The Dream Hunt

By TCS Staff Writers

Mark Tuter was nestled in among the rocks at 17,500 feet up in Tajikistan.  Mark’s guide a Tajiki named Shodi turned and said, “This one is much better than good.”

Mark eased the Kimber .300 WSM to his shoulder.  

The shot he was about to take starts in 1964 with a read of Elgin Gates’ “Trophy Hunter in Asia”.  Gates’ Marco Polo hunt is considered by many to be the best hunting story ever told.  Mark has had many great hunts and adventurers.  He is considered to be one of the top guides on the Kenai River for world class Alaska King Salmon.  He has taken trophy Caribou, Moose, Bear and  hunted across Africa as well.  Mark has coached High School basketball and saw his own daughter play Division I. basketball and the WNBA.  He has also been a pastor and school administrator.  

Mark’s trigger finger slid in behind the guard.  

I asked Mark about his prep for that moment when you’re looking at a dream hunt come to fruition.  
Mark told me that the number one element is a good life partner who can supply what every dreaming hunter must have… financial support.  Truth is that Mark’s wife Janice is very supportive of the things that drive her husband into the woods.  The Tuter house is full of taxidermy therapy.  Almost every corner of the world is represented.  It takes a special kind of lady who will trade Thomas Kinkade art for trophy Cape Buffalo mounts.

Mark also knew he could not have climbed to 17,500 foot elevation without putting in the training.  Dream hunts don’t just happen on their own.  You must pay the price and endure the pain.  Many times after 12 hours of guiding for King Salmon the body wants to shut down.  He had to keep the dream alive.  

After the long day chasing Kings for clients, Mark headed to the range.  He had to hit that dish pan at 500 yards.  After heating the barrel he would take off for a mile run, come back and get down on the bench, recover his lungs, slow the heart beat down quickly and squeeze off another shots.  Like the bottle says, “rinse and repeat”, Mark took off for another mile returning to hit the metal dish again.  He put between 600 and 700 shots down range, four or five nights a week.  

Mark did not want to hear his guide say, “Get up here now or you will never see your dream come true!”  Many guides have seen game live to breathe another day because hunters failed to get in condition.  The altitude conditioning would be Mark’s biggest challenge.  Our home town of Soldotna Alaska is about 60 feet above sea level. On the way to Tajikistan, Mark stopped and hunted in the high plains of Africa.  They flew from Africa back to Frankfurt to Istanbul and then on to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, 13 time zones from Alaska.  

The next short white-knuckle flight was to Khorog at 8,000 feet.  Next part of the journey was a jeep trail that climbed 13,000 feet up into the Pamir Mountains.  The area that the base camp was staked has sometimes been referred to “halfway between heaven and earth.”  Mark’s friend Jon Bonnell of Texas flew in to be a part of the hunting party.  Together they would battle oxygen deprived sleep, take short cat naps, waking often, and fighting to inflate their lungs.  

The ram was in the scope.  Mark began his routine of breathing three breaths.  The first breath was released.
November 2012 was crisp and cold, perfect hunting weather.

On day one, blood pressure was taken twice and guns were checked at the rifle range.  The guides checked to make sure the fire sticks were true down range.  All passed with flying colors.

Within twenty minutes from camp Mark was looking at his first band of sheep, ewes and young rams.  The guides moved to the next ridge and called Mark to come up and join them.  It was a beautiful Ram at 650 yards.  After examining the Marco Polo, Guide Shodi said, “It is a beautiful ram but with a shallow curl, he is 55 inches or less.  We must find you one 55 inches or bigger.  He is good but not great.  Let’s find you a great one.”

Mark pushed on with his guide.  Moving slowly allowed him to soak in the unending vistas and the eternal blue skies.  He was so glad he had taken the steps to get here.  They came to the 16,000 foot level and found a ram killed by wolves.  The guide scouted the next ridge and spotted a band of sheep with one real nice ram.  A plan was made and they started the afternoon with an ascent that would take them to an elevation well over 17,000 feet.  Shodi asked “How many shells do you have?”  Mark informed the guide that the Kimber 300 wsm had three in the magazine and he had 10 more on his belt.  

The climb continued with a minute of climbing shale rock and 30 seconds of resting.  Mark was glad for the 200 hundred hours in a bike class at the fitness center and the will power not to let the Barcalounger dig its comforting claws into him. Mark took his second breath as his shooting routine continued.  One more to go.

Shodi took Mark up into a cut in the skyline.  They slowly dropped to a rock cropping.  Most sheep hunters like the higher ground.  Shodi stole a look down the valley.  His expression was priceless.  Looking between the cracks in the rocks, Shodi told me the one on the far right was the ram we wanted.  Finding him in the gun scope, Mark told Shodi it looked like a good one.  Shodi replied, “He is much better than good.”  Shortly after the hunter got into position the sheep got up and began to climb the valley.  They would possibly come within 100 yards.  Everything seemed to be coming together.  Mark’s rifle barrel was sticking out from between the rocks.  Suddenly things changed.  The sheep froze.  They saw the barrel.  Shodi was looking through the Leica rangefinder binoculars behind Mark.  He spoke in Marks ear, “Your ram is still on the far right, he is 505 yards.  Can you make the shot?”

Mark took the final third breath, let it half way out and began to squeeze.

“Yes.”  He replied.  He had great confidence in his Kimber to make the shot at 500 yards.  Two big variables came into play that could change everything.  Targets at 500 yards are not moving Marco Polo rams and he had not shot at this angel, almost straight down.  Bi-pod provided a solid rest.  People always say that you should not know when the squeeze breaks the trigger.  It is hard to put in the time at the range and not know when your trigger breaks. 

The trigger broke at just the right time!

The sight picture looked good and the resulting sound calmed Mark’s nerves.  Picking up the ram in his scope again, Mark could tell it had been hit.  Soon blood was flowing low behind the shoulder.  The ram took off running with the other rams.  The guide and hunter both expected the ram to slow down, fold up and roll down the hill.  He did neither.  Closely bunched and running hard at approximately 500 yards offered no second shot.  Not until they crowned the ridge could Mark squeeze off a second shot.  The bullet hit right in front of the ram.

Now it was Mark’s turn to run.  He put every bit of cardio training into this dream hunt reality.  They crossed a saddle to regain sight of the rams.  The band broke ranks.  Five going to the right around a rock outcropping and disappearing, six, including Marks ram was in plain view, struggling up through snow and rocks.  Sitting down and extending the bi-pod’s leg.  Shodi called the range at 720 yards.  Hoping and guessing Mark took another dream shot that missed a foot to the right.  With the next shot, all Shodi said was “Low.”  Mark was about to learn a valuable lesson about Marco Polo sheep.

The Marco Polo will go up and get as high as possible before laying down.  The only chance they had from staying away from wolves was to not leave a blood trail and get high in the rocks.  Mark watched his dream from 1,200 to 1,500 yards.  The “much better than good” curling horns bobbed in the setting sun’s rays.  It was almost 5:00 and they knew they could not reach him before darkness embraced the Pamir peaks.

The hunting party returned to camp.  Sleep did not come easy for the flat-lander.  Oxygen seemed even thinner than the day before but more likely concern for the dream Marco Polo pushed sleep aside.  Would wolves get there before the team could get back to the high peaks?  Was the shot fatal enough to keep the ram down or would it run further?  The next morning at first light the party arrived to a place they could put the spotting scope on the sight.  Mark was greeted by the wonderful sight of a large curled horn.
Mark finally connected with this 59” world class trophy.  He approached it with great reverence and wonder.  He leaned over one of God’s great creations and rubbed the horns and wiped a tear.  In the blink of an eye, 49 years had gone by and now it was over except for the unforgettable memories.  Mark studied his shot and did a field analysis that the trajectory, downhill, had clipped the lower part of one lung.  This left the sheep enough lung capacity to run up hill at a high rate of speed.

Dinner that night was a feast of Marco Polo backs trap and tenderloins served between hunting stories that can’t be beat.  Jon Bonnell had been successful as well with a 56 inch long incredibly heavy horn.  His big smile said it all.  No hunt is complete until the trophy is retrieved and secured in camp.  The rest of the story involves a severe injury, a taxidermist needle, 40 field stitches and Mark’s simple prayer asking for guidance.  I encourage you to finishing reading this story from “The Heart of a Hunter” by Mark Tuter.  You will enjoy other great stories as Mark takes you from Alaska to Africa.  He has a special chapter penned by his daughter Molly.

Take-a-ways from a dream hunt:

Conditioning is critical.  Mark worked hard with cross training and lots of cardio.  He also dropped 25 lbs.
Do your homework.  You will have to do a lot of studying.  Read all you can in regards to the dream hunt of choice.  

Know your equipment.  There was no way to train for bullet trajectory downhill at 17,500 feet elevation but do the best you can.  Mark’s dedication to shooting when he was tired and weary paid off.
Trust your guide.  Your confidence in their ability to lead and guide you will make a difference in your success.  They have been there before.

Pray believing God likes to fulfill dreams.  This was a hunting dream come true.  It was a desire of the heart of one of God’s own.  He likes to make dreams come true, even outdoor dreams.

The Republic of Tajikistan, previously known as Tajik, a Soviet Socialist Republic, is one of the most mountainous countries in the world.Inhabited by Iranian peoples for over 2,500 years (the recognized forbears of Tajikistan) this land was overrun by assorted empires for centuries.

Strongly influenced by the Chinese, it was the Islamic Arabs that conquered this land and is the reason that Islam became its prominent religion.Following Arab rule, the Samanid Empire took control, and then the Mongols as they accumulated land throughout Central Asia.

During the new millennium, Tajikistan saw a number of countries stationed within and along their border, including Russi and French troops. In September of 2010 a military airport near Dashanbe was rebuilt by the Government of India.  and is now the main grounds for the Tajikistan air force.

Tajikistan is in the early stages of a western-leaning attitude; joining NATO's Partnership for Peace and aggressively seeking a World Trade Organization membership. However, this isolated country remains poor, and must depend on economic assistance from the international community in an effort to create jobs and improve its economic stability.

Dushanbe, the capital city, was reconstructed by the Russians atop previous settlements on the same spot. The city features wide, tree-lined streets, and for the most part, one-story buildings, due in fact to the frequent earthquakes that occur in Tajikistan.