By Mike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large
Last September, I reported on a new outfitter in Chihuahua, Mexico. Alberto Lafon (firstname.lastname@example.org, 011-52-614-415-4343) and his partner Carlos Morales had begun hunting for Gould’s turkey and Coues whitetail deer on a property in the Sierra del Nido, north of Ciudad Chihuahua. (See article, New Outfitter Delivers Gould Turkey, Coues Deer in Chihuahua, Mexico.)
I hunted Gould turkey with Carlos in mid-May 2017 and was impressed with the country they hunted. While I missed the window for Coues whitetail in 2017, I jumped at the chance to revisit the property, see the improvements and hunt Gould’s turkey again in May 2018. This trip I took my son, Hunter, who is a photographer and videographer, with an eye towards videotaping Gould birds and the unique country of the Sierra del Nido. We were not disappointed.
First, though, I took the time to visit with Alberto about the Coues hunting this past season and the options for 2018-19. Beto (the Mexican nickname for Alberto) showed us photos of Coues bucks in the 100-110 range, and I personally scored a buck taken several years ago that scored 136-7/8 gross. Beto is slowly increasing the numbers of hunters on the ranch, keeping the numbers low and trying to get quality bucks for every hunter. While Hunter and I hunted turkey, we found several recent whitetail shed horns from bucks in the 100-inch-plus category. Squirrels chewing on the points prevented accurate scoring, but these are bucks that had just shed in the past two to three weeks and are around still.
Last year, a slow burning fire went through the ranch a month or more before my arrival and, as unlikely as it seems, another massive fire burnt through the ranch this year just two weeks before we arrived on May 3. This fire apparently was hotter than last years’, as some trees were burned this year in the blaze’s 40-mile wide swath. Beto emailed me beforehand advising me of the fire, but they had multiple cameras still seeing turkey, so I trusted him, and we went ahead with our trip.
We arrived at the property mid-morning on May 4 after overnighting in Ciudad Chihuahua and started hunting at mid-day. We saw plenty of tracks and wing drag marks, but no turkey the first day. We hit the jackpot the second day, working five different gobblers that morning before my son shot his bird and calling another gobbler in the afternoon to seven yards before I took the bird on camera. Our Gould turkeys were physically large (over 20 pounds each) but had modest nine-inch beards and typically poor to absent spurs. We spent two more days hiking the property and calling turkey and were rewarded with 25 minutes of a strutting gobbler on the last morning in a wide-open meadow. This bird gobbled more than 150 times- and Hunter caught it all on camera!
It’s important to also note the wilderness quality of the property, which exceeds any of the federally designated wildernesses I’ve visited in the US. While there are primitive roads to parts of the ranch, most areas have wildlife that have never seen people. In the course of four days, we saw two black bears, two bobcats, thick-billed parrots and elegant trogon in addition to the whitetail and turkey.
I am also excited about the 2018-19 Coues season for a number of reasons. First, between last year’s and this year’s fire, the habitat will be in excellent shape once the summer rains begin in July. None of the ranch was ruined by the fire, but nearly all of it will have the right conditions to grow big antlers. Second, also fire related, Coues bucks can be difficult to spot in heavy cover, but the reduction in low level brush will favor the hunter for the next two to three years. Third, unlike Coues hunts in the US, the Chihuahua season framework allows hunters to hunt from December through January and into February, guaranteeing to hit the rut. The really big bucks will be cruising the newly opened slopes looking for does. Hunting really big bucks this time of year involves sticking with the does and seeing which bucks show up- a tactic not used in the US. Finally, while not critical to my requirements, Beto and Carlos have improved the conditions in the camp, with running water, hot showers and 12v lights throughout the house.
For 2018-19, Beto will host no more than four hunters per hunt, with dates to include Dec. 27-31, Jan. 2-6, 9-13, 15-19, 21-25 and 27-41. Hunts are priced at $4,250 2×1, $4,750 1×1 and include license, all transportation from Cuidad Chihuahua, meals and ranch lodging. Lodging and meals in Chihuahua (if necessary) are extra. Beto can arrange firearms permits for an additional $120 or firearms may be borrowed once in camp (Hint: shots at Coues deer tend to be long and most hunters prefer their own firearms- practice out to 300 yards). Gould’s hunts in 2019 will be held each week in May (starting dates can vary depending on you and your group, but no more than four hunters per week). A single bird hunt costs $2,200 with a second turkey available for an additional $800. Shotguns, quality turkey loads and Avian X decoys are available.
While we’re entering the post-draw period where those of us lucky enough to draw our dream tag are searching for a quality hunt for this fall/winter, I personally have decided to sandbag my Arizona deer points and head back to the Sierra del Nido for a Coues buck this January, between the major hunting shows. This is real Mexican hunting, and the possibility of a book buck is too good to ignore.