Following on from our successful November mouflon hunt in the Czech Republic with Malc, Scrummy, Terry, Ricky and me. I had actually never met any of the lads before the the Czech trip, we had such a good craic we all wanted to book another trip and even talked about it over some Czech lager.
Ricky AKA RickyC, Terry AKA pheasant sniper 1 and myself all wanted to book another European hunt for a species new to all of us. My taxidermist had already recommended us speaking to a contact he has in Spain, Fran. I sent an e mail to Fran find out availability and what species he could offer. The 3 amigos all agreed that a Beceite ibex is an animal we all wanted to take. So deposits made and the dates were booked for early February.
Terry had already met Fran on an infamous trip to Finland......... say no more!!! Fran and Terry got on well in Finland despite the circumstances of both being royally ripped off!! I am digressing!!
Flights booked with Easyjet for less than £100 each, flying into Madrid on Thursday 5th February. As soon as the flights were booked the realisation set in that I would be spending 4 days with Ricky and Terry again... what have I let myself in for.... or what have they let themselves in for!!!
Fran had said the daytime temperature would be about 10°c and night time of 0°c. So I was readying myself for a warmish hunt in February. A week before we were due to catch our flight Fran called me to warn they had some bad weather hitting the days before we arrived. The temperature was predicted to be between 0°c and -2°c daytime and up to -10°c at night!!! With a stiff wind, the wind chill would make it feel a lot colder. Worlds apart from the temperatures us Brits are used to on the Costa Del Sol!! So a rethink of what to pack in my case was in order!! Thermals, lots of warm merino wool layers, Harkila Pro Hunter jacket and trousers, woolly hat, gloves, even hand warmers!!!
Ricky living the nearest to Gatwick, had me and Tel stay at his house. A curry the night before, the flight was an early one so up at 4.30am and out the house for 5am.
The flight was as expected, we all shared stories and watched some hunting videos to pass the time.
As soon as we landed and picked up our bags I could see Fran stood in arrivals. The meet and greet was swiftly done and we walked out to the car park to get in Fran’s pickup, we wanted to get to the hunting area before darkness.
In the back of the cab Fran had a very nice representative beceite head, this was from an animal that had fallen off a cliff into a lake and drowned. One if the keepers Antonio wanted the head for his wall at home, Fran had kindly prepared the head. This got Ricky, Terry and I even more excited about seeing some of these marvellous animals!! Fran drove us to his house in Madrid to pick up his rifle and we were then on our way to the mountains.
On the road to the hunting area there was snow as far as they eye could see. The snow had drifted in places, the main road had been closed by the police. Whilst we were waiting in a queue of cars a snow plough came past to clear the snow drift.
Fran suggested stopping at a service station for a bite to eat. As we will all know of the restaurants in the UK service stations, you are lucky if you can get a hot sausage roll and a packet of crisps or if you want you could fork out £10 to for a crappy burger or fried chicken. The Spanish service stations are something else. They did some delicious gigantic pork scratching, it was well worth stopping for that alone. You could also get tapas and even a beer or glass of wine. We all settled for a melted cheese and smoked pork loin sandwich. On the walls of the restaurant they had some ibex and deer mounts. They even had some live peacocks strutting in a walled garden. Next time I stop at a services in the UK I will feel cheated that all I will get is rubbery burger and a dirty smelly toilet!!
The remaining drive to the hunting area the landscape changed numerous times from land as flat as a pancake, to rolling hills to mountainous rocky terrain.
We got to within 20km or the hunting area. Fran asked if we wanted to take the direct route to the village or take the scenic route to see if we could spot some ibex. We all wanted to clap eyes on our first ibex and get our eyes trained for the days ahead. The terrain was rocky with small shrubs, it turned out that most of the shrubs were various types of rosemary. With a handful of lads you could within an hour or two fill and articulated lorry with sprigs of rosemary without even breaking a sweat. Anyone local to this area would never need buy any for their whole lifetime.
Within minutes of slowly driving around the mountain roads we started spotting ibex, we saw lots of females and youngsters but did not spot any males immediately. We got out the car to take some photos, the wind must have been over 20mph and very very cold. We were all surprised the ibex were even moving at all as they were exposed to the elements.
We were no more than a few hundred yards from the village where I spotted some females, I asked Fran to stop the truck and back up, when we did this a young male appeared. Despite him being not even classed as a representative animal IE less than 50cm, it was still a great sight and an impressive animal to see stood on a pillar above us. This got the 3 of us even more eager for the days ahead in the mountains.
We arrived in the village, Fran showed us to our accommodation which was very nice. It had a comfortable living room a shower room and 2 twin bedrooms. Ricky, Terry and I “spoofed” to decide who had the apartment on their own and who shared. Ricky won, so Terry and I were flat mates for the few days. Opposite the apartment was a small bull ring, it looked almost brand new and barely used. Fran said since it was built it had been used a handful of times.
Over dinner and a few drinks that Fran explained he would be guiding Terry and José would be guiding Ricky and I. José lives about 30 minutes away from the hunting area, although given the bad road conditions it would take 2 ½ hours the long way round as the direct route was closed.
We met in the morning and went to the local restaurant to have breakfast of strong coffee, cold meats and scrambled eggs, we were then all ready for the day ahead.
Fran told us the previous night that ibex do not tend to move until they can feel the sun on their backs, so rather than starting the hunt as early as what it would be for UK deer stalking, you start an hour after the sun is fully up. How obliging of the ibex, especially as we were all tired from the night before.
When José arrived we went to a quarry to check zero of the rifles, Ricky and I were shooting José’s Steyr Mannlicher in 270 WIN and Terry was shooting Fran’s Tikka T3 in 270 WSM. Target set at 100 yards, we were all happy with the zero. José does not really speak a word of English so Fran had told him our prerequisites to our ideas of trophies, I for example wanted an animal with a dark cape. We all elected to shoot a representative that was as close to a bronze CIC medal but not going over as this would have increased the trophy fee. A representative animal starts at 55cm and up to 64cm, generally speaking a bronze medal is >66cm.
Ricky and I flipped a coin and Ricky won, (there is a pattern forming here) so Ricky was shooting first. So off Ricky, José and I went. Within 2 minutes of driving the mountain roads and glassing we saw a female who had a big black chested male ibex, he was a magnificent looking animal. Both Ricky and I were in awe. José was able to gesture that this was a borderline bronze, not a solid bronze, maybe 66 or 67cm. So neither Ricky or I elected to shoot this beast.
We carried on covering the area seeing females and young males around every corner. We then came across a bachelor trio of mature males, all 3 animals would have been shootable beasts. They were stood in some young pines trees about 300 yards from us. We planned a stalk as they fed over the top of the hill. The going was very tough with loose shale and rocks making the stealthy approach very difficult. We got to the top of the mount and looked down the valley trying to spy the animals through the trees. The pines were thick and we would have been very lucky to have caught a glimpse of the hide, horns or the flick of an ear, we all were glassing for 10 minutes and agreed the ibex had beat us on this occasion. We walked back to the truck and drove a short journey to another area. Seeing more and more female ibex scattered over the mountainside on the way, one group we spotted was a group of mainly females numbering about 60 animals.
We spotted another group of males and females from a great distance. Possibly as much as 2 miles away. We got closer to the group and could see there were 2 males that would be worth going after. The terrain would be very tough, bordering on treacherous in places, with very steep sided cliff faces on both sides. Ricky and I were up for the challenge. José knew the trail the ibex would take along the ridge. We followed the well worn track stopping every few yards to glass the ground in front, below and above. We came round a bend and one of the male ibex we had originally spotted was stood looking very proud on top of a rock with his harem of females all around him. We closed the distance to less than 150 yards. José took off his backpack and laid it on a suitable rock, Ricky took aim at the boiler room. The shot was good, at the report of the rifle the females started to scatter. The billy tried to scale the rocky crag above him, dead on his feet ended up tumbling down with his horns clashing against the stone face before he came to rest. We were all worried that the horns may have been damaged in the fall. Approaching the beast we could see what a fine animal he was, fortunately the horns were perfectly intact. With the usual photos taken José got to work on the caping.
Watching José work with the knife was a sight to behold. Whilst the process was taking place the sky filled with scavengers, the griffon vultures were waiting for their feed. The beast was too far from the car and nearest track and with the terrain being so perilous, extraction of the carcass would be nigh on impossible.
With Ricky’s animal down and it only being 1 hour from last light we decided to call it a night and come back to the same area tomorrow. The other billy that was running with his fallen comrade, had a lovely dark cape together with horns that had a wonderful sweep to them. I had decided that if we were to see him the following day I would want to harvest him. We got back to the larder to find Terry was already there having also shot a handsome billy.
Between the whole group we had seen in excess of 200 animals on the first days hunt. With handshakes all round we made our way back to the accommodation to get ready for another evening out. The local keeper Antonio who accompanied Terry that day was celebrating his 73rd birthday. Another night spent having a great meal with a few wines and stories shared. A plan was made for the following day to go and seek out the big dark billy that Ricky, José and I had seen.
I had been Ricky’s wing man the day before so he wanted to be mine. I gladly accepted. José, Ricky and I picked up the trail where we had left the carcass previous day. You would not believe how fast the vultures must have worked to strip every mere morsel of meat from the bones, all the green and red pluck had vanished together with every scrap of hair.
We worked our way along the ridge following the well worn path that the nimble ibex take on their daily passage through their range. Unfortunately none of the bipedal mammals following the same track were anywhere near as agile, on a few occasions we all lost our footing and had to cling onto the rocks around us. The scenery was breathtaking, a crystal clear river was meandering beneath us, the peaks of the hills above us on both sides and a beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds, you would never believe it was about -2°c, the wind was still howling which made it feel even colder.
We followed the ibex track for a further mile and a half, it took us down to the bottom of the valley on the bank of the clear blue river. We stayed on the track which came to a point where it seemed that it crossed the flowing water and went up the other side of the valley. The three of us tentatively crossed the river and crept around the corner of a rocky outcrop, a billy which looked very much like the animal from day before appeared from nowhere. The wind was good so he had not smelt us, but he knew something was up and had decided to leave the water’s edge to seek higher ground, he paused for too long and the bullet was sent home, he staggered and fell. I was overjoyed, after the torment from seeing the animal the day before and him slipping the net. Ricky and José were also ecstatic and were quick to congratulate me. It turned out the billy had been seeking refuge in a very well protected cave which was tucked out of the wind but when couched down in the opening was able to enjoy the morning sun. I clambered up to the fallen billy, the closer I got it seemed that the horns had grown in size and the cape was darker than what I had realised. He was a magnificent animal a real trophy of a lifetime.
José made quick work of the caping, with the head wrapped up in a plastic bag it was the long carry out. The vultures had already identified their breakfast was nearly ready as more than 30 birds were perched on the stack above.
José had called Fran and Terry to tell them of the successful morning. The pair made their way to a point which was within a couple of miles from our position and waited for us to scramble up the valley. We stopped a few times to catch our breath and to take in the scenery. After a trek of about 1 hour we could see Terry and Fran in the distance. I was so pleased to have got back to all my mates to share a few minutes with a truly awe inspiring backdrop. Fran took some great photos which captured the moment. What an adventure we had all had, this was all by the middle of the second day.
Ricky had decided he would also like to take a female ibex. Just like what would typically happen in the UK when you are looking for does, all we could then find was males!! Eventually we spotted a group of ibex which had a mixture of nearly mature males, females and kids. José selected a suitable animal for Ricky to shoot. The shot was on the money, Terry, Fran and I looked on from a distance and could see the animal attempting to flee with the rest of the group, she made it no more than 75 yards and collapsed pretty much totally bled out as the shot had been straight through the heart.
We got back to the village to rest up for a few hours before going out for a celebratory meal with everyone involved in the hunt. We all decided we would have a night off the juice as we had plans the following day. We said our sincere thanks and goodbyes to José and Antonio that evening as they would be gone by the time we were leaving for Madrid in the morning.
That morning after breakfast we decided to take a walk up through the village to a local ruined castle to take in the sights from one of the highest points around. When looking back down towards the village we could see a small group of ibex.
Fran drove us back to Madrid as we had planned on enjoying a night out in the Spanish capital. On route we stopped at believe it or not a service station where they had an onsite butcher that specialised in cured Spanish meats. We must have been in the shop for over an hour sampling the various delights on offer. We all made some purchases. We carried on our course and refuelled at the same service station restaurant that we stopped at on the way, albeit on the other side of the carriageway. We had about 5 or so different tapas dishes between us, the waiter also gave us the local delicacy to try. Fran did not immediately tell us what it was. It tasted nice but the texture was a weird one. It turned out to be a dish made from tripe.
Fran dropped us at the hotel in Madrid which was very good value for money but still having top notch quality. Fran had already booked a table at a restaurant across the city. Fran picked us back up from the hotel at 7pm. On our way to the restaurant we passed the Bernabéu stadium the home of Real Madrid. We had decided to sample probably the most traditional Spanish food available, paella. We were shown our table and ordered some drinks, the gin and tonic was without doubt the best I have ever been served.
Black rice is a dish which uses squid and cuttlefish meat and ink, when the pan was presented to us at our table together with a separate pan of lobster paella, we realised the choice from the menu had been the right one
Back at the hotel we enjoyed a few glasses of single malt before hitting the hay. Our plan for the next day was to visit the natural history museum, Ricky had done a bit of research, the museum had a great collection of taxidermy from all over the world. Typically the only day of the week the museum was closed was a Monday! So instead we went to have a look round some of Madrid before stopping off at Fran’s house and office to have a look at his trophy room. Fran’s trophy room is what most of you reading this report would dream of, a real man cave to be proud of and recount memories from around the world. Here are some photos that Fran said was happy for me to share.
Fran dropped us back at the airport in time for us to check in for our departing flight.
We could all not thank Fran enough, from the very start of this whole adventure, (which to me started at the point of making the enquiry and booking), to the end was flawless. Not one single thing would I have wanted to change. The service provided was nothing short of exceptional, a world class operation. Without doubt the best hunt I have ever been on. I have already told a few mates this story and all of them have asked when I go next time can they come. I would genuinely recommend this experience to anyone, the hunt can be made as tough or as easy as you wish. Although we all opted to physically challenge ourselves, you could equally have a very easy going whilst still remain exciting experience if your knees aren’t quite up to it.
Fran also has other hunting areas in Europe with world class mouflon and chamois. Ricky and I have already pencilled in some dates for early November for chamois and possibly also mouflon.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this epic write up. I hope for some of you this may help you to decide to also give yourself a real adventure of a lifetime.