26 de febrero de 2018
Bowhunting Spanish Ibex
“It is still warm in the southern part of the Gredos mountains although summer is coming to an end. Our horses move slowly to the highest part in search for a cooler area were the ibex tend to be this time of the year. The pack is full with the necessities to be able to hunt for a few days. We want to gain most of the altitude to hunt from there, so we set up the spike camp on an old shepherd house made of rocks. Car is not very far but this will save a few hours of hiking everyday, and will allow us to hunt the ibex from above, without letting them see us climbing up everyday.”
Bowhunting for ibex its probably the number one reason of bowhunters visiting my home country of Spain. The feeling of spotting a magnificent billy after hours of glassing is something unique, specially when you have a bow in hand, and your objective is to try to get as close as possible to it. I am lucky of being able of chase them every season, and would like to share my love, insight and my point of view on such a special animal.
The “Macho Montes” is how we refer here as the Spanish Ibex. There are four different subspecies of “Capra Capra”, located in different mountain ranges of the peninsula. The “Beceite” ibex in the east part mainly on Teruel, Castellón and Tarragona provinces. The “Gredos” in the central west part of the country, between Cáceres and Ávila provinces. The “Sierra Nevada” on the south eastern part in Granada Province. Lastly the “Ronda” ibex on the southern part, in the province of Malaga.
Differences between the subspecies are small, and they mainly differ on horn size and shape, body weight and the area they live on. The two largest species are the Beceite and Gredos, where an average mature billy of about 10 to 12 years horns can get around 65 to 85 cm length, while on the two other subspecies they go around 50 to 70 cm length. Their behavior, seasons, way of hunting them, etc.. is pretty much the same on all of them.
They ibex habits the mountains which height is around 1500 to 2000 m. Depending on the region and the time of the year you can find ibex living on lower areas with low forest terrain, or higher areas with wide open country, at the same time they can live in steep rough terrain or in easier broken areas, and everything in between. Spain has some areas very well connected with roads, and some harder places to reach. It also has permits from National Reserves were hunting pressure is very low, and areas were they get to be hunted pretty often, where animals are more spooky. With all this different scenarios, you can decide how hard and pure you want your hunt to be. Be sure to transmit what type of experience are you looking when contacting the different outfitters.
“With the first light of the day, we spotted a gorgeous old lonely billy grassing in the high prairies. It was in the perfect spot to attempt a stalk, so I didn't think it twice, and quickly head his way. It didn't took me long to get into close range, when they are by themselves stalks are way more easy. I reached the spot and soon I spot the tips of the horns grassing on my direction, not more than 20 meters away. The sun started hitting us and the ibex decided to bed down. After blowing a lot of opportunities, I have learned that you should never try to stand up a bedded animal, so I was ready to wait for as long as it was needed. After gaining a few more meters to be able to have a shot as the ibex stood up, I just sat and enjoy the moment. After half and hour, the ibex shook its head a little, it was about to start moving. I drew the bow as the ibex stood up broadside 15 meters away..”
Ibex season its legally open almost all year around, except from a few short periods in June and July depending on the areas. Their behavior change during the year, and although every year and every area is different, its interesting to have some rough dates in mind when planning your trip.
The peak of the rut is around end of November, and thats the time of the year where you can expect surprises, since big males can appear from far away or from thick cover looking for some love. Although the males are typically more distracted and focused on other issues, its tough to get into bow range, since there are typically a bunch of females around and also other satellites billies trying to find a distraction from the dominant one, which are as aware as any other moment of the season. This is by far the most amazing time to hunt them, see them fighting between each other, following the nannies with their tongues out, etc. , and the best time if you want to shoot a big one.
“It was early December in Beceite and after a few days we finally found a group of ibex with a nice billy. The big one was chasing some nannies with some other smaller males around him. They were just on an erratic move caused by the continuous short runs of the males pushing the females. We tried to get into shooting distance, but it was impossible to predict their next move. They end up on the top of the mountain, were they decided to bed down.
It took me over an hour to go around and approach them from behind and above. I do not like stalking bedded game, since although you know were they are, they do not have anything better to do than look for upcoming danger. I crawled as close as I could, but with such a spread group, at 60 meters some nannies got nervous, felling that something was not right. The first alarm whistle was the signal to open the bow and take the shot; I will never forget that arrow on flight directly to the billy.”
Just after the rut, big males exhausted retire to rest and movement is usually lower. If you hunt really open areas you may have a chance to find a bedded lonely billy, which could give you a great opportunity, but if not things can get tough. High chances of weather not being nice too.
During the spring with the breeding season, nannies get by their own to calmly give birth. In this time billies tend to get together, and you can find big groups of just males. Green grass starts to appear on the bottom areas, and you can have during short periods of time some regular moving patterns between the bedding areas and were they feed. A great opportunity to place an ambush. At the same time, animals are more relaxed and give you more time to prepare a stalk. Specially during the mid days if they get to bed on an accessible area.
Like in all mountain hunts with the bow, you should prepare as much as possible. Try to get in shape before the hunt, do not need to train with a lot of weight on your backpack since most of the times will be day hunts, but train to climb fast. Arriving after a quick climb to the shot opportunity with high pulse can blow all the opportunity.
Shoot your bow as much as possible and specially on steep angles. Best stalks appear in very broken and rough terrain, so be ready for steep angles and uncomfortable positions. Try to be really confident with you shooting, 50 meters is a good distance for ibex. Learn to be quick and good judging distances. When you get close to a group and you spook one, the whole group will ran, but they may stop for a few seconds with the confusion to check what is going on. Listen to your guides since they know the ibex behavior, routines and area better that the own ibex. In Spain bowhunting its getting more popular, so try to find outfitter with good experience with bowhunters, if their guides bow hunt themselves even better.
“We found big group of around twenty males all together laying down last spring. There was only one or two shooters, and they were pretty much spread in the lower forest. We decided to give it a try and went around them to stalk them from above. I was hunting with Adam Foss who got a big ibex with the bow two days before at 25 yards after a crazy stalk to a bedded old billy. At the other side of the valley my friends and guides Daniel Herranz and Julian Serena were controlling the group.
It was a long stalk that took us around three hours walking. We arrived with the place we last saw the group, and luckily they were still bedded down. There was a big cut between the ibex and us, and we couldn't get closer than a hundred meters. Mountain hunting is all about having enough patience to wait for the right moment to strike. We waited and control them as they stood up later in the afternoon, and how they started moving. Checking the direction they were heading, we quickly run downhill to cut their way to the area they were heading to eat. The heart rate increased as the four biggest billies were slowly heading straight to us. I drew the bow with time as it was around 60m and let the billy get closer, while Adam was measuring the distances for me. We end up shooting it at 40m, those twenty steps the ibex took while I was at full draw felt endless.”
Regarding gear use the best optic you can get, every stalk starts with glassing the animals, and you spend lots of hours behind the glass every day. Good rangefinder with angle compensation is also a must. Also bring a good scope just in case the guides don't have, it will make you judge the billies without having to get close to them. If they feel something is not right, you will have low chances on getting into bow range, so better look from the distance and take your time before starting the stalk. Don't rush your chance.
Use light and comfortable technical gear, with a good layering system, mediterranean weather changes really quick. You can be freezing cold in the morning and end up in a t shirt at midday. KUIU gear system has worked outstandingly well this last years for us. Good hiking boots, but they should be as silent as possible, try to find something in the middle range. In winter with bad weather I use boots, but during the spring hunts I typically go for trail running shoes. Look for a small daypack for the basic things for the day. I like KUIU packs concept which have a carbon frame in case you are lucky and have to pack out heavy, but the pack itself is as light as any other daypack on the market.
Any bow over 60 pound will make the job. A mature billy can weight 80+ kilograms, so I wouldn't go for a very light arrow, something in the range of 420-450 gr. It can get windy pretty often, so for this hunts I typically stick with mechanicals and short profile vanes to assure a good arrow flight. I prefer multiple pins since they are quicker than single pin sights. The current setup I am using is a PSE Carbon Air at 70 pounds @ 29”, with Carbon Express Maxima Red SD 450 grains, Grim Reaper Razortip 100 gr broadheads, Bohning Heat vanes, Spot Hogg Father 5 pin, Trophy Taker Smack Down, Doinker Tactical 10”, Winners Choice Strings and Carter Simple release, with really good results. A set up with a nice energy and reliability.
“Ronda is the smallest subspecies of ibex and probably the hardest one to get due to limited access and hunting pressure. It was my second trip to try to get my last Spanish ibex, I really wanted to shoot a mature billy. After the whole day looking all over, we finally found the billy I wanted feeding on the skyline. We quickly circled around and using the mountain spine sneaked to get into 40 meters of the group of four billies. Perfect executed stalk that ended up with probably my best ibex to date. Something very special after having bow hunted ibex with my bow for the last 15 years.”
Thanks to all the management that has been done in the last years by hunters, Spain currently has a great and healthy ibex population, which allows to a big number of license for this specie every year, and good density of animals in the hunting areas. If you include a season almost all year round, an amazing culture and food and a gorgeous terrain, we could state that Spain is like the perfect bowhunting destination. So I invite you all to consider visiting us for some great hunting opportunities, you would have a blast chasing these animals.
Hope you find it of interest, and wish you the best of luck in the mountains.