With their vertically spiraling horns and long shaggy neck ruff on the front of the neck, brisket and shoulder; markhor probably exhibits the most striking appearance of all Capra family. Pakistan is known to be home for three separate subspecies for markhor although some mammalogist consider Astor and Kashmir to be one – the flarehorn. In reality, there is a substantial difference in horn shape and all hunting organizations with a record keeping book list these animals as separate subspecies. Typical Astor horns flare to both sides very widely just above the bases and then curls upwards 1 or 11/2 twists while Kashmir horns go straight up with 2-3 spiral twists.
Astor markhor derives its name from a valley located only 60 kilometers southeast of Gilgit, a town that is a jumping point for our Himalayan ibex and Astor markhor hunts in northern Pakistan. Hunting for Astor markhor can be carried out in some conservancy areas around Gilgit, along the Hunza and Astor valleys. Skardu side of this immediate geography is also considered as Astor country and the markhor can be hunted in some community managed areas.
Of all the markhor species, Astor markhor hunt can be the most demanding if a good trophy size is of utmost importance. However, for the ones who desire only the species and the experience it might as well be the easiest as some of the areas offer easy hunting. SCI record book contains only a handfull Astor markhor entries and even lesser animals with the horn length of 40 plus inches. Although magic number is considered to be the 40 inch mark, any Astor markhor over 35 should be regarded as a good head.
As with all other species in northern Pakistan, markhor hunts are done only in several community controlled hunting areas (CHAs) and based on the “Community Based Trophy Hunting Programmes” where 80% of the license fee is turned over to the communities to ensure sustainability of conservation initiatives.
Means of accommodations for Astor markhor in these CHAs vary considerably, greatly depending on the distance of the area from Gilgit. This can be anywhere from a four star hotel in Gilgit to a guest house in one of the villages near the area. In extreme cases when a spike camp is needed, shepherd huts or tent camps can also be utilized.
Contrary to common belief, markhor is not a high altitude animal only because of it’s intolerance of snow and cold. They avoid the higher elevations inhabited by Himalayan ibex but stick to the more precipitous mountain sides. When it is located on such spots or out of shooting range, hunters are required to be patient and wait as the markhor will frequent a water resource every other day. Most of hunting is done on foot but some driving may be needed.