This article was written by guest writer Robert James Foort.
If you have ever done yoga or have ever meditated for long periods, you would know that Nirvana is the state that defines your height of devotion and ultimate belief. For hunters, Nirvana is hunting Marco Polo Sheep!
In 2018, I had the privilege of accompanying hunters who traveled to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for some trophy hunting. Marco Polo sheep hunting is allowed in Tajikistan. Hence it became the first destination where we would stay at a resort in the mountains that hosted hunting trips in the wilderness.
For those who know, Marco Polo sheep hunting is not natural. All the fun and frolic that we have out hunting in the forests of North America are a sport compared to the risky and strenuous took the deadliest, yet most refreshing trip of my life. Almost on a whim, I signed up to join a group of hikers and hunters to see the rocky mountain and pretty valleys of Tajikistan. Marco Polo hunting is a strenuous adventure, in which you might require a hidden spot for hours, not to mention the plains and clear fields in the hills where Marco Polo sheep are found. One small tip that I can give you here is that if you are not a mountain hunter, take a few trips up to the hills to get acclimatized to hunting on elevated grounds. You might be surprised at the difference in the experience!
The Marco Polo sheep live on high altitudes of 6000 feet and above, so you must ensure you will survive the height and the challenges of poaching and hunting at such places.
Don’t forget to pack accordingly
For a trip to Tajikistan, you will need to pack according to the weather. Warm jackets pullovers, Warm Boots, fur scarves, and leather gloves are all already checked. However, you would want to carry everything in a lighter camouflage design as the hills in the country are barren, and there is hardly any greenery. The white sandy plains are covered with snow during winter, and in the summertime, it becomes a camel-colored expanse of beauty.
I packed my Carhartt quilted flannel jacket to keep me warm and a trouser that matched and was lined to provide warmth. Then there was my perfect rifle and backpack full of essentials.
And it begins…
When we got to Tajikistan, there was a long drive towards the base camp, which is, and from there, we decided to take a trip uphill to see our field of work from the next morning. A four-wheel vehicle is the only bet, but if seasoned hunters surround you like I was, you would like the security of a big car. A local guide escorted us and translated the driver’s instructions. We would station the cold and open field the next day, on the peak from where Marco Polo sheep come up while looking for food. Hunters need to set themselves on a high point to look down and spot the sheep quickly. Due to barren plains, there are no trees and tree stands to provide a good view without getting revealed.
Just the thought of it made me excited as I had limited experience of hunting, let alone Marco Polo trophy hunting in a foreign land!
Early in the morning, we got done with our perfunctory business and headed up to the mountain. Behind a white dune, we laid our essentials and lay down flat on our belly as we were told that in another 40 minutes, the sheep would be heading this way to fetch some thorny shrubs. It took much longer than 40 minutes before I saw the magnificence of those curled horns and the regal trotting of the Marco Polo sheep herd visible on the mountain. We lay to the west, and the small crowd continued the daily morning walk every time, without noticing us. However, as my hunting partner pulled up to aim and hold, one of the sheep somehow caught sight. In an instantaneous frenzy, the herd dispersed, and within minutes only one old male was left without cover.
Our guide helped us understand that the old male was not fit for hunting, as it was evident since he couldn’t keep up with his herd. You will be getting all these details as they were new information for me as well!
Every third day we would drive for eight hours and then hike up to the mountain where Marco Polo sheep herds would only appear for a short while. Since the field was wide and flat where we set ‘camp,’ it became an ordeal to lie around for hours for a short period in which we witnessed the herd coming and going. One thing I can add here is the shortness of breath that sets in due to the high altitude. By the time we got ready to leave each day, it was as if we were running for survival.
The final hunt and victory
After many days of the same exercise, we found our moment of glory when the herd of Marco Polo sheep decided to walk opposite from our station. We could see them clearly from the back as they trot towards the other direction. Our guide gave my partner the signal to raise himself a little from the ground and aim. Within ten minutes of stealthy movement, a gunshot created frenzy, and the herd dispersed. We all moved towards the sheep, and at periodic intervals, each of us shot towards the target specified. Then finally, when my partner was able to get a healthy and young sheep in a clear view to shoot, he plunged the trigger, and we saw the sheep fall sideways. By now, the herd had moved out of sight, and it was us, with our trophy visible in clear view!
The move downhill
Since we wanted to carry the animal downhill, it was the local guide and driver who took over and lifted the large sheep. A short photography session, and we were done for the season!
Our hunting trip ended successfully, and we were free to visit the other sites to enjoy our foreign trip. The feeling of accomplishment and the training for the future was something I took home, while my partner had decided to carry the mounted head for display at his shooting range in Calgary.
What I took home
For a young hunter like me, thankfulness for the opportunity was enough to take home! I, however, learned some hunting tips, which have helped me since to improve my skill. Marco Polo sheep hunting requires the ability to shoot from up to 250 yards. Maintaining silence and with the least amount of movement, hunters have to align themselves with shooting the prey at the throat. The best practice is professional long-distance shooting, and if you are not trained for it, it is better to wait till you think you can shoot without letting the climate and climatic factors compromise your senses. Breathing regularly while lying on your belly is a challenge, and every small detail matters. My trip to Tajikistan taught me that hunting is not a game but a sport that requires focus and enthusiasm. Hiking up to the same point every day and spending nights at a base camp without the comforts of homeland is enough for anyone to think whether they want to continue.
When you plan your trip for trophy hunting, make sure you are ready by skill and adjust to the environment. Winning trophy is not a simple game. It is a sport that demands focus and enthusiasm!