Late in 2016 my old friend Gilles Bolduc invited me to join his party on an adventure in the Caucus mountains of Azerbaijan. The goal was to hike these steep mountains to possibly see and harvest a large, old elusive Dagestan Tur.
So on May 23 I boarded a Turkish Airlines 777 and made the rendezvous in the Baku airport where our outfitter Kenan Sherif met us, cleared our hunting rifles and whisked us off to the hotel.
We picked up some mutton on the way to hold us over until we bagged a Tur which we would rely upon to feed the entire camp. All told we were about 12 guides, a cook and 5 hunters.
Upon arrival at the base of the mountains, we were met by the guides who loaded our gear and food into a monster, vintage army truck.
The truck rode us up the valley to a military checkpoint where we spent an hour getting our papers signed to spend time in the mountains. Then we drove up the river valley and forded with a couple of resets after getting the 6 wheel drive stuck.
We proceeded up the valley to a plain where we proved our shooting irons and loaded up the horses for the last push to base camp.
Base camp was a stone hut built apparently by the camp cook from local river rock. Early dinner and bedtime that night to ready for 3 am wake up, breakfast and hard hiking.
4 am departure from camp and up another river valley in gorgeous weather above the clouds. We glassed a herd of Tur and proceeded to climb into position for a long sit in hopes that they would come down the mountain into range.
We grabbed a bite of lunch before the big climb which consisted of a shopping bag of boiled goat, soft beef sausage, mountain bread, sardines and cookies washed down with good old Coke.
At about 1 pm we spotted a good group of tur on the skyline and we were all on high alert until they came down slightly at about 4pm. Then we were on eggshells until about 8 pm when they began to come down towards the alpine plain we were staked out in. The tur are apparently so wily that we had to stay out of sight and maintain total silence. They were evidently nervous waiting until late dusk to come down. There were 2 large old tur in the group but they could not be seen as the herd trotted down at about 400 yards. The guides advised me that it was very late to shoot and that we would set up the next day to try again. After the 3 am wake up to 8:15pm on the mountain I tended to agree with that advice although this would end up to be my best opportunity of the week. We were a very tired bunch when we returned to base camp at about 10pm.
The guides are a unique clan of mountain men that speak their own language even the outfitter Kenan couldn’t understand. Communication by scratching pictograms onto pieces of shale helped. They hike like mountain goats in old rubber boots and army surplus cotton gear. I learned their secret of firming up their boots by wrapping their legs in whatever scraps they could fashion.
Unfortunately, the next long day on the mountain yielded no opportunities and we watched distant ‘Baby, Baby’ (guide speak) tur bashing one another with tremendous force and running up and down the mountains like extreme motocross riders. They’d run up a bank, spin around 180 degrees reared up on hind legs and throw themselves down onto their foe like Thor’s hammer.
On day 3 we resolved to sleep in the alpine and climbed yet higher during the day to no avail. Groups of young and female tur were spotted but not the large males we were looking for.
An oversight in camp that morning due in large part to the language barrier resulted in Gilles and I sharing a 4 man tent with the 5 guides. We got into the tent just as a thunder and hail storm battered the mountain and we squeezed in around a spartan mountain dinner.
Gilles and I were pretty punchy and settled into sleeping bags with rain pants, jacket, boots and warm hats on. At 10:30pm another storm blew the tent flat with rain spraying in under the half fly. I was tucked under the windward side but the guides were not amused and spent some time drying out after the storm passed. Some hadn’t sleeping bags and were inspired to smoke a few cigarettes in the tent. Gilles and I could only laugh at our situation and comment that we were really getting our money’s worth on the adventure scales.
The next day we climbed higher still and called the hunt in the early afternoon with low clouds filling the mountains to zero visibility. Warm sausage and sardines anyone??
Day 5 was desperation day with a 4 am wake up and we climbed more than ever into another valley east of camp. We spotted 2 large male grizzly bears late morning that didn’t bode well for seeing tur. Luckily, a junior guide spotted a couple bedded down in the heat of the day and we resolved to hike up higher to get a better look at them. Unfortunately, they winded us with the swirling and anabatic breeze and disappeared over the mountain.
So, we struck the camp the next morning and rode down to the village and back to Baku. There we met with the next group of adventurers including the legendary Canadian hunter and guide Cassidy Caron.
Cass ended up bagging the biggest tur of the week while our departing crew bagged a few jars of caviar on the way out.
Of course were there primarily for the adventure and we experienced that in spades. It’s rewarding to get as far out of one’s comfort zone as safely (and sometimes not so safely) possible which I believe is why mountain hunting is addictive.