AN IDIOT’S GUIDE TO HUNTING IBEX IN THE FLORIDA MOUNTAINS
If you don’t already know my story, I am the kid who drew a Florida Mountains, NM archery ibex tag twice in the same year. Yes, there’s ibex in New Mexico. I connected with and lost a legendary billy named KING KONG on the opener of the January 2013 archery hunt and consequently began a journey that literally changed my attitude towards ibex, archery and life. I drew the early October tag again in 2013 and was unsuccessful in harvesting a mature billy for the second time in ten months. Between scouting trips, assisting others on hunts and scavenging the mountains on my own I spent over 40 days on the “Rock” that year.
Now before you even consider reading this realize two things: First, I hunted alone and self-filmed my entire experience. DO NOT CARRY A CAMERA IF YOU ARE SET ON TAGGING OUT. Self-filming and archery are oxymorons! Secondly, even though I didn’t harvest an ibex, I learned what it takes to tag a mature billy and relish the day I can return. I committed from the beginning that I wanted to kill a GIANT; a snow white billy with chocolate-coated, knobby, gnarly horns scratching the 50″ mark. I could’ve killed immature and small billies on numerous occasions. I was willing to hold out and as a result was unsuccessful in my harvest. THE HUNT WAS NO FAILURE. I learned more about myself, ibex, bowhunting, persistence, determination, failure and success than ever before. There is something haunting about the Rock–even spiritual.
Please watch all five of my ibex films in order to gather a feel for what the Rock, the species and my pursuit entailed. There is nothing on earth like a Persian Ibex. There is no archery hunt that will challenge you more than the Florida Mountains. You’re about to see why:
One of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced in my hunting life was the chance to meet Tim Wells. After hunting ibex on the Florida Mountains of New Mexico, Tim saw the films I produced of the hunt. He made my decade when he offered to make an episode of his TV show, Relentless Pursuit out of my footage and re-tell my story.
This is the TV version, minus commercials:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW, DO, AND UNDERSTAND.
You need to understand that I train year-round for hunting. I lift religiously 6x per week. I run, hike or climb 5x per week. I shoot my bow every single day. To be able to hunt the Florida Mountains for 15 days straight you will need to be in extraordinary shape. Most guys make it two or three days and head home. Others “hunt” 1/3 of the way up the mountain and wonder why they never get cracks at ibex. You need to be able to ascend, descend, traverse, reverse, bivy hunt, navigate, run, jump, lift and roll your butt over any and every unthinkable surface on that mountain. The ibex navigate it with ease. It will break even the best athlete. Physical preparation is assumed in this article. I recommend six months (minimum) in advance you begin to prepare. Here is my TRAINING REGIMEN if you need help to get started.
I am going to say this honestly and without reservation: You need to be capable of 12″ groups at 100 yds to effectively hunt ibex. This distance is not about taking 100 yard bombs at living creatures, it’s about your ability and your equipment. To effectively group at 100 yards you need to be in tune. Your bow needs to be in tune. Your equipment is only as good as the operator.
MY EQUIPMENT LIST You need an arrow that flies flat, resists wind, and is accurate as hell (ARROW ARTICLE). You want a light bow that generates speed over 300 fps and sufficient kinetic energy to penetrate thick bone and hide. I recommend a mechanical, low-profile broadhead. You need a precisely tuned bow and you damn-well better be attached at the grip with it. If you’re not shooting 20 arrows a day and practicing at angles, across slopes, in awkward stances and with a pack on YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME. This hunt is the real deal. Thousands of hunters are waiting their turn to challenge the Rock; MAKE YOURS COUNT.
PS: After you’ve mastered the above go shoot an arrow at 80 yards with extreme crosswinds, headwinds and tailwinds. You have never felt wind like in the Florida Mountains. Your arrows will fly like they’re possessed so limit as many variables as possible!
There are two archery seasons: October and January. The October hunt will be hot, dry and noisy. There is no water on the Rock so pack in a supply or carry a gallon per day to say hydrated. There are literally thousands of rattlesnakes on the Rock. I wore snake gaiters my entire October hunt and am grateful because I was struck several times below the knee.
MY WARM WEATHER GEAR Wear lightweight, breathable merino wool and technical clothing. First Lite is a partner of mine and their entire line accommodates this terrain. Temps will range from the 40s at night to near 100 daily. I wear a heavy mountain boot like the Salomon Quest GTX for ascending and descending and a lightweight technical shoe like the Salomon Speedcross for when I am on top and in stalkable ranges of ibex.
The January season is very cold and windy. Temps will range from the single-digits into the 50s. Expect snow, rain and again WIND! You’ll hike early and spend a lot of time glassing, waiting, ambushing etc. so layers are essential!
MY COLD WEATHER GEAR You will need extreme conditions gear that is layerable, lightweight and weatherproof. First Lite has merino base layers and all outerwear imaginable. Gloves are a necessity and though the snakes are dormant, plan on layering even your pants to stay warm while glassing. You better practice shooting your bow in heavy gloves with your thick coats on! Watch your string with those puffy sleeves!
The mountain is steep and rugged but relatively small. There are roads around the entire range. You can spot ibex from all angles, miles away. You need the highest quality optics you can afford. I recommend a 15×56 Swarovski (or comparable) that mounts to a tripod. This will enable you to canvas a wide field of view from long ranges. You also need a premium Swarovski HD 20-60 65mm (or comparable) spotting scope. Again, mount to a tripod and use to examine trophy potential of billies you locate with your 15s. While hunting you need a rangefinder that compensates for angles because ALL shots will be in rugged terrain. Carry a pair of high quality 8-12x binos to wear on stalks. You will see that ibex are relatively easy to find with the right optics. Check cliff faces, cuts, caves, cracks, shade, ledges, holes etc. Ibex are all over the mountain!
I usually begin at first light from the base of the Rock and locate a herd. They tend to bed early and I would make my move when the sun was high. I only slept on top if I felt that the next morning I could ambush them from above. Be prepared to locate and stalk them every day. They constantly move and do not pattern easily. You’ll need to stay mobile with a dependable 4-wheel drive and navigate the roads around the mountain. Stop and glass from any and all imaginable angles and you’ll start turning up ibex.
As I just stated, I typically bed them early and make my stalks for afternoon opportunities. Some stalks took 6 hours. If you see a herd moving and you feel you can cut them off then go for it. Wind is key. They’ll wind you from long ranges but are vulnerable if they are upwind. Ibex are a herd animal.
October hunts typically will produce large herds of nannies and immature billies. The giant, old billies are in bachelor herds and are tougher to find. Stalks are always made more difficult because of the quantity of animals you’re pursuing. Once inside of 200 yards take extreme caution and glass meticulously over every angle of the target and his surroundings. They often patrol as sentinels (especially nannies) and will bust you from above. Their eyesight is amazing. If you can see ANY ibex then you’re in a bad position. You have to stalk from a blind angle.
The winter hunts are post-rut and the billies will be with the nannies in herds of 20-300! The old billies are snow white in winter and their collars are jet black. This is by far the most desirable cape you will ever see on an animal. I recommend viewing them from a distance and approaching from above when possible. Realize the Rock has a lot of dimension and contour to it. Seemingly simple lines and paths can turn into impassable gorges and chutes and add hours to your plans. Believe me when I say there are no secret spots on that mountain. I have seen ibex on literally every inch of it! Assess your opportunities as they arise daily and act accordingly. Ibex wander more than any animal I’ve ever seen. If you’re consistently on top and in their “kitchen,” opportunities will arise out of sheer luck. The harder you work the luckier you’ll be!
New Mexico Game and Fish have altered the regulations in a manner that make it almost impossible for a non-resident to draw the ibex permits. I am grateful that I was able to experience so much of this species before the tags became inaccessible. I will anxiously await the next opportunity I have at these magnificent critters!
Feel free to contact me personally @ firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions.
While I was hunting Kong in 2013, I met Matt Galland. Matt is a mountain ultra-athlete that literally blew me away with his endurance and pure badass-ed-ness! He take ALL-TERRAIN to a whole new level. This is an ibex film that only Matt in the Wild would approve of!
I first met Chase Christopher on YouTube while watching ibex videos! He not only captured his 11 episode hunt on film but smoked a GIANT billy! Chase is a part of The Mountain Project and is an avid hunter, film-maker and family man.