by Paul Kretschmar @k_mar_outdoors + Pablo @pablo.carol.iwh | Photos: @arcaza_hunting_tv_show
After long lockdown winter, I was more than ready for a new hunting adventure. As soon as the borders to Spain reopened, I called my Spanish friend and professional hunting guide Pablo. Immediately, we started making new plans. „What about hunting roe deer" he asked? The Spaniards are very passionate roe deer hunters and I also like stalking these fascinating creatures, be it in dense forests of my home state Bavaria or abroad.
My mind, however, was more set on mountain hunting. On stalking elusive game in inhospitable terrain. On sweaty ascents that reward with fantastic views of the vast landscape. On colorful mountain meadows, framed by steep rock faces. “I think, I can help you out with that”, was Pablo’s reply.
Spain, two weeks later. The battered Toyota winds its way up the Marina Alta mountains on gravel roads full of potholes. Individual pine trees and dense bushes, which become increasingly sparse, line the roadside. At an altitude of about 700 meters we stop, continuing on foot until we reach a viewpoint at an altitude of just under 1000 meters. From here we have a magnificent view of the La Marina mountain range, deep valleys and - far away, just below the horizon the deep blue sea.
We eagerly begin scanning the rock faces and brushy areas for Aoudads. Because of their sheep-like formed horns, which can measure up to 80 cm in length, Aoudads are also called Barbary sheep. However, the name "sheep" is misleading, as Aoudads have both goat- and sheep-like characteristics. Their exact taxonomic classification was long disputed. Zoologists now assigned the North African mountain dwellers an own genus, Ammotragus lervia - Greek for sand-goat. It doesn't take long before Pablo has spotted the first Aoudad, albeit at a distance of more than 600 meters. At first, I can only make out rocks and bushes. But little by little reddish-clay bodies appear out of the arid surroundings. With every glance I see more game, which is amazingly well camouflaged despite its light brown coloring. Over the course of the day, we see an abundance of animals, however, without the possibility of connecting with a trophy ram.
This changes late in the afternoon. "Macho," Pablo whispers. Now I see him: with a broad chest, blond mane and half-moonlike curved horns - a well-sized Aoudad buck. But we cannot get to him from where we are. The precious prey is located on a vast mountain slope opposite of us.
We have to change position and stalk over a ridge towards the neighboring mountain. In some places we must cross sharp-edged boulders. A gentle evening breeze fills the air with scents of wild rosemary, fresh mint and tart thyme. This area is famous for its abundance of medicinal herbs.
The sun is already fading in tones of red and orange, when we finally are in position, trying to locate the Macho again. There he is, grazing in a group of ewes and lambs, only about 150 meters below our position. So far, so good. But: They are on the move, something must have alerted them to our presence. I hastily build a rifle-rest on a knee-high boulder with the help of my hunting pack and bring the .308 into position, waiting for the ram to provide me with an opportunity for a broadside shot. Now it is: Waiting. And hoping. Occasional crickets chirp. Disappointment sets in as the group disappears below us – not to be seen again.
Daylight is fading as we start our descent. One thing is already clear: Game is abundant, and I am in the company of Pablo, an excellent hunter and professional guide. So I have every reason to be confident that we will get another chance.
Dawn finds us back in the mountains. We stop in the middle of an orchard, which - supported by natural stone walls - nestles against the mountainside. From here we have a clear view of the surrounding area. We locate a promising location on a rocky slope and take on the ascent - steeply uphill. We enter rugged rocky slopes that alternate with densely overgrown ravines. Hiking trails? Nope! Again and again we have to turn back, because steep rock faces cut-off the path. So we have to adapt and find our way around.
Afternoon. Finally, I can see him too. The mighty horns sway in the slope above me and back and forth. Again and again he manages to evade my gaze, but then I get the Macho back in sight. My left index finger hits the range-finding button: 644 meters. The magnificent Arrui rams roams the slope above us, but we don't have enough cover to stalk him directly. Pablo and I hold a council of war and make a plan: Bypass the mountain and stalk it from the rear. Three hours of arduous climbing later, we are finally at the top. My thighs burn like fire, my heart is pounding like a sledgehammer. But we are in position.
Pablo and I climb onto a flat rock, trying to find solid support for the rifle in prone position. I fiddle back and forth but can't find a comfortable, safe shooting position. So, it’s back to square one. I'm now kneeling behind the rock, rifle resting solidly on my pack. Fortunately, I am wearing hunting pants with knee pads, which so I can rest my right knee on the rocky ground without discomfort. "Lo ves?" asks Pablo (Do you see him?). Oh yeah! He clearly stands out among the pack of a dozen or so ewes and lambs. With mighty chest hair, and boldly curved horns.
I track him through the optics. In a few minutes, he will pass a rocky outcrop closest to our position. 265 meters. Now I have to make a decision. This is as close as we're going to get. Should I try to take the shot despite the long distance? My friend Pablo is a great support in this stressful situation. With a calm voice he reminds me to only take the shot, when I feel comfortable. To trust my ability of judgement. Instantly, I feel reassured. By his presence. His experience. His calm of mind.
The ram leisurely moves to the left, past the rocky outcrop. He climbs a ledge and turns to the right, presenting his broad side. "Whenever you're ready," Pablo whispers. Slowly, I click off the safety and very slowly increase the pressure on my right index finger.
After the shot, the ram disappeared in dense brush. After having waited sufficient time, we are eager to check the area, where we last saw the Macho. First, however, we have to head down the valley, then climb back up the opposite side through a steep canyon. High humidity at temperatures around 28 degrees make this a strenuous exercise. The spicy smell of mint, thyme and rosemary is wafting around us, as we draw nearer. In a palm thicket I find signs of a good hit. Relief - the Aodad can't be far away. Step by step, we make our way parallel to the rock face through a dense, green jungle of sharp palm leaves, burdock and thorny plants. Pablo is ahead of me, fighting his way between two large boulders, when he yells at the top of his voice: Aqui está (Here he is).
In the middle of the palm thicket, the old macho has come to his last rest. Joyfully, we congratulate each other. This was real teamwork!!!
Paul Kretschmar @k_mar_outdoors + Pablo @pablo.carol.iwh