Back To The Yucatan
September 23, 2010
Black-throated bobwhites provide plenty of action south of the border.
The heat of the day had loosened its grip on the land and the first shadows of evening were falling upon the small cloistered fishing village of San Felipe in the Yucatan Peninsula on Mexico's Gulf Coast. I sat on the second story veranda of a five-room hotel in shorts and a T-shirt and watched a Mexican festival complete with a bullfight in a ring about 50 yards across the street from the hotel.
Already there was a large gathering of men, women, and children of Spanish and Mayan blood seated in the ring. The bull would suffer no mortal wounds but was merely roped. Yet this was an assembly of much emotion complete with a small brass band that would continue well into the night until the revelry was concluded.
But it wasn't the festival that had lured me from my South Carolina home to the Yucatan. No, sir. It was a return engagement with the black-throated bobwhite quail.
Two years had elapsed since I had first shot into a covey of these unusual birds of the Yucatan grasslands. Before my first foray into this sub-tropical land I never knew such quail existed.
And while they are also found in Lake Peten district of Guatemala, the coastal regions of British Honduras and extreme northeastern Nicaragua, they are extremely abundant in the Yucatan.
"We just call them 'quail,'" said Gallo Munoz, who heads up the quail hunts in the Yucatan. The Spanish name is "Negro Codorniz."
My eyes were now heavy for I had had an early flight out of South Carolina, and as I sat there in the warm night with my half finished drink I thought back to that first morning two years ago when I was introduced to the black-throated bobwhites.
I was partnered with Marion Erwin, his brother Dan, and their friend Dean Harrison, plus Gallo Munoz and the bird boys. There was a warm early morning breeze as we watched a brace of English pointers zigzag through the sub-tropical scrub vegetation in the lowland savannas -- a setting much like central Florida in earlier days. The open land provided the best possible shots for a bird hunter. It was a place fit for grazing cattle and nurturing many quail.
The pointers, black and white Oly and white Guero, had not traveled 50 yards when they went on point. These quail, smaller than our beloved Southern bobwhites, came up fast and wild but we managed to down several.
The birds were retrieved and the dogs moved on from covey to covey. The shooting was continuous. Quite some time had passed since I had hunted quail in such fashion. We would have 60 pointed coveys in two days of hunting.
It was on that trip that I learned about Gallo's dogs and training regimen. He told me that he buys both American-bred dogs and Mexican-bred dogs and breeds the two. "My dogs have the style of the American pointers and the smallness of the Mexican dogs. The product of this breeding seems to produce dogs fit to hunt our hot climate more so than if we tried to hunt the big American pointers.
"Here, unlike in the United States, I may not start a dog until it is a year old and sometimes a little older. We put our dogs in the field several times just to let them run with no regard as to their behavior. We let them flush and give chase. This is opposite of the American method of starting them out as young pups.
"To me the change brings out the intensity I believe is in all bird dogs. I feel it necessary to build the desire before training them to be steady to wing and shot. Then I turn them into productive dogs."
On this, my second trip, Gallo said he had not changed his methods.
Jet lag combined with trying to sleep in a strange room made for a restless night. But I finally dropped off, only to stir when I heard a tap, tap, tap, on the glass door. Switching on the light, I pushed back the thin curtain to see Gallo standing there with a wide grin. I could see that he was still lean and in fine shape.
Sliding back the glass door, Gallo grabbed my right hand and pumped it vigorously."You get dressed, my friend, and I will meet you on the side of the street where my white van is parked."
A few minutes later I got into the van and met John Atkinson and Bob Tucker. Gallo cranked the van and we drove to a waterfront restaurant for breakfast. As we ate, the eastern sky began to brighten and fishermen cranked their motors to head out to sea.
The morning sun was well up in a cloudless blue sky when Gallo stopped the van where we were to hunt. The dogs and their handlers had already arrived and the animals tugged at their leashes with eagerness while waiting the command to "Hunt on!"
Head guide Arby Chale saw to each dog's needs and made sure that the handlers had plenty of bottled water. Even the best conditioned dogs have their limits in such a warm climate.
We would hunt just one dog this morning, a small, vibrant pointer named Loco. The spunky eight-year-old dog had not covered 15 yards when he inhaled a large dose of warm body scent and locked up.
We hurried to Loco's side. The birds were agitated and began to move and we could see the grass parting as they ran through it, wormlike.
Loco broke point. Five yards. Ten yards. Fifteen yards. Excitement built as we hurried to keep up with the dog. The grass quit moving, and so did Loco. He had corralled them.
We walked past the stationary dog and into an eruption of short brown wings. The small-gauge guns spoke several times and quail fell.
We hunted on, finding and shooting more birds. Between covey rises, Gallo said he had four new dogs in his kennel. "Two are coming along just fine, one not so good and one that won't even quit running when I use the e-collar," he said.
"It seems to make him run much faster." A smile crept across his face.
Loco went on point again and we moved forward. Gallo pointed to a thicket of scrub bushes and warned, "Don't go in there! The leaves are those of the chaya, and it is a cousin to poison ivy and will cause a rash if you get it on your arms or face or any part of you that is not protected by clothes."
We detoured around
the chaya and found Loco still on poiont. Birds thundered upwards.
Gun shots echoed across the vast land and feathers floated on a light current of air that was quickly becoming hotter.
As well-conditioned as Loco was, his efforts were becoming more labored with the rising temperature. It was time for a break.
We would return to the fishing village of San Felipe to have our lunch and a short rest, then head back to the fields in the afternoon for another round with the black-throated bobwhites of the Yucatan.
Or as Gallo would say, "We just call them quail."
IF YOU WANT TO GO:
As on my first trip to the Yucatan, I opted for two days of quail hunting and two days of shooting blue-wing teal.
The quail hunting was just as good and memorable as on my inaugural hunt. These birds have very little hunting pressure and Gallo has ample land so that you are not shooting over-hunted coveys, which can range from six to 20 birds or more.
You will also be amazed that you will not hunt around any agricultural crops or food plots planted for quail. The birds exist on indigenous foods such as berries and seed-bearing plants.
While the quail are hunted near San Felipe, the duck hunting is in mangrove swamps near the coastal town of Celestun. We had good shooting each day but one morning was phenomenal with teal driving into the decoys like a heavy rain.
There is a $200 fee if you want to bring your gun into Mexico. I suggest you use guns that Gallo provides in both 20 and 12 gauges. I shot a 20 gauge for quail and teal.
Pack lightweight clothes just as if you were going to the beach in the summer. Short-sleeved shirts and lightweight field boots are a must. The ground is littered with rocks large and small, making for uneven walking.
I suggest that you get yourself into fairly good shape before making this trip. It will be one of the best quail hunts you've ever experienced, so you don't want to miss a step.
For ducks, you will not need hip boots or waders. You might consider a pair of knee-high non-insulated waterproof boots in case you have to excuse yourself from the blind.Lead shot was still allowed to shoot ducks on my 2008 trip.
When I went, only one camera per person could be taken into Mexico. Check to see if this has changed before you go.
I drink only bottled water and bottled soft drinks while in Mexico. I don't even take a chance with the ice. I have also started carrying a drug called Doxycycline HYC in case I come down with a stomach problem. This medicine can only be obtained by prescription.
For more information contact Ron Stafford, Vice President Hunting/Fishing at Trek International Safaris, (800) 654-9915; Fax 904-273-0096; www.treksafaris.com; ron@treksafaris. com.