Earlier this month, I traveled back to the Caucasus Mountains, the same mountain range I was in last spring when I shot a Dagestan Tur with my bow. On my last trip, I was on the Eastern side of the mountains in Azerbaijan; however, this time I was after Kuban Tur in the Western Caucasus in Russia.
Hunting in Russia versus Azerbaijan has some differences, one being that bow hunting is illegal, so I was hunting for Kuban with my rifle. No matter what country you are hunting from, the Caucasus Mountains are unforgiving, and have earned a reputation of being one of the most technical and dangerous mountain ranges on the planet. These mountains connect the Caspian and Black Sea, and divide Russia from Georgia and Azerbaijan, creating a natural wall between Europe and Asia. The Caucasus Mountains are as steep as they get, with a lot of loose rock, and are the only place tur inhabit.
Tur are from the Capra family, and have two subspecies: the Dagestan and Kuban. The Dagestan (Capra Cylindricornis) live in the mid to eastern Caucasus, while the Kuban (Capra Severtzovi) live on the western side. The main difference between the two is their horn style. The Dagestan horns resemble those of sheep, with the Kuban looking more like an ibex. Both subspecies inhabit an area in the middle of the Caucasus, where they breed together (Mid-Caucasian Tur). Kuban tur can only be hunted from Russia, as hunting in Georgia is currently closed.
We flew to Mineralnye Vody, Russia, where we met up with our outfitter, ProfiHunt. After landing, we had a five-hour drive to base camp (See green * above). Located on a river, on the bottom of a deep valley, base camp was simple. The van that took us to camp doubled as the kitchen, with a larger tent for a dining room. We set up our tents, knowing that from our location we could move throughout the valley and hike up to hunt in the higher ranges.
Our first day of hunting started at 4 AM with a long hike up to the hunting area. In this area, chamois live around 8,200 feet, and the tur are closer to 10,000 feet. The bottom of the valley is at 5,200 feet, so the elevation gains to reach hunting grounds each day were considerable. We pushed hard the whole day and finally got to see the first group of billies in the afternoon. They were up much higher than us, over a mile away and bedded under the highest peak in sight. I set up my spotting scope and didn’t see anything worth shooting. With a lot of days ahead of me to hunt, I wanted to try to find an old billy.
The Caucasus is located in fairly low latitude, making it pretty warm in the summer. Every day of the hunt was between 50 and 77 degrees. Between the heat and the full moon, the animals moved very little during the middle of the day, spending most of their time bedded down in the cliffs and caves to stay cool. For us, this made it really hard to see any game except for the first or last hour of the hunting day. Being so far from base camp, we needed to start heading down a couple of hours before sunset to make it back, needing the light to see since the hike down is dangerous and incredibly steep, with a lot of loose rock and grass. After this first day, we knew we had to find a more efficient way to hunt, and ended up setting up a spike camp at the top of the mountains so that we could hunt during the most valuable hours of the day.
After having such a long first day, we woke up on day two and decided to hunt for chamois since they live lower in the mountains. One of our guides lived close by camp, and we went to his house to grab a few horses to help us get above the tree line. At his house, we were able to see how many of the people in this area live. Most residents are shepherds, living off of the land and raising horses, sheep, and cows. It is a life that requires a lot of hard work, and the people who live here are lovely and very welcoming. They know these mountains like the palms of their hands.
While we were getting the horses ready, I spotted a couple of chamois walking the skyline at the very top of where we were going. We got on a trail that led us through the forest and slowly made our way up. We left the horses shortly after we made it to the tree line and continued hiking from there.
The chamois were living on the cliff sides of the mountain, so we carefully walked the ridge line, peeking over to look for them once we reached the top. After a couple of minutes, I found a chamois bedded down on a balcony about 400 meters away. He was a mature buck, thick but short—nothing exceptional, but a good representation of the species. My guide, Hussein, said he was “volsoy” which means “big” in Russian. He also said that I could shoot the chamois from where we were at, but he would need to retrieve it alone since it was in a dangerous spot to climb. I felt like the shot was too long from where we were at, so we moved to get closer, but when we peeked over the rim again, the buck was gone. I saw some movement on our side of the mountain; the buck was closer now at 200 meters, but he moved behind some rocks.
I repositioned to set up for a shot before the buck appeared again. There wasn’t time to set up the spotting scope, but I had him in my rifle scope and could tell that he was at least five years old. Chamois typically quit growing much after five, so I took the advice of hunters before me and decided to take him. It helped that he was in such a great spot for us to recover, which is something hunters always have to keep in mind on the Caucasus mountains. I set the cross on my scope to the chamois’s chest and squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped down on the spot!
After getting a closer look, the chamois turned out to be a beautiful six-year-old buck. Hussein was all smiles—guides don’t pay much attention to sex or age on animals here—a chamois is a chamois, and the sex is secondary. For Hussein, the most important thing was that the buck was going to be great eating.
We quickly field dressed him and put him in my backpack for the hike back down the mountains. I told Hussein that I was bringing the buck down myself—it didn’t matter that he was probably in 10 times better shape than me. I was younger, and young people should always bring back the heavy loads. It took him a while to understand that I was not putting it in my pack just for the picture, but that I actually meant to take it down the mountain. I love getting my hands dirty, and I like to experience hunts when I’m abroad just like I would when I am at home. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone, but I consider every detail of my hunt as part of the overall experience. That 60-pound pack all the way downhill was painful, but I truly enjoyed it.
The next morning, we hiked with the horses for about three hours and arrived at our spike camp at noon. The place couldn’t be more beautiful: millions of flowers, a lake, and great temperatures, all surrounded by premium tur country. The view made up for the hike up from the valley. We set up our tents, had a quick lunch and took a break, impatiently waiting for the last hours of the day when the tur would start showing up. We were planning to climb to the ridge line to check the next valley over from us, but a heavy storm quickly built up and we had to wait. After realizing the weather probably wasn’t going to get better, we put on our rain gear and started the climb up.
We reached the top and started glassing an incredible valley. While the colors and smell after the storms were amazing, walking on the wet rocks and grass wasn’t, and the terrain had become pretty dangerous. We spotted a couple of female groups in the distance and a lonely billy about 600 meters away. Through the spotting scope, he looked to be about 7 years old, which wasn’t what I was looking for. My guide, Ivan, asked if he was “volsoy,” but I told him he was “malinki” (small). The only way to shoot a big animal is a pass on a bunch of small ones.
We were seeing very little game for the amount of area we were covering, and to be honest I was starting to get a little bit worried, wondering that my expectations of finding an old billy may not be realistic. We had only spotted a couple of billies that were between 7-8 years old, but we had a lot of days left to hunt so I didn’t want to rush. I felt, however, that Ivan and I weren’t on the same page about what I was after, which made me nervous. I tried to make it clear that we had to keep searching.
Even on days like this, where things feel miserable, being out hunting means there’s always the opportunity to be surprised. That afternoon, we had the luck of seeing a huge Caucasian bear eating a dead tur. It was amazing to see, and if it had not been so late in the day we would have hiked down to get a better look at him.
Back at camp that night the weather cleared up, and we enjoyed some tasty noodles under a gorgeous sunset. The next day we would break down camp and move to the next valley.
The next morning, we moved a few kilometers up to the main valley and started heading up again. Most of the upper valleys are not connected to each other, so the only way to get from one to the other is to start from the main valley. Early that afternoon, we arrived at another unbelievable spot. When you set up camp in such a beautiful place, you realize that hunting an animal is secondary to the experience of being in a place like this. We had lunch and started glassing from camp, but we didn’t spot anything. We decided to hike up a ridge line to be able to view more area and see if we could spot any movement during the last couple of hours of the day.
As the sun started going down, Ivan spotted a billy that looked big, even at 600 meters away. We got a bit closer and set up the spotting scope. The billy looked to be around 9 years old, and was definitely the biggest we had seen so far. But he still wasn’t the right one. Ivan was a little nervous about my decision, saying, “Tur, not ibex!”, explaining the tur horns aren’t as large as ibex horns. I couldn’t hold in my laughter as I kept watching the billy.
A few minutes later, another billy appeared in the same spot. Once we saw it, we all said, “volsoy!” at the same time. The billy’s body language told us a lot: he was really old, at least 12 years. This was the billy I had been waiting for.
Light was running low, and we only got within 420 meters. I didn’t feel comfortable shooting that far, so I decided to back out. I know that for a lot of hunters, 420 meters is an easy shot, but I like setting my own limits. We watched the billies until it was completely dark. I was awesome to be there watching such gorgeous animals doing their thing, completely unaware of our presence. Without any light, we headed back to camp in the dark and left the tur alone. We hoped they would stay in the valley for one more night to give us a better chance in the morning.
We woke when it was still dark the next morning and got a tea pot going. We wanted to be glassing with first light to try to spot the tur again as soon as possible. It was a rough night with very little sleep because we were so excited for the opportunities of the next day.
Before long, we spotted the same group of billies again. They were in a bad spot—we had no way to get close enough for a good shot. All we could do was wait, crossing our fingers that they would bed down in a better spot. It was amazing to watch them for a few hours—they are truly incredible at climbing around the mountains. It was easy to tell that the old billy didn’t want to follow the younger ones, and was always looking for an easier path up the mountains. We watched the billies bed a couple of times; a few of them even went deep inside caves.
Finally, we saw the old billy coming a bit lower toward a cave to bed inside. Ivan and I looked at each other and smiled—we could get close enough for a shot! We measure a couple of rocks and we both agreed that we could cut the 700-meter distance to 300-350 meters. The stalk was on.
We went around and climbed to a couple of rocks, getting as close as possible. When we peeked over, the billy was still in the same spot, bedded down in the cave. My range finder put him at 350 meters straight on, 300 meters for the compensated angle. I didn’t waste any time and set in position.
Since the billy was in the cave with the sun already fully up, it was hard to get a good contrast view of his body. We waited for half an hour to see if he would come out of the cave, but he barely moved. Waiting for him to change positions could take hours, so I decided that if he gave us a good shooting angle, I was going to take a shot with him still inside the cave. When he finally changed positions as was broadside, I told the team I was ready to shoot. The bullet flew straight into the cave and hit the billy—he came out and started sliding down the rock wall. I hit him with a second shot to be sure I had him, and he finally stopped rolling a few hundred meters lower.
We could not have been happier! We worked incredibly hard and had been incredibly patient, and it paid off. I was so glad that I hadn’t rushed on the opportunity I had the day before—waiting another day had given me the chance to enjoy the incredible beauty of the Caucasus mountains for a few more hours before getting my final shot. I couldn’t have been more grateful to these mountains for giving me this 13-year-old beast.
After my shot, I looked up to the sky and gave thanks to Mario Miguelanez. Last year, while hunting tur in Russia, Mario had a fatal accident in a fall down the mountains. He was a young, passionate mountain hunter from Spain, and he lost his life doing what he loved the most. I knew that Mario was up above, looking after us, during the whole hunt. Missing you amigo.
Photos: Alvaro G. Santillan @focusontheflymedia
Pedro’s Gear List:
KUIU Layering System
-Merino 145 Zip Off Bottoms x2
-Merino 125 SS x2
-Merino 145 LS ZipT x2
-Merino 210 Hoodie
-Peloton 240 Hoodie
-Alpine Pant x2
-Chugach Rain Gear
-Ultra Down Jacket & Pant
-Headwear Peloton, Cap, Neck
-Northstar, Guide, Peloton Gloves
-KUIU Scarpa Boots (Charmoz & R-Evolution)
-Thin + Mid socks x4
Rifle + Optics
-Bergara B14 270W
-Swarovski Optik Z6i 2,5-15×44
-Hornady Superformance SST 140gr
-Swarovski ATS65 Spotting Scope
-Swarovski 10×44 EL Range Binos
-KUIU Icon Pro 3200
-KUIU Storm Star 2P Tent
-KUIU Superdown Sleeping Bag 0º
-Thermarest NeoAir Sleeping Pad
-KUIU Stubai Ice Axe
-Taku Bags 9000,3000,2000
-Petzl Headlamps x2
-Katadyn + Nalgene Water bottles
-First Aid kit and Medicines
-Manfrotto + Gitzo head Tripod
-Batteries and chargers
-Short pants, swiming shorts, tshirts