Marco Polo Blues
Marco Polo BluesBy Bruce Marshall
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I started thinking about the possibility of a Marco Polo [hereafter MP] hunt several years ago when my son and I went to Kyrgyzstan [hereafter Kyrg] for Ibex. We were both successful and the company we hunted with talked some about MP hunting. About 1 1/2 yrs ago I saw an ad from Theo Blignat for an MP hunt at a great price. I almost went in 2013, but the $$ were tight as well as not being familiar enough with Theo to send that kind of money out. Last fall the same hunt came up again and Theo sent me an E-mail about it. My wife was kind enough to pay for half of the hunt so I decided to go for it.
The hunters in February 2013 each got a MP and 2 Ibex. So it seemed like a good bet to me. I couldn't find anyone to go with me so I decided to go it alone. It is a lot more fun when someone else is with you. So I booked the hunt and my flights last November. For whatever reason the flight in and out of Gillette was going to add $800 to the airfare so I elected to drive to Denver. I left on February 15th.
Travel is the bane of the international hunter. I left home at 4:30 AM. Some 38 hours later I arrived in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrg. I used the VIP service so I went to a lounge while someone else collected my baggage and got everything squared away with customs. There I met Rinat, the general manager of Argali LLC, who I was booked with. His English was pretty good and we talked for a while. Then we were notified my rifle had not arrived. Cuss words, cuss words...
We went to the office and they told us to wait 2 hours and go to the downtown office of Turkish Air, then we could find out where my rifle was and when it would arrive. There are only 2 flights a day from Istanbul to Bishkek. I was on the second, which arrived at 7:30 AM or so. So off to secure a hotel room and then to Turkish Air to see when my firearm would arrive.
Things are a little different on a third world airline. They couldn't tell me where my rifle was or when it would arrive. I was not impressed. I spent the day doing some sightseeing.
That night I filed complaints with Turkish Air, United (the flight started with a United flight) and the FAA. I guess Turkish air actually listened. They contacted me when I got back. I told them it cost me a day of hunting and that they owed me for a hotel night plus 10% of the daily fees. They actually agreed. I received a check last week for $800 from Turkish Air. The flight total was only $1250.
Rinat picked me up early the next day and we went back to the airport. No rifle with the first flight. Then the second flight came in and they said no rifle on that one either. While talking to the staff at TA the rifle appeared. Thank goodness. We cleared customs and started the 12 hour drive to the hunting area.
There were good paved roads to Narn and then gravel and then dirt, then into the mountains. Wikipedia claims there are 81 mountain ranges in Kyrg, so you are never out of sight of mountains.
Mountain range from truck.
Rinat claimed he had been told a pass was open that would provide a shortcut. Open is a relative term. Rinat's 4 wheel drive SUV got stuck perhaps 15-20 times and required digging out 8-11 of those times. Rinat seemed to have a knack for letting off the gas when he should have maintained. He appeared to have never heard of tire chains. We finally got over the pass and then through the military checkpoint, then on towards camp.
Stuck heading up pass.
Frozen lake we drove on.
Rinat told me that the hunting camp that we were going to had unusual access. We went up over a steep hill and down onto a frozen lake. We then drove 8 miles up the lake and then another 1 1/2 miles up the frozen river to the main camp I would be hunting out of. We arrived well after dark and unloaded. My bed was in the same room as the head guide. There was one stove to heat the place and also to do some of the cooking. Wood and coal were used for fuel. The stove was open to my room and to the "kitchen" where the cooking was done and where there was a table for most of the staff to eat. Only the head guide and I ate in our room. In Kyrg expect to be separated from most of the help and to be served meals separately.
Main camp we stayed at. Note outhouse around back.
Main camp in the lower right of picture to give scale to where we were.
The first day we got up and got ready to hunt. My rifle for this hunt was a 7mm short action ultra mag [SAUM] on a custom action by Northwest precision with a lightweight stock. Knowing shots could be long I had a 3X24 March scope on it. The week before leaving I had gone to Montana to work with Broz on long range shooting. I call myself an advanced beginner in long range shooting. My rifle is capable of 1/2 min accuracy with 168 gr Bergers. Upon removing the rifle I immediately noticed that the bubble level was 20 degrees off. CRAP. For long range shooting a level is very useful, especially as I always cant a gun. So for me to be effective at longer ranges I need that to work.
I spent the next hour working with the bubble level to try and get it right. Then we checked the rifle at 300 yards and then went hunting. The procedure throughout the hunt was for there to be 4 of us on horseback. We rode for 7 to 11 hours per day. The chief guide was Callis. The assistant guide was his younger brother Glik. The 3rd fellow was what in my mind I called the wrangler. He took care of the horses, food, spotting scope and me. Glik spoke pretty good English. Callis told me when we met that if I spoke slow then he could understand me pretty well. The wrangler was Shakkar and he spoke no English. My horse was tied to Shakkar's saddle, usually with about 4 feet of slack. As we got ready to leave camp the first problem happened. Glik asked to use my binoculars. Come to find out there was one pair of binos between the 3 of them. This really PISSED me off. Itís still one of the things that gets me fired up about this trip. I really wanted to use my binos, but knew that Glik would see far more game with my binos than without. According to Rinat they all have binos. They just didn't bring them, perhaps thinking the clientís binos will be better. So he used mine for the next 9 days. He gave them back to me at night so I could clean them for the next day. We headed east the first day and made a big loop around to the north of the main camp. We saw 7 different herds of MP's, but no rams over 110 cm. About 100 sheep total.
We did find a wolf kill. The vultures showed us an Ibex that the wolves had killed and partially eaten. We saw wolf tracks almost every day. Most were old. We also saw multiple sets of MP and Ibex horns each day that the guides said were wolf killed. Sometimes 10-12 sets a day. The wolves definitely get their share. I had been told that the average MP they killed was 120-135 cm. So I told them I wouldn't shoot one under 120 cm. That's about 47 inches. The biggest MP ram the first day was maybe 110 cm. They had scouted a winter herd of Ibex with 4 good billies in it. They had set the first day up so we would go by that herd on the way back. They spotted the herd and decided to do a drive. Glik and I were set up below a saddle that they expected the Ibex to go through. Shakkar went down to spook the herd to us. When I first saw the Ibex they were perhaps 1600 yards away. They didn't move near as far as expected when Shakkar spooked them. I suggested to Glik that we crawl back over the ridge and loop around and come back into sight above them at perhaps 400 yards. He replied that they would see us and that his brother would move the Ibex to us.
Marco Polo sheep horns.
Marco Polo sheep horns.
The next thing I hear is boom, boom and boom. 3 rifle shots rang out. Callis was shooting to push the Ibex to us!! Double crap. I wanted to look the Ibex over and pick the best one out, not shoot at running Ibex as they go by me. I already have one on the wall and wasn't planning to shoot another unless it was larger. Crap! I had counted about 65 Ibex. They split into 3 groups. One group went about 300 yards below us, one group about 200 yards above us and one group close to our level. It was either shoot fast or pass. So I picked out what looked like a mature billy above us and tried a running shot. He was then over the saddle and out of sight. The group near our level pulled up and started milling around. I picked out a billy and tried a shot at him. That of course provided the reason for them to head over the ridge. I swung on the billy and pulled the trigger. I shot a rock 30 feet in front of me. I was belly on the ground with a bipod and could see the billy, but the muzzle was low enough it caught a rock. As we stood up my guide pointed out a nanny that I had wounded. She apparently stepped in front of the billy just as I pulled the trigger the second time. I finished her off and was told we'd use her for camp meat. Then Callis told me I had hit a billy my first shot.
The hill he went down was too steep to ride down. 1/2 mile plus down a steep talus slope. Some of the slopes are well over 30 degrees. That doesn't sound steep until you try to walk on them. This was steep enough that a rounded rock would go several hundred yards before stopping if thrown. A slip and fall could result in a ride a good ways down the hill, blood trail all of the way down. That hill wore me out. We were at about 13,500 feet. I'm 56 and my knees are not as good as they used to be. Last July I slipped and fell part way down some steps. As a result I have a small tear in my ACL and meniscus on my right knee. No surgery, just PT to build up the muscles. When I got to the bottom Callis said it was time to head for camp and we were taking a shortcut. He said we'd look for my billy tomorrow. Sounded good at the time.... The hill we went up was extremely steep. Too steep to go straight up. So we switchbacked the horses up it. We wore our poor horses out. We looked into a couple of gullies that my Ibex could have been in, but saw nothing.
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