These days’ wild sheep get most of the glory, while their cousins in the goat family seem like second class citizens. It wasn’t always this way. Nearly a century ago, when the Roosevelt expedition penetrated the Tian Shan Mountains in western China, the prize was the long-horned ibex. Argali sheep encountered along the way were considered camp meat. I think we have it wrong today. In central Asia, we drool over the various races of argali sheep Marco Polo, High Altai, Gobi argali, and more and we often overlook the spectacularly horned ibex that inhabit the same ranges. We forget, too, that wild goats almost always inhabit tougher, rougher, and steeper country than wild sheep and so represent, at the least, an equal challenge.
The ibex is a long-horned goat of the Capra genus, meaning it’s a true goat. They occupy a very large range, starting on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) and running east to Mongolia, with a branch in North Africa. Across this broad range are several distinct species and numerous subspecies. Distinctions include color, size, and, even, the shape of horns. Some ibex have horns that are triangular in section, while others are more rectangular. With ibex, normally only the males Grow horns; some varieties have distinctly “knobby” front ridges, while others have a smoother keel.
Today, hunters generally consider there to be 15 varieties of ibex: six in Europe, seven in Asia, one (the Walia ibex) confined to Ethiopia, and the Nubian ibex, which ranges from Africa into Southwest Asia. As is often the case, the classifications made by biologists and hunters don’t exactly agree. For instance, based on regional horn configuration and size, we consider there are four distinct ibex in Spain, which is unlikely from a purely scientific standpoint. But as my friend, and much more accomplished mountain hunter, Rex Baker likes to say, “We don’t make the rules; we just hunt the animals.” Following these rules, I have taken 12 varieties of ibex and am unlikely to go further: The Persian desert ibex is confined to Iran, and the Nubian ibex, despite a large range and adequate population, is not currently open to hunting. Of all the different varieties, the Walia Ibex is the only one that is seriously endangered. Its habitat is Ethiopia’s Semien Plateau, but it has not been hunted in living memory.
In general, ibex are mountain animals, but across their broad range, this isn’t always so. The kri-kri or Cretan ibex, now hunted in Greece and Macedonia, is found in Mediterranean hills; the Sindh Ibex is found in desert hills in southwestern Pakistan, and the several Spanish ibex are often found in forested hills rather than true mountains. Most of the time, however, ibex gravitate to the steepest, roughest country they can find. Some of my own most challenging hunts have included the Himalayan ibex in the dizzying heights of northern Pakistan; the mid-Asian ibex in the Tien Shans of eastern Kyrgyzstan; and the Bezoar or Persian Ibex in Turkey’s steep mountains.
Shooting & Shot Placement for Ibex Hunting
All goats are tough, but a 300-pound goat is tougher than a 100-pound goat. Also, like all goats, when threatened or injured, ibex will tend to drive towards the steepest, nastiest escape terrain where recovery can be difficult and dangerous. It is thus important to hit an ibex properly and try to anchor it on the spot. This is not necessarily a matter of raw power, but rather shooting for the shoulder to break heavy bone instead of the “behind the shoulder” lung shot that American hunters tend to prefer. It is also preferable to use a bullet that expands fairly quickly, expending energy and doing damage, rather than use a tough bullet designed for maximum penetration. Although sharp-eyed, ibex are not difficult to stalk if you can get above them, but often steep terrain dictates longer shots. Ideal cartridges start with the fast 6.5mms and run through the .270s and 7mms to the fast .30s. Mount plenty of scopes and make sure you understand your trajectory out to longer ranges just in case.
Because of the numerous varieties of ibex, the sizes of bodies and horns are hard to characterize. Largest-bodied, at least in my experience, is the Himalayan ibex, with body weight up to 300 pounds; smallest is definitely the kri-kri, barely 100 pounds soaking wet. All ibex have horns that are very long in relation to body size, but the longest-horned ibex are probably the Bezoar ibex of Turkey and the Mid-Asian ibex, both of which can exceed a spectacular 50 inches in length.
The Ibex is naturally a creature of the Northern Hemisphere, so their lifestyle is fairly consistent across both ranges and species. They are browsers and grazers, so they are able to thrive in more marginal habitat than sheep. Ibex are herd animals, with females (nannies) and males (billies) congregating separately for much of the year. Mating season is generally November and December, and at this time the bachelor groups break up and the males come into the herds to compete for breeding rights. The gestation period is about five and a half months, with one or two kids born in the late spring. Twins are relatively uncommon (as low as 20 percent of births), but even so, ibex are prolific. Given some protection, a herd will increase rapidly. They are also survivors and are much more resistant to domestic livestock disease than sheep. Ibex also live longer and breed longer than sheep. In the wild, a male is considered old at 12 years, but nannies can live up to 19 years.