Mongolian Ibex Odyssey

mongolian landscape

After peering through my scope for more than 20 minutes at the sleeping Altai Ibexes, the strain was blurring my vision. We had watched this group of rams for almost four hours, waiting for the patriarch to stand long enough for a shot.

When he finally did stand, I was not ready. And so the cat-and-mouse game went on all afternoon, with the animal rising for only two or three seconds every half-hour or so. Finally, my interpreter/guide, Aagi, upon hearing thunder, said that we could not wait any longer. It was now or never.

A bedded animal nearly 400 yards downhill is not a great target. I asked Aagi if he had the camera ready. When he said yes, we watched my shot blow a large cloud of dust inches beside the once-sleeping ibex, which awoke in full run. To add injury to insult, the rain, thunder and lightning followed.

Every step on the rocks felt as if I was trying to walk on greased, Teflon-coated rocks. Aagi is a 23-year-old college graduate who speaks four languages and is 6-feet, 2-inches tall. I had requested a chain smoking, one-lung midget with short legs for a guide for a slow climb up the mountain. Instead, I was blessed with the Mongolian version of Kobe Bryant.

This was my first trip to Mongolia, the land of the nomads, and I was looking forward to hunting in the mountains at 9,000-10,000 feet. Little was I to know that this hunt would be 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 flew from Atlanta for 14 hours in cattle class to Seoul, South Korea; hung out for more than four hours in the airport, and then flew three-and-a-half hours to Ullanbatter, Mongolia’s capital.


Upon arriving, we were met by our guide and taken to our hotel for the night. The next morning involved a two-hour plane ride to Hvod, and worst of all, a 12-hour ride in an old Russian jeep over rutted dirt roads to our camp about 50 miles from the China-Russia border. We were glad finally to get some rest in our yurt (the round tents used by Mongolian nomads).

After being awakened at an ungodly early hour the next morning, we once again loaded into the Russian jeeps and watched our driver put a hand crank in the front of the engine to start it (like a Model T Ford). Next on tap was a 45-minute ride to the base of the mountain, and all I could think of was: “Are they going to have us climb up there?”

At 7,000 feet, we were looking at peaks 3,000 feet above us. Climbing was closely akin to walking on marbles. It was two steps up and three steps sliding in reverse.

By noon, we reached the top and were glassing the slopes for a suitable trophy. Unfortunately, my local guide was using my binoculars. My interpreter/guide was using my spotting scope. I can tell you that, in my eyes, the ibex is one of the most difficult animals to see in the rocks of the mountain, and without any optics whatsoever, other than a rifle scope, 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, stumbling, tripping and hanging on to anything that we could grab to maintain our balance. But, we could get no closer than 400 yards. Aagi asked: “Are you able to shoot that far?”  I told him I had hit that far, and that I had missed that far. (Add one more miss that far.)

After the first miss mentioned earlier, I was able to add a second to my misses at that range.

The rest of the day was spent descending the mountain in pouring rain, thunder and lightning. For the first time, I was really happy to see that Russian miscarriage called a vehicle. Upon return to camp, we were able to see Dan’s fine SCI Record Book ram. He nailed it at 300 yards with one shot.

Unfortunately, rain continued throughout the night and the next day, creating lots of fog on the higher elevations. It ruined any chances for a spot-and-stalk. We returned to camp that night without seeing an ibex worthy of a chase. Our spirits were low as we wondered if the rain would move out before our hunt was finished.

author with mongolian ibex

Aagi informed us earlier that the success rate was about 60 percent.  There is little doubt that Chad and I did not want to reduce the odds any lower. In fact, we wanted to see the success rate rise into the mid 60s. At this point, Chad and I wondered if we were going to fall into the 40 percentiles and have to make the long trip home empty-handed.

The next morning dawned with fog on the mountain, just like the docks at Liverpool. But, there was no rain. As the day wore on, the sun began to peek through the dense fog until the peaks became clear by lunchtime. As we reached the highest point for lunch, the local guide (the mountain savvy local resident) and Aagi 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 and join them. My Swarvoski spotting scope was positioned perfectly on a band of ibex rams about a mile and a half across the valley. My spirits rose, even though there is no such thing as “sure” in hunting. Already my thoughts turned to raising the 60 percent success rate.

Up and down we went, climbing, slipping and sliding around the back of the mountain for the next two hours until my local guide motioned for me to stay back. He eased over the ridgetop and then eased back down, placing three small stones on the ground in a triangular pattern meant to show me which of the three to shoot.

The two on the right were the largest; the left one was the smallest. After he slid my vest on top of the ridge, he placed my Kimber .325 WSM in position, facing the ibex he wanted me to take. As I eased forward and put the rifle stock to my cheek, there like an apparition was an old, magnificent ibex 250 yards away, standing broadside.

russian jeep

Aagi whispered for me to wait, but after having hunted most of my life and what I had been through, there wasn’t going to be any waiting. You take the shot when it presents itself!  My shot took the beautiful SCI ibex through both lungs, though it managed to stumble 15 yards in a futile attempt to catch-up with its other two pals.

There is no doubt that everyone within a nuclear blast radius heard my Tennessee yodel!

After many years of dreaming, I had my trophy of a lifetime, a super animal with 11-inch bases.

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 a fine ibex.

We had a big night in camp, celebrating our success. Even the thought of the bucket of bolts Russian jeep ride, with no brakes, back to Ullanbatter did not diminish our spirits. The three of us had beaten the odds and were 100 percent for our hunt. The next day was spent in the city, sightseeing and shopping for our families.–Bill Swan

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