Spanish ibex

Hitting the High Goats in Spain

A Mediterranean holiday in November might seem a little out of the ordinary. It certainly is when it involves a full-bore rifle and Spanish ibex, as Selena Barr finds out.

Like many Brits, I have visited Spain countless times. Savvy short-haulers often hop across the Channel for winter sunshine and sangria, but if, like me, you find beach holidays a little pedestrian, hunting Beceite ibex in northeastern Spain is ideal for thrill-seekers looking for an atypical holiday.

My gruelling seven-day working week means it is impossible for my over-active mind to suddenly do nothing on a sun lounger for two weeks. Lashings of clean mountain air were what my overworked body required. Adventure beckoned.

Four hours’ drive north of Madrid airport is Maestrazgo, a sparsely populated region located at the eastern end of the Iberian System mountain range. In this sleepy village, no one speaks a word of English, but luckily I was greeted by the trilingual Francisco ‘Fran’ Cortina, who runs the 55,000-hectare hunting ground. “This is one of the best spots in Spain for ibex so we keep the village a secret to stop poaching,” he reveals.

Maestrazgo is a great place to look for Spanish ibex

From the street, we frequently spotted fearless young Spanish ibex running along the steep ridges, apparently unafraid of humans. “Don’t be fooled – the ibex we will hunt are not tame – they’re super wily and will test your mettle as a hunter,” Fran quipped.

If you are a compulsive enumerator, there are species of wild goat and fourteen subspecies of ibex to hunt worldwide. The Beceite ibex is the largest, both in body and horn size. The fawn-coloured ungulates have very wide-set ringed horns, which make its ability to climb seemingly vertical rock faces incredible. Every hunting season, which runs from November to May, Fran culls around 200 ibex as part of the area’s management plan. Of those, 20 will be medal class. For my inaugural trip, I had opted for a representative male with horns measuring up to 65cm.

In this region of Spain, hunting is widely accepted – it is part of the cultural make-up and the locals rely on the tourism it generates. As we walk to a bar on my first night, animated locals greet us like heroes, wishing us luck for the morning and encouraging us to shoot more to save their crops from the ibex’ feverish browsing. Fran also revealed that hunting leaseholders have to compensate farmers for damage caused by ibex, so it is in everyone’s interest to keep the population in check.

READ >>
Costa Rica Calling!

At dawn the next day I bolted down a manchego and jamón breakfast before driving to the secluded hunting ground with head guide, José Manuel Utrillas. With a Mauser M-03 in .300 Winchester Magnum slung over my shoulder (as one does), I started scouring the hills for my quarry with the avidity of a sniper.

Part of the Culture

In this region of Spain, hunting is widely accepted – it is part of the cultural make-up and the locals rely on the tourism it generates. As we walk to a bar on my first night, animated locals greet us like heroes, wishing us luck for the morning and encouraging us to shoot more to save their crops from the ibex’ feverish browsing. Fran also revealed that hunting leaseholders have to compensate farmers for damage caused by Spanish ibex, so it is in everyone’s interest to keep the population in check.

At dawn the next day I bolted down a manchego and jamón breakfast before driving to the secluded hunting ground with head guide, José Manuel Utrillas. With a Mauser M-03 in .300 Winchester Magnum slung over my shoulder (as one does), I started scouring the hills for my quarry with the avidity of a sniper.

Prior to our outing, Fran had warned me that the steep terrain is not for the fainthearted. “The best hunt is when you have to work hard for the trophy,” he’d reflected, adding: “Outwitting a creature in its own natural habitat, is a real physical and mental test!”

Keeping up with the super-fit José was a challenge in itself. Despite regularly pounding a StairMaster at my local Virgin Active, I was left red-cheeked and panting following in his nimble footsteps. His infrequent pauses meant I had to dig deep. Make no bones about it – the ascent was steep, really steep. For three hours we clambered over boulders and scrambled across ledges, while all the time our boots kicked up the scent of wild rosemary and the far-reaching views became ever more spectacular. This is exactly the holiday I needed – London, spreadsheets and deadlines all seemed a world away.

The cloudless azure sky belied the day’s chilly temperature. The biting wind clawed at my cheeks so I nuzzled my chin deeper inside my jacket and pulled the collar up around my ears. “The wind and temperature are what most affects the behaviour of Spanish ibex,” said Fran. “If it drops much lower they’ll move to much lower ground.” Suddenly the nippy weather was my unexpected ally.

Intensely scanning the hillside with my binoculars eventually paid dividends when I spotted a herd of six male ibex metres away. Making use of the natural dead ground, we planned our approach to get a closer look. The ibex looked unaware of our presence. The hunt was on.

READ >>
Out in the Country
Finding The Quarry

The herd was browsing the yellow flowers of a spiky ulex parviflorus, and luckily was facing away from us. I eagerly waited for some sort of command from José. Concentrating on regulating my breathing and heart rate, I could feel my body desperate to unleash a torrent of adrenaline into my bloodstream. I ignored the pesky hormone and focused on the task in hand. We watched the herd for fifteen tortuous minutes before José made a decision and I was granted the smallest of the six. All that had to happen now was for him to turn broadside.

Ten more minutes went by. Finally, the beast stopped and moved his body. I lined the crosshairs of my scope on his engine room, but I needed him to turn slightly as it was a quartering shot, which I dared not risk.

Another ten minutes passed. I began to shiver. My eye started to fatigue from watching through the scope. I put my physical discomfort out of my mind and concentrated on the ibex. Finally, the beast turned and I gently squeezed the trigger. The ibex displayed the typical reaction to a clean heart shot – it kicked out its rear legs and went into a head-down gallop before collapsing. I felt an enormous sense of satisfaction in having done the job cleanly.

After making our way to the beast, José neatly removed the saddle fillets, leaving the rest of the carcass on the hill as part of a diversionary feeding tactic to help prevent the area’s hungry vulture population attacking the local livestock.

According to Fran, hunters from all over the world visit Spain, but rarely from the UK: “In the past, Spanish hunts have been overpriced and client customer care has been lacking, but I represent the new generation of outfitters.”

Hunting in Spain gave me the opportunity to see beneath the bonnet of a country I thought I knew inside out. It seems there is a lot more to it than just full-English cafés and Linekers bar!

Spanish Ibex Holidays

A male Spanish ibex hunting package starts from €4,000, which includes hunt, airport transfers, hunting licence, insurance, food, accommodation and alcohol with supper.

Not included are tips, flights, taxidermy and shipping.

Contact UK agent Fran Corju on fcortina@corju.com or at corju.com.