For hunting adventure European mouflon are hard to beat. Tomo Svetic provides a general introduction to the mouflon and how they can be hunted in Europe. And describes what, for him, is the ultimate mouflon hunting adventure on the Croatian coast.
The mouflon is thought to be one of only two ancestors to all modern domestic sheep breeds. It is a species that can live successfully almost anywhere. They inhabit Caucasus and parts of Northern Iran and Iraq but 7,000 years ago the first known mouflon got to Europe; precisely to Corsica and Sardinia, perhaps as feral domesticated animals. They naturalized in the mountainous interiors of these islands over the past few thousand years and from there they have been introduced to most European countries. Mouflon proved easy to breed in captivity or in open grounds – from islands and coastal parts of Mediterranean Sea, to mountain regions, including the Alps.
There is no consensus as to how to classify the subspecies of wild sheep, while some systems recognise only two, others split them into up to seven. This is why the mouflon subspecies found in Europe is variously referred to as ovis aries orientalis, ovis orientalis, ovis musimon, or ovis gmelini. More commonly they are referred to as European mouflon, or very often Mediterranean wild sheep. Fortunately you don’t need to know the correct Latin name in order to appreciate this unique animal!
The rut season for mouflon in Europe is October to early-December but it does depend on the weather conditions throughout the year – some years it starts few weeks earlier and others later. During the rut male mouflon rams fight for dominancy and those fights look spectacular. Females are pregnant for 21-23 weeks producing one or two offspring. Both sexes reach sexual maturity from 18 months onwards. Mouflon can interbreed with domestic sheep but it happens rarely.
Mouflon is the smallest wild sheep. The larger rams may reach 50kg of body weight, while females reach up to 32kg. Ewes don’t usually have horns, although some have small ones. The rams have beautiful horns, their trophy, occasionally reaching over 1 metre. The horns grow very quickly until the ram reaches five years of age then the process slows down, especially after seven years old. Every winter the horns stop growing for some time and this cycle creates rings on both horns which helps to determine an animal’s age.
Mouflon like living in open spaces, but with some woods and bush around to provide cover because they are very insecure and easily frightened. They love to have good observation points and can see at long distances. During the day they are active, mostly from dawn to late-morning and again late-afternoon until night. During the night they prefer to relax and sleep.
The shooting season for mouflon varies from country to country. Generally for ewes the season runs from late-July until the end-of-December, while rams can be hunted all year round in most countries.
Choosing a hunting experience
Hunting any wild sheep is great sport for a serious hunter. Although most hunt mouflon for their beautiful trophies, there are many who are attracted by the adventure involved. In most countries mouflon is hunted in fenced grounds. Some of these are very small, some quite extensive. In a few countries mouflon can be hunted in open grounds. There is a big difference in the nature of the open hunting grounds because mouflon can live in such a wide range of European habitats. For real hunting adventure the best mouflon hunts are around the Mediterranean coast.
For trophy collectors, where size is the most important factor, you will generally have to go to fenced grounds to find the best rams. With great management and good quality food it is much easier to get trophies over 85cm. These days, on some grounds, we can provide rams with horns well over 90cm. Rarely are these extra-big trophies from open grounds. Basically, hunting for the trophy will sacrifice the adventure.
On the other hand, hunting rams in open grounds is not easy – or at least it shouldn’t be. If you want an adventure with good chances to hunt good quality rams the Croatian coast is hard to beat. Here you can stalk mouflon all day long, enjoying beautiful scenery of the rocky terrain above the Adriatic Sea. The hunting on this coast is spectacular and considered by many experienced hunters the most exotic in Europe, and the best adventure on mouflon ram in the world. To hunt here the hunter has to be reasonably fit – or at least leave enough days to hunt at slower pace – and be prepared to shoot at long distances, over 250m. Occasionally we have chances below 200m, but in the wild, natural environment this hunt is very challenging because mouflon have good sight and scent. This is why top hunters in the world and those who want to explore and experience demanding hunting come to the Adriatic coast.
We do not use high seats to hunt. Rather, we find higher points to observe and then stalk the rams. Occasionally you can spot them from the car and then go stalking. Walking on razor sharp rocks, climbing them and navigating around many bays and small canyons is a thrill, where every day is another adventure and story to be told.
There are medal-class trophies here, 70-85cm, and indeed a good number over 85cm. However, they are mature older rams and not easy to get. Also, too often they break their tips in the wild environment. This may be caused by two main reasons. Firstly, they may be broken as the rams walk and run over the sharp rocks, sometimes chased by lynx, wolves or bears, sometimes by hunters, and very often simply because they feel insecure. Secondly, sometimes rams break their tips deliberately. This makes feeding easier, walking through bush easier and will allow the ram to escape more quickly through the bush or over the rocks if chased. This is why it is more difficult to get enormous trophies over 90cm in open ground, especially on the Adriatic coast.
If you are after big trophy and not ready to invest lots of effort or time to find a nice ram there are options too. Europe is full of fenced grounds where you can hunt mouflon, or you can go to more forgiving open grounds, like some grounds we use in Hungary. Here the stalking is very similar to what you will experience in the UK. You can stalk or wait over the bait from a high seat. This type of hunt on mouflon is much less adventurous and much more predictable, but it gives chances on big trophies.
In lots of countries you can hunt mouflon on a driven hunt – like boar and deer. But for many professional hunters who rate wild sheep and wild goats (chamois, ibex…) as the top hunting experience, driven mouflon is unethical. Of course this is a matter of personal choice, but personally I would never hunt mouflon from a high seat or in fenced ground because for me any hunt, especially wild sheep or wild goat, should be an adventure and a personal test. Mouflon is a unique species in Europe and deserves a unique way of hunting.
Too often these days you will find cheap offers on mouflon hunting, promoted with photos of enormous rams, but normally there is a catch. Cheap mouflon hunts exist only if you are shooting small immature rams, under three years old or below medal standard. Or if you are hunting a cull animal, especially in fenced ground. The management on those grounds is very strict and rams with bad genes have to be removed. Big rams on photos can be enticing but may be misleading. Trophies or rams can be made to look bigger than they are by clever use of camera angle. Also many of them have been collected from farms or enclosed grounds. Hunters with lots of funds can afford to hunt a ram in fenced ground for an exceptional trophy and to hunt one in open ground for the adventure.
For those who would love to hunt mouflon only once I would always suggest a hunt on open ground, stalking on rocky terrain. This way you can get a valuable experience and adventure rewarded with a nice size trophy. Even with a representative trophy you get a great experience, shooting at longer distances, shooting from uncomfortable positions at various angles, and the opportunity to see many mouflon in amazing scenery.
Equipment and preparation
Mouflon have good sight, which means that you need good sight too, to notice them before they notice you. Usually they are surrounded by other mouflon in a herd, so while you are focused on a few rams there may well be sheep you can’t see, spotting you and alerting the others. Therefore, you need a good binoculars and a good guide. Hunting takes place when the daylight is good, so you don’t need the most expensive model, but with binoculars it is generally true that the more you pay the more you get.
If you hunt mouflon in say Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, or Italy, shooting distances are usually 50-150m and it is relatively easy to place your bullet correctly. In Croatia on the coast distances are mostly well beyond 200m. This means a range finder will be a huge help. Shooting at distances over 200m on the range can be quite simple if the wind is predictable and not too strong but on the coast this is not the case and very often you have to shoot in angles downhill or uphill which makes the whole thing more challenging – and of course interesting. If you don’t feel comfortable do not pull the trigger. Very often you have enough time to prepare yourself for the shot if you come to your shooting position unnoticed. Rifle scopes should have variable magnification, at least up to 9X and minimum of 3X. The most common is the 3-12X magnification which gives you great performance. The objective lens can be less than 50mm because you are hunting when the daylight is good.
For this type of hunting lighter, more accurate rifles are ideal. Mouflon is not a big animal but it can take a punch from the bullet better than most animals in Europe. I would never go below .243 WIN as a minimum, but ideally the 6.5X55 would be my starting point. Any standard caliber is capable of putting any mouflon down at longer distance, but, from our experience, .270 WIN works very well on rams. The most popular caliber we see from our clients are 7mm Rem Mag and 300 WM.
For hunting on the Adriatic coast the flatter the bullet, the better the flight. The most popular bullets are SST, BT, SGK or any other soft point bullet because on this size animal you need fast expansion but ideally with an exit wound. Also if you shoot at distances beyond 300m you want to be sure that your bullet will open up and transfer lots of energy on the animal. It is not easy to follow the blood trail on rocky terrain with bush and canyons, so you want your mouflon to go down swiftly. We know that without a good bullet placement we don’t have the result we want and for that reason I suggest to every hunter to try his equipment at various distances and to learn his bullet ballistics. It helps a lot and I do that every year at least once at the WMS range in Wales and on other places where shooting up to 600m is possible. Also prepare by shooting your rifle with bipod from soft ground and hard surface (concrete, rock, tarmac..), because some rifles and bipods are sensitive to the surface while some are not.
For stalking in mountains and on rocky terrain use good quality leather boots and a rucksack which can also be used as a rest for the rifle. Most of the time on rocky terrain a backpack is a more useful rest than a bipod. When you use your rifle scope start by finding your animal of interest with lower magnification and once you have it in sight you can zoom in. However try not to use more than 8-10X magnification for shooting because it is good to have wider field of view if you need a follow up shot – and also your rifle scope shaking will be reduced.
Hunting different species should be about more than just a trophy; it should be the overall experience. So when you decide to go and hunt in foreign places try to choose the hunting method that is the least similar to yours. This way you’ll gain more knowledge and experience which could be useful in your hunting development. Perhaps I will see you on the Croatian coast someday…
Tomo Svetic is founder and director of Artemis Hunting: www.artemis-hunting.com.