There’s nothing like getting away for a winter break to the sun, but when I said to my wife Anna we were heading to the Castellón region of south-east Spain for a long weekend, I’m not sure she had tagging along on a hunting trip in mind. Hunting the Beceite ibex, one of four subspecies of wild goat found in different regions of Spain, in the middle of February would be a new experience for us both.
The area we were hunting covered 80,000 hectares and we drove 30 miles through a mixture of vegetated valleys and more open sparsely-covered rocky hills to get to our allocated hunting area. A criticism of Beceite ibex hunting, and one that had made me not rush into it before, is the amount of time spent in vehicles. But we didn’t see anything of interest from the truck and eventually, from a vantage point in the hills, we watched a group of 20 ibex heading into the cover of the juniper bushes having come off one of the cereal terraces they had been feeding on.
Although my guide, Jordi, didn’t speak much English I understood his explanation that there were no roads where the ibex had gone, so we drove to the top of a ridge, parked up and headed off on foot with the sun on its way up into the sky at around 9am. It was an incredible landscape to walk in, with loose rocks littering the dry orange soil in between the rosemary and juniper bushes. Working our way through and around a mixture of these terraces, scrub land and over, up and down stone walls we navigated our way to the area where we had last seen the ibex.
Jordi gestured for us to hang back while he scouted over the top of the next hill and he sank slowly to his knees as he stalked us right to the spot where the group had bedded down. He gestured for me to come forward, which I did, moving slowly and trying to keep as low as possible. I was mindful not to kick any of the loose rocks from under my feet. I spotted the ibex in question as I crested the hill and Jordi started setting up his shooting sticks.
I placed my Rigby Highland Stalker carefully on the sticks and judged the distance to be a maximum of 50 metres. Of the group we had spotted from the truck we could only see four – a female, two males and a male kid. Jordi tried to explain which one he wanted me to shoot and I understood the instruction to shoot the one ‘behind’. “Shoot, shoot”, urged Jordi, but the one I was focused on was obstructed by the kid. Jordi took the sticks, shuffled them a little more to the right and repeated “shoot, shoot“. There was still no shot on the one ‘behind’ as the kid hadn’t moved, and it then stepped forward, following its mother who had sensed something was up. The soft bang of my .275 Rigby Highland Stalker rifle rang out and I saw the ibex fall immediately. We then watched the surrounding undergrowth rustle to life and the other ibex dashed off to safety further up the hill.
My heart sank when I understood Jordi say, “you shoot wrong one”. He had intended for me to shoot a representative male but, lost in translation, I had taken a slightly smaller cull animal. As we approached, Jordi seemed happy enough with the mistake and I understood him to say it was a good one to take anyway as the six-year-old was not going to produce longer horns in future.
It was certainly good enough for me as I couldn’t afford to shoot a medal animal and I knew that taking a cull male meant I would be able to hunt a female the next day. The bullet had struck a little higher than I had aimed but it was close enough. By now it was 10:30am and following customary pictures we cut out the two loins which we ate for dinner on the last night. They were a little tough but, considering they hadn’t been hung, they were okay. The flavour was great and it’s always nice to eat something from the animals you hunt.
The following day I was heading out for a female ibex. We were hunting nearer to the lodge, but in a more rocky and scrub-clad area. We drove to a few vantage points and glassed for ibex in the open areas between scrubby vegetation. Jordi spotted a group of females, but they were in a tricky spot to approach and looked heavily pregnant, so we passed on that bunch.
Heading round a ridge road we looked across the next hillside and spotted two females feeding half way up the slope. Jordi drove the truck out of sight, and we set off on foot to take a closer look. To approach the ibex, we needed to drop down into a small valley, using it for cover as we headed up the hill. This started out as a rocky shrub-clad ravine, but as we went up hill we faced waist-high gorse bushes interspersed with rosemary. I began to regret my decision to wear lightweight summer trousers as we waded through the spinney gorse and moved my Rigby out of the way of as many branches as possible. I can deal with a few scratches, but I’m not keen to put a lifetime’s worth onto the wood in one day.
We reached the head of the small valley and suddenly Jordi put his trigger sticks up and gestured for me to get the rifle on them. I got the gun up and searched the hillside for the ibex, spotting them after a few seconds. They had seen us and were heading towards a large area of cover. I pinged my rangefinding binoculars onto the nearest large rock a couple of times to make sure I had a good reading. It came back at 230 metres. The ballistic calculator in them gave a click factor of 11 which I knew to be accurate as I’d set up the binos for my chosen .275 bullets a couple of days before at home for just such an eventuality. Hoping I had enough time to adjust the scope, I unscrewed the elevation cap and clicked up the instructed number.
As I’d set up my scope for a 100m zero and checked the bullet drops on paper at home I knew that at 200m the bullets would be dropping 9cm and at 300m they would have dropped some 61cm. I’d already decided that at 200m if on a pack I’d just hold over, but off the less stable trigger sticks, shooting uphill at a good 45 degrees with bended knees I wanted the reassurance of being able to place the cross hairs on the animal’s chest and I was relying on the ballistic calculator to take the angle of shot and elevation above sea level into account for me.
After confirming with Jordi which female to shoot, I held my breath and the soft bang rang out. It was gratifying to see the female drop on the spot, rolling down a couple of natural rock steps but stopping dead before she fell any further. Given the situation, I was pleased with the shot and Jordi was very enthusiastic.
With the scope returned to its 100m zero, we headed on up the hill to find our quarry and thankfully made it out of the gorse bushes and onto some rock scree. Heading up a bit higher we came to the natural steps of rock that were jutting out of the hillside and found our ibex lying on the edge of one of the flat rocks. A typical female ibex has short 10cm horns and I could see that my one was different. Both horns had grown curved down. On seeing the head Jordi became more excited and kept repeating “special trophy”. Jordi’s phone came out and pictures of the extremely old 15-year-old female were sent out immediately to other guides.
The stalk on the female ibex had been great, topped off with a shot I was proud of and a trophy of a lifetime. Before we left to head back down the hill, Jordi pointed out a wall of rocks that had been placed in front of an overhang. The ibex had landed right in front of an old sniper’s nest from the Spanish Civil War. It was a sobering reminder that so many of the places we hunt in, were, due to their landscape and terrain, frontlines in human conflicts.
I was lucky to enjoy two memorable stalks and have the opportunity to enjoy a hunt with my wife and friends. It was an experience I’ll always cherish.
Anyone interested in hunting Beceite ibex, medal or cull can contact me for details: firstname.lastname@example.org phone +44 (0)7950 455679.
For further information about Rigby’s Highland Stalker visit: www.johnrigbyandco.com.