By McKenzie Sims
A Marco Polo sheep has been a dream ever since I was 7 years old. Seeing the photos of the giant sheep alive, the harvest photos ,and reading stories from Robert Anderson's Wind Dust and snow books, walking around the show floor of the Safari Club International convention seeing the mounts of the beautiful sheep, and watching tv shows that would film such hunts all fueled the dream for the Ovis Ammon Polii. The dream almost came alive in 2013 but due to my father having a triple bypass surgery and a stint problem it got set back. But in January 2015 the dream was back in the spotlight during the SCI convention in Vegas. The preparation time started immediately. Getting in shape, preparing to challenge our lungs, getting all the right gear put together for the weather conditions we had heard so much about. Tuning the rifles in for shots that could reach over 600 yards, preparing ourselves with medication we needed for the high altitude and whatever else could go wrong.
November could not come fast enough. The summer months went by fast working for the family company. But we're full of excitement awaiting our upcoming hunt. Tons of emails were exchanged between myself and the guys at Shikar safaris, on flights, how the hunt was expected to go, and what other hunters would be joining us. September and October was spent hunting around home and guiding other hunters to their dream hunts... As it got closer flight itinerary where sent plans were made to meet up in Dushanbe Tajikistan with our interpreter Helit of Shikar safaris along with fellow hunters John Simons and Jason Campbell before making the journey to Hot Springs Camp.
The time had come. On November 12, 2015, we boarded the 2-hour flight from Salt Lake City to Chicago, and from Chicago, we flew 11 hours to Istanbul Turkey. After arriving in Turkey, we had a few hours of sitting in the bus terminal before knowing what gate we would even leave from. Twenty minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off the gate was posted, and a scramble to the bus gate began. Once arriving at the gate, they kept saying it's the next bus, and the next bus and the next bus. The crowd of people where all getting frustrated with the airlines but there wasn't much we could do. Finally, after loading the plane and a short five-hour flight, we arrived in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. We met up with Helit ( Alex ) from Shikar Safaris that would be accompanying us throughout the hunt. And the guys from Mugarb and company ( Hot Springs Camp ) We sat in the lounge at the airport and went over our paperwork, got our guns cleared, our visa's and picked up our hunting permits but was told Jason and John wouldn’t be in Dushanbe for another day, and it would be best for us to leave and head to camp. So we began our twenty four hour drive to the Hot Springs Camp of Mugarb and company. The first leg of the drive took us through some beautiful landscapes ranging from low farmland to snowy mountaintops and back down to a river valley. As we drove about mock 9, down the bumpy skinny roads passing vehicles with 1,000+ foot cliffs out the passenger door, I couldn't help but remember the stories, and how they described the long, treacherous road to camp being tougher than the hunt in itself and thinking to myself they weren't lying. But was I happy to see the flat ground along River 5. River 5 acts as a border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Granted when you think of Afghanistan you think of war, terrorist, and it being a dangerous country, we quickly learned that the people on the other side of the river where still Tajiks. They didn't get to choose where they lived. They didn't get to decide what country they wanted to live in. They had family on the Tajikistan side of the river they couldn't see due to the Afghanis taking over that side and them not being allowed to cross the river. After arriving late in the evening in the village of Khorugh ( Khorog ) we had a late dinner, showered and went to bed before making our final day of driving.
The second day we drove through some neat snowy country traveling up in elevation reaching just over 13,000 feet. We got to the Hot Springs Camp just as it was getting dark so after a little dinner and settling in, we attempted to get some sleep before our first day of sheep hunting.
The first morning started out with some breakfast around 7:30 followed by shooting our rifles to make sure the long flight didn't bump our guns off. The GunWerks was still on and ready to roll!
Helit , my two guide’s Shody and Atabek and I loaded up in the bigfoot hunting rig and away we went.
Not fifteen minutes into the drive, we had our first band of sheep. Five rams! None of these rams was what I had just traveled 64 hours and halfway around the world for, but it was a sight to see. Just getting my eyes on the magnificent sheep was the cake to the dream. That's when reality really hit me that I was hunting the famous Marco Polo sheep.
Not long after seeing our band of rams, we stopped to glass a base of a near ridge only to see sheep everywhere! Mainly ewes and small rams. The journey continued being in the “Big Foot” jeep gave us a huge advantage in getting around in the snow. We were going places most hunting rigs couldn’t. Climbing the steep, snowy rocky ridges, glassing the valleys below, seeing sheep everywhere, one valley we rolled up above and glassed we could see sheep flooding the valley floor. We couldn’t tell if there were any shooters down there but we estimated that just in the spread out groups there was between 1,500 to 2,000 sheep. Now I had heard stories of other hunters coming here and seeing thousands of sheep. I hadn't quite believed it because what sheep hunts can you go on and see thousand?. But it was true! We weren't even halfway through my first day, and we had seen 2,000 plus sheep. Just before lunch, we got a call that my dad had just shot a ram. I couldn't believe it! We started to head that way when over the radio, they said the ram had run up and over the ridge to our side. So we glassed, never turning up the ram. But shortly after they came back over the radio saying we got him ram down! We found out where they were so we started up the ridge in the bigfoot. We reached the sheep in just a few minutes. We stood around the sheep waiting for my dad and his guides to drive back around and meet us. Once my dad arrived, it was high fives and celebrations. It was crazy to be able to sit there and hold the horns in our hands and just soak it all in. They told us how the entire thing went down. Saying that they had seen the ram and were trying to close the distance when a large group of wolves appeared on the side of the mountain above them. The sheep hunt was on hold as they full throttled up the ridge to try and take out a few wolves. Three wolves and one Sheep later the first morning was a huge success.
But it wasn't over yet. Zafar my dad’s head guide said hey we have a ram we want you to look at, turns out after my father harvested his ram, they saw a large group of sheep with a promising ram in the group.
We made our way around the ridge picking up the three wolves. We followed their tire tracks for about fifteen minutes. Then stopping on the right-hand side of an large sized valley where we got out of the trucks, set up the spotters to glass, the group was quickly found, and the ram was easily spotted so the decision time came was it a ram I had come all that way for.
None of us had eaten lunch yet, so we busted out the bread, olives, cucumbers, Mid Asian Ibex meat from the past hunters and the tea. If you haven't hunted Asia yet Tea is a huge thing. You have tea 24/7 some of its good but most of it's not so good… While I ate my dry bread and cucumbers, I decided that this ram had a look I wanted. The deep argali curls, the mass, and the length. We guessed the ram to be 55-57” in length but had the look of a 60” ram and that was going to be too hard to pass. A plan was made to try and drive up to and see how close we could get to them before they ran we would have to walk, we couldn't have just stalked from where we were watching them it was to open and to many eyes plus trying to walk several miles at 15,000+ feet is a task itself.
We got about 1,100 yards from them when the sheep ran out of the valley and up a small cut. We got out and made a short hike to where we could see the group 350 yards above us. I dropped to the ground and got set up trying to get a description on what ram was what was a chore. The sheep kept climbing. Finally we got our bearings straight and found the right ram he was just over 400 yards and stopped quartering away. I turned my turret and squeezed the trigger… The shot missed hitting just over the rams back.. I didn't account for the angle. The sheep ran but not very far and they were back to a walk, 650 yards was the ranged called out this time I took the angle into consideration and squeezed the trigger, reloading and gathering myself through the scope in time to see the ram buck spin and disappear over the ridge.
The question was, was it a hit or a miss. I said I hit, the guides said miss, but Helit said hit! Good thing Helit had my camera videoing and my dad and his guide were still watching from where we had spotted the sheep. The video was iffy but they soon reported the ram had fallen behind the group and was moving very slow stopping from time to time, and you could see blood low in the front end. So we began to climb the ridge after them. But this process was slow because the air was so thin that the guides wouldn't even walk more the 15 feet before stopping to catch their breath. The light was fading fast, and we knew the ram was hurting and laying down, so we made a decision to turn around and headed down, call it a day and return first thing in the morning. To begin the hike, by the time we reach the big wheel it was dark. That night was filled with restless filling I couldn't help but just think through things. Where did I hit? Would we find the ram tomorrow? Did I just lose my dream sheep?
The next morning we were up at 7:00 am eating breakfast and hitting the trail to get an early start at the climb ahead of us. It took us about four hours of slow pace walking up a steep nasty snow covered ridge before we reached the top. Still following tracks and blood, but soon enough the tracks and the blood ran out. We continued down the opposite valley glassing for any sheep on the opposite ridge lines but no luck.
We waited for the bigfoot to drive around to pick us up as we drove out the valley wondering where the ram could be and if he was dead or still alive. We got a call saying that my dad had just shot a great Mid-Asian Ibex we met up with them looked at the billy, had a short lunch and continued on with our drive not knowing what to even do.
That night was yet again a restless night but at 7:00 am the following morning I found myself with a bad sickness, throwing up and having some serious diarrhea. I had been taking some Diamox to prevent from getting altitude sickness but the symptoms where a little off and one of the guides suggested for me not to take in anymore because he and a few clients had gotten sick from that medicine because they were already use to the high altitude but it's pretty rare. So I sat in camp all day trying to eat dry bread and suck down some Gatorade that I had brought in the little pouches. While I was resting, Helit came in and said they got word on my ram from a yak herder and Shody and Atabek where going to check it out. That news made me feel 100x better, but I still could not venture too far from the bathroom and trash can, so it wouldn't be good for me to go along with them. As I laid in my bed and a few of the others showed back up in camp as dark was setting in. Just after dark, Zafar came into the hunter's hut and said I need to show you something. I grabbed my slippers and followed him out to the skinning shed to see a ram on the back of the bigfoot and Atabek & Shody with smiles from ear to ear. They yelled we found him!!! As I ran up to the boys and gave each of them a hug I couldn't help but feel a huge breath of relief knowing that my DREAM SHEEP still wasn't out there and would be coming back to Wyoming!! After celebrations and story with the fellow hunters who all had success, we were off to pack our things in preparation to make the long journey out of camp.… And so the second leg of our journey began, the two-day drive and the flight back to Istanbul would be the start of the ending to a five year Saga in Ibex country….