Chills ran up my spine as sweat trickled down the small of my back. The chills erupted at the first predawn "singing" of el pavo ocellated, the ocellated turkey of Campeche, Mexico. Sweat beaded down my back in tiny rivulets as I hunkered down in the edge of the jungle with my two Mayan hunting guides.
I had waited a lifetime to hunt the beautifully colored ocellated species of turkey in Mexico. Meleagris Ocellata inhabits a 50,000 square mile area of the Yucatan Peninsula in the states of Quintana Roo, Campeche and Yucatan, as well as southern Tabasco and Chiapas. Small populations are also found in northern Belize and Guatemala.
Turkey hunting has long been a passion of mine. I have been fortunate to hunt in several states, but the possibility of hunting these smaller, colorful birds in Mexico became intoxicating. I studied the birds incessantly and found them more intriguing the more I studied. I anxiously awaited the opportunity to see the diminutive birds first hand. An adult female weighs about 6.5 pounds while a male weighs in at about 11 pounds. Their marvelous coloring is what sets them apart from the other species. Both sexes have brilliant blue heads with orange-red nodules, which are more pronounced in the males. Body feathers run a gamete of iridescent colors from greens, blues and bronze.
I had eagerly accepted an invitation from the Director of Campeche State Tourism Luis Agusto Garcia Rosado to hunt ocellated turkeys in his beloved Campeche State. Upon arrival in Campeche City, I was immediately captivated by the beauty of the Spanish Colonial town and the warmth of its people. And the marvelous comforts and splendor of Campeche Plaza Hotel in the historic center set the stage for a hunting adventure of a lifetime.
Jorge Sansores, a 50 year veteran of guiding hunters and fishermen, had been selected by the tourism board to handle my hunt. Sansores met me at the hotel the evening before my hunt was to begin to give me a rundown of hunt expectations. He quickly and honestly explained that it was very late in the season, very hot and the birds were scattered. My hopes dropped drastically as Sansores described the current conditions. He had his guides scouting that very day, but had not heard their reports as of our meeting. "If they have not seen turkeys today, I will not take you on the hunt," he said. "If they have not seen birds in the corn fields, that means they are staying in the jungles and it is miserably hot and hard to hunt there this time of year."
I had been fascinated by Sansores' mention of corn fields. All of my research had indicated that ocellated turkeys were only hunted in the jungles. A whole new world of hunting these colorful birds had just opened up to me. And my hopes of harvesting an ocellated turkey skyrocketed when Sansores called a few minutes after leaving the motel and told me the hunt was on. "Your driver will pick you up at 3 a.m.," he said.
Diego Balam Yam arrived promptly at the motel the next morning in a Tourism Department van and began the one-and-a-half hour drive to the farming community of Carlos Cano Cruz southeast of Campeche.
|Dense jungles surround corn, milo and soybean fields in the heavy agriculture areas, where thousands of ocellated turkeys roam. Ocellated turkeys are normally hunted in the dense jungles.|
After a brief meeting with Sansores at camp headquarters, we traveled another 7 miles through the jungles and fields of disked corn, milo and soybean fields. The head guide, Aurelio Sanches Hernandez, indicated that we would walk about a mile where we would make a blind in the edge of the jungle. Margarito Campos, the other guide assisted with gear and construction of the blind once we arrived at the site.
Whippoorwills, commonly called roadblockers in Mexico, because they have the habit of sitting in the roads at night, called loudly, much like they do in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri.
Thirty minutes before first light, Aurelio perked to attention, pointed to his ears and then pointed far off across the corn field in front of us to the dense jungle on the other side. He immediately pointed again. I heard it distinctly, the singing of an ocellated gobbler.
Bongo-like bass tunes continued steadily. The cadence of the singing quickened and increased in volume until a crescendo was reached where upon the bird issued a high-pitched, but melodious, series of chops. I quickly fell in love with the singing of el pavo. I vowed to have a call to mimic him when I returned.
Aureilo slowly raised his Nikon binoculars and scanned the massive corn field in front of us. Excitedly he pointed across the field. "Pavo, pavo," he whispered. I strained to see the majestic bird, but could not. Aureilo handed me his binoculars. Soon I laid eyes on my first ocellated turkey. My heart pounded.
The gobbler strutted and sang for the next two hours as it slowly worked its way across the corn field to a corner far to our right. The heat had grown unbearable and Aureilo motioned that it was time to return to headquarters for a bite to eat and a midday siesta.
Sansores' lodge had closed down because it was so late in the season. Aurielo and his family had moved into the lodge until the next hunting season began. We used an open air shed as our quarters for the noon day break. After a solid lunch of sandwiches, fruit and cold soda, we climbed into our hammocks in the shade of the shed and took much needed naps. Our only interruptions came from a band of crowing roosters that roamed the neighborhood.
At 3:00 p.m. we regrouped and headed back to the blind. Aureilo suggested that we move closer to the corner where we had last seen the gobbler that morning. Within minutes he and Margarito had a new hide cleared in the jungle growth. We each relaxed in a comfortable camp chair and began our afternoon vigil for el pavo.
I noticed Aureilo looking at my RedHead camo turkey hunting boots. I scooted my right boot next to his. Our foot size matched perfectly. "Yours after the hunt," I nodded. I wasn't sure he understood. "OK!" he said with white gleaming teeth shining in the sunlight.
|The author (left) and Aureilo proudly display the iridescent colors of an ocellated turkey from the agricultural areas south of Campeche, Mexico.|
I had become enamored with the raucous calling of a band of parrots in the trees behind us and was about to turn in my chair to get a look at them when Aureilo whispered excitedly, "pavos, pavos".
"Where is it?" I queried the cameraman. "Twenty-five yards out," he responded. "Stand up and shoot it."
I peered through the thick growth, my heart racing so fast it made my head pound. I could not spot the bird. Less than a minute later, I spotted the orange knots on the birds head five feet away. It was coming into the blind.
I whispered for everyone to remain still. The majestic bird turned and walked parallel to the edge of the jungle. The cameraman said he could not see the bird. I indicated it was getting into the jungle. "Shoot it now and we will take still photos," he ordered.
El Pavo raised his head at 7 yards. I held high with the old shotgun I had been provided. The bird went down in a flopping heap at the report of the 12-gauge load of number 2's.
Aureilo bounded out of the blind and retrieved the bird instantly. Blood trickled down his hand upon his return. The gobbler had cut him with its sharp spurs while it flopped its last few times.
Everyone hovered to admire the splendid bird. We all posed for photos and soon I began the trek across the red dirt corn field back to the awaiting van. It had never felt so good to have a gobbler flopping over my shoulder. I had taken El Pavo in the land of the Maya.
Jorge Sansores hunts 40,000 acres in Campeche State. He has an estimated 16,000 ocellated turkeys on that managed acreage, which may be the largest concentration of birds in their limited range. He has a 4,000 acre sanctuary for bowhunters only.
My turkey hunting adventure in Campeche, Mexico became the highlight of my hunting career. The exotic atmosphere, the astounding history and culture of the region, the delectable foods, the wildness of the area and above all, the warm and generous people of Campeche in the Yucatan made this a trip I will soon repeat.