Iran Again Puts Stopper on American Tourist Hunters, Plus One More Hunt Report

John Gulius’ Transcaspian urial

Back in May, we reported that Iran had finally reopened to American hunters for the first time since 2011. At that time, we also noted the Department of Environment had decided to reopen government areas for the 2018 season. Now, Ken Wilson of Shunneson & Wilson Adventures (www.sportsmenonfilm.com; 830-792-4200) tells us that Iran has once again stopped issuing visas to Americans in response to political tensions after the US restored sanctions on Iran in early August. That said, we thought we would share a report from subscriber John Gulius, who managed to hunt there twice during the window of opportunity this year.

Gulius booked both of his Iran hunts through Ken Wilson, hunting with Esrafil Shafiezadeh of Iran Jasmin Safaris, one of the two operators in Iran (the other is Nature Explorer, with whom subscriber Ed Yates hunted in March). Gulius told us about his experiences in a letter.

He writes, “The first hunt in March was put together on very short notice with the diligent efforts of Ken Wilson and operator Esrafil Shafiezadeh. As I understand it, Shafiezadeh was the most important figure not only in pressing for Americans to receive hunting permits again, but in working with the Department of Environment to get Iran opened to foreign hunters in general.

“Myself and a hunting companion met with Wilson in Istanbul, continuing on to Tehran. From there we visited a private reserve, the Aliabad Chehel Ghazi Reserve in central Iran, where all three of us took fine Persian desert ibex.

“Wilson departed, and my hunting partner and I headed to a different private reserve to hunt Kerman sheep. The area seemed to have a fair amount of sheep, but we couldn’t find any big rams. We both took nice representative animals, however. We knew in advance that there were only a few places to hunt, and we were just glad for the chance to hunt there. That said, another friend of ours arrived a few days later and hunted a different reserve, taking one of the biggest Kerman sheep in years from a group of seven all about the same size. He said that he saw a number of other good rams on the hunt.

John Gulius with a Persian desert ibex taken in Iran

“My second trip came in May, for the opening of the government hunting season. My hunting companion and I travelled together again, this time hunting Transcaspian urial and Esfahan sheep. We both saw a lot of animals in the hunting area and took fine trophies of both species. We hunted Esfahan sheep in an area bordering the Yadz and Kerman provinces, and the urial in an area in the northeast near the border with Azerbaijan.

“With all that was in the news media, we didn’t know how we would be received, or if there would be any security issues. However, the people were as warm and friendly as you could ever hope. I spent over 30 days traveling on the two trips and spent time in big cities, small villages, crowded markets, and restaurants big and small. People always asked if we were Americans and said ‘welcome to Iran’ and stressed that they were well-disposed towards American visitors. I never once felt any concern about safety or security. Only once were made to show gun permits and passports. Clearing rifles on departure and entry went smoother and faster than we could have expected. Shafiezadeh is one of the best organized operators with whom I’ve hunted, and he is a tireless proponent of hunting. He personally accompanies hunters when possible and acts as guide and interpreter. His staff are top professionals in every way.

“I believe that Iran has more Ovis and Capra subspecies than any other country in the world, and it is a simply incredible place to hunt and travel.”

Gulius noted that he had a return trip planned for September. However, Ken Wilson confirmed that all hunts for Americans have been cancelled until further notice.

Says Wilson, “We still have clients from Mexico and Europe going in September. Of course everyone involved with the hunting industry is optimistic about visas, but we don’t know what will happen.

“The private land hunting season runs from Nov. 15 to March 20, and that was such a success in March that it spurred the government to reopen public reserves to hunting. That was a big step forward. There is now an dual season on the government areas, May 22 to Oct. 7 and Dec. 6 to Jan. 24.

“Everyone from officials in the Department of the Environment to scouts on the reserves was thrilled about American hunters coming back. Americans are the biggest part of the market. Nonetheless it doesn’t seem that the hunting industry has the pull to get the government to issue visas in spite of political issues.”

Wilson says that it’s a shame that American hunters cannot return immediately, as there is a lot of trophy potential on the government reserves. Those areas had been closed to all hunting for between two to seven years.

“The hunts this year were exploratory in a sense, and what we found was that the government reserves had better herds and better trophy animals than the adjacent private reserves. Sometimes the private areas would have just a few mature animals, and animals would be spread out over a very large area. This could change over time, but for the moment we have a better picture of where the game is.”

We hope Americans are able to get back to Iran sooner rather than later. Stay tuned.