Hunting European Mouflon in the Pyrenees with factory long range hunting rifles
There’s probably nothing like going on a European Mouflon hunt in the Pyrenees with your oldest shooting buddy. This article describes how we setup our hunting rifles for long range hunting success in the Pyrenees. Part 2 narrates the details of the hunt while part 3 delves into the training program www.rifletalks.com setup for these two hunters to get their rifles dialed-in for success. We take the responsibility of hunting seriously and do our utmost to make a clean kill by applying our combined knowledge, in this case the savoir faire of the local hunters with our knowledge of rifle shooting. The steps detailed in this article show the lengths we go to in ensuring that happens.
A few weeks back, my longest rifle shooting buddy Mario, the guy who introduced me to rifle shooting way back in my teens and student years gave me a call to drop by his place. I hadn’t seen him in a while as I spend most of my shooting time overseas shooting long range competition while he spends most of his overseas trips hunting and as I understood, he does little range work these days.
Warning: Some of the content below may contain pictures of dead animals which maybe disturbing to some. If that’s your case, do not proceed.
Objective: Hunting the European Mouflon in the Pyrenees
Here we lined up to watch these 3 mouflons. We did not have a safe shot so after 15 min observing, we had to move on.
Mario and his hunting buddy Mark were preparing for a hunt in the Pyrenees. Mark is a taxidermist by profession (www.marktaxidermy.com) and thus, the perfect channel for many hunting opportunities that come along with the game he gets to work on as well as the trophies and superb mounts he builds from scratch. He is well known in central Europe for his award-winning work for Swiss and French customers among which are museums, film industry and hunters.
Hunting in the Pyrenees is new to me. I’m an avid long range rifle competition shooter mainly, I shoot paper and steel targets and it’s my number one passion since my childhood days. Today I live it to the full. I had only seen hunting in the Pyrenees on the outdoor channel. Mario asked for my help in ensuring their kit is up to scratch for the hunt they were preparing for which in all likely hood may entail long range shots. The Pyrenees are a stretch of mountains that separate the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe, stretching more than 430 km between Spain and France and rising higher than 3,400m in elevation. They are also home to various game animals among which Moufflon and Chamois (known locally as Izard), absolutely superb mountain goat species. My admiration for them grew as I spent 3 days in this difficult mountain terrain which they call home.
Choosing a factory long range hunting rifle setup
When I got to Mario’s place, I was handed a pair of Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 laser range finding binoculars to get setup for this hunt. I half hoped this was a gift! A few days earlier he had asked me what scope I was shooting. Over the last 2 years I switched all of my scopes to March scopes 2.5-25×42 MTR3 MOA/MOA on all my rifles except my Fclass one so I said I have March and love them. The 2.5-25×52 in my opinion makes an amazing all round scope, plenty of elevation (25 MOA per turn elevation, 100MOA total and 12 MOA windage in each half turn adjustment), illuminated reticle, compact at just 13 inches in length and just 665 grams in weight. To me this also make the perfect hunting scope with all the correct features. The reticle on the March designates 2 MOA on 20x and 4MOA on 10x which is brilliant for what I could encounter. The illuminated reticle lights up in its entire form as well. I guess owning 3 scopes of the same model makes me pretty much sold on this.
Mario went ahead and ordered the March 5-50×56 MTR2 MOA/MOA scope. I’m familiar with it as its a popular target scope, a little large for my likes for a smaller rifle but its relatively light and tracks like a dream and above all, he loves it. I was expecting to see a model like my own until I was presented with the larger 5-50×56 with Mtr2 reticle. He mounted it on his Sauer 100 in 6.5creedmoor sitting on a harris bipod. That’s the rifle Mario had opted for so now the job was over to me to get it setup and dialed in for this hunt with possibility of long-range shots. I would also be accompanying them to help out with the wind reading if necessary. That weekend I was heading for topgun 1000yard competition in Bisley, we only managed a training morning. Me and Lema, the Spanish national Fclass champion pulled off a training round together that Saturday morning at 1000yards in 25mph winds scoring 81.2Vs.
Swarovski Z8i 3.5-28×50 meets Browning Maral 30-06 factory built long range hunting rifle
Next we had to get this rifle and the other Browning Maral rifle setup properly for the shots they would be facing in the mountains. The browning Maral was in 30-06 and was to be mounted with the Swarovski z8i 3.5-28×50 with both ballistic turrets and 4Wi reticle. I know this is a popular rifle for driven hunt so I was initially skeptic about its potential as a long range hunting rifle. The scope mount is made by browning and it’s called a ‘nomad’. The scope just slides on it and very easy to get setup. The only draw back is that you cannot fit a bubble level. Maybe our friends at TieroneEU can design a bubble level for scopes with integrated mounting rail? I believe these guys make some of the best shooting accessories out there.
Preparing the rifles for a long range hunt: Practice on the open ranges
There was only one way to know how well these rifles will shoot, head to the range. My background is really with precision target and tactical rifles, mostly rifles built from the ground up for long range Fclass, ELR or PRS competition although I do not shoot much of the latter except informally. I had 5 custom rifles built for me in the last years and all sport rather stiff heavy barrels that can sustain longer strings of fire. When I was handed these lightweight hunting rifles, it was an interesting challenge for me. I setup both rifles and scopes with the Hornady ELDX ammo. Both the 6.5CM and the 30-06 offer very capable ballistics out to reasonable distances we had in mind of about 500m. I zeroed both rifles at 100m, the distance from which we shall be dialing in our shots. The Browning Maral rifle shot about 2/3 of an inch while the 6.5CM shot a little better than that about 0.5 MOA on average 5 shot group.
Meanwhile I dropped by Richard Warwick, MD of William Evans at Bisley to source the windage turret for the Swarovski Z8i. The 4Wi reticule is true MOA at the highest power level. If you need to wind down the magnification, your windage adjustments on the reticle would change as well if you are holding off so I prefer dialing in my windage since this is not affected by magnification. Only caveat is that you have to practice to make sure you don’t screw up in the field. Remember a 2nd focal plane scope will not stay true at all magnifications, your TRUE MOA/MIL is only such at one specific magnification. Consult your manual.
I dial in all my shots, both elevation and windage, I train that way so for me its a no brainer. I knew we would have time to setup for these shots so I wasn’t worried. I LOVE the Swarovski windage knob, it has 4Mils each way which means you can never screw up the windage and keep dialling. When you dial in your windage you can only go 4Mrad Left or 4 Mrad Right, then it stops. Elevation is plenty, I believe 14Mils of elevation however, once you mount the turret on, you will only have 7.5mrad of elevation, then it stops turning.
I suspect Swarovski did this so that it would stop hunters from taking extremely long shots as they would run out of elevation. Leica did something similar with their ballistic output on the Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 bino. It will only give you your elevation dope to about 800m…
Leica geovid hd-b 3000 returns a ballistic correction of 7.6 mrad of elevation. No windage displayed here which is a pity, you should get at least a full value 10mph wind correction eg. 2.8mil so you can then work your dope off that. Maybe too advanced for most hunters? You still have to consult your kestrel or your ballistics app data, bugger! You cannot make long shots without looking at the wind component! With 7.5Mrad of elevation (75clicks) on our Swarovski, it would enable us to reach to about 730m with our 30-06 and Eldx 178gr bullet at the velocity we are getting. Swarovski makes some of the best turrets out there, no need of Allen screws to re-zero the turret, just press on the button in the centre of the turret and it comes off, that simple. Easy on, easy off, hats off to their engineers, best turrets I’ve used so far.
Chronograph your ammo’s velocity
I chronographed the ammunition with a Labradar borrowed from my shooting buddy Godfrey and my trusted magneto speed which I take everywhere. Believe it or not, the two units were 1ft/s from each other a few times! The 178gr ELDx ammo shot 2618ft/s in 17 degrees Celsius.
Know your maximum vertical dispersion at the farthest distance you intend to take game.
Here we shot 3 different groups at 600m to find out what sort of vertical dispersion our ammo would have if we had to make a shot at this distance. No chances taken, it’s all been tested out. Our kill zone is about 8inch so we’re well inside that.
Next I chronographed the 6.5CM shooting the 143 ELDx Ammo at 2572 ft/s. The ammo extreme spread fluctuated about 35ft/s over 10 rounds which is pretty good for factory hunting ammo. In our testing at 600m, this ammo holds vertical of about 3 inches average meaning the fastest shot and slowest shot of a string of 9 rounds is not more than 3 inches apart vertically. The vertical with the 6.5creedmoor was even better than average, about 2 inches at 600m.
My Fclass handloads are about 12ft/s extreme spread in comparison. I asked our guide in France what temperatures we would be seeing up in the Pyrenees so that I could work out the velocity changes accordingly. Surprisingly enough, the temperatures high up in the Pyrenees were the same. I had prepared two sets of ballistics in case the weather would be around 5 Degrees Celsius and about 40ft/s slower.
Below is my hand loading bench where I make sure to craft the best ammunition one can produce. Ammo that holds <10 inch groups at 1000 yards.
*Remember however these are not heavy barrels and shots will walk if you get the barrel too hot. We tested this and found that after about 20 rounds of sustained fire, our browning maral rifle threw shots wildly, approximately 8 inches of differences in point of impact at 100m!!!! It didn’t matter for us as we would not shoot more than 2 rounds at any one time.
Scope tracking check for long range hunting
I placed the scope in a vice to check their tracking. I know these are high end optics, but I always run the reticle up and down in a box like fashion to ensure its tracking repeatably and consistently. Typically, it’s dialling in all the way up say 60MOA then dial Right 20MOA, Dial back down and dial left 20MOA. The reticle should come back on the same point of aim. It should also cover a specific amount of travel distance. I like to do this on a dedicated jig I have setup, no need to have the rifle with me. I run the scope tracking test against a white board I have with measurements written on it. I’ve done this at 25m or at 100m whatever I have available. This gives me confidence in my kit. For further information on this, please refer to my article https://www.rifletalks.com/equipment-reviews/optics/riflescopes101-how-to-choose-a-riflescope/
I take my kestrel almost everywhere to challenge my wind reading ability and see how close I can get. This is how you train yourself. Next I plugged in all the data I had gathered during zeroing of my rifles and ammo testing into my trusted kestrel 4500 Applied Ballistics. I can’t have enough words of praise for this unit. The beauty of this unit is that I can switch between the 6.5CM load and the 30-06 or 300 Norma Mag Load in a heartbeat and be looking at real time ballistic corrections for the weather conditions I am in. Do I trust this unit? YES. During my trip at Cold bore Range in Denmark, I zeroed 2 rifles in 300 Norma Mag at 100m, chronoed them, then plugged in the data for them in my kestrel. We made first round hits from 500m, 800, 1000, 1250m and 1430m to 1600m with both rifles on MOA targets and 1.3 MOA targets at 1 mile.
Setting up Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 for hunting European Mouflon in the Pyrenees
I spent about 5 weeks playing with the Leica HD-B 3000 functionalities to get use to the settings and functionalities. You can spend thousands on your kit, if you don’t play about with it, you will screw up in the field. Carry extra batteries with you as well just in case. I will run a separate review of this Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 Binocular Laser range finding unit however I must say it’s superb. I ranged buoys at sea out to 1400m by resting it on my tripod. These are about 2 feet high. I setup the Leica Geovid HD-B 3000 unit to match the ballistic data we had. I compared it to my Kestrel elite ballistcs, and it was within 1click (1/4MOA) for all distances to 800m for elevation. I tried this during the day as well as in the evening to see if there were any major changes. The only thing that I find is a drawback with Leica Geovid HD-B binos is that this ballistic data has to be entered first on your PC via their website, then place that data onto a SD card and plug it in your binocular unit. I bought another SD card for it to be able to use it with the 30-06 load however it wasn’t compatible. Also carrying my laptop with me when I’m travelling for a hunt is one thing I could do without.
Why would you need to do this you may ask? I always want the most up-to-date chronograph data for my load especially if I’m going to get only 1 shot with my rifle. Ideally you either shoot your ammo in multiple weather conditions and save that velocity data to know how much your ammunition fluctuates in different temperatures or else, take a portable magneto speed chronograph with you and just shoot your zero confirmation rounds in the area you want to hunt to ensure you have the right velocity. Remember, if your ammo extreme spread is 35ft/s, your ammo may be anywhere -/+ 17ft/s of the rounds you check.
Long range hunting rifles trajectory validation
As with all ballistics, trajectory validation is very important. This is done effectively by shooting 3-5 distances with the rifle using the ballistic solutions given to you by your kestrel or whichever ballistics app you are using. Make sure to input the data as correctly as you possibly can. I typically start at 300m, then shoot 400, 500, 600 and 800m to check if the predicted data and the real-world data matches. If you inputted data correctly, it should be right on the money. Kestrel elite ballistics has a few options to true that ballistic data with your findings. Remember that at these distances, your groups would probably be about 1 MOA or so meaning if you shot at 500m and hit 2-inch-high, it’s probably within your rifle’s grouping possibility. Fire another 3 rounds to verify if they will impact within the same 5 inch circle. Our kill zone is about 8 inches so anything inside that 5-inch circle is a clean kill.
Below you can see some of the shots our participants took in preparation for the hunt
Below are some videos from our trajectory validation exercise. We did this at 215m, 300m, 390m, 515m, 600m and 710m. Try getting one or two groups on paper to find out where exactly your groups are impacting. An easy exercise is also to pick off rocks at far away distances, range it with your rangefinder, dial elevation, dial wind and send it, spot, repeat. ALWAYS make sure you have a backstop.
European Mouflon Hunt in the Pyrenees High Angle Shooting
Our adventure started in Barcelona then took a 2-hr cab ride over to France. By the time we got there, I was knackered. Travelling from UK to the Mediterranean and out again to Spain in less than 6 hours was a little crazy. We were up at 5 am to start our drive into the mountains and meet our guide Andre, the fittest 71yr old I ever met. We climbed into a small 4×4 Suzuki and made our way into higher altitudes. While in the car, I checked the rifle and scope settings had not moved.
We were not sure if we would get to fire a round before the hunt begins. The trip into the mountains became as choppy as sailing in strong winds. The ascent was rough and round sharp corners. Driving over rocky ground proved to be a challenge worthy of the best Land cruiser. Meanwhile I mounted the Hausken Moderator and reset the turrets by 7 clicks. We knew from previous range testing that the rifle shoots 7 clicks high without the moderator on. In this part of the world, almost everyone hunts with a moderator / suppressor / can. It saves your hearing but also does not disturb the wildlife when you fire a shot.
Clothing and gear for hunting in the Pyrenees
We set out on foot, glassing with 3 pairs of binoculars, light weight high definition Leica 8x and 10x magnification ones. I had my Swarovski ATS 25-50×65 spotter with me for longer range work mounted on a Manfrotto portable tripod. 90% of the hunt is walking, climbing, glassing, spotting and then trying to get close for a shot. I used the tripod largely as a walking stick for most of the climb up the steep mountain sides ranging from 20 to 35 degrees. We saw a group of mouflons about 1 hr into our hunt and we started climbing the mountain side to enable us a closer shot from higher ground. The initial angle was about 23degrees at 415meters. The walk up these steep hills made good work out of my Meindl GTX boots. They were superb from the get-go, no need to break them in. I walked 50km with them in the first 4 days from purchase.
Luckily, I had brought with me from the Great British shooting show some other outdoor gear from Ridgeline located in NZ. Their thin waterproof and breathable evolution jacket and trousers made being in this environment pleasant. Their trousers above all are truly superb. I got caught up in sharp thorns 6 times during that weekend and the material did not tear up, I was impressed. I also carried a gun/backpack from the Swedish Firm Fjällräven. Very well thought out bag made from G1000 material which is treated with Greenland Wax.
Beneath my Ridgeline jacket, I wore a thick fleecy zipper from the same Swedish firm. Very happy with the purchase. (disclaimer: none of the items mentioned here were donated to me, they were all purchased because I believe they offer superb value and are fit for the job) I also considered buying some Blaser clothing however they did not have a medium sized parka-like jacket and I looked like a holy man in the XL one. Chris Dewbury, the UK country manager for Blaser was very helpful in trying to source me one of their outdoor hunting jackets and even welcomed me at the Surrey office to checkout the Blaser R8 which I had seen at the shooting show, more on that visit in another post. I wish to thank Frederic Hanner, Blaser CEO for the time and welcome accorded to me on my visit to their Head Office, these guys are truly friendly and do a great job in assisting prospective buyers and introducing them to their products.
A stunning Blaser R8 setup for mountain hunting with a light profile barrel and a Swarovski Z8i, the latter is the hottest scope around apparently and for good reason.
The Ascent to Mouflon territory, seriously steep inclines fraught with thick grass, thorns and low lying shrubs
By the afternoon, we had already climbed past 1000 meters and the next leg was a steep 35-degree incline 200 meters up the mountain side to get us above the tree line and hopefully see if there were any male mouflons high up. The fantastic warm weather meant that there was very little snow on the peaks hence the mouflons did not have to descend and remained high up in the mountains, grazing far from human beings. On our way up the mountain side, we did spot a few female mouflons about 650m away on the other side of the hill.
The guide told us that we were still in time to checkout higher elevations, so we kept marching. I took this opportunity to ensure my Swarovski variable phone adaptor was properly setup so I could film some of the action as it happened as well as the beautiful surroundings. By the time we climbed up these reeds-filled mountain sides, the mouflons had moved east so we had to make our way down again the steep slope! Bugger we had been too slow. By this time, it was time for a quick snack. The guide gave us some very tasty venison sausage as well as a pate’ made from Chamois meat on some crusty French bread and a glass of champagne!
We refilled our water supplies from the stream nearby and were ready to give it a go again. We climbed up the same path we walked earlier and then back down to spot any movement. On our way down we spotted 3 female mouflons on the ridgeline! Mark setup his rifle and backpack to have a closer look at them while I mounted by spotting scope and Digi scoping device. Andre our guide told us not to take the shot until the larger female was away from the ridge line and we could ensure that the bullet has a safe backstop This didn’t happen so after a tense 15 minutes, we abandoned our position and moved on.
European Mouflon long shot up a 25 degree slope!
Late afternoon we spotted a group of 4 or 5 mouflons up a very steep hill at 25 degrees a fair distance away. It was the only last chance we were going to get that day. The herd was calm, and we thought to setup for the shot and if a window presented itself, we would take it. There was almost no wind component, the shot would be taken from our position deep inside the valley towards the top part of the rocky hillside. We laid down and spotted for them in the spotting scope. Meanwhile I gave mark the corrections for the shot at 25 degrees plugging everything into kestrel. We checked our turrets 3x before Mark broke the shot. I could just see the 178gr ELDX make its way to the game animal hitting just above the shoulder, a near miss and the bullet impacting the rock behind it! Bugger we missed by a little, I estimated 0.2mrad. Day 1 was over, back to camp for dinner a few wine glasses and a chat with the rest of the hunting party.
Day 2 – Long range hunting success in the Pyrenees!
We started out day 2 late afternoon. Mark had a few skins to get done before we set out for a late afternoon hunt. We dropped by Andre’s home at the foot of the Pyrenees where he showed us some of his best hunting memoires from Africa, Europe as well as Central Asia, a magnificent Ibex all the way from Kyrgyzstan! By 1400hrs, we were on our way up the mountain in this small Suzuki 4×4.
This time we had Andre as our main PH and his knowledgeable hunting buddy who took great care in explaining us the hunting and wildlife management practices in France. We spent most of the time glassing from the mountain road that leads up into the mountains. We walked up and down the road twice. We spotted a heard grazing up the hill however they were hidden by the trees. We moved west to get a better view on them. the climb was among half burnt reeds and low-lying branches. We navigated our way through it and then laid down behind a rubble wall to keep a low profile. I stepped on one branch that snapped and immediately they looked down knowing that we were there.
Mark asked me to setup the Swarovski spotter with mobile phone adapter to take a better look at them. I really wish that Swarovski made a red dot mount that could enable us to fit a red dot sight on our spotter to help locate game while in the field. It’s really challenging especially once you mount the Digi scoping kit and you have game on the move. I know that SPUHR made one for the larger objective but not the 65mm one. The latter make some amazing accessories so check them out.
Laser range finder screws up! Horseshit moment….
We reached out for our laser range finder to get a reading. The two range finders returned different distances. That’s not good, if we can’t get the range, we don’t have any business taking a shot. The discrepancy meant it would be a complete miss. We ranged another rock with both devices to see if they would give us the same reading. They did! We ranged the mouflon again and now they showed us the same distance up a 17degree slope. I plugged in the data into Kestrel and dialed in the correction. I checked the turret again. The wind was coming in from behind us, no value wind.
The fatal perfect long shot up 17 degrees incline.
We waited for them to stop moving, Mark laid his rifle on the bag against a large rock and told me he was going for the female on the far right. I confirmed that I was seeing it through the spotter after which he told me, “ I’m sending it”. BooM, crackkkkkkk across the valley and I could see the 178grain ELDX arching its way perfectly towards the boiler room. The Mouflon was fatally hit, the view through my Swarovski spotting scope was as clear as standing a few meters away from the mouflon, the bullet exiting the other side sending it rolling down the slope a few times. This is what we had trained for.
This content maybe distressing to some. In that case, do not play the video.
I will remember this as a tense and ecstatic moment partially due to the stress and responsibility of ensuring a clean shot and partially relieved that all went to plan, a textbook rifle shot up 17-degree slope. I was still looking through the spotter, the Mouflon lay motionless, thankfully a perfect clean kill. We congratulated Mark on a perfect shot and the guide lost no time in tracking down the animal and bringing it back to us so that it could be gutted, cleaned and packed so we could take it to base camp for the meat and skin.
So how does hunting European Mouflon in the Pyrenees feel like? First question I was asked on my return…
You get to experience numerous sensations, being in the open mountain ranges, watching the wild animals up close and personal, understanding their habitat and behavior as well as getting the opportunity to reconcile with our roots, when eating meat was the product of hard work and if done well, maybe you get the opportunity to enjoy some amazing wild game meat. You also feel the pressure of making a clean shot. I’ve shot thousands of rifle rounds over the last years but nothing comes close to putting your skills to practice to harvest one living animal.
Driving back I was thinking how our food cycle has become an impersonal experience. We choose how it is served to us yet while we consume beef, chicken and pork daily we have become detached from the process by which it makes its way to our table. Farms are a place most of us have never been to, slaughter houses unknown to most of us millennials but we consume it daily – ironic I thought to myself.
We made our way down the steep mountain side while recalling those last few tense moments we had experienced together, a few giggles and cheers resounded in the small 4×4 in between the hiccups caused by the bumpy mountainous terrain. Andre’ dropped by his place to open a champagne bottle for us. We were made to feel so welcome in France by this professional hunter and his family. We will be back another time with my surgeon rifles 308win mountain rifle! We wish to thank our professional hunting guide for arranging this hunt for us.
We are thankful to the French authorities for the opportunity to legally harvest an animal in a sustainable manner and knowing that the handsome amount paid for this hunting tag, will ensure that this region will continue to be professionally managed in a sustainable way for future generations.
Until next adventure – over and out.