Iran Reopens to American Hunters, Expands Hunting Opportunities

Joe Francois (left) was among three clients Ken Wilson got to Iran before the season closed this winter. Here he poses with his Kerman sheep trophy and Esrafil Shafiezadeh of Iran Jasmin Safari.

May 2018 Issue – By Barbara Crown, Editor in Chief

Iran has reopened to American hunters after seven years of denying visas and hunting permits to visitors from the US. We know of at least six Americans who were allowed to enter the country and hunt there this past March. Those were subscribers Ed Yates, Renee Snider and booking agent Ken Wilson along with three clients he accompanied.

Continuing subscribers will remember our previous coverage of Iran. About six years after American hunters were allowed to travel there and bring their trophies home as part of their baggage, the hunting program came unglued when a new deputy director took over the Department of Environment. In 2011 Iran stopped issuing visas, hunting licenses and permits to all foreign hunters. The Hunting Report received reports of hunters from North America and Europe who arrived there only to sit in a hotel for days awaiting a permit that never came. (See Nov 2011 article, Unexpected Hunting Delays, Permit Cuts and Closures in Iran.)

Then in 2013 the government began issuing permits to westerners again; Europeans and Russians have continued to hunt there since. But Americans were denied visas due to hostilities between the governments of Iran and the US. Operators in Iran remained hopeful and told US agents and their clients that their deposits would be applied to a hunt when Iran again allowed them entry. (Operators were barred from sending funds out of Iran to the US.) Yates says his deposit in fact was honored when he finally went to Iran earlier this year. And Wilson says his clients’ deposits were honored as well. That should apply for other hunters too, if they were booked with one of the only two hunting operations there that have survived – Iran Jasmin Safari and Nature Explorer.

Ed Yates and Renee Snider hunted with Nature Explorer (011-98-21-6652-12-5962; iman.ir@gmail.com), while Ken Wilson (830-792-4200; kwilson@ktc.com) and his clients hunted with Iran Jasmin Safari. They report well organized and successful hunts on private reserves instead of the government operated refuges where hunts previously took place. According to Wilson, the private reserves are concessions issued to individuals who commit to making certain improvements (such as putting in access roads and water sources) and conducting anti-poaching efforts, much the way African countries require safari operators to do. Apparently, it is on these reserves that hunting has been taking place for the last seven years. Private reserves range from 75,000 to 100,000 hectares (185,300 to 247,100 acres).

Yates originally booked his Iranian hunt for 2011 when it was first shut down. He was preparing to leave for Iran in 2013 when suddenly it was closed to Americans. In 2014 he got as far as getting a visa, when political events caused Iran to bar entry to Americans again. This past February he was vacationing in St. Croix with his wife when operator Iman Najmeddin called him. Yates says he expected to go through all the motions again only to have the opportunity slam shut once more. He applied for his visa, and shortly after getting it, he received word from Najmeddin that he had the issued licenses in hand.

Yates arrived in Tehran in early March and says clearing immigration and customs went smoothly, even with his rifle, because Najmeddin had all the proper approvals and necessary paperwork ready. He spent the night in Tehran, which he describes as a fairly modern city with upscale accommodations. The next day he flew to Kerman. Officials at the regional airport were surprised to see an American with a firearm. At first, they refused to allow him to travel with the rifle. Then they were not going to allow him to take his ammunition. Najmeddin finally got them to allow Yates to check his rifle and ammo, although they removed the ammo, wrapped it in plastic and checked it as a separate baggage item.

In Kerman, located on the Iranian Plateau, Yates hunted the Manoor Abad and Tange Chenar reserves, each 75,000 hectares. Two hours into the first day of the hunt in Manoor Abad, the game guards spotted a group of Kerman sheep, and Yates soon had a representative ram. He chose not to spend the night there, and they drove north three hours to the city of Mehriz, which served as base for his hunt for Esfahan mouflon and Persian desert ibex. The Tange Chenar Reserve is a 1.5-hour drive from Mehriz and is a mountainous, dry desert area. The hunt here was conducted by driving to a spot then waiting for the game guards while they ranged far and wide on motor bikes scouting for game. The first day the guards found a ram and ewe.

“One of the guards came back to get me and before I could back out, I was straddling the back of a dirt bike and bounding across the desert with my 300 Weatherby slung over my shoulder while holding tightly to the driver,” says Yates. “It was definitely a new hunting experience for me at 74 years old, and I’m sure it wasn’t a pretty sight.”

Yates says he missed his shot opportunity because he simply could not see the sheep. “My only sight of them was a mere glimpse as they disappeared over the ridge in a full run.” Unfortunately, that was the only Esfahan ram he saw in five days of hunting there. Turns out, the guards knew of only three Esfahan rams on the entire reserve, and one of them had not been seen in almost a month. Yates says he learned poaching was a big problem on that reserve, and that the game guards, who carried AK-47s, had been in gun battles with local poachers. The Persian desert ibex was much easier to find. Yates says the reserve has a good population of these animals and he easily took a very good ram on the second day of hunting Tange Chenar.

Yates recommends the hunt, except for Esfahan sheep on Tange Chenar. He says Najmeddin had warned him that sheep were scarce there, but it was the only reserve that had a permit available at that time. Instead of changing his hunt dates to get a permit somewhere else, Yates decided to take the hunt rather than risk getting shut out by another closure.

Wilson and his son were actually in Iran in 2011 when things shut down in the middle of their hunt. He says Esrafil Shafiezadeh of Iran Jasmin Safari stayed in touch with him through the following seven years. Finally, Shafiezadeh told him to submit his visa applications this past February. Wilson and clients John Guglius, Charles Herron and Joe Francois all got their visas and met in Istanbul, Turkey, to fly into Tehran together. They hunted the Aliabad Chehel Ghazi Reserve overlapping the Yazd and Kerman provinces in central Iran.  All took Persian desert ibex there. Wilson’s clients also took Kerman sheep.

Shortly after their hunts, Wilson says the Iranian authorities decided to reopen the government-operated wildlife refuges for hunting. They will also be making more species available, including Transcapian urial, which was previously huntable only in Turkmenistan (long since closed) and then intermittently in Iran. The government areas have not been hunted in at least five years, and contacts there told Wilson that the poaching has been kept to a minimum in these areas. So, game numbers and trophy quality should be very good. Other species include Esfahan mouflon, Kerman sheep, Bezoar and Persian ibex, and Blanford urial.

This will create competition with the private reserves, some of which are still working to improve game numbers. Wilson says it will likely take some time to sort out the best areas (government and private-operated).

The 2018 season in government areas will be split, with the first season opening May 22 and running until Oct. 7. The second season is Dec. 6 – Jan. 24, 2019. Wilson is personally returning in late Sept. for Transcaspian urial and Bezoar ibex. He has openings ranging from mid-June to mid-Sept. and then all of Dec. and Jan. Private areas are open Nov. 15 to March 20, 2019.

Historically, organizers planned five days for each species, but the government intends to allow only three days for each. While that may be enough time in ideal conditions, both outfitters are trying to convince them to offer the original five days to allow for complications and other the factors that can affect hunting success.

Pricing generally falls in the range of 15,000€ for the Persian and Bezoar ibex; 25,000€ for Kerman and red sheep, and for Esfahan and Armenian mouflon; and 29,000€ for Afghan, Transcaspian and Blanford urials. There is also talk of offering a very limited number of licenses for Shiraz and Laristan mouflon, and you can expect to pay a lot more for those.

Plan on two to three days at the end of your hunt to get the paperwork together so you can take your trophies home with you on the plane. CITES species take two to three weeks for paperwork. Americans are allowed to bring home trophies as part of the personal baggage, but they cannot ship the trophies to the US per the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces economic sanctions. If you don’t bring the trophy home with you, you can ship it to a taxidermist in Europe or Canada to tan and store it for you, and then you can travel there (for another hunt or business) and bring it home with you then.

When booking a hunt to Iran, plan on three weeks to get an invitation letter for your visa application. The government requires visitors to provide a detailed curriculum vitae, showing a complete and detailed work and personal history, including family background.

Because politics can always cause Iran to shut out American hunters again, Wilson and Iran Jasmin Safaris are taking only 50% as a deposit, which is held in the US until the visa and hunting permits are issued. The balance is due just before the hunt.

As for safety in Iran, Yates or Wilson say they never felt uneasy or saw anything that would indicate unsafe conditions. Wilson says his group never saw any military, and the only police they saw were traffic cops at a speed trap. Both say the Iranian people themselves are among the most hospitable and friendly people they have met anywhere. Of course, caution is in order when traveling anywhere, especially where developments in world politics are centered. See the following security advisory from our partners at Ripcord Travel Protection. A more detailed report is available on our website. Search for Iran Security Report.

If you hunt Iran this season, please file a hunt report and let the rest of us know how it went.