BOW HUNTING IS OUR BUSINESS

HUNTING REPORT - BOW HUNTING WITH BEN SALLERAS

I heard the faint sound of hooves softly penetrating the snow, but it was hard to judge how far away the sound was. I didn't need much time to figure that out though, because only seconds later the head of a mature bezoar ibex billy appeared on the other side of our rock, at a distance of about twelve meters, so close I felt I could almost reach out and touch him. He stopped and peered around, but never once looked at me. With my bow hidden from sight, I had to concentrate to carefully adjust my pin to the twenty meter mark. He continued walking broadside, as the other four billies materialized behind him. A quick assessment revealed that the biggest was still definitely at the front. I drew my bow, knowing full well that at such close range they would immediately become aware of the danger lurking so near...

Getting the opportunity to hunt the majestic bezoar ibex was something I never really imagined would happen. Arguably the most handsome of the Capra species, equipped with exceptionally acute senses, and inhabiting some of the most difficult terrain, the bezoar is the type of animal that captures the imagination of many modern hunters. I was definitely aware of them, but due to the expense and the difficulty involved in trying to hunt them, particularly with a bow, I never put bezoar on my list of dream hunts. This changed when out of nowhere, early in 2017, my name was drawn in a hunting club raffle. Suddenly, plans were being made for my first visit to Turkey. In contrast to most of my overseas adventures, the events immediately before this hunt were far more challenging and remarkable than the hunt itself, which turned out to be the shortest of my life.

A New Bow
Following a bow dry-fire mishap in Bulgaria in early December 2017, that resulted in irreparable damage to my beloved Xpedition, I was in need of a new one. The great folks at Xpedition Archery had a new Denali on its way in no time. Because I wouldn't be returning home to Australia prior to my hunt in Turkey, the new bow and replacement parts for the old one were shipped to Greece, where I was working. That turned out to be an horrific error. I had an absolute nightmare-of-a-time getting the bow and parts through customs, the language barrier and complex Greek laws only complicating matters. Although the package landed in Greece around Christ-mas, it took three weeks of frustrating back-and-forth communications with cus-tom officials to finally get it released. In the end, my good friend, and keen bowhunter, Kostas Papadopoulos came to the rescue. In Greece, like in many places, it's often more about who you know, rather than what you know. Thanks to Kostas working his last-minute magic, my bow arrived just one week prior to leaving for Turkey. The short time frame I had in which to prepare wasn't ideal, especially for a hunt where longer shots would most likely be a necessity. I was nervous about the situation, but relieved that at least I had a bow. After spending two days at Kostas' home range, I had the bow shooting well enough. My groups were good out to eighty meters. The new single-pin sight that had been installed for this hunt made a substantial difference in my accuracy at a longer range.

Underway
After the nervous weeks, I was finally able to take a deep breath and relax a little as I found myself on planes to Istanbul and then to Adana in southeastern Turkey. The moment I shook my guide Cuneyt's hand at the Adana airport, I knew we were going to make a great team. He was a confident, professional, and courteous guy. While swapping a few hunting tales on our jour-ney north into Turkey's interior, it became quite obvious that he'd seen his fair share of epic bow hunts, having guided many accomplished hunters to dream trophies across Asia.

We arrived at a modest, comfortable guesthouse in a small village late at night. The light of the moon reflected off the snow-covered landscape all around us. After a stressful month at work, and the nightmare obtaining my bow, it was surreal to finally be in those mountains, about to hunt possibly the most difficult species I might ever attempt. It was a struggle to get to sleep, as my imagination ran wild contemplating the days ahead.

I woke with a start as the early morning ezan (the Islamic call to prayer) echoed across the village from the nearby mosque. This was the first time I'd experienced that, and it quickly made it clear what part of the world I was in. A few minutes later I walked out to the kitchen area to find the guesthouse owner, Ramazan, glassing from the kitchen table. He signaled me over, and I joined him with my binoculars and quickly spotted a group of four very nice bezoar billies literally only five hundred meters away. The billies were casually feeding on one of the lower slopes. I couldn't believe my eyes. This was my very first encounter with Capra aegagrus aegagrus. While I was mesmerized watching their behavior, and encouraged by having seen them without even leaving the guesthouse, the distinct lack of stalking cover kept away any false notions that the hunt was going to be easy.

After breakfast, the largest hunting party I'd ever been a part of was formed. We were a team of seven. There was me, Cuneyt (head guide), his brother Hasan (assistant guide), and four game wardens, present to witness and officiate the hunt. We drove up the main valley, and in no time started spotting ibex in the nearly vertical cliffs above the road. As we traveled I couldn't help thinking about how tough it was going to be to get anywhere near one of those animals.

A One Day Hunt
The guides and wardens knew of a well-used path the animals often took between two sections of the mountain range, perfect for an ambush site. When we arrived at the spot, the snow was littered with fresh tracks. The location looked like it could work, and I was keeping an open mind. Cüneyt, Sadettin, the lead game warden, and I positioned ourselves in some rocks at the base of a cliff The path the animals had recently been using was obvious. Many sets of fresh tracks were visible within eighty meters of our makeshift hide. We waited in silence as the sun rose higher and higher. Within an hour a group of approxi-mately thirty ibex appeared in the cliffs to our right. They were descending the moun-tain and heading our way. Once again, I couldn't believe my eyes. The group was led by nannies and kids, with billies tailing behind. There were some excellent mature specimens among them. In almost com-plete silence the ibex closed the gap and began walking past our position. I ranged them at seventy meters. Even though I had been practicing at that range, it was far-ther than I really feel comfortable shooting. When a mature billy stopped and stared in our direction I heard Ciineyt's faint but stern whisper advising me to shoot. My instincts, however, held me back. I never raised my bow, and just watched them closely. As the group ascended the opposite cliffs undisturbed, and were out of our view, Cuneyt asked why I hadn't shot. I explained that I hadn't felt comfortable taking that far a shot on the first day. He reminded me that with a bow, chances on these animals weren't going to come easy, and he strongly advised me to take advantage of the next opportunity. Still buzzing from my first close encounter with these majestic beasts, the adrenaline had barely faded when the next group appeared, following the same general path. This time I would take the shot. A good-sized billy was the last to emerge. I ranged him once at seventy meters, as he seemingly followed the same path as the previous ibex. From my perspective, however, it appeared as though he was slowly edging farther away. He was walking quite quickly, and was close, so I didn't risk trying to range him again. I made a split-second instinctive decision. My pin was set at seventy meters, but I had convinced myself he was now at about eighty. I slowly raised my bow, drew, and let out my best goat bleat. The billy stopped instantly and stared right at us. I placed my pin just above his shoulder, and released. The arrow sailed across the snow and passed over his shoulder, exactly at my point of aim. He was still at seventy meters. After retrieving my arrow, we analyzed what had happened. I was disappointed by my misjudgement, but also encouraged by the fact that we'd had two shot opportuni-ties in the first hour of the hunt. Based on this, I was optimistic that there would be another shot opportunity in the remaining nine days. After a delightful traditional lunch in a nearby village, including multiple cups of tea, and some glassing of some beautiful mountain ranges, we headed back to the same area. Upon arriving, Cuneyt spotted a group of five mature billies quite high up in the cliffs. They were clearly making their way down to feed for the afternoon. A plan was quickly hatched, and I could see Cuneyt was excited. He was confident that he knew which path they would take as they descended the cliffs, and told me, pointing up, "We need to get up there, let's go!" Cuneyt, Sadettin and I marched up through the deep snow. It was thigh-deep the entire way. The angle we took meant that we were completely out of sight of the descending group of billies, but we had to move fast to get into position. After climbing for perhaps thirty minutes, we stopped and hastily discussed the few cover options available to hide in. Cuneyt and I decided on a snow-covered rock. We dug into the snow and literally made our-selves snow nests. When we were finished, snow and rocks formed a reasonable blind. Sadettin hid in some rocks about eighty meters behind us. There was an open, sloped snowfield to my right, and a sheer cliff face to my left. Cuneyt predicted that the ibex would follow the cliff face as they descended. I ranged it at sixty meters, and was quietly confident that our plan would come together. Only a few minutes passed before Cuneyt whispered, "Here they come." I got my binoculars on them, and indeed confirmed they were coming, following the cliff face about three hundred meters away, precisely as he had predicted. We studied them from our snow nests, ever so careful to remain unseen. When they were within two hundred meters I realized that the situation was about to get serious. We decided to tuck into our nests and not to dare peek around the rock again. I set my pin to fifty meters, ranged the cliff face again just to be sure, clipped my release on my string, and prepared myself to take one of the most important shots of my life. Cuneyt informed me, via whispers, that the lead billy was the best in the group.

When the billies were at twelve yards I drew my bow. At such close range the movement set them all off, and in what looked like a chain reaction they began bounding away. The snow was so deep, however, that their movements were slow and deliberate. I lined up on the lead billy and placed the shot through his onside lung and through his spine. He dropped on the spot, and began sliding down the slope toward me. In a move that I will probably never repeat again in my life, I simply reached out and grabbed him as he slid past. I turned to look at Cuneyt, bow in one hand, the back leg of an ibex in the other. He was absolutely stunned, and speechless. A tremor of worry shot through me. Had I shot the wrong animal? As it turns out, he too was momentarily in a mild state of shock at how the events had unfolded. We high fived, hugged, and sat in disbelief in the snow, admiring the gorgeous billy and the stunning surrounds, where a dream hunt had just come to fruition. Our hunting party reunited and the obligatory photo session followed. I felt like I was dreaming, and struggled to comprehend that my hunt was over before the end of the first day. I had pre-pared mentally for this to be the toughest hunt of my life, and had allowed myself ten days for a single opportunity. Now I was on my way back to the village with a beautiful mature bezoar ibex in the back of the vehicle.


Ben Salleras