Can’t decide whether you want to hunt mountain sheep or mountain goat? Hunt the Tur, it’s both! Jokes aside, while biological classification refers the Caucasian Tur to genus Capra, for the Ovis Club a Tur trophy counts towards both Ovis and Capra slams. The main reason is that the horns of the Tur, especially the Dagestan (Eastern) Tur, resemble those of a sheep rather than those of a goat, and the species have been considered a sheep by many prominent mountain hunting pioneers. The Tur are endemic to the Great Caucasian Range shared by Russia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and can be hunted in the former two countries.
What Kinds of Tur are There?
The current biological classification recognizes two species of Tur: the Western (Capra caucasica, with two subspecies Capra caucasica dinniki and Capra caucasica severtzovi), and the Eastern (Capra cylindricornis). This classification is confirmed by the mtDNA analysis, which shows that the Western Tur might have originated from the same source as the Bezoar Ibex, while the Eastern Tur has a lot of sheep genes in it. Both species show traces of hybridization, which occurs routinely where their ranges coincide.
Some sources claim that the Western Tur is the smaller of the species, while others believe that a Eastern Tur typically has smaller body but longer horns, while the Western Tur has bigger body and smaller horns. The difference is not substantial in any case, with big old males of both species weighing about 200 pounds, give or take a few. Like with many mountain animals, an almost indefinite number of subspecies could, at will, be recognized, as the Tur are said to have a distinctly different shape of horns in each valley. International trophy hunting books, however, single out three kinds of Tur:
– Kuban, or Western, Tur
According to the Ovis Club, the Kuban Tur’s range is “west of Mt. El’brus in the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Russia”. The Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club gives the Teberda River valley as the eastern border of the Kuban Tur habitat. The beard is long and narrow. Its horns have a scimitar shape, often with prominent concentric rings, and generally resemble those of the Bezoar Ibex, but are shorter, thicker, often with exceptionally thick bases, and with bigger horizontal spread.
– Dagestan, or Eastern, Tur
The trophy record books, including the Ovis Club, recognize as Dagestan Tur the animals harvested east of Mount Dykhtau, while the Russian Mountain Hunters Club draws the limit of the range along the geographical border of North Ossetia with Kabardino-Balkaria. The beard is short and wide, the hair is of the reddish color, with a dark stripe along the spine. The Dagestan Tur features peculiarly shaped horns. They are smooth, and circle backwards and inwards almost parallel to the ground, with the tips curving upwards. The beams are smooth and heavy, and almost circular in cross-section at the bases (thus the scientific name, cylindricornis, literally “cylindrical horns”). Only at the tips do they somewhat flatten out. The shape of these horns strongly resembles the Bharal (Blue Sheep).
– Mid-Caucasian Tur
The Ovis Club describes it as “a true naturally-occurring cross between the Dagestan (Eastern) and Kuban (Western) tur”, and its range as “east of Mt. El’brus and west of the Republic of North Ossetia, solely within the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, Russia”. The Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club defines the habitat area of the Mid-Caucasian Tur as between the Teberda River in the west and the border between North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria in the east. The shape of the Mid-Caucasian Tur horns varies greatly, sometimes resembling those of the Kuban, and sometimes those of Daghestan Tur, and often combining the features of both.
The Tur Trophies
The trophies of all the three kinds of Tur are measured according to a formula that takes into account not only the length and the circumference of the bases, but also the circumference at ¼ of the horns’ lengths. Generally speaking, any horns over 90 centimeters are a record-category trophy, although exceptional circumference at the ¼ length may push even 75-80 cm horns into top 10. Anything over 80 cm is a trophy, and about a meter in length is outstanding.
Where to Hunt Tur?
Although Kuban (Western) Tur is found also in Krasnodar Krai and the Republic of Adygea, the hunting opportunities are limited to Karachaevo-Cherkessia. For the Mid-Caucasian Tur, the hunter should travel to Karachaevo-Cherkessia (east of the river Teberda) or Kabardino-Balkaria. The Dagestan Tur has the biggest habitat range of the three and can be hunted in both Russia (North Ossetia and Dagestan), and Azerbaijan. Some outfitters are offering Tur hunting in Chechnya, but this destination can’t be recommended due to safety concerns.
The Caucasian Tur life history does not differ much from other species of mountain game. They are diurnal, feeding in the morning in the afternoon, resting on mid-day and visiting the waterholes after dark. The Tur mostly dwell in the Alpine belt, moving up and down the mountains according to the change of seasons, but hardly ever venturing far from the mountain where they were born.
Some Tur spend the winter in the forest belt, while others stay on the Alpine belt. In the spring both populations unite on the sunny slopes where the first fresh grass appears, sometimes forming herds that count hundreds of animals. In the summer most herds move to the upper border of the Alpine belt, approximately 2,500 and 4,000 meters (8,200-13,000 feet) above the sea level. In the autumn, they may move down nearly to the tree belt (800-1000 meters, or 2,600-3,200 feet)
The Tur are the herd animals, but the females with the young, adult males, and subadult males typically form separate herds and do not mix except for the mating season. The rut occurs in late November – early January. The Tur don’t form harems, and the clashes between the males are mostly ritual, although spectacular in their way. The rams raise on their hind legs, freeze for a moment, and then clash their horns together, producing a sound that may be heard at a distance of a few kilometers. The kids are born in late May to early June.
When to Hunt Tur
The hunting season is set to give the species complete rest of disturbance across the whole reproduction season, so there is no option to hunt during the rut. It usually lasts from August to early November. The end of the season gives you an opportunity to hunt the Tur at lower altitudes. However, most experts prefer the early season, when the animals feed on Alpine meadows and are easier to detect.
How to Hunt Tur
Tur hunting is a true mountain hunting, and you need to be in good physical shape. If you’ve never ridden a horse, booking a Caucasian Tur hunt is a good time to take a few lessons. The base camp may or may not be accessible by a vehicle, but the spike camps are always invariably way out in the mountains where the only available transport is a horse. It is only by a rare and very lucky chance that you can kill your Tur out of the base camp, so get ready to ride a hardy local steed, or walk.
The axiom of Tur hunting is that the animals don’t expect danger from above, and will move uphill when disturbed. Thus don’t be surprised to see the spike camp located almost on the top of the highest of the local mountains. The perfect Tur spike camp would be on the top of the highest of the local mountains, so that you are higher than the animals at daybreak, and can hunt from the top down.
Normally, the hunt follows the traditional spot-and-stalk routines. However, improvised drives are possible. Some guides, when they have two or three hunters in camp, may also have one of the clients stalk the herd, while the other takes position up the mountain in the direction the animals may escape to.
Tur Hunting Tips
– Don’t try to outrun your guide. Walk at your own pace and save your strength so that you won’t be out of breath in that critical moment when you have to sprint to catch up with the animals, and take the shot.
– Unpredictable Caucasian weather may be a blessing in disguise. If you have the animals marked down and the rain clouds fall on you, continue the approach carefully: the animals can’t see you, either, and with luck you can come up really close.
– Don’t expect the Tur to give you all the time in the world to measure the distance, calculate the drop, prepare for the shot, and fire. Be ready to be pressed for time, shoot at a moving animal, and sometimes even offhand, especially during the stalks in the clouds as discussed above.
How Much Does it Cost?
Dagestan Tur hunting costs between $5,500 and $7,000. At present, the options in Russia are somewhat more affordable than in Azerbaijan. The price of the hunt depends on the number of hunters in the camp. The Mid-Caucasian Tur is more expensive, with the hunts priced at $7,000 and up, and the Western (Kuban) Tur is the priciest kind of Tur, with the hunts going for over $8,000. Some outfitter offer the “Caucasian Combo”, giving you the chance to harvest all three kinds of Tur in one go, which is priced a bit upwards of $21,000. Warning: The prices are subject to change along with the standing of the respective national currencies against the US Dollar and Euro.
The Caucasus is well worth a visit, hunting or not. Unrivalled mountain beauty here meets the ancient history and traditions. The Caucasian hospitality is incomparable, and you’d better fix your digestive problems before your visit, and schedule an appointment with a fitness coach after your return, to do justice to the local cuisine.
Mountain hunting is also an old tradition for the people of the region. Azerbaijani poets from the Middle Ages praised the hunters who gave their prey a chance to escape, and subjected themselves to danger, thus making the hunt a true and noble pursuit. According to XIX-century British sportsmen St. George Littledale and Sir Clive Phillips-Wolley, local hunters decorated the exterior of their cabins with the horns of the biggest Tur they harvested. This inspired awe and respect among other villagers, as a sign of exceptional hunting and shooting skills.
Tur hunting is often described as the toughest mountain stalk ever, especially in North Ossetia and Dagestan, and “the Final Exam” of the sheep hunter. Join in this old tradition and take your exam with BookYourHunt.com!
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