Hunting in Spain
Spain has a hunting heritage that goes back more than 800 years. Before Columbus made his three trips to the New World, kings and nobles were hunting the abundant wildlife and birds found on the Iberian Peninsula. As of 2019, Spain has one of the most progressive wildlife programs in the world. The big game is managed through a system of national parks and game reserves. Bird hunting, including the highly sought-after red-legged partridge, is normally done on a classic day of a driven shoot, where hundreds of birds are taken. Shooting is intense, and a double gun (often a brace of top-quality shotguns), plus a loader, and an assistant are required.
We’ll first explore Spain’s big game, then take an intimate look at the tremendous sport of wing shooting.
Hunting Big Game in Spain
There are nine big game animals available to hunt in Spain. Here is a general description of all of them with specifications for different species of animals. For instance, ibex hunting is quite popular all over Spain. The species is broken down into the Beceite ibex, the Gredos ibex, the Ronda ibex, and the Sierra Nevada ibex.
The Spanish big game animals include the Spanish ibex, the Balearic boc, the Red deer, Roe deer, Barbary sheep, Chamois, Fallow deer, Mouflon, and the Wild boar. Each will be discussed in detail.
Found in the mountains of Beceite and Tortosa in northeastern Spain, this is generally the largest of the Spanish ibex, and typically, the horns are the widest as well. The horns are straighter than in the Gredos ibex and have a spiral turn of fewer than 180 degrees. For half its length the horn thickness remains constant but then decreases towards the tip. Sometimes other horn configurations can be found even in the same herd.
Hunting season for the Beceite ibex runs from October to May. The trophies are optimum from April 1 to 30, and November 25 to January 5. Trophy fees for a Gold Level Beceite ibex will run between $8,500 US dollars to $10,150 US dollars.
Gredos ibex inhabit the mountains in west-central Spain – especially the Batuecas and Gredos mountains. After the Beceite ibex, the Gredos ibex is the second largest in horn and body size. Their horns grow out at an angle from their head before turning upwards. Horn thickness decreases as they rise to the tip in a lyre form. Male horns are big, wrinkled, and ringed. Sometimes other horn variations can be seen, even within the same herd.
Hunting season for the Gredos ibex is like the Beceite ibex - October to May. The best hunting season is from November to March. Most hunting takes place in the Gredos government game reserve, about three hours from the Madrid airport.
Ronda ibex hunts take place in Antequera, Zona Costera, and Sierra de las Pedrizas mountains in Andalusia Province. These areas are between four and five hours from the Madrid airport. The airport at Alicante is closer, nocking one hour off of driving time. These animals inhabit a zone between 3,000 feet and 6,500 feet above sea level. The Ronda ibex is smaller than other species of ibex, weighing between 110 pounds and 132 pounds. The male’s horns are shorter than other ibex and grow straight with a curl at the tip like a sheep’s horn.
Sierra Nevada Ibex (Southeastern Ibex)
The mountains and reserves of Tejada, Almijara, Sierra Nevada, Lujar, Cazorla and Muela de Cortez are the home range of the Sierra Nevada ibex. They are like Ronda ibex; but have much larger horns. They live at high altitudes between 5,000 feet and 8.200 feet elevation.
Sierra Nevada ibex are hunted in government game reserves. Their season runs from October to May. The male’s horns grow long and follow an extraordinary backward curve. Hunts for the Sierra Nevada ibex can be a bit more challenging than those for other ibex species. Permits are quite limited, and the high altitude and steep climbs require that the hunter is in excellent condition.
Balearean Boc hunts take place on the island of Majorca located in the Mediterranean Sea east of Valencia in the Islas Baleares. The Balearic Islands are the only destination where you can hunt the species one day and be on a sunny beach the next. The Boc, a species of goat, was brought to the island around 5,000 years ago by the Phoenicians to serve as food for the inhabitants. Since then, it has evolved into a distinct species, and its DNA has shown that it is related to the Turkish bezoar ibex. All the hunting areas on the island are certified by the Department de Medi Ambient del Consell de Mallorca (Dept. of Environment).
Note: A Feral goat also inhabits this island. These animals usually show three, or more, colors in a spotted pattern. Only the goats that have a black cross over a reddish coat are accepted as Balearean Boc. Hunting takes place year-round, but the optimum months for trophies are January through May and September 15 through December 31.
This deer is a different species from the central European species. It has adapted to the Mediterranean climate of Spain, and its estimated population is 350,000. The best month for trophies is September during the rut. Antlers can have as many as 18 to 20 points. A representative trophy can be had during the rest of the September to March season. All hunting takes place on government reserves. All the hunting areas are within 3.5 hours from the Madrid airport.
The Spanish Roe deer is relatively small when compared to other European deer like the Fallow stag. The best months for hunting Roe deer in Spain are April and September, with April being the best month. The best way to hunt a roe dear is by having your guide check different meadows a few days before you arrive. Roe deer are habitual and will feed in the same place at the same time every day. They are probably the most skittish deer in Europe and will run at the smallest noise. The best way to get close enough for a shot is to show up at the meadow where they are feeding at least one hour before they arrive. You must be absolutely still, or they will spot you long before you see them.
The Barbary sheep can be found in all the southeast mountains along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. They are originally from the Atlas Mountains in North Africa. Introduced in Spain in the 1970s, near the Sierra Espuna reserve, they have now extended into the Almeria and Murcia provinces. Usually, hunting is very pleasant due to the warm climate. Alicante airport is about one hour from the hunting area. Hunting season runs from October to January however, no hunting is allowed on Sundays. The best month for trophies is November, with males sporting horns in the 23 to 26-inch range.
Hunting Barbary sheep in Spain can be combined with an ibex hunt. Because of the proliferation of game in the government reserves, usually, a sheep hunt can be done in one day.
Chamois is a species of goat/antelope found in the Pyrenees Mountains roughly 80-90 miles from Barcelona, and the Cantabrian Mountains in Northern Spain near the Bay of Biscay. The best dates for big trophies are April 1 to 30, and October 15 to November 10. They are a high mountain species, preferring altitudes above 6,000 feet in the summer, and 3,000 feet in the winter.
Chamois tend to look downhill for danger, so use this to your advantage and get above them. You will have to be in excellent condition to hike the rocks and rugged terrain they prefer. As it can be difficult to determine the sex of a chamois, you will have to rely on your guide to make the identification.
Fallow deer can be hunted from September to the middle of February, with the optimum dates for a trophy animal from October 10 to October 30. The body size of the Spanish fallow deer is medium – males run between 90 to 130 pounds. They prefer forests and meadows, and as an introduced species (c.1400), can be found all over the Iberian Peninsula, mostly in high-fenced areas.
Due to their size, any caliber rifle from .243 Winchester and up will be sufficient. They have good eyesight and a sense of smell, so making use of available cover, and hunting into the wind is necessary.
European Mouflon sheep were introduced into Spain from the Island of Corsica in the late 1800s. Their hunting season runs from September to May with the month of November the best time for a trophy. Like other sheep, the Mouflon lives in herds. They have excellent eyesight and are extremely wary, which makes for exciting hunting. Their open hunting area is about 95-100 miles northwest of Barcelona, and the closed area (fenced reserve) lies 65-70 miles northwest of Malaga. Spain has magnificent trophies, and it’s entirely possible to hunt a ram with almost a full curl of horns.
Wild boars are found all over Spain. Usually, they are hunted as part of a larger hunt but can be hunted on a special individual hunt. The best way to hunt them is from a blind or stand overlooking the feeding area. Or a driven hunt with 10-15 hunters can be arranged. A good hog will run 330-350 pounds, while the average male will be around 50-75 pounds lighter. They can be hunted year-round, and good trophies are always available.
The Spanish embassy must be contacted if you are a non-European Union citizen. If you are a US hunter, you will need your passport, Spanish embassy permission, a personal invitation from the outfitter, a hunting license, hunting insurance, and pay the firearm tax.
All firearms must be in a case. Ammunition must be boxed and packed separately from the firearm. All documentation presented to the control station must be the originals. There is a charge for the verification of firearms at the police control when entering or leaving Spanish territory.
Rather than bringing a firearm, the hunter might decide to rent one for the hunt. Rifle hire is $85 per day, give or take. Ammunition is a bit expensive at $5.50 per round, but you won’t have to use it much. Most hunts start very early in the morning, so a hunter should be prepared to spend the night before the hunt in a local hotel. The usual daily cost for the hunter is $350. One day will suffice for most hunts, but additional days can be added at the same price.
Wing Shooting in Spain
The red-legged partridge is the most popular small game species in Spain. Its speed and bravery have gone a long way to making this small bird the most appreciated game in Spain. Its habitat is large, with many elevation changes, offering different types of drives. Flights can be low or high, but either way, the birds are hot and fast. That makes for some very spirited shooting requiring a fair modicum of talent and ability. A great deal of management and care is taken on the game property which makes for a large population of healthy birds.
Some of the best quail hunting properties are in Granada, Andalusia, where the shrubbery is low, and plentiful crops of wheat, corn, and sunflower make for impressive quail breeding. One of the most common hunting methods is a walk-up hunt behind bird dogs. An average hunt would consist of three to six guns and a two-day hunt.
The nearest airport to Granada, Andalusia is Malaga, about one and one-half hours from the various hunting areas. Guided tours, live entertainment and excellent restraints are nearby. Gun rental is available, as on most wing shooting ranches.
The Sierra de Gredos is a mountain range in central Spain. It is the largest route of European bird migration coming from the Pyrenees of the French Atlantic. Both doves and thrushes travel to Spain to spend the winter in the forests of the Sierra de San Pedro in the province of Caceres. Approximately 2,000,000 pigeons travel this corridor every year. This is where the migratory dove and thrush hunting takes place. The hunting grounds are easily reached by vehicle, and there are hotels located nearby. Hunting takes place from October 1 to November 15. Hunts vary from three to six guns.
Walk-up hunts with bird dogs are available in Granada, Andalusia, where the low forest is mixed with olive tree groves, wheat farms, and other crops. The first day of the two-day hunt is usually concentrated on wing-shooting doves, turtle doves, and pigeons. On the second day, walk-up hunting for quail takes place. There are many luxury hotels in Granada where the hunter will spend two nights.
While on your hunt for any of the above birds, you can make it a combo hunt and include pheasant and thrush. Should you so desire, a rabbit can be added. Partridge, pheasant, quail, and thrush can be packaged together in a two or three-day hunt.