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When one good tur is worth another

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When one good tur is worth another


WRITTEN & PHOTOGRAPHED BY SIMON K BARR

Steve Hornady, my hunting partner from Russia and I, booked our trip to Russia a few years back. Steve Hornady was a long-time hunting partner of mine. I’d known him for many years, but this would be my first trip with him, having to previously postpone. As Steve blithely put it: “I bought a new hip and had my orthopaedist fit it for me.” Now with a new hip, Steve was keen to give it a mountain workout — remarkable given he would be turning 69 in a few short weeks.

Once we reached Mineralnye Vody (just north of Georgia), we were eager to start. My rifle had been checked six times between my home and my final destination. Documents were scrutinized and stamped endlessly. Hoping to get some rest before what was sure to be a tough journey to camp, it was a relief to hear that we’d be spending a night in the town. The plans suddenly changed. Herded into a vehicle, it wasn’t entirely clear what was going on.

We continued on our way through the streets, halting in a dark alley once to give our passports over to an unknown figure. It didn’t fill us with confidence but, Steve reassured me, this was completely normal, having hunted in Russia many times before.

We drove through the night towards the Caucasus and stopped at 5am. The light was just beginning to show us what we’d be up against. We were surrounded by verdant hills, and distant peaks could be seen through the morning clouds.

Promising

Finally, we were granted a few hours’ sleep, before zeroing rifles, sorting gear and stripping our luggage to the minimum for the steep climb ahead. Next, we sat with the guides, poring over maps of the region, looking at promising areas and deciding where we’d set camp. Steve and I agreed to hunt together, despite being told we’d have more chance if we split — an experience shared is an experience doubled, after all.

We mounted horses under cover of night the next morning and started off.

The soft curves of the hills that had seemed benevolent the previous day soon became steep, and the sheep’s wool that covered the saddle failed to cushion its hard iron framework. As we made our way through the green pasture, passing a herd of yak, trees grew ever more scarce and it wasn’t long before we were above the treeline, the misty morning thankfully hiding what lay before us.

We rode all day, covering nine miles with an elevation gain of 5,000ft. The only respite from the hard saddle came at points too steep for the horses, when we’d get off and lead them. We stopped at the end of the day, set up our tents in the cloud cover and collapsed. It was becoming apparent that our guides weren’t the sympathetic type — tough and inscrutable, the most common phrase we heard was “come, come, come!”

I was in my sleeping bag by 5pm, exhausted — and besides, sitting at the campfire wasn’t an option with the blisters brought on by those saddles, I could only lie or stand.

Determined

The Caucasus Tur is at home in its mountainous habitat

The views of the mountains and the chill in air were more refreshing than any morning coffee. We didn’t hang about, our guides Omar and Sasha were determined to find us animals, as the weather was clear and on our side all day. As we climbed, I realised I wasn’t prepared for this — neither physically nor mentally.

I hadn’t been training as much as I normally would before a mountain hunt and, with work life extremely hectic, I was struggling to focus on the task at hand. As anyone who has experienced mountain hunting knows, focus is essential, for we were now on scree, climbing near-vertical slopes with our feet slipping and sliding beneath us.

Steve was suffering from a crippling leg cramp. The pain was obvious. He soldiered on through “Going down was terrifying; every step was a danger” it and by lunch time we had gained another 1,500ft. The guides decided to walk around the mountain on the opposite side in order to push animals into a bowl that we could see from our side. “This never works,” I thought.

Soon we were in the right place and had everything set up. We found a rest for the rifle, and checked out the bowl. This plan would be perfect, since the farthest point is 220 yards. We waited and watched until finally a female tur and one of this year’s youngsters ambled into sight, followed shortly after by our guides, who reappeared over the edge of the bowl.

There’d be no easy hunt today. We were a little discouraged, so we started back down the mountain to camp before darkness fell. The steep scree slopes would be even more dangerous in the dark.

Steve’s cramp returned in the night so, the next morning, he decided to take a day’s rest in camp, leaving me to head out. The guides were not kind to me, and never took a rest. It was after an hour and a half of hard work, having climbed over 1,000 feet that we saw our first group. Our scout saw a group that looked more promising, so we decided it was worth catching up.

As I panted in the thin air, I could hear birds singing and the roar of my own breathing. Underfoot, we had to be very careful as there were many boulders and cliffs in the area. But, underfoot, we still had sharp, small stones and shale that required all of our concentration. It wasn’t long before the scout confirmed what we had feared — the group had starburst and we were heading towards nothing.

We decided to return and try to find the original group. The guides were hard to follow uphill. But it was terrifying when we went down. Each step sent rocks skittering down into the cliffs. We’d have to drop another 1,000ft to get into position, the guides told me.

We started again and a group of 17 tur appeared within 80m. They’d been in dead ground and we had startled them. The majority of them were young, but there was a mature man at the back. Amid the gesticulating and rushed words of the guides, I frantically scanned the hard, flat, rocky ground for a good rest, but we had hit a slope with not a single feature other than shale and there was nothing suitable. We had to make a decision quickly before the tur disappeared over ridge.

Milliseconds

Hunters are faced with difficult decisions all the time: whether or no to shoot, whether or not the animal is of the correct age, or if to wait for better prospects. It’s extraordinary what the brain can process in milliseconds. The pressure on hunters who travel far away is enormous. The guide may be your only chance and will encourage you to go for it. I trained for a 400m steady shot, with a resting dead and plenty of time to think about my bullet’s path. I was torn between a multitude of conflicting decisions and thoughts.

I saw the male— a large, mature animal — running on a line slightly higher than the rest of the group. “It’s good, it’s good, shoot, shoot!” the guide was saying as I took my rifle off my shoulder. “Shoot, shoot!” he urged again.

I did not have the time to aim myself and so asked for a range. I knew that by now these animals were a good deal further away than 80m and I’d need to adjust my shot. As I dropped, I felt my body slide on the scree. “Quick, backpack!” I pleaded to the guide. We lost precious seconds, as the guide was eager for me to make the first move and understand what I wanted.

I grabbed the bag, slid my way down and found the target in the scope. “Range, range!” I asked, trying to keep my breathing calm.

The answer wasn’t forthcoming. “How far?” I asked again. The guides discussed in Russian, while I tracked the animal in my scope, using all my muscles to stop myself sliding down the “240m. No, 260m.” I adjusted my aim to compensate for the distance, breathed, and fired. After a momentary pause, stones exploded over the animal. It then continued its journey, speeding it up after being showered by supersonic fragments. Textbook mountain slope. Finally they answered: “240m. No, 260m.” I adjusted my aim to compensate for the distance, breathed, and fired.

After being showered by supersonic fragments of rock, the animal continued its journey, speeding up. Textbook mountain shooting error. I compensated for distance too much, especially with the acute angle. I was dead on at 100m. The angle of the bullet and its horizontal movement meant that I only needed a small amount of holdover even when using a 200gr projectile. Leica Geovid’s integrated ballistic calculator would have revealed this to me, but the time was not on my side for me to dial or even range the target.

Now or never

I kept tracking the now three-times- as-fast mature male tur, hoping he might stop, while the guide finally gave regular range updates: “270m… 280m… 290m”. The animal began to slow as it approached the ridge. Now or never. The crest paused for a fraction of a second as it always does, giving me he chance I needed. I didn’t have time to think at 356m. I only had to act before he moved away and was no longer visible. Knowing I had aimed high, I took into consideration the new distance and angle, and squeezed the trigger. The rifle boomed. The animal vanished over the ridge. Was it a success or failure?

I was sure I’d hit it but, after the first missed shot and with no visual confirmation from the guide, I started to worry. The terrain was too steep for anyone but the most experienced of scouts to reach. After an agonizing hour of waiting, we watched the scout scramble up the cliff to check for any signs. I held my breath as he reached the spot where the tur was standing. He was straining to look down at the rocks. Then, with his arm straightened in the air he made a sign. Found.

The tur’s death site was 300m below the ledge on which he was lying. It was too dangerous for me to reach. The guide had to cape off the 100kg beast and leave it where it was. The animal was too dangerous to be brought back to the camp. However, this meat would not be wasted. This area was a stronghold of the imperial eastern eagle, which is in danger. We saw several circling mountains while we were hunting, and this tur was going to be a good meal for eagles over the next few days.

After an hour, the guide was back with his unusual cape and horns. It looked more like something from Mordor, just beyond Middle Earth and not the Caucusus. Steve had spent his day repairing and improving the camp, building stone chairs around the fire. I was nearly able to sit again. We spent the evening with a happier mood, fueled by our success. Sleep was easier that night, and the deprivations of previous days quickly faded away.

We set out early on the morning of our second day. Steve had rested and was ready to hunt. It wasn’t that the terrain was easier, nor that we were suddenly fitter, but optimism goes a long way, which helps when you have to climb. There was no reappearance of the cramps for Steve and, after a long day’s walking, we found a group that included a mature male. Steve shot this time with more space and an improved rifle rest. However, the steep cliff beneath a ridge was not visible, and the animal tumbled, out of sight.

It was getting dark and there was no way to stop. The guides would have to return for Steve’s tur because it was too dangerous to attempt that day.

You can also check out our Inspiration.

It was several more days before Steve’s tur was found, when we were back among the comforts of home, but I was relieved to hear Steve would have a permanent reminder of our adventure. It is inspiring to hunt with someone so experienced in mountain hunting. Steve has hunted more than 40 goats, sheep and other species of animals during his mountain hunting adventures.

As he told me when he shared the news that his tur was recovered, he’d found our Russian trip hard. “I’d say this was the most challenging I’ve been on — my lungs were okay, but the treacherous terrain was tough. And going downhill was plain dangerous.”

I think that we both underestimated how difficult this task would be.

Simon’s Kit List

Sauer 404 XTC in .300
Win Mag
sauer.de

Leica Magnus i 1.8-12×50
Gunscope
leica-camera.com

Leica Geovid 10×42 HD-B
3000 Binoculars
leica-camera.com

Hornady ELD-X 200-gr
edgarbrothers.com

Swazi Tahr Ultralite smock
swazi.co.nz

Swazi Driback pants
swazi.co.nz

Visit profihunt.com for more information on hunting mid-Caucasian Tur.

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