Even before Jim Kedrowski landed in the mountains of Tajikistan, before he put his sites on a Marco Polo, the world’s largest species of sheep — he knew he was in for an adventure. Kedrowski is a hunting guide and taxidermist from Wasilla who guides by horseback from two hunting camps in the Brooks Range. He knows the meaning of remote and he’s had his share of great hunts. He recently shared his hunting experience in Tajikistan at a meeting of Backcountry Horsemen of Alaska.
Kedrowski arranged the hunt through a Norwegian hunting coordinator he met at an annual Safari Club convention. He worked a trade – an Alaskan hunt in exchange for the opportunity to pursue a sheep whose horns grow as large as 70 inches. He would also hunt for Ibex, the world’s largest goats. The Marco Polo and Ibex can each reach up to 400 pounds, the size of a caribou.
The first challenge was getting into hunting camp. Kedrowski flew from Anchorage to Moscow and then on to Dushanbe, the capitol of Tajikistan. The small country shares borders with China, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. On arrival in Dushanbe, Kedrowski and his fellow hunters were greeted by a Tajikistani coordinator and his young son. The coordinator spoke no English, so the son acted as an interpreter. The first things they needed from the hunters were their passports and cash.
Handing over his American passport made Kedrowski a little nervous. As for the cash, he learned quickly that it took American dollars to get the job done. Kedrowski laughed, “After awhile we started calling the son ‘the little crook.’”
Kedrowski and the five other hunters from Norway spent the first week in town because of bad weather. Once the weather broke, they boarded one of only two helicopters in the entire country capable of flying to the 13,000 foot base camp. (The other helicopter serves the President of Tajikistan.) The hunt would take hunters up to 15,000 feet into the Pamir mountain range – an area so remote that Kedrowski said it made the Brooks Range of Alaska seem tame.
Three of the six hunters grew ill with altitude sickness including Kedrowski. He spent the first day of the hunt in his hut trying to recover. By the second day, he was able to mount up onto one of the hardy horses that would take them higher into sheep and goat country. Kedrowski says he marveled at the resilience of both the horses and the hunting guides. In particular, he was amazed to discover that the horses wore shoes made of rebar and hand-formed nails. The saddles were antiquated and rudimentary. Even so, he says the ride was surprisingly comfortable.
“Those horses could carry half their weight in gear,” he said. “For my hunts in Alaska, we have one horse for the hunter and another to carry the gear and any game. The small horse I rode up there carried me, the camp gear, and the sheep.”
Base camp consisted of mud huts heated with coal and yak dung. Their spike camp was a small canvas tent on a windy hillside where Kedrowski said the temperatures dipped to twenty below. While his Russian guide huddled in only a thin sleeping bag, Kedrowski grew chilled even in his heavy-duty bag.
“The guides were tough. We could hardly get enough air to breathe at that altitude, and these guys were standing around smoking cigarettes,” Kedrowski said. Even so, the next morning even the guide declared it was too cold to stay in the tent a second night.
The hunt itself proved straightforward with plenty of game to choose from. The second day Kedrowski bagged a 55 inch Marco Polo and on the sixth day of the hunt he took a 47 inch Ibex. Back at camp they enjoyed a feast of wild game.
“The Marco Polo was very good, much like Dall sheep meat,” he said. “The goat was typical goat though. Strong and chewy.”
Leaving the country proved just as challenging as getting into base camp. Although their passports were returned, the hunters were told that their visas had expired. For a fee, they would have to purchase another. Then there was the matter of getting their firearms out of the country. Special permits would take days, perhaps weeks to process. So once again, American cash unlocked the secrets of the bureaucracy. He still does not have the horns from the sheep or goat he shot. He’s confident they will turn up eventually, but meanwhile he says it was one of the most interesting adventures – geographically and culturally – that he’s ever undertaken.
This year, when he takes his clients out to his own hunting camps in the Brooks Range, Kedrowski will be remembering the big mountains and little horses of the Pamir Range. And he’ll enjoy an expanded appreciation for all places that remain wild and untamed in the world.