The Steepest Climb: Bowhunting Free Ranging Ibex in New Mexico
by Jeremy Eastman
It all began in April 2015, when I got an email from the New Mexico Game and Fish saying I was successful in drawing a coveted Persian ibex tag for the Florida mountains near Deming, NM. known by many as “The Rock”. I had heard a lot about this hunt and I was extremely excited. I had drawn for the late January archery hunt. This hunt only has a 2-4% success rate, and many deem it to be the toughest hunt in North America with a bow. I couldn't believe I would be hunting ibex in New Mexico with a bow.
Once I knew I had a tag, I started reaching out and doing a lot of research. It quickly became apparent to me that I needed to get myself in "sheep" shape. With the mountain being so rugged and dangerous I asked my dad to join me for the hunt. I also heard from many that the ibex have unreal eyesight, hearing and sense of smell, and that I should start practicing shooting my bow out to 100-110 yards. So I shot those ranges all summer long, and got fairly comfortable with my ability to hit my target. After a quick scouting trip in early December, I noticed the terrain had a lot of sage and light colored brush. I called King's Camo and my dad and I ordered full outfits in their Desert Shadow pattern.
Finally the big day arrived, it was the day before opening day, and we headed down to the rock with 15 days to get it done. One can hardly explain the toughness, ruggedness, and steepness of this mountain. You start your hunt on the desert floor at 4,300 ft elevation, and once you spot them they are anywhere from 6,000 to 7,400 ft. a 3,100 ft elevation change. This elevation change usually happens in under 1000 yards, so it’s basically straight up. The mountain is covered in shale rock, rock slides, and sheer cliff faces. Every bush seems to either be a cactus or has 1" thorns that seem to reach out and grab you. It seems as if every rock on the mountain makes the wind blow in a different direction, therefore keeping the wind in your favor is almost impossible. We would start at the bottom each morning and glass up a group, formulate a plan, and my dad would stay on the glass at the bottom and attempt to guide me in on the group.
Ibex are incredibly smart, they would have three or four sentry nannies, that we called watch dogs, that would position themselves on the cliff ledges above the rest of the group and literally face in every direction, making an approach nearly impossible without being caught. If it wasn’t the watch dogs or the swirling wind that would blow my stalk, it would be another hunter that would almost mindlessly come marching in upwind and stand on the skyline, blowing everything out. The majority of these hunters were wearing very popular high end camo and my dad could pick them out like a fly on a wall. He said that my camo blended in so well, that when he was trying to locate me on the hillside, I would have to tell him in detail the exact bush or rock I was by and I would usually have to wave my arms for him to see me.
After 11 long and hard days of up and down the Rock, day 12 started like many of the other days, 20 degrees and 20-30 mph winds and a blown stalk from the swirling winds. After the group busted across the face, I dropped in elevation and relocated the group feeding and bedding in a large rock slide. I dipped into a ravine and out of their line of sight and was able to work to the downwind side of the group about 250 yards away. There was very limited cover between me and them that last 250 yards. I knew it was now or never, I just had to hope the wind would stay consistent and that they wouldn’t catch my movement. It took me a little over 2 ½ hours to cover 150 yards. A large portion of that was in the open and I would move inch by inch and just freeze when they would look at me. I finally made it to the tree I was working to and I had nannies at 55 yards feeding and the billies were just on the other side of some trees at 70 yards. I watched them for about 15 minutes waiting for a billy to feed around the trees and present a shot when out of nowhere a nanny popped over the top cliff 300 yards above us and started barking for no apparent reason. The entire group got alarmed and started heading up the slide towards the nanny. I knew there were four shooter billies in the group. The first two came out very mixed in with a bunch of nannies and immature billies and never presented a clean shot before they were out of bow range. I quickly realized that there were still two billies somewhere, so I swung my eyes downhill as the third and fourth billies were just appearing from behind the treeline. I quickly ranged them at 98 yards, pulled back settled my pin and let it fly. Everything seemed to go in slow motion after that, as the arrow flew through the sky perfectly and with a loud whack he hunched over and laid down right there. I quickly worked my way down the cliff face and got to 70 yards in case he stood up and needed a second shot. I knocked an arrow as he jumped up and took off down the rockslide and behind the trees giving me no shot. I quickly ranged a gap at the bottom of the trees and drew my bow. When he came out from behind the trees he was rolling feet over head and came to a stop at the bottom of the slide. It was over, I had achieved the impossible. My emotions and adrenaline were full.
After some pictures, high fives and hugs, and a heavy pack out it was all celebrations. It was a perfect ending to the most amazing and most difficult hunt of my life. Thanks to King's Camo for putting out a product that helped me blend in seamlessly to my surroundings. A big thanks goes out to my dad for sticking with me and motivating me to keep climbing, even when I wanted to quit and let the mountain win. Thanks to all those who helped with information. Last but not least I have to thank my beautiful wife for understanding my obsession and for supporting my passion for hunting and the outdoors. The emotional and physical climbs and ups and downs of this hunt made it an unforgettable memory.