Editor Pete Carr profiles a wild sheep species naturalised to much of Europe that provides some of the most sought-after hunts and trophies on the continent
The mouflon is looked upon as a highly prized game animal by our continental cousins on the European mainland, and I certainly concur with their views. One or two British estates keep some mouflon in a park environment but I always feel pity for these animals kept in a countryside Alcatraz as I’ve seen them roaming wild in all their majesty and they are a testing quarry species. Sharp of eye and fleet of foot with a highly sensitised sense of smell, the wild mouflon ram is a worthy animal to pursue.
It has commonly been accepted that the European mouflon is an ancient breed of sheep that along with the Soay (only found wild on the Scottish St Kilda Archipelago) is one of the two founding breeds of all domestic sheep – though this is open to much conjecture. One school of thought subscribes to the mouflon as a Neolithic domestic sheep turned feral rather than an ancestor of modern breeds. Today, mouflon inhabit the Caucasus, Anatolia, northern and eastern Iraq, and most parts of Iran and Armenia. Their range originally stretched further to the Crimean peninsula and across the Balkans, until they died out around 3,000 years ago, but they have since returned to Bulgaria.
Neolithic man is said to have first introduced the mouflon to the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Rhodes and Cyprus as feral domesticated animals. They quickly became naturalised in the mountainous interiors of these islands and have given us today’s European mouflon (O. orientalis musimon).
Stock from these animals were successfully introduced into continental Europe, including Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, central Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, and even to some of the Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Mouflon prefer steep, mountainous woodlands, and like to live on the tree lines. In harsh weather, they will move down to the lowlands. It is in these woodlands that I particularly like to hunt the mouflon and where I have enjoyed most success. Many memorable hunts come to mind, accompanied by sporting greats such as Paul Childerley, Chris Beadle, and Tommie Hynes. All these mouflon were hunted in the harshest of weather in Bavaria, Romania or Austria. A mouflon ram in a snowbound forest on the continent is as natural as a fallow buck in the New Forest. Both species may have been introduced, but they have long since become naturalised and are now very much part of the landscapes where they currently reside.
Hunting mouflon is a very exciting prospect indeed. High seat ambush is certainly the most productive method, but foot stalking is by far the most rewarding. Mouflon don’t hang around for long – they are always on the move, so you need to be with a guide who knows his ground down to the inch.
Many mouflon are also shot on driven hunts in continental Europe. I secured a very fine male by this method some years ago at Laubach Castle in Germany. A mature mouflon ram has a heavy topcoat, and a large bullet is required to safely and ethically take this animal. I would suggest a minimum calibre of .308 to be sure of a clean kill. Quality optics are a necessity if one is to pursue this animal in its favoured woodland. The trophy is one of the most aesthetic of all the hoofed game species and it is one of the handsomest of sheep breeds. A mature male with a full curl of horn is impressive, and the chestnut and black skin with distinctive white saddle is very attractive as a floor or wall skin. Indeed, if the trophy is attached it makes a most unusual and striking centrepiece as a wall mount.
The mouflon has held its own for the past 3,000 years and gradually extended its range. Unfortunately it is now under threat in some of its former strongholds due to the rapid increase of introduced lynx. Mouflon lambs are easy prey for the lynx and far easier to secure than this cat’s main quarry, the roe deer.
Like the rapidly increasing wolf population in Scandinavia that is devastating the moose population, the lynx is doing much the same with mainland mouflon. That being the case, it pays to do one’s homework when booking a mouflon hunt. Always check out an outfitter’s references and research the mouflon population in the area you are proposing to hunt – if there is a lynx issue, it is better to leave well alone and look for another area under less pressure. The mouflon is a big, albeit naturalised, part of the European hunting scene, and it would be a great shame to lose this species as a game animal.