shelf above. They descended and could see the ram but couldn’t safely get close enough for a good follow-up bow shot.
“The dog was standing on a ledge barking below the ram balancing on a pinnacle, while the Ibex was mortally wounded I felt it was time for a responsible conclusion to the animal’s life,” Tom stated. “That’s much more important to me than the bragging rights for a bow exclusive kill. I had my chance and now I chose to borrow the guide’s rifle.” At the shot the ram tumbled off the pinnacle and smashed into the rocks below. As they picked their way down Tom commented to Jose, who spoke English that he wondered if the horns would break from the fall. Jose told him the horns were very tough and they did indeed find Tom’s ram in one piece.
Many of our North American bow seasons don’t allow for rifle back-up. On foreign soil, Alaska and Canada though rifle seasons are also open providing the option. As a hardcore bow only hunter, I certainly hate it when I make a less than perfect hit, but I respect Tom’s decision and feel he made an ethical choice that we all need to consider.
We all had multiple stalks everyday on Ibex rams. The rams often fed in the terraced areas morning and evenings and the walls were helpful to bowhunters trying to close into shooting distance. Tom snuck into point blank range several times on rams that weren’t as big as the one he’d shot. He passed on the shot but the stalks were thrilling he confided. I came close to shooting a couple times. I had a ram in range but needed him to take a couple steps to clear some overhead brush that was in the way of the flight of my arrow. The ram spotted us first and bolted. Another time I had one 20 yards away walking toward me when it spooked. The wind was perfect as far as I could tell; maybe my guide knew something I didn’t but we couldn’t communicate.
I did get a shot later in the week and it came unexpectedly. My guide was Juanjo, who spoke a little English and was has assisted by Emilio, the driver. We were walking back toward the hunting house after being dropped off miles away. We were almost back when I glanced to my left and spotted a ram feeding below through a caved in section of terrace wall. I put a hand on Juanjo and Emilio’s shoulders, nodded toward the ram and we all sunk to our knees. Juanjo confirmed it was a shooter. I nocked an arrow and the Ibex cooperated by walking up through the break and turning broadside on the terrace below 20 yards away. I pulled my bow, aimed and collapsed badly on release. My arrow ricocheted off the ram’s horns. I exclaimed. Juanjo and Emilio laughed like school girls.
I’m not sure I’ve ever hunted anywhere that my hosts were so worried that the hunters were enjoying themselves. Every person on staff seemed dedicated to making our adventure the best it could be. The days passed quickly, but Randy and I had yet to close the deal with one day left to hunt.
The morning broke cool and clear. Juanjo and Emilio took me to a new hunting area next to Castell De Cabres (Castle of the goats). We spotted a group of seven Ibex rams over a half mile away. They watched from the road as I bailed off an embankment and used old terrace walls to close the distance. The rams walked with purpose though and I couldn’t catch up. They ended up jumping over a wall and feeding on a terrace that looked greener than the surrounding area. I was three hundred plus yards away and could just see their horns occasionally over the top of the wall. I looked at all possible approaches but the wind and terrain only offered one good approach that I could see. That was to crawl through the wet grass for about a quarter mile. I started crawling.
Halfway there I had to drop to my belly as I could see the ram’s heads when they looked up from feeding. When I was fifty yards from the stone wall I could crawl again. “Man, I think this is going to work,” I chuckled to myself. My plan was to reach the wall, nock an arrow and slowly rise up and shoot one of the Ibex that were less than fifteen yards from the wall.
When I was 20 yards away, a ram suddenly jumped on top of the wall and pegged me before I froze. I peeked up under my hat brim at the Ibex as he stared. “Go away you piece of crap!” I thought to myself. Just when he looked like he might give up, the ram cut loose with an explosive, air burst alarm whistle sending all seven rams crashing into the brush on the far side of the clearing. I stood up stiffly and put my binocular on Juanjo and Emilio. They made dejected “Oh well” arm signals and I walked the half mile back to the road.
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