With the statewide spring gobbler season opening today, May 1, I've been giving a lot of thought to the turkey trips I've made over the years and suddenly realized that about five years ago at this time I was in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico seeking my Gould's turkey, the fifth step of my six-bird world slam.
In the movie "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) went to these mountains in search of gold, but I went there in search of a different treasure -- a Gould's -- and it was one of the most interesting, enjoyable and unique hunting jaunts I've ever experienced. The decision to hunt with El Halcon Outfitters was based on several factors including the outfitter's reputation, references and track record. El Halcon scored at the top of the list in all those categories.
Our hunt was set for May 3-8, and we were met in El Paso May 3 by El Halcon Lodge owner and operator Manuel Enriquez and his charming wife Suzette, who had generously offered to provide transportation to the lodge, about a five-hour drive south of the border. Hunters visiting El Halcon can fly directly to Chihuahua, Mexico, about an hour and a half from the lodge, but transportation from El Paso can also be arranged if necessary. My suggestion is to fly to Chihuahua.
Our hunt was slated to begin the following morning and my guide would be Rafael Avina. After a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call and breakfast we were on our way to our hunt location about an hour's drive away. El Halcon Lodge leases over 750,000 acres of land in various locations for waterfowl, Coue's deer, mule deer and Gould's turkey hunting and some of these choice tracts can be up to 90 minutes or more from the lodge.
After arriving at our selected location around 5 a.m. we set up and waited for daylight. Some birds were already gobbling in the distance when we arrived and Rafael commenced calling, saying they'd probably get to us around 6 a.m. He was right and by 6:15 I could see several birds, including a jake, a larger tom and several hens working their way in our direction, from our left.
That wasn't my day to take my bird, but there were still three days left. To that point El Halcon Lodge had been batting .1000; each of the 30 hunters who preceded us during the previous three weeks had taken a bird, including eight taken by bowhunters, and I didn't want to be the spoiler. Day one ended with four of our group of seven hunters bagging their birds.
Early the next morning I pulled a tendon in my left knee, painful enough to slow me down. In any event, that was our day to see all hens and nary a tom. On day three, Rafael and I were joined by guide Fernando Ortega. Our day started out great and we were soon literally surrounded by birds, but they were moving even before there was sufficient shooting light and they were certainly on a mission, since we couldn't call any of them back.
We later moved to yet another location and soon heard several gobbles in response to our calls. The birds kept their distance, refusing to come in, and it soon became obvious they too were moving away from us, heading up the mountain. I should mention that Gould's turkeys are essentially mountain birds and think nothing of heading up steep inclines and rough, rocky terrain at speeds that would put even the fleetest of hunters to shame.
Scarcely a half hour later I glassed the top of that mountain, 1,000 feet higher than our location and fully half a mile away, and could see what I suspected were those same birds moving about up there. The guides continued to call and Fernando soon said, "Get down, here she comes!" A large hen then glided down from that mountaintop, landed 25 yards behind us, and began calling.
Rafael whispered, "Get ready, she's calling to the others and they'll probably come down." Again, he was right and just a few moments later we could hear gobbles in some thick brush across a dry creek. Scarcely five minutes later, responding to triple calling by the guides and myself, a sizable tom, a jake and several hens emerged into the open about 35 yards away. The tom immediately began strutting but managed to keep a large tree between him and me. In the meantime the hen had approached to within 20 yards and I knew that if she spotted me first this could result in another lost opportunity.
Fortunately, the tom finally moved into an open area and I took the shot. I finally had my Gould's -- a 24-pounder with a 10.25-inch beard (which I shot clean off the bird) and spurs measuring 5/8 of an inch and one inch, respectively. I should add here that due to the often incredibly tough and mountainous terrain in which they live, many Gould's toms have no spurs at all, or very small ones since they wear them down or even break them off in the course of their travels. The older the bird, the smaller the spurs.
We were now at eight birds for seven hunters. Day four was strictly a day of rest as we assembled our gear and prepared for our respective returns home, while the guides were busy preparing our birds for the taxidermist of choice.
Getting a bird home from Mexico, if you choose to do so, is not a difficult process but one that must be carefully planned in advance and will result in a bit of a delay at the border. The bird must be sent or otherwise delivered to a USDA-certified taxidermist and you must have his name and address in advance so it can be entered in the USDA's log at the border, and later checked on by a local USDA employee in the taxidemist's area. When it arrives at this taxidermist it is essentially quarantined and disinfected for a period of time before being mounted.
Bringing personal hunting weapons into Mexico can be a time-consuming process and requires payment of a fee that some hunters might find a bit much, though it really isn't. However, if you visit Mexico for a Gould's expedition, you're much better off using the outfitter's weapons, especially when you consider you'll likely be firing only one shot. On the plus side, that also cuts down on the amount of baggage you'll be toting, since you'll probably also be bringing a bird back with you.
Remember too that you could be hunting at elevations of 8,000 feet or more. Be prepared for that and pace yourself a bit the first few days. Rest frequently, though the guides won't push you to travel any farther or faster than you're comfortable with.
El Halcon Lodge & Outfitters was started as a waterfowl hunting operation in 1966 by Manuel Enriquez's father and it was turned over to Manuel in 1984. In 1996 he added Gould's turkey hunting to his list of services and in 1999 he added Coues deer. This year his son, Manuel Jr., joined the team as a guide and two younger sons, Manuel and Andres, will likely join the staff when they're ready and of age.
All of El Halcon's hunting options now boast a tremendous success record thanks to careful planning; excellent, knowledgeable guides; and careful selection of the choicest hunting areas.
For more information on El Halcon Lodge & Outfitters you can call 1-888-603-4322 (toll-free); email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or go to their website at www.elhalconoutfitters.com.