New Mexico ibex with a bow! It is a simple statement, but it’s arguably the hardest animal to hunt in North America with one. I was introduced to this species in 2008 by a great friend of mine. Gus Kerry was one of the very few to take on the challenge and harvest an amazing billy with his bow. From that point forward, I was obsessed with the animal and the challenge of taking one. My opportunity came in 2019 to hunt a Bezoar ibex in New Mexico on January 15, 2020.
I immediately called Dennis Kauffman and let him know the amazing news. Dennis is with Kiowa Hunting Services, and he is the same guide my friend used when he hunted his ibex. Dennis shot his ibex 40 years ago and had been guiding for 37 years. He knows every inch of “The Rock,” which is the nickname for the Florida Mountain Range where they reside.
Over the next nine months, I watched every ibex YouTube video at least a dozen times. I talked to many people who had hunted ibex with a bow and confided in Dennis about all things ibex. As the months ticked by, my determination to harvest an ibex with a bow kicked in to full gear. Super tuning my bow setup and mentally preparing for the daunting task ahead had become an obsession. Practicing religiously out to 100 yards and focusing on extreme cardio workouts was my everyday routine.
Two days before my hunt, I did my last shooting session at 100 yards. I told myself to execute only five arrows, not knowing that I would have a little extra pressure coming. Upon arriving at the archery range, I went to the blank target and placed a three-inch white circle on it. I walked back 100 yards and turned around to see three individuals on the next lane looking back at me. This was the perfect pressure I needed to perform at the best level I could. Over the next couple of minutes, all my preparation paid off with my best five arrows I have ever shot at 100 yards. Three of the five arrows were in the spot, and the other two were not more than two inches outside. I sent the picture of the five-arrow group to Dennis and my friends with the caption “Dead ibex at 100.” The next morning, I was on the road for the next 13 hours to meet up with Dennis, Grant Hottmann, and Joey Vega at the hotel.
Opening morning, the four of us packed up and headed to the mountain range. We did not locate any animals for the first half of the day, so we kept moving to different glassing spots until we found a group. It is one thing to watch them on YouTube, but in person, it is beyond amazing. These creatures defy all odds and navigate the sheer vertical cliffs with no fear. A game plan was put together, and Grant and I hiked all afternoon to get within 60 yards above the group of billies. My heart rate spiked with the realization that I was going to have an opportunity on the first day. That realization deteriorated rapidly when I could not advance far enough on the cliff to shoot straight down. This commotion was immediately detected by the group, which made them run as fast as they could in the opposite direction.
Starting day two, we located a band of ibex right away and designed our plan to get above them. A couple hours into the stalk, a helicopter came closer than the ibex liked and they bailed in all different directions. The rest of the day consisted of nonstop glassing without turning up a single ibex in a huntable location.
On the third morning, we went in three different directions to locate a group of ibex to hunt. Joey was on the radio first to let us know he had found a big group in a great spot. The four of us met up and designed a game plan to get in position for the ambush. For the next four hours, we watched them from a distance as they bedded down below a severely steep cliff. Dennis and Joey got into position from the valley floor to keep track of the group as Grant and I made our way to get above them. We finally made it to our location, which was in a saddle Dennis had seen them use before on occasion. The saddle was very steep and deep, which did not provide a great place to stand. The wind gusts were howling at about 40 mph, which made me feel like I was going to fall at any second. I decided to carve out a small platform by kicking at the dirt to make it a relatively level spot to stand. I then ranged five different rocks out in front of me to give me yardage markers out to 60.
In the meantime, Grant was circling around the backside of the cliff to hopefully watch the saddle I was in. Dennis said, “They are up and heading in your direction. Get ready.”
Within a minute, I was staring at a nanny less than 10 yards away from me. She was moving at a steady pace up the saddle, surveying the area to bring the entire group. Luckily, the lead nanny did not see me, and I watched at least 10 ibex scurry up the mountain right in front of me. My brain was processing what was happening, but my body was paralyzed from being so close.
I decided to slowly creep down in front of the bush that gave me the most cover and gently go to full draw. I slowly raised back up and went into death mode. I saw a big white billy heading up the back of the pack, and he stopped on a rock to the left of me. This is where all of my preparation kicked in, and I had to make a split-second decision. How far away was he? I was at full draw and couldn’t range him. He was not 20 but surely not 40. The decision became clear to me, so I put my 40-yard pin on the top of his back and started my shooting sequence.
The sight bubble was level, and I hyper-focused on executing the perfect shot. The tension kept building until the shot broke. I saw my arrow fly perfectly and drive deep into the ibex. The energy from my arrow breaking the offside shoulder knocked the ibex off the rock, and he ran with three legs up the steep hill. I was immediately on the radio, screaming at the top of my lungs, “I just smoked a big white billy!” I watched the billy run about 60 yards and then he tried to jump to the next rock and expired midair. The radio button was engaged again, and I yelled out, “He is down!” My entire body started shaking from all the adrenalin rushing through my veins. My dream of harvesting an ibex with my bow had come true.
Grant and I took up the blood trail, even though I knew exactly where my New Mexico Bezoar ibex had expired. It was a surreal experience when I grabbed his horns for the first time, and it’s something that I will never forget. We both just stood there and admired the majestic animal silently. Grant extended his hand and said, “Welcome to the Three Percent Club.”
I want to say thank you to my wife, Susie, and my two kids, Jacky and Brett. Dennis, Grant, and Joey, thank you for this amazing experience. I will never forget it!