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Viva la Mexico: Mexico is a sportsman's paradise, chock full with game and adventure just waiting to be explored.

WHAT DOES Mexico mean for the hunter? It's mega-racked mule deer bounding through the mesquite and Coues whitetails bedded on a crenellated arid hillside. For wing-shooters, it's flights of pintails diving into the decoys at dawn. But it is also more than that--peccaries and pacas, Gould's and Gambel's, bobcats and bighorns. For hunters, Mexico is a biological petri dish jam-packed with diversity. Unfortunately, in recent years Mexico has become known more for corruption and violence than spotting scopes and shotshells, so an entire generation of hunters has shied away from its bounty. 15ut the reality is far different from the sensational headlines, and (he country is much more than meets the eye. Sleepy villages, great food, hospitable people, proud locals, and low violence in rural areas combined with fantastic hunting greet hunters adventurous enough to experience it firsthand. Make this year your time to visit south of the border and see for yourself.

DESERT BIGHORN

Although it seems amazing today, before World War II the desert bighorns in northwestern Mexico were North America's most available and most accessible wild sheep. In the postwar era, Mexico's desert sheep populations dwindled precipitously, and all hunting was closed. Thanks to successful conservation efforts, including reintroduction, in recent years Mexico's desert sheep have prospered. Much of this work has been done on private land, in part because of the great value placed on desert bighorns by the hunting community.

A desert bighorn hunt is a costly undertaking, but permits are readily available today--without drawing--in Chihuahua and Coahuila, both only recently reopened; Sonora; southern Baja; and western Chihuahua and includes at least two varieties. All desert sheep are subspecies of the Rocky Mountain bighorn, Ovis canadensis, adapted to the Southwest's arid mountains. In mainland Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua, the sheep are the mexicana variety. Most authorities credit the Baja Peninsula with two varieties: the Peninsular bighorn (cremnobates) in the North and Weems' bighorn (weemsi) in the South. On Carmen Island, in the California Gulf off Loreto, sheep have thrived, and this area produces some really big rams. Likewise, Tiburon Island, off the coast of Sonora, produces some of the largest rams.

MULE DEER

Mule deer are found across the deserts of northwestern Mexico from western Coahuila through Chihuahua and Sonora. These are desert mule deer, so they are thinly distributed in this harsh country. Although most taxonomists don't agree, Mexican hunters reckon there are two races: the normal desert mule of the crooki race, the same desert deer of West Texas and the U.S., and the "burro deer" of the Sonoran Desert. Whether they're truly different or not, there's no question that the desert mule deer of Sonora produce huge antlers, especially in relation to their relatively small body size.

Mule deer are hunted in all three Mexican states. Thanks to private land management, very nice desert mule deer can be taken in Coahuila and Chihuahua. In these areas, it's mostly glassing and stalking in hilly country. The mule deer hunting in Sonora is by far the most famous and one of Mexico's premier opportunities--and it's quite different The Sonoran Desert is a living desert of cacti and low brush, and the mule deer are often hunted on the desert floor rather than in the hills. The classic and traditional hunting technique is by tracking.

Unfortunately, this is a dying art. Few Mexican guides have the skill, but those who do are some of the best trackers in the world, rivaling Africa's famous trackers. Obviously, no one can determine antler size from a track, but from prints in soft sand, the great Mexican trackers can absolutely determine bucks from does and whether a buck is large enough--and the track fresh enough--to be worth following. Once a track is taken, they can follow it almost anywhere. Sometimes the track ends with a buck jumping and giving only a glimpse, but often a buck is tracked to its bed and, if worthy, taken at fairly close range. Because deer densities are low and brush limits visibility, classic spot-and-stalk techniques are rarely effective, but a common alternative technique is "high-racking": glassing from a raised platform on a vehicle.

Desert mule deer are a fragile resource, and although Sonora produces big bucks, monsters are not plentiful. An unfortunate reality is that many areas have been hunted too hard in recent years. That said, it's a very big desert, and some areas are managed much better than others.

It's important to choose your outfitter based on current references. Understand, too, that getting a big mule deer in Sonora is not a 100-percent situation. Many outfitters today price their hunts on a "trophy fee" basis: so much for the hunt with an additional fee if it's success-fill. American hunters often don't like this arrangement, but in this case, its done to discourage the taking of lesser bucks and holding out for muy grande.

Muy grande means "very big," but what they generally mean is wide. The best desert mule deer are rarely typical, often having mismatched points and "kickers"--but sometimes reaching incredible spreads. One of my very best mule deer came from Sonora. We tracked and shot him in his bed. It was not judged as muy grande by the guide because it wasn't especially wide--but it was tall, very heavy, and an almost perfect four-by-four with good tines all around. On the other hand, a very wide buck could well be a three-by-three or three-by-four and might not have good antler mass.

BROCKET DEER

Brockets are small tropical deer, typically with short, straight spikes for antlers, only occasionally branching into forks. They are probably the least-known big-game animals in North America, but there are several varieties from southern Mexico down to northern Argentina. Mexico has two: the red brocket and the gray-brown brocket. The red brocket occupies a wide range along the eastern coast from southern Tamaulipas on through to Central America, while the gray-brown brocket is confined to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Although their appearance is similar, the red brocket has a reddish-brown cast and is smaller, only about 30 pounds, while the gray-brown brocket can weigh more than 50 pounds. Both are jungle animals, thus extremely difficult to hunt because of thick cover and their small size and secretive nature. Red brockets favor hilly country and extremely dense cover, while gray-brown brockets tend toward somewhat more open forest and are occasionally found on forest edges.

The primary opportunity for both is in the Yucatan. Neither comes easy, but in this area, gray-brown brockets probably outnumber the reds by about 10 to one. So the red brocket is a rare prize, probably the single most difficult animal to hunt in all of North America.

Brockets mark their territory with small rubs and middens, so the most common hunting technique is to search for fresh sign, then wait along a rub line. Although shy and secretive, brockets aren't particularly nocturnal, so hunting is essentially a matter of time, patience, and a bit of luck. They often come to waterholes at midday, especially when it's hot. Though the antlers are tiny, the brocket deer is an interesting animal taken by few hunters and so is a truly great prize.

WHITETAILS

Depending on which authority you ascribe to, there are about 40 subspecies of white-tailed deer from Canada's treeline to the Amazon Basin. Mexico's biodiversity is one of the greatest of any country on earth, so it isn't surprising that the country has about a dozen varieties. Whitetails are widely distributed throughout mainland Mexico but do not occur on the Baja Peninsula.

From a hunting perspective, the most important Mexican whitetail, at least to American hunters, is probably the Coues whitetail, followed by the Texas whitetail, found in northern Mexico from Tamaulipas westward to central Chihuahua.

Two situations have made Coues deer hunting in northwestern Mexico the important industry that it has become. First is availability: on the U.S. side, Coues whitetails are found only in Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. Arizona is a 100-percent-draw state, with permits hard-won in good areas, and much of New Mexico's Coues deer range consists of large ranches with limited (or no) access. Coues deer hunters have turned south, where Mexico's system of private land permits allows access. Second, also thanks to the value these permits have placed on the deer, Coues deer hunting is superb in Mexico and keeps getting better. There are more outfitters and more opportunity in Sonora, and perhaps a higher density of deer, but Chihuahua is also very good and produces her share of monsters.

In the days when legendary Coues deer hunters like Jack O'Connor and George Parker were prowling Mexico, the common technique was simply riding or hiking good country until deer were jumped, but today Coues deer hunting has evolved into a highly specialized pursuit, perhaps the most optics-intensive hunting in North America. The idea today is to dissect big country until bucks are located, judged, and put to bed ... and then stalked for a shot. It's a fun hunt, the desert mountains are glorious in late fall and winter, and hunting is highly successful.

The Texas whitetail, found in northern Mexico from Tamaulipas westward to central Chihuahua offers hunting that is generally similar to conditions in South Texas's Brush Country. Quality varies depending entirely on local management (and food and genetics, of course), but northeastern Mexico produces very good whitetails, and there are a some very good outfitters specializing in big bucks.

The Carmen Mountain whitetail, also found in Texas's Big Bend country, occupies a small range in northwestern Coahuila and northeastern Chihuahua, primarily in the Sierra del Carmen and Sierra del Burro mountain ranges. Similar to the Coues whitetail but a bit smaller, the Carmen Mountain whitetail is an extremely attractive deer that, like the Coues deer, offers a wonderful hunt in desert mountains.

All the way south--essentially in Mexico's southernmost states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo--the whitetails are the very small Central American or tropical whitetail. Mature bucks weigh little more than 60 pounds, and a "six-point" rack (two-by-two plus eyeguards) is normal. Because of other jungle game, there are good outfitters and established hunting areas throughout the Yucatan Peninsula, so there is good opportunity to hunt this unusual whitetail.

MEDIUM GAME

Mexico offers a number of interesting species that fall more or less between big game and small game. There are two peccaries: the collared peccary and the white-lipped peccary. The collared is identical to the Texas and the Southwest United States variety, and it ranges pretty much throughout the country and is available on license in many locales. The larger white-lipped peccary, a more tropical animal, is found only in Mexico's southernmost jungles. At this writing, permits are not being issued for white-lipped peccaries, but they remain fairly common in Yucatan, especially along the Guatemala border, so it's possible that hunting may resume.

Coyotes and bobcats are plentiful in northern Mexico, but in southern Mexico, the bobcat gives way to the protected ocelot. The mountain lion, or puma, is widespread throughout Mexico and is huntable in both the north and in the Yucatan--but in the Yucatan it shares its prey with the much larger (and also protected) jaguar. The coati mundi is widespread throughout Mexico and is "on license" in many areas. It is a rangy, long-tailed member of the raccoon family and weighs up to about 18 pounds. Although individuals are seen, coatis usually run in troops, sometimes up to 30.

Although both are often thought of as South American animals, the paca and the agouti are two large rodents that can be hunted in Yucatan. The agouti is much smaller, about the size of a rock chuck. Weighing up to 30 pounds, the paca is considerably larger and is also extremely colorful, with a harness of white stripes and spots. Locals consider paca the best meat in the jungle--and from my experience they are right. The paca is almost entirely nocturnal, so about the only way to hunt paca is to find tracks leading to or from a den--they burrow into small caves, crevices, and tree roots--and hope one will venture out just at dark.

Caption: Although not nearly so large as the South American capybara, the paca is North America's second-largest rodent. It's a colorful animal with tender, tasty meat that is highly prized by local hunters.

RELATED ARTICLE: Is it safe?

The Federale kept one hand on his H&K G3, while the other thumbed through the pages of my American passport. He looked up suspiciously at me before looking back down at my Mexican firearms paperwork. My mind replayed the question so many hunters had asked before: "Is it safe to go hunting in Mexico?"l have always unabashedly said, "Yes." But on this trip, following a national election infused with talk of wall building and illegal immigrants, I wasn't so sure. Fortunately, aftera week of glorious Coues deer hunting, some government roadside military paperwork checks, but no real hassles, I returned to the United States no worse for wear.

That said, I'd be doing PH readers a disservice to say hunting Mexico is completely safe. It is not But then again, what is? Is it safe to jump into a small bush plane in Alaska? Is it safe to hunt Africa where dangerous game roams and civil wars erupt? Is it safe to climb into a treestand? My point is, other than sitting in your living room, watching The Sportsman Channel, every hunt presents some risk--and hunting Mexico is no different.

Depending on where you are In Mexico, you will see "walkers" sneaking across the border. You may also see narcos carrying backpacks of drugs en route to North America. And you will likely be questioned by armed Mexican military. However, booked with a reliable outfitter (borderlandadventures. com) who is constantly taking the pulse of the situation, who knows the areas to avoid, and who understands the current ins and outs of firearm permits, I'd say it is safe enough. And it's a country I will return to again.

--Mike Schoby

RELATED ARTICLE: The last wild quail.

I was a younger man the first time I hunted quail in Mexico, somewhere south of Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas. As I stepped into a row of giant agave plants, my mind drifted toward the tequila I would be enjoying poolside. Those thoughts were interrupted by the buzzing of a dozen bobwhite quail taking flight at my feet, and I didn't return to that salt-rimmed shot again until several hours later. Instead, I was focused on the quality of quail hunting I'd thought had gone the way of the dodo.

The modern agri-industrial farming practices that have decimated quail populations in the United States have yet to be implemented en masse in Mexico. That makes our southern neighbor truly the last best place when it comes to hunting wild bobwhites. In a leisurely afternoon of following a hardworking pair of pointers, it's not unheard of to kick up a dozen or more coveys, each holding somewhere between 20 to 30 wild-flying bobwhites.

Farther west, wingshooters will also find coveys of scaled quail, sometimes better known as the blue quail. Add in the possibility of Mearns's quail, Gambel's quail, and, in a few little-known locations, the rare Elegante quail, and Mexico turns into a real field of dreams for that rare breed of bird hunter who's obsessed with collecting the true grand slam of North American quail species.

Several outfitters specialize in bird hunting along the border, in both the United States and Mexico. Rancho Caracol (ranchocaracol. com) is probably one of the best known, with hunts focused on bobwhites. For blues, Mearns's, and Gambel's, do some research with International Adventure (internationaladventure.com). Dave Brown Outfitters (arizonabirdhunts.com) runs quail excursions into Mexico from their HQ in Patagonia, Arizona.

--David Draper

RELATED ARTICLE: Mexico gold--Gould's turkey.

Just south of the border, the mountains of Mexico hold gold for those willing to seek it, and I'm not talking about the lost treasures of the Sierra Madre. Instead, these riches come in the form of a bird burnished in coppery feathers that are tipped in ivory white: the Gould's turkey.

The remote nature of Mexican ranches leads to very little hunting pressure. As a result Gould's turkeys gobble readily to hunter's alls, leading to an almost 100 percent success rate for those looking to complete their Royal Slam. All it really takes to tag this trophy is an adventurous nature that leads to a willingness to make the run across the border. While DIY hunts are doable, they are not easy to arrange without at least some connections in Mexico.

Instead, almost every hunter goes with an outfitter, and there are several who specialize in Gould's turkey hunts in Mexico. It's best to do your research and book a reputable outfitter who's been taking hunters south for several seasons. Ted Jaycox of Tall Tine Outfitters (talltine.com) has secured more than 60,000 acres of private ranches just a short drive south of Douglas, Arizona. The sycamore-lined canyons, dense scrub flats, and high chaparral of prickly pear and manzanilla are ideal habitat for turkeys, and Jaycox's many years of experience in Mexico make the hunts safe and seamless.

And when it comes to the turkeys, Jaycox knows the game well. He and his staff scout the country before each hunt and have blinds set on known strut zones and travel corridors. His real coup de grace is an arsenal of stuffed turkeys he uses as decoys. The aggressive Gould's gobblers are unable to resist the posturing of an intruding tom and will literally come running to pia a fight with the fake.

The only downside to all this is that the hunt is often over too quickly. But then, once a tom is tagged and the Slam completed, hunters can relax and enjoy the real bounty of Mexico: cervezas and siestas in the shade of a sycamore.

--David Draper
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Author:Boddington, Craig
Publication:Petersen's Hunting
Geographic Code:1U8NM
Date:Jun 1, 2017
Words:3003
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