Headed south for turkeys
According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, ocellated turkeys are native only to a 50,000 square-mile area of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Unlike the five sub-species of North American turkeys (Osceola, Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Gould’s), ocellated birds do not have beards and the breast feathers of male and female birds do not differ. Males do have more pronounced orange nodules on the back of their heads and a bright red eye-ring.
Ocellated males also have long spurs, at least 1.5 inches in most birds over 1 and up to 2 inches in some. And males can’t really be called gobblers since they sing instead of gobbling and make drumming, thumping sounds that sound “kind of like a grouse” according to Jeff King.
Ocellated turkeys are much smaller than North American birds, with males typically weighing 10-12 pounds and females closer to 8 pounds prior to laying eggs.
Guatemala and Mexico were not dream destinations for most Americans this spring. Fears over swine flu and drug cartel violence made crossing the border a questionable endeavor.
But not for turkey hunters. At least not for those seeking to complete a World Slam, which requires a hunter to harvest all five species of wild turkey in North America and their colorful cousin, the ocellated turkey.
Despite initial misgivings, Steve Bryan of Germantown Hills (pictured above) and Jeff and Connie King of Creve Coeur all made successful ventures south in search of turkeys.
Bryan’s trip capped a whirlwind 53-day spring hunt during which he shot nine gobblers and hunted in Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Illinois, the Chihuahua Mountains of Mexico and the deep jungle near Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
At each stop he shot at least one turkey with his bow — all but one (a Rio Grande in Nebraska) within 15 yards of his hunting tent.
“I started out this year just thinking I wanted a Grand Slam with my bow,” said Bryan, who owns his own business servicing fire extinguishers. “The last two birds kind of came at the last minute.”
The last stop in the jungle was the warmest and wildest, said Bryan, who earlier in the spring had hunted in a driving snowstorm in Kansas.
“Once we got off the hard road we traveled for 2½ hours on a dirt, rock road and there were no houses, no barns, nothing,” Bryan said. “I kept looking for a camp and it was never there. When we got to camp it was two lights on a power pole powered by a generator.”
Complicating matters was the fact none of Bryan’s guides spoke English.
Even so, he was able to arrow an ocellated turkey just two weeks after shooting a Gould’s turkey in the mountains of northern Mexico. Bryan said he prefered the Gould’s hunt,
despite one scary moment at a service station.
While purchasing supplies, a police car drove up to the station and rushed into the store. Moments later a pickup pulled up and two men jumped out, one wielding a machine gun.
“We thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to witness a shootout and they’re going to shoot us, too,’” Bryan said.
Fortunately, the people in the second vehicle were also police officers.
Situations like that make hunters think twice before completing a Royal Slam (all four U.S. species plus the Gould’s) or a World Slam. Ultimately there’s not much choice. While
Gould’s turkeys are found in limited numbers in New Mexico and Arizona, the bulk of the birds are in Mexico.
That’s why the Kings had been planning a trip south ever since they each shot four different species to complete a Grand Slam during the spring of 2006 (Osceola, Eastern, Rio Grande and Merriam’s).
“Right before we left all this swine flu stuff came up and my mom and dad were like, ‘Are you still going?’” Jeff King recalled. “I told them, ‘Of course we are.’”
So for a vacation they spent 2½ weeks in Guatemala and Mexico, sandwiching a sailfishing trip between turkey hunts.
First came the ocellated hunt in Guatemala, which included visits with howler monkeys and ended with two colorful turkeys that had spurs longer than 1½ inches. Both birds responded to the sound of electronic calls and were shot on logging trails.
More enjoyable was the Gould’s hunt in the Chihuahua Mountains. Unlike the ocellated turkey, Gould’s birds gobble and “look huge coming through the woods, especially when they are strutting,” said Jeff King.
“We’re really happy we did it and got it done,” he said. “But from now on I’d probably rather just hunt Eastern (turkeys).”
After a trip to the jungle, a few ticks and gnats back home don’t seem like such a nuisance.