As we snaked our way to the crest of the knife-like ridge, the game-keeper stopped momentarily to glass. I couldn‚Äôt see anything. Then Danish pointed in the direction where the rams were feeding. The sheep were over six hundred yards and totally unaware of our presence. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thzx6baQLOI]We followed our game-keeper ‚Äì sneaking behind a rocky ridge until we were within striking distance. I counted nine rams — a couple of worthy candidates. As we studied the sheep carefully ‚Äì I was looking for a place to get set-up for a shot. The game-keeper wanted to go further up the valley and look for another group of rams he had previously scouted ‚Äì leaving these rams undisturbed. I didn‚Äôt say anything but I was thinking ‚Äì a bird in the hand. So we backed away from our position and continued up the valley. It was the first day of hunting and the weather was beautiful. We hadn‚Äôt gone very far and we began spooking large groups of females and young ones. And there were a bunch of them. They all ran up the valley ‚Äì in the direction we were heading. Now the game-keeper stopped and scratched his head ‚Äì would those females running all over the place spook the rams we were hoping to locate?
Pakistan is a fantastic destination for mountain hunters. This intriguing country is home for three species of markhor ‚Äì the holy grail of wild goats. There are two species of ibex ‚Äì Himalayan and Sindh plus a variety of sheep including Himalayan blue sheep, Blandford, Afghan, and Punjab urial. On top of these magnificent creatures, some often overlooked animals include hog deer, two species of gazelle, chital, blackbuck, nilgai, and Eurasian wild boar. Throw in a few varmints like jackal and Asian wild cat along with driven partridge shooting and you have the makings of the ultimate hunting destination for adventurous hunters. My wife, Karen, and I were embarking on our third trip to Pakistan with a focus on Punjab urial plus whatever else we encountered along the way.
Let‚Äôs be honest, avoiding travel to Pakistan is primarily related to safety concerns. Due to various reports in the media, many are led to believe this country is unsafe for American hunters. After three trips in various regions, my wife and I have never encountered an uncomfortable situation. Reputable outfitters will avoid any areas where potential problems may occur. The last thing an outfitter with a reputation at stake would want is an incident with an American client. We have found the people to be very friendly and helpful everywhere we have hunted. There are major cities here in the US where I would feel very uncomfortable roaming around after dark in the wrong section. In our experience, Pakistan has been a remarkable hunting destination despite what the media may portray.
Our travels found us in both Karachi and Islamabad. We headed to the Sindh Province to hunt hog deer and whatever else might be possible. We found the neatest little deer camp situated along the banks of the Indus River in a beautiful setting. They even had built a new room for hunters ‚Äì with our name above the door! We certainly didn‚Äôt expect such amenities with shower and flush toilet in this remote location ‚Äì but it was nice. The area was lush in agriculture with canola, wheat, and other crops abundant. Our first evening hunting, we bumped in to several hog deer including a couple of decent males I reluctantly passed on. Unfortunately I couldn‚Äôt keep off the trigger much longer. We spotted a dandy buck following a doe just inside the brush line. When he finally presented a broadside shot ‚Äì I gently tugged the trigger. These are unique deer with three points per side typically. My buck was no exception but he was an old rascal. I was more than pleased.
The following days we continued looking for Eurasian wild boar. While the hunting was challenging due to the height of the canola, we still managed to see a lot of swine. When a big boar presented an opportunity ‚Äì I just couldn‚Äôt resist. Hunting hogs is down-right fun regardless if you‚Äôre in Texas or Pakistan! Early one morning we spotted several hogs feeding across the river. From 245 yards, I whacked another big pig to fill my quota. Well, I could have continued as you never tire from hog hunting. My luck was still intact when we stumbled across and connected with an Asian wild cat ‚Äì indeed, icing on the cake.
Before we departed this area I was privileged to experience a driven partridge shoot. Now that was a blast! About thirty or more beaters would walk through the canola fields, flushing birds. When I missed the first and second bird ‚Äì I thought I was shooting blanks. I think those guys were laughing at me but they didn‚Äôt show it. Before the morning was over we did manage to take enough birds for dinner. The shotguns at camp were surprising ‚Äì if not impressive. They had a couple of Holland & Holland side by sides along with a Beratta or two.
Speaking of guns, due to short notice of this hunt, I was unable get a permit for my handgun so I had to borrow a rifle. I was not looking forward to borrowing a gun in Pakistan as I anticipated some variation of AK-47 was forthcoming. Boy was I in for a pleasant surprise. A tack-driving Blaser Pro-Success in .300 Win. Mag topped with a Swarovski 3-18x scope was awaiting our arrival. Ammunition was in the form of DoubleTap .300 Win. Mag utilizing 180 gr. Swift Scirocco bullets. For years I have been shooting DoubleTap ammo and have found it to perform beyond expectations. Mike McNett, the owner of DoubleTap, is a serious hunter making serious ammunition for us nimrods. With this top-of-the-line rifle and ammo, I knew there would be no excuses.
Not far from camp was a village of snake charmers. Karen and I just had to witness this sub-tribe of gypsies in action. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hX5KrfLRM7U]They are truly entertainers. And we were told ‚Äì they are the only ones of their kind trying to educate their children. When we arrived at the village ‚Äì a new school had just been built thanks to the generosity of Jason Bruce. His hunting partner, Mike Marinelli also played a role in this new facility for the children. It‚Äôs gratifying to see hunters playing such an active role in this humanitarian effort ‚Äì and my hat is off to Jason and Mike for their kind and generous contribution. Karen and I were fortunate to cut the ribbon inaugurating the new school. I felt like a politician ‚Äì wave to the crowd and get my picture taken while not doing anything! Before we departed Karen and I left a donation earmarked for text books. As former educators, it‚Äôs the least we could do. The snake charmers were amusing and we‚Äôve never seen anything quite like it.
This trip was more than just a hunting adventure. We were hunting with Pir Danish Ali of Indus Safaris. Danish is very proud of his country ‚Äì rightfully so ‚Äì and wanted to show us some of the cultural history. He is well-organized and well-connected making our experience so much more eventful. Danish scheduled a visit to the flag lowering ceremony between Pakistan and India at the Wagah Crossing. This ceremonial event symbolizes a little tension between the two countries. Border guard detachments from both sides entertain guests with warrior-like stomping and gesturing. Enthusiastic crowds from both sides were conveying their patriotism. This captivating ceremony attracts large numbers of visitors from both countries and occurs every evening before sunset. I‚Äôm not much of a tourist but this colorful event was well worth the visit.
While hunting in the Punjab Province, we stayed in mansion-like accommodations built back in the 1930s. Previous visitors included Queen Elizabeth, JFK and Jacklyn, and other notable dignitaries. Once again, we never imagined staying in such elaborate lodging. The mansion was situated on the banks of the Indus River.
As we entered the hunting area of the Kalabagh Hunting Reserve, the Salt Range Mountains were being lit with the first rays of sunlight. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aYfujM6nZk]Our primary objective of this trip was Punjab urial. I wanted to shoot the Blaser before we started hunting for sheep but when we unexpectedly bumped in to a lone Chinkara gazelle right off the bat ‚Äì my plans changed. The shot wasn‚Äôt difficult ‚Äì perhaps one hundred yards or so. The Swarovski scope was crisp and clear as I centered the crosshairs on the old male. When that 180 gr. Swift Scirocco zipped across desert-like landscape ‚Äì we had our first trophy headed to the salt. Danish told me beforehand the gun was sighted-in ‚Äì and he was not mistaken.
When the game-keeper finished scratching his head ‚Äì he decided to go back where we originally spotted the first group of rams. So, we hiked back down the valley and began looking for the sheep previously spotted. Of course we couldn‚Äôt locate them. We searched and glassed the surrounding area to no avail. There were many deep ravines and I was hoping the rams were still feeding in the bottom somewhere. Later in the day as we topped a ridge-line, I spotted a ram peeking over a crest a few hundred yards away. He was looking directly at us. By the time I got the attention of Danish and the game-keeper, the ram ducked his head and disappeared. We hurried up the ridge for a few yards and caught the whole group of rams running up the adjacent hillside. They were a few yards away from disappearing over the top. Quickly I threw the backpack on a rock and got set-up for a shot. I asked Danish which ram was the biggest. A quick look through his range-finding binos and Danish replied, ‚ÄúSecond ram running up the hill ‚Äì 155 yards.‚Äù The rams were about to go over the top of the mountain when our ram stopped momentarily to look back. Immediately I touched the trigger and he began rolling down the hill. The crew started slapping me on the back and everyone was happy. I sure don‚Äôt want to shoot this Blaser very much ‚Äì it could be addicting!
I was celebrating my 60th birthday. If there is a better way to celebrate this milestone than hunting sheep in Pakistan ‚Äì I am not aware it. After twenty one trips to Asia, I have never experienced the level of service and attention we received on this hunt. Heck, I took enough game to be on safari. We had so much fun ‚Äì we‚Äôve rebooked for next year! There has got to be an Afghan urial out there somewhere, plus blackbuck, Kennion gazelle, and who knows what else.–Mark Hampton