By Josh Maness
When someone asks me, “Why did you go all the way to Mexico just to shoot a turkey?”, the answer is simple: the experience. The flight down to El Paso, the border crossing, traveling through a truly authentic “border town”, being stopped by the “Federales” on the trip back from camp, and all the great food, followed by some excellent turkey hunting made it a trip truly filled full of experiences. While some better than others, but nonetheless, experiences.
After leaving the airport in El Paso it finally sank in that in less than a day I would be in the Sierra Madre Mountains chasing the next part of my World Slam, the Gould’s turkey. After a sleepless night at the hotel in El Paso, it was time to leave the city and head to our new “home” for the next week. We loaded up all our gear and split up with the guides into their pickup trucks. I was introduced to my guide, Jose, before we left the hotel and embarked on the five-hour trip to the camp.
This was not my first border crossing, but by far, the most interesting one. Upon arriving at Customs we went inside and explained our intentions of wanting to cross the border into Mexico. The group of hunters all did the tedious paperwork that was required of us, and then we waited outside for approval to enter the country. After the process began to take much longer than expected, we all started wondering and asking ourselves “What was really going on in there?” We soon learned that Customs and Border Protection did not approve of the American guide’s paperwork. The guide was denied entry into Mexico and was forced to return to the United States to gather the necessary documents for another attempted entry. We would eventually leave him because by the time of his return from El Paso it would be too threatening to travel at dark because of the Mexican Drug Cartel.
As we ventured farther away from the border, the landscape started to drastically change. It was apparent we were in for some truly spectacular views. The views alone were very rewarding but the thought of pursuing the Gould’s turkey in this stunning environment was obviously at the forefront of everyone’s mind. We started the trip traveling through a handful of small border towns. These towns were everything I had imagined the non-tourist side of Mexico would look like. The small-block buildings seemed neglected and looked as if they were inhabitable. However, to my surprise they were filled full of local residents of the town – these were their homes. As we traveled away from populated areas, the scenery turned to something that was a mix between the desert and rolling hills. This mix of desert and rolling hills created a vision of what we hunters would be faced with in the upcoming week. Every one of us were coming from the coastal plains of North Carolina or the low flat land of Mississippi, and we all knew it would be a physical adjustment for the type of hunting we were about to experience. As we took in the great views, the scenery began to change from rolling hills to sheer mountain ranges, with small valleys between the towering rock landscapes making this the most scenic part of the drive. At this point, we were still on paved roads, but it would not be long until we reached the portion of the drive that turned to rock and dirt roads. Once we reached that portion of the journey, the traveling speed changed to a crawl due to ascending the mountain. For what seemed like a lot longer than three hours, we maneuvered on sharp rocks and rough dirt roads until we finally arrived at our camp for the rest of the week.
After multiple days of walking through the Sierra Madre Mountain range with my guide Jose, it was time to experience my first Gould’s turkey up close and personal. Jose had struck up a gobbler a few hundred yards away and was working him in like a puppet on a string. Jose did not speak English very well, only knowing a few phrases and words, however the next words from his mouth were two that I could understand clearly. Right after a turkey gobbled from a few hundred yards away Jose turned to me, pointed in the direction of the turkey, and said, “He coming.” Truer words have never been spoken. Jose worked that curious gobbler straight up the creek bank and within thirty yards of where we were sitting in just a matter of minutes. While sitting with my back on a tree, much like I would do back home, one of the main reasons I had traveled so far to Mexico had just been accomplished. There in that old dry creek bottom was my Gould’s turkey laying less than thirty-five yards from where we were sitting. After the successful shot Jose once again turned in my direction and with a big grin said “Why you shoot? I bring him closer.” Jose might have used an aged box call where I would have used a slate call, but that did not matter. What mattered is the turkey responded to Jose’s calling and ultimately walked right to where we were. More than 1,500 miles from home was a turkey hunter I had never met. One that I could barely communicate with, yet we still understood each other. A turkey hunter that used calls different than I would have. A turkey hunter who had his own way of hunting; the way of hunting that his culture had taught him. As I sat there, I had begun wondering just what he was doing, but not really doubting his abilities. I was more so curious about his way of turkey hunting and how vastly different it was to my way of hunting. However, at the end of the day, we shared a special bond – the sport of turkey hunting.
In what seemed like forever, but actually was just a few minutes, the hunt was over, but there was still plenty left to see and do. What was left to accomplish is what really intrigues me to plan and take as many trips as I can. It was now time to form relationships, expand knowledge, and learn from others’ experiences while sharing the story of my hunt with everyone in camp. We enjoyed some more wonderful authentically cooked meals, but most importantly we experienced the culture in this place that had taken us quite a while to get to.
After a few more days in camp enjoying Mexican cuisine and swapping hunt stories, we had reached the final day. Everyone in the group was lucky enough to bag a Gould’s turkey during our stay. We loaded up on the last morning and made the trek back towards El Paso. While coming through one of the smaller border towns, our convoy of hunters crested a hill only to be met by the “Federales”. As we approached the officer standing in the middle of the road, the American guide instructed us to remain quiet and not say a word. It was obvious this was neither the guide’s nor the officer’s first time in this situation. The officer approached the truck and began speaking rapidly in Spanish. While the guide was fluent in Spanish, he appeared to have no idea of what the officer said. After a few rounds of shoulder shrugs, the officer becoming angrier every minute, he instructed the guide to step out of the vehicle and walk back to his truck. Of course, thoughts of what was about to happen became conservations amongst us hunters in the truck while the two argued back and forth at the officer’s truck. After a few minutes, the guide came back to the truck unaccompanied by the officer and we proceeded to the border.
As I sat there, I began to ask myself questions, all while knowing everyone else had unanswered questions as well. Before we could even begin to ask our questions, the guide spoke up and said, “I’m guessing you guys knew what that was all about right?” I was almost positive we had just witnessed the Federal Mexican Police try to bribe the guide and some turkey hunters out of money – pay if you want to pass system- but I did not want to jump to conclusions. Unfortunately, my assumption was correct. The guide said, “The “Federales” set up lookouts on the road coming into town. When they see Americans coming, they radio down to their buddy who pulls the stunt you just witnessed. That is their way of making quick money. The average person will come through and bribe their way out of it just to avoid the conversation with the officer. That is what they want you to do, but this is not my first rodeo. You just have to play along like you don’t know anything they are saying and eventually they get irritated and just let you go.” As we drove off I understood what it felt like to be stopped by the “Federales” – which I had never thought would happen, or at least not on this trip to Mexico. I was relieved that the encounter unfolded relatively quickly and smoothly. As we approached the border of the United States, I felt a sense of ease.
Every place I have been to hunt, whether for duck or turkey, have all been full of different experiences. Learning and immersing into different cultures is what keeps me coming back for more. A different journey all in itself. A different way of doing things, yet they all serve the same purpose. Creating memories and adventures all while enjoying something I genuinely love to do.
A Wild Turkey “Slam”
The World Slam was really not on my radar when I first started turkey hunting. However, some things in life just fall into place, lucky for me the World Slam was one, and after harvesting a few of the birds I decided I had come this far so why not give it a try. For those unfamiliar with the term “turkey slam”, let me try to explain and give you a little insight about what these slams consist of. A slam is considered by most turkey hunters one of the biggest feats in turkey hunting. A hunter must harvest each species or subspecies of wild turkey listed under one of the recognized slams in turkey hunting to officially complete a slam. The most common type of slam is the Grand Slam which includes all four U.S. Subspecies which are the Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande and Merriam’s all located in different parts of the United States. For those hunters wanting to venture to another destination some people choose to pursue the Royal Slam which is the Grand Slam plus the Gould’s that is found in Mexico and limited areas of the Southwest. For the completion of the World Slam a hunter plus complete the Royal Slam by harvesting the Ocellated wild turkey which is only found in Mexico and Central America. While I have not completed these in any particular order the Gould’s was next on my list. The Gould’s turkey species is considered to be the largest of all the species and are located in Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico. They tend to gobble more than the average bird which makes them a fun species to pursue in their mountainous environment. While it’s population are few in numbers the Gould’s turkey was by far the greatest one I have hunted up to this point.