Animals like the Dagestan tur of the Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan or the mouflon sheep of the Balkans in Croatia are not well known, let alone on very many hunters’ lists of game they have taken.
But both are among the dozens of uncommon and unusual species lifelong Summersville resident Mark Hampton has had in the crosshairs of a scope before pulling the trigger and watching them drop during his adventures traveling the world as a mountain hunter.
Growing up in the deer and turkey-hunting hotbed of south-central Missouri, Hampton grew to love hunting on outings with his father.
“As a kid back in those days, we didn’t have the entertainment stimulus prevalent today,” he said. “We had a rod and reel, a gun and a ball glove, and we spent a lot of time outside with all three. That’s how I first got hooked on hunting, fishing and being outdoors.”
While Hampton has also made many hunting trips to the plains and savannahs of Africa, it’s the high-elevation hunts for various species of goats, sheep and ibex that really get his juices flowing. Once he had fired his first shot at a sheep high above the tree line, there was no turning back and he was in for the long haul.
“In a way I wish I had never gone sheep hunting, because those mountains have a special allure,” Hampton joked. “It’s difficult, it’s challenging, but it’s so rewarding to be in the mountains and to see God’s creation and experience that splendor.”
Pursuing his trophies has led Hampton up and down steep mountainsides on all six continents. The total number of countries he has taken game in at all elevations is 26.
“You can’t hunt on Antarctica, so I’ve hunted on all the huntable continents,” Hampton said.
His traveling and climbing efforts have resulted in taking 30 varieties of wild goats around the world, as well as 15 species of sheep, eight species of chamois, all three existing species of tur, and the American mountain goat.
“Of course, that and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee,” Hampton said. “But it’s been a personal goal of mine and I’ve had the good pleasure of hunting a variety of animals in various mountain terrains.”
Hampton has hunted at an elevation as high as 15,000 feet in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal.
“That kind of altitude can really affect a flatlander like myself,” he said.
Most of Hampton’s high-elevation trophies have been taken with a long-range handgun. His mountain hunting firearms are usually single-shot pistols chambered for high-intensity cartridges (such as .308 or .284 Winchester) that are capable of traveling long distances.
“A lot of times in the mountains, you can’t get real close,” Hampton said. “You often have to shoot from one mountainside to the other.”
With help from a laser range finder, Hampton always knows the exact distance to a target. With his experience, he knows how much “drop” to anticipate as his bullet makes its way from gun to target.
“If you know the distance you’re shooting, then you can calculate the trajectory,” he said.
Hampton has brought down a target from as far as 439 yards with a handgun. Mountain hunters often shoot from much greater distances, but that’s because they’re using rifles.
“Normally you have windy conditions in the mountains and you’re excited and out of breath and there are just so many other factors,” Hampton said. “So I always feel much better if I can get something at 300 yards or less. The bulk of my mountain hunt shots are done at between 200 and 300 yards.”
The handguns he uses are by no means lightweight, so a “rest” is utilized when lining up a shot. In the high mountains, that’s usually a backpack.
Some countries – such as New Zealand, Canada and Sudan – don’t allow use of handguns in hunting, so Hampton has taken game with a rifle in some cases. But part of what regularly draws him to the 10,000-foot level in Asia or the 12,000-foot mark in South America is the challenge of being successful using a handgun.
Despite their intimidating appearance and their loud volume when fired, the unusually large pistols Hampton uses are smooth as silk, thanks to highly effective muzzle breaks that disperse the guns’ explosive energy.
“They have almost no recoil at all,” Hampton said. “That’s how effective those muzzle breaks are.”
Traveling to remote, far-away places to hunt has often put Hampton in the position of dealing with language barriers.
“It happens all the time,” he said. “There are a lot of third world countries where you go out with a couple of local guys and they don’t speak English and I don’t speak their language. But if you can get along and communicate with them enough, it certainly adds to the cultural experience.
“And most places I go, they’ve taken American hunters before, so it’s not a total stretch for them to at least communicate on some level.”
Hampton’s wife Karen has accompanied him on several hunts and has taken wild game herself.
“We really enjoy traveling together and sharing these experiences with one another,” Hampton said.
The first time the couple went on a mountain hunt together was to pursue tur in Azerbaijan.
“I’m lucky she’s still with me because it was very, very difficult,” Hampton said. “I learned the definition of steep in that country.”
Since then, the pair has hunted together in mountains in Pakistan, Nepal, Turkey and other high locations.
Hampton also sometimes hunts with other friends and acquaintances who are members of the small but tightly-knit mountain hunting community.
“It’s always nice to be able to share your misery with someone else,” he said.
Having hunted game in so many breath-taking locales, Hampton doesn’t single out a particular outing as his favorite. But the harder, the better. The more physically demanding a hunt is, the more rewarding it ultimately is – like the 14-day trek in the Himilayas of Nepal and his trek in the Caucasus Range.
“It seems like the more difficult and the more challenging a hunt is, the more rewarding the entire experience becomes,” Hampton said. “That’s just the way it works out.”
While Hampton enjoys bringing home game trophies and accruing trophy memories from his world-wide escapades, he also likes observing peoples’ lifestyles in each place.
“You really get to see the way people live once you get off the beaten path,” he said. “You get out into the hunting environment and you get to see a true picture of how people live in each country.
“And in all these travels, it certainly confirms that we live in the greatest nation in the world. In many countries, it’s like you’re stepping back in time 50 years and some people are living the same lifestyle they lived 100 or 200 years ago. Even with as many problems and challenges as we face, we still live in the greatest country in the world.”
Given the relatively primitive nature and significant remoteness of some of the locations Hampton hunts in, just getting to the hunting grounds can be a challenge as big or bigger than the hunt itself. He plans to hunt in Kazakhstan in September. The trip will include a four-day marathon just to reach base camp.
“Sometimes it’s an adventure just to get to the point where you’re going to start hunting,” Hampton said. “We get to the airport, go through customs, drive for 12 hours and get in a different vehicle, drive another two hours and get into another vehicle, drive another couple hours and get on horses, and then we go to the camp.
“It can be a long, drawn out affair. It’s not just a guy who takes you out and says, ‘here, shoot that.’ It definitely doesn’t work like that.”
Hampton recalls one of his first mountain hunts which took place in Mongolia. The hunting party rode in Russian jeeps down a rough riverbed, flanked on both sides by virtually vertical canyon walls.
“They finally parked the car and pointed straight up,” Hamton said. “I’m looking for a road and I said, ‘how are we going to get up there?’ They just smiled. After that, I quit asking how are we going to get up there.
“It’s only a matter of how long it’s going to take to climb.”
Not surprisingly, with near-vertical climbs as part of the plan, mountain hunters only bring what they really need into the field. To say they pack lightly would be an understatement.
“As light as you can get,” Hampton said.
As well as traveling the world to hunt in mountain ranges, Hampton has been on some 20 hunts in Africa. The trophy room of his Texas County home is lined with numerous examples of game taken in both environments.
“Africa also has sort of a magnetic draw for me,” Hampton said. “There’s a tremendous diversity of game and habitat there – every country has its own species. Once I started going there, I just kept going back.
“It has that effect on most hunters who go there.”
This avid hunter’s background also includes a lengthy career in education and several years as a politician. Hampton began teaching at Summersville in 1979 and spent a total of 23 years working in the district as a teacher, coach, athletic director, and high school principal before finishing as superintendent before his retirement about a year ago.
He twice left education for other employment fields, working for several years with the Missouri State Water Patrol at the Lake of the Ozarks and being elected several times as 147th district state representative.
Hampton’s love of mountain hunting is documented in the pages of book he wrote titled “Addicted to Altitude; Confessions of a Mountain Hunter.” It chronicles in narrative style his experiences going after game at high elevation.
“Mountain hunting books don’t sell as well as African hunting books, because more people want to go to Africa,” Hampton said. “Not everybody wants to climb 15,000 feet and be miserable for two weeks to get a shot at a sheep. But I felt compelled to share my experiences. And mountain hunters don’t want a ‘how-to’ book, they want a narrative.”
The book deals with a cross section of hunters – including three women – some of whom are high-profile individuals within the realm of mountain hunting, and some who are Hampton’s friends.
“It’s not just about me,” he said.
Included in Hampton’s plans for the near future is adding a couple more countries next year to the list he’s hunted in.
“I feel like it’s always important for people to have goals, whether professional or personal,” he said. “I don’t hunt for the record book and I don’t hunt to get name recognition. I hunt for my own personal goals and I think it’s important to have that or we float through life aimlessly.”
Hampton figures that when he fires his last shot, he’ll have hunted in about 30 to 35 countries.
“I plan to hunt in as many countries as I can and I think I can get maybe 10 more,” he said. “And I’m trying to take as many species of game as I can with a handgun. These are just goals I’ve set for myself and they mean nothing to anyone but me.
“And they shouldn’t; those are my own goals.”
Even if he never went on another hunt, Hampton has already compiled enough memories to last a lifetime.
“It has been a lot of fun and it really has been a blessing to go to all these mountains and meet all the people and share so many experiences with them,” he said. “It’s not just the shooting of the animal – that’s the end product. It’s the entire experience that makes it really enjoyable.”
Mark Hampton is offering Herald readers who live in Texas Countya chance to order his book, “Addicted to Altitude; Confessions of aMountain Hunter,” without paying a shipping charge. Send a checkfor $29.99 to Hampton at P.O. box 108, Summersville, Mo., 65571,and he’ll mail a hardback copy (make sure to include a mailingaddress). E-book and paperback copies are also available atwww.addictedtoaltitude.com.