The mar­vel of Mex­ico

Amer­ica is renowned for op­por­tu­ni­ties to hunt ducks but south of the bor­der near Mazatlán, Mex­ico, the Pa­cific and Cen­tral fly­ways con­verge pro­vid­ing a tremen­dous va­ri­ety of wa­ter­fowl and an ir­re­sistible bucket list ad­di­tion for keen hunters like James Io

Field and Game - - HUNTING MEXICO -

It took me three long years to get around to or­gan­is­ing this trip. I would go through stages of scour­ing the in­ter­net for guides and lo­ca­tions but some­thing else would come up and my as­pi­ra­tions were put on hold.

Fi­nally, one day I com­mit­ted and booked a four-day wa­ter­fowl hunt­ing trip in Mex­ico. I de­cided to go with Ram­sey Russell’s

Get­, as his op­er­a­tion on paper looked im­mensely pro­fes­sional, and, in re­al­ity, it de­liv­ered so much more.

All the book­ings were taken care of, right down to the small­est de­tail; all I had to was show up at the ho­tel.

Af­ter a sight­see­ing week in Los An­ge­les I was keen to get down and hunt some new species. A short flight later and I was wait­ing in line at cus­toms at the small Mazatlán Air­port. Straight-faced, I passed through with­out any worry and was quickly whisked away to my ho­tel and off to bed as the first hunt would be­gin the next morn­ing.

The alarm went off at 4 am, which meant time for break­fast. I headed down to the ho­tel’s din­ing room where I met a few Amer­i­can hunters who I would be shooting with over the week. This trip is fre­quently booked by hunters and their part­ners be­cause you can go off and hunt dur­ing the morn­ing and be back by lunch to do some sight­see­ing or re­lax by the re­sort pool.

Af­ter a quick feed, we were all bun­dled up into the ve­hi­cles and we headed off to the cho­sen lo­ca­tion for the day.

The first morn­ing we were to be hunt­ing on a shal­low salt lake. The birds would come into the fresh­wa­ter creek that fed the lake to drink and clean. There were many ex­ist­ing hides set up from pre­vi­ous hunts that we had ac­cess to, so my guide se­lected one for me and pro­ceeded to set up the de­coy spread.

This morn­ing I would be hunt­ing with a fa­ther and son from Ge­or­gia.

With the num­ber of birds I could see on the wa­ter I de­cided to pace my­self, as it was a 20-bird bag limit per day and I did not want my hunt to be over in a mat­ter of min­utes.

Af­ter a short break the birds started to fil­ter back to the fresh wa­ter. I could see both green- and blue-wing teal buzzing the de­coys along with the oc­ca­sional north­ern shov­eler. The first mob of birds into the de­coys were a flock of green-wing teal; they twisted and turned just like the teal at home. The males stand out with the green patch on their heads flash­ing in the sun. They flared early and made their way across to the Ge­or­gians’ spread and with a few shots, they had a cou­ple of birds on the wa­ter. With the noise from the shots the lake erupted and there were birds ev­ery­where. A sin­gle bird made its way straight for my de­coy spread and as it got within range I stood up and fired. With one quick shot out of the Benelli I had my first green-wing on deck. Af­ter a flurry of shots I had man­aged to bag quite a num­ber of birds and as it was still early in the morn­ing I de­cided to pick and choose my shots. Look­ing to bag a nice shov­eler, I de­cided to wait un­til one came within range.

I waited a bit longer un­til I saw one cruis­ing to­wards me; its big bill stood out from across the lake. As it got within range I put the gun to my shoul­der and fired. Fi­nally I had bagged my first shov­eler for the trip. Run­ning out to col­lect the bird I was a lit­tle bit dis­ap­pointed in its con­di­tion. Never the less the guide re­as­sured that we would shoot many more this trip so I kept my hopes up. I shot a few more birds and reached my limit quite quickly. I handed the gun back to the guide and headed back to the car while they packed up. A short car ride and I was back at the ho­tel, sit­ting by the pool en­joy­ing a cock­tail.

Once again the alarm went off and I was down in the din­ing room se­lect­ing what I wanted for break­fast. Today we would be hunt­ing a small swamp con­cealed within a large mango farm and af­ter driv­ing through what seemed to be end­less rows of man­gos we ar­rived at the wa­ter’s edge. A short boat ride and we were set up in the hide on an is­land in the mid­dle. I asked the guide what birds we would be likely to en­counter on today’s hunt. In ad­di­tion to teal and shov­eler, he sug­gested we would also be get­ting a

crack at some ruddy duck. Now, these lit­tle birds are about the same size as our blue­billed duck and they fly in a sim­i­lar man­ner: fast wing beats and close to the wa­ter. I was ex­cited to tick an­other species off my list along with any oth­ers that we would en­counter through­out the morn­ing.

As the guide set up the de­coys, I loaded the auto in an­tic­i­pa­tion of what would come past the hide. Af­ter a few min­utes and a few shots com­ing from my fel­low hunters across the other side of the swamp, the birds be­gan to lift off the wa­ter and make their way to­wards us. As they were low to the wa­ter I knew they had to be ruddy duck. As they got closer I raised the gun and started swing­ing, then fir­ing off a few shots only to have them fall short and the ducks con­tinue past me. Shak­ing my head, I re­alised that I would have to put a bit more lead than I as­sumed if I was go­ing to bag one of these birds.

More ducks started to head our way. They lined up the de­coys, cupped their wings and started to com­mit. This time it was a flock of green-wing teal. I raised my gun and fired. The shot con­nect­ing, I re­aligned and fired; this time I shot two from two. Quickly I reloaded the gun as more birds were ap­proach­ing. They were com­ing in low and fast again. I put the gun to my shoul­der lead­ing the first bird I fired and down it went. I con­tin­ued to swing and did the same with the sec­ond, third and fourth birds; four from four. The guide was ec­static and we shared a few cel­e­bra­tory high fives. How­ever, the cel­e­bra­tions were short lived as more birds were com­ing into the de­coys. A few quick shots and I had a few more teal on the deck.

The ac­tion had slowed down a bit so the guide quickly walked out to col­lect the fallen birds and as he was walk­ing out I saw him wave his hands and point to some­thing above the hide. I looked up and I could see a male shov­eler di­rectly above me. I put the gun to my shoul­der and fired but missed. I gave it one more go and the shot con­nected, the bird fell and splashed into the wa­ter. My guide hur­ried over to col­lect him and what a bird he was. His iri­des­cent green head was in full colour whilst his neck was pure white. He would make a fine bird for the wall had I not had any is­sues get­ting him back to Aus­tralia. Once we had both reached our limit, the guide went out to re­trieve the fallen birds; in Mex­ico it is cheaper to pay some­one than use a dog to col­lect the birds. Once again, I was soon back in fa­mil­iar re­pose by the pool.

Be­fore light the next day we were off again. I had heard a few of the other guys ask­ing when they were go­ing to get a chance at come cin­na­mon teal and in bro­ken English they were in­formed that today would be the day.

We all piled into the guides’ cars and the con­voy left the ho­tel. Head­ing along the high­way we stopped abruptly, took a right turn down a side street past houses to reach the costal swamps along­side the beach.

Af­ter ne­go­ti­at­ing a maze of tea trees, we ar­rived at a small open­ing. What was wait­ing for us would be today’s mode of trans­port: a fan boat, pow­ered by one hell of a V8 en­gine. The trip was a noisy but what an ex­pe­ri­ence, al­though I doubt he had the throt­tle fully open.

I was dropped off with my new Amer­i­can friend Pat and the guide, and the fan boat dis­ap­peared into one of the many chan­nels cre­ated by the trees.

Today I was go­ing to be fussy; I planned to take only male birds and prefer­ably a cin­na­mon teal. A few ducks be­gan to fly over and as these were mostly green-wing and blue-wing; I wanted to let them pass but I picked one off.

Af­ter the shot birds be­gan to take off. A loan dark bird made its way to­wards us and I could hear the guide softly say, “cin­na­mon”. As the bird banked around you could see its beau­ti­ful red body shine in the sun. I raised the gun and fired. The bird folded and my guide quickly ran out to re­trieve the bird. Cin­na­mon is a highly prized bird for the col­lec­tor and the pop­u­la­tion is greater in Mex­ico than many US states. He handed me the bird to in­spect and I was taken aback with the colours; it made our Grey teal look like the poorly dressed cousin.

The shooting be­gan to slow down un­til we heard the roar of the V8 en­gine come around the cor­ner and in front of the boat was a large mob of ducks. We had gone from hav­ing no ducks to hav­ing birds ev­ery­where. I didn’t know where to point the gun. I picked out a few in a small flock, emp­ty­ing the magazine and pulling down a pair of blue-wing. As the day pro­gressed my pick­i­ness had paid off as I man­aged to bag quite a few cin­na­mon. Af­ter a short ride in the air­boat we had ar­rived back at the cars. The oblig­a­tory photos were taken and the best birds bagged up to head back to ev­ery­one’s taxi­der­mists. Cue pool and cock­tails; yes, it is a tough life.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing would be my last day hunt­ing in Mex­ico and the tar­get species would be black-bel­lied whistling duck. Pat and I would be shooting to­gether again, which was good be­cause we had de­vel­oped quite a rap­port. Not to toot my own horn but I feel as an Aus­tralian duck hunter I am used to birds mov­ing a bit quicker and over the years have learnt to make ev­ery op­por­tu­nity count whilst there were oc­ca­sions with Pat where I was left won­der­ing how any­one could have missed those shots.

The guide set us up on a large dam and his as­sis­tant went off to spook the birds off the neigh­bour­ing salt farms. It was not long un­til we had some birds head­ing our way to the de­coys. Again we were pre­sented with some green-wing and a few shots be­tween Pat and I put four birds on the wa­ter; a good start. More and more teal came into the de­coys and very few left.

Then, from the tree line, came the faint sound of whis­tles. A flock of black-bel­lied whistlers rose from be­hind the trees and headed to­wards the de­coy spread. As they got closer my Amer­i­can friend got up and fired two shots and they be­gan to flair away. I took my op­por­tu­nity: bang, bang, two birds be­gan to fall from the sky. I had just added an­other species to my Mex­i­can bag.

As I walked to col­lect the ducks I no­ticed an­other species cir­cling the de­coys. It was a lit­tle out of range but I thought to my­self: “I have trav­elled half way round the world.” I put the gun to my shoul­der and fired. The shot con­nected and I bagged my first pin­tail; an­other highly prized bird in Mex­ico.

Once the last bird was col­lected, re­al­ity set in that this was the end of a hunt that had taken me three years to plan. In the back of my mind I was al­ready plan­ning my re­turn.

The rest of the trip was spent sight­see­ing and soak­ing up the sun; a fan­tas­tic way to end any hunt and a good way to recharge the bat­ter­ies be­fore the 18-hour flight home.

Mazatlán, Mex­ico, is a fan­tas­tic hunt­ing des­ti­na­tion and I highly rec­om­mend it to ev­ery­one for the vol­ume of birds you will see in an un­touched land­scape. It truly is a hunter’s par­adise.

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