I love hunting Old Mexico, and have been doing so since the 1970s. Things have changed greatly since then. You need access to private property, all sorts of permits for both Mexican and U.S. officials — both of whom can be a royal pain in the you-know-what — and a way to communicate, especially if your Spanish is as rudimentary as mine.
Fortunately my friend Patrick Holehan, a superb Tucson, Arizona-based custom rifle builder, has also been outfitting hunters in Sonora, Mexico, for some 20 years now. He speaks fluent Spanish, has great connections with Mexican outfitters that, in turn, have the key to the gate to some excellent hunting for both Coues whitetails and Gould’s turkeys, and knows the ins and outs of crossing the border with firearms and hunting gear, then returning with the same plus wildlife. So on the second week of April we took a busman’s holiday and did a DIY trip into northern Sonora to chase Gould’s gobblers.
The Gould’s turkey is only found in the southern portions of Arizona and New Mexico as well as northern Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua. It was first described by J. Gould in 1856 during his travels in Mexico. Like the Merriam’s, the Gould’s is a bird of the mountains. The Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Forest Service, the Centro Ecologico de Sonora, the National Wild Turkey Federation and other agencies are working cooperatively to reintroduce a strong Gould’s population first into Arizona and then into other states where suitable range exists.
The Gould’s turkey is the largest of the five subspecies and somewhat resembles the Merriam’s turkey, though they have longer legs, larger feet and larger center tail feathers than any of the other North American wild turkey subspecies. Gould’s differ by having distinctive white tips on the tail feathers and tail rump coverts, and their lower back and rump feathers have copper and greenish-golden reflections. They’re drop dead gorgeous.
Gould’s turkeys were once found throughout southern Arizona, but found themselves an easy food source for those who settled and worked in these rugged lands. Between the Civil War and World War I, miners working in southern Arizona harvested Gould’s for many of their meals. By the time Arizona had legal hunting seasons in 1929, Gould’s turkeys had already disappeared from the scene. Populations are growing rapidly and hunting seasons are now offered in several mountains ranges, though all permits are issued by draw and very hard to come by.
The best hunting occurs in Chihuahua and Sonora, and outfitted hunts are easy to find. But Patrick and I decided to do our own thing. We ended up killing two big gobblers with our bows and saw many others in 3 ½ days.
Below is a photo essay of how things went.
No matter where I’m going or what I’m hunting, I always paper tune my bow/arrow combination.
It all boils down to making the shot, and unless you practice diligently, that won’t happen. I shot about 500 practice arrows prior to this trip.
Making the Trip
The last available fuel was two hours from camp, so we filled up at a Pemex station — hoping the gas would not be substandard, as it sometimes is.
Once off the pavement, it was a 90 minute rough & tumble drive over a rocky dirt road to the ranch house.
Our camp was a comfortable old ranch house set in a beautiful valley.
When in Old Mexico, why not start the evening meal off with some fresh guacamole, pico de gallo and tortilla chips?
Step 1 for dinner: burn down the mesquite to glowing coals.
Step 2 for dinner: grill superb Sonoran beef steaks over the coals. Yum!
Once we arrived, we dumped our gear and accompanied long-time Mexican outfitter Jorge Camou (right) on a quick scouting mission, in which we roosted several gobblers.
Gould’s gobblers have huge feet compared to other American subspecies. This is always a good sign!
Gould’s turkeys live in the best Coues whitetail habitat in the world. I found this lion kill on our hunt.
We hunted two ways — run and gun, and sitting ground blinds near water and roost trees. Here’s one of our ground blind set-ups.
I took my bird shooting from a ground blind — and was very glad my pre-hunt practice sessions included lots of shooting from my blind chair!
I have learned when bowhunting turkeys how to shoot from a seated position. My new Primos Rocker Vest has a built in seat that allows me to have back support without leaning against a tree — a big advantage. And you can see (or, rather, not see) why the Pnuma hunting apparel is essential gear for me. The way it blends is amazing.
I used 3 Avian-X (www.avian-x.com/turkey-decoys) Merriam’s decoys on this hunt — Jake, Alert hen, and Laydown hen.
Think the Gould’s gobbler liked the Avian-X decoys? Check out how this dandy gobbler reacted when he saw the Jake! When he faced away from me, I turned the arrow loose.
My Gould’s gobbler was my third over the years, but first with my bow. I took him at 20 steps in the middle of the decoys.
Patrick took his big 3-year old at 24 yards. He had a bit of a packing job to get him back to the road!
In addition to friction calls I used a variety of new Knight & Hale diaphragm calls. They are easy for me to use and produce excellent sounds.
A Spot-Hogg Hogg-It bow sight has been a constant feature on my hunting bows for more than a year.
I can’t hear worth beans any more, but my Walker’s Game Ear brings the sound — and the fun — back for me.
Back to the States
There’s no corner gas station on a remote Mexican ranch, so you best bring enough fuel with you.
The amount of paperwork required — in triplicate — is staggering.
Patrick Holehan is a Mexican hunt veteran and knows how to prepare the paperwork. To make it easy, he brings along a portable copy machine so he can make the required triplicate copies of everything in camp.
The “conga line” of traffic waiting to clear customs and drive across the border from Mexico to the U.S. Patience is a virtue!
We brought shotguns as well as bows. To re-enter the US with your firearms a Border Patrol agent carefully matches serial numbers with the required form 4457, which you receive when you register your guns in the U.S. prior to international travel.
Bringing Gould’s turkeys across the border is easy if you have the required paperwork. You are also required to transport them to a taxidermist that is licensed to receive them in the U.S. and who must freeze them for 24 hours before releasing them back to you, shipping them to a taxidermist of your choice, or doing the work himself.