Ovis Ammon is by far the biggest of all the wild sheep, and for the past 120 years has held legendary status amongst Asian big game shots. Named after the famous Asiatic explorer, who pronounced he had never seen a beast to rival him, the sheep lives between 3000-5000 metres in the Pamir and Tian Shian ranges. He can only be found in China, Afghanistan Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, with the latter two being the only viable options for hunting due to protection laws and the current political climate. Despite unpredictable weather and poor transport links in these countries, the Marco Polo can be got at with good planning and skilful guides.
The real Big 5 team were in Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and many good rams were spotted, two of which were in a very achievable position. Although two good Ibex were taken on this expedition, we were not after the Argali, so let them be for another day. The sheep has few natural predators, bar the snow leopard and humans, the latter having taken its toll on an animal that due to its unforgiving habitat, has only ever existed in relatively small numbers. We have access to a steady population where on a two week hunt you should see a number of good rams. Getting into a shooting position is not just about the ability of the stalking team, but also on the hunter’s stamina and lungs due to the immense altitude in which they choose to reside. That being said, Marco Polo is quite achievable with our expert guides providing trophies for hunters annually. The ground also holds Ibex and the odd wolf, both which can be shot should they be stumbled upon.
Also known as the Siberian Bighorn, Ovis Nivicola is actually more likely to be a subspecies of the Dall Sheep. The Snow Sheep can again be divided into six further sub species, all are very similar with only very subtle differences, depending on the region from which they hail. By 1921 Russian game was thin on the ground, having endured years of lawlessness and being hunted heavily by starving peasantry, armed with modern weapons brought back from the First and civil wars. The sheep, being of a wary nature, fared better than most game, and with the advent of communism and a virtual ban on hunting, the populations flourished. Captain Barkley, somehow, attained permission in the 1930’s to Hunt the fringes of Stalin’s empire and apparently shot quite a few Snow Sheep. His bloodlust was not satisfied however, and he moved into Pakistan, where he met his death hunting the Kashmir Markhor. Nowadays the Snow Sheep is back on the menu and a very handsome Ovis in stunning scenery beckons to those with the minerals to have a crack. The primary Snow Sheep that we recommend pursuing, is the Kamchakta subspecies (ovis nivicola nivicola). Although lacking the white forehead of other Snow Sheep the horns have much heavier bases than his cousins, and as a result provide the Sportsman with a top quality trophy.
The big boy of Iranian wild sheep, but dwarfed by the Marco Polo, is actually a subspecies of the Mouflon (Ovis Orientalis Aries) which is one of two recognised ancestors of our modern domestic sheep. The Urial has five further sub subspecies, none of which the 1900 shikari club recognised as being one of the Big Five Sheep. The Urial is sometimes described as a prince of sheep, for he has a white ruff and double curled horns. Unfortunately because he lives below the tree line he has suffered over a hundred years of hunting pressure. A conservation program began, and nowadays healthy populations exist in Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and parts of Afghanistan. With a lesser ruff so not quite as impressive as the Transcaspian Urial (ovis vignei arkal), we recommend our hunters chase the Afghan Urial (ovis vignei cycloceros), who is more affordable and found in greater quantities. We do not however, for obvious reasons, hunt him in Afghanistan; instead we venture into neighbouring Tajikistan where he can, with luck, be found in good volumes at comparatively low altitudes to other ovis. Do not be deceived into thinking, however, that this will be an easy hunt. The Afghan Urial will put the toughest of hunters to the test with their razor sharp senses, coupled with a speed and stamina to rival the Argali. The mere click of a camera and he will become but a distant white patch dissapearing in to the yonder horizon.
Big Horn (ovis canadensis nelsoni)
There are three varieties of Big Horn on the American Continent; however it’s the Desert Bighorn from Mexico, that takes all the plaudits; it is also the rarest. This Ovis seldom moves below 1500 metres, eking out an existence in the sparsely vegetated canyons and steep slopes where temperatures reach a skull boiling 104 degrees. Due to the dry and harsh climates that he is accustomed, this Ovis can survive without water for weeks. Armed with 360 degree spiral vision and laser senses he is on red hot alert 24/7 making him a worthy adversary for the sportsmen with masochistic tendencies. The bad news though is the season lasts for only a couple of days and a lottery must be entered to gain a coveted permit and only some are lucky enough to draw one. Every cloud has a silver lining however, and these permits can be purchased in Mexico for around $50,000.
Dall Sheep (ovis dalli)
Common throughout its Alaskan and Yukon range the Dall lives on steep grassy slopes very similar to Scotland, but steeper, colder and with sleet more common than rain. They live in a world full of predators mainly consisting of Wolves and Coyotes although bears and eagles will take a lamb. Although the highest densities are found in the National Parks, good flocks exist on the adjacent territories especially along the great Rivers where the steep grazing remains unsuitable for domestic stock. The Dall might be marginally less wary than other Ovid’s but spying due to the weather can be a problem and most hunts comprise setting up camp rather than having a fixed base.
Bonusball: Is it a Sheep or a goat?
Originally found throughout the mountain regions of North Africa, the Aoudad, like the tur, is commonly argued to be both a goat and a sheep. He not only holds a handsome set of horns, but mature rams can also host a beard extending into a shaggy mane. Unlike the Tur, the Aoudad has no indication to either species in his Latin name but is a spectacular trophy that has been sought after for years by legendary African and Asian hunters.
Although native to Africa, the Barbary sheep was introduced to the sierra espuna in southern Spain and has since flourished to such an extent some consider them a pest – a pest that we here at the Real Big 5, are more than happy to help take care of. We have access to the private Sierra Espuna reserve which is the epicentre of Aoudad habitat in Europe, and as a result have a very good chance of securing a trophy.