The cradle of the Maya civilization, the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, is not the first region that springs to mind when the conversation turns to hunting internationally. And yet, it is an alluring and tempting place. Although such animals as grizzly bears, elephants, and mountain sheep are conspicuous by their absence, the Yucatan is full of exotic plants, big, brightly colored birds and small, secretive animals that dwell under the canopy of the rainforest. It is one of the rare opportunities in the modern world to walk in the shoes of the brave explorers of old, and bring back a few trophies as material reminders of the adventure.
Bird hunting in Yucatan
A lot of hunters come to the Yucatan for the sake of the incredible and unusual great birds that inhabit the peninsula. From the Great Curassow and Ocellated Turkey to the Thicket Tinamou and the diminutive Yucatan Bobwhite, a bird hunter will find there an unusual and exciting experience.
The Ocellated Turkey is definitely the prime bird of the Yucatan hunt. Smaller than most other kinds of wild turkey – it weighs only about 11-12 pounds – it compensates by a unique rainbow-like iridescent plumage, with blue and gold-tipped tail feathers. They have a unique high-pitched gobble preceded by a drumming sound, very long spurs, but no beard.
Ocellated Turkey is a CITES species, and you’re going to need a special permit to export the trophy. The most hassle-free way of handling this problem is to arrange the importation of the trophy using the services of an approved taxidermist.
Great Curassow is a big bird common in Central and South America. In size, it is even bigger than the Ocellated Turkey, which they closely resemble in behavior. Great Like turkeys, they feed and generally spend most of their time on the ground, but roost and nest on trees. Unlike Turkey, however, Curassow are monogamous, and a few pairs may form a flock. The meat of Great Curassow is one of the most prized game meats within its habitat. With a bunch of feathers on the head, and executive coloring, Great Curassow can compete with the Ocellated Turkey for the title of the most beautiful gamebird in Yucatan.
Crested Guan, with its long, fanning tail, long strong legs, and small head resembles an undersized turkey, although it’s more closely related to Australian mould-building birds. Guans appear to be almost the size of Ocellated Turkey, although the body mass is smaller. They live in the subcanopy of the tropical forests in the coastal areas of Central America. Crested Guan are social and very vocal birds, and as they feed in the trees a flock can be heard from quite a long distance.
The range of Chachalaca covers most of Latin America and extends into Southern Texas, where the bird is also known as “Mexican tree pheasant”. Indeed, Chachalaca is a long-tailed bird about the size of a pheasant.
It has a brown color, bare skin on the neck, and tail with feathers that fan out when the bird is in flight to help with gliding and maneuvering. Chachalaca tends to feed on the ground, but spends quite a lot of their time in treetops. They are rather cautious, and on the ground prefer legs to wings as a means of escape. The birds are social and very vocal, and in fact get their name from the imitation of the sound of their call.
Thicket Tinamou is a small, tailless bird, about the size of a partridge. It is a close relative of ostriches, emu and cassowary, but, unlike them, it can fly. “Can” doesn’t mean “is willing to”, as these birds spend most of their time on the ground, shifting the undergrowth for food, and prefer to escape danger on foot.
The birds communicate with each other by long, pleasant whistles, that can be heard in the jungle areas of the Yucatan at dawn and dusk. Tinamou flight is fast, but the birds lack stamina, so after you flush the birds, push on them; after a few consequent flushes, they will let you come in closer and closer. Tinamou is considered to be one of the tastiest game birds on the planet.
Yucatan Bobwhite Quail
Bobwhite Quail, or “Gentleman Bob”, is a cult bird for some American hunters, with importance that seems to be in the opposite proportion to the bird’s diminutive sights. The Yucatan peninsula is home to a unique variety of America’s smallest gamebird, the Black-Throated Bobwhite. It is smaller and darker colored than the “Gentleman Bob”, but offers the same challenge for the hunter and the dogs. Hundreds of Americans flock to Mexico each year to add a new dimension to their favorite pursuit.
How to Hunt Birds in the Yucatan
Some outfitters in Yucatan breed pointers, and offer the classic and exciting way of quail hunting over bird dogs. Like its northern cousin, Yucatan bobwhite takes to shrub and bush habitat, often near agricultural areas.
In absence of dogs, all ground-dwelling birds can be hunted by walking-up. The hunter(s) and guides form a line, or rather a horseshoe-shaped figure, with the hunter(s) at the bottom and ends, and the guides in between. This increases the likelihood of flushing the birds, and one that escapes one gunner may fly into another.
It has been said that most of the Yucatan game birds are very vocal, especially as they feed. This opens an opportunity for still-hunting. The hunter walks quietly through the places where the birds are likely to be, and tries to hear them. When the location of the birds is established, the hunter stalks. This may not work with Thicket Tinamou, though, as their whistles have a ventriloquial effect.
Ocellated turkeys are hunted like other kinds of wild turkey, by calling a male tom in range during the mating season. Guides often use ground blinds to conceal hunters from their prey. In the fall season, ocellated turkey hunting is done in agricultural areas by stalking or waiting from a blind, or is harvested along other birds in the course of a walked-up hunts.
Big-Game Hunting in Yucatan
The mammalian life of the Yucatan is no less intriguing for a hunter than the birds, as there are a plethora of creatures that are unique in these parts. Even the white-tailed deer of the peninsula will appear strange to an American’s eye.
The Yucatan white-tailed deer
The Yucatan White-Tailed Deer is one of the smallest varieties of North American Whitetail. They don’t weigh much more than 80 pounds, and stand about three feet tall at the shoulder. The antlers are equally smaller, and don’t branch as wide as in other deer; in fact, antlers of most Yucatan White-tailed Deer bucks remember those of Roe Deer.
The Yucatan brocket deer
The Yucatan Brocket Deer belongs to a different family – Mazama – and is among the least studied kinds of Amercian deer. The Yucatan Brocket Deer prefers deep cover, offered by tropical semi-deciduous and flooding forests, and is a dedicated frugivore. It is a smallish animal, tipping the scales at about 15-20 kg. The males carry short, unbranched antlers. Unlike the Whitetail, brocket deer do not apparently have any fixed mating period, and a female may be in estrous at almost any month of the year (read more about Brocket Deer).
A Collared Peccary is known to many American hunters as Javelina. This animal resembles a pig, but belongs to a whole different family, that differs from the hogs in such aspects as teeth, gestation period, complex stomach, a scent gland on the back, and absence of a tail.The Pecarrys are usually found in groups that may number up to 40-50 individuals.
How to Hunt Big Game of the Yucatan
For the ancent Maya, deer hunting was often a big ceremonial affair. Large groups of hunters, assisted by dogs, surrounded the animals and killed them with bows and arrows. Another interesting custom was hunting in husband-and-wife teams. This wasn’t totally about equality, though, as in these cases it was the wife’s responsibility to carry the carcass of the harvested animal to the village. Who got to actually kill the animal is not clarified.
Modern hunters in the Yucatan tend to prefer the traditional hunting techniques: spot-and-stalk and hunting from a blind or tree stand. The latter is more popular in the Yucatan than the former, because dense cover of the rainforests, where ears and nose matter more than eyes, makes the approach especially challenging.
The preferred food of Brocket Deer is fruit. So, if you find a tree that’s dropping fruit like crazy, you can set up a blind or a tree stand over it, and wait for the brocket deer to show up. In fact, this is the surest way of brocket deer hunting, if you don’t take into account the nature of local stands, which are often nothing but hammocks tied to the tree in question.
The Pecarry can be hunted by spot-and-stalk, as a family produces quite a lot of noise looking for food in the undergrowth, the noise both giving them away and masking the hunter’s approach. These creatures don’t see very well beyond about 100 yards, but under the dense cover of the jungle that doesn’t matter too much. Many different hunting techniques can be successfully used, including hunting from a blind, calling, and driving.
Small Game of the Yucatan
Paca and Agouti
A variety of unique and unusual rodents, which are bigger than some categories of deer and smaller African antelopes such as Duiker, swarm in the rainforests in the Yucatan. Among them is Paca, often called Agouti Paca, a big rodent that inhabits rainforests and cloud forests of both North and South America from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. Agouti Paca is a prized quarry for subsistent hunters across their range. So is the Central American Agouti, which is somewhat smaller in size. It lives in monogamous pairs, and are diurnal, that is, active during the mornings and afternoons. In appearance, they seem to have big bodies and tiny legs.
Coati, or Coatimundi, is an omnivorous mammal not unlike a Racoon. It has a long snout, and a longer tail, and it may feed on both fruit and nuts and on a variety of smaller animals, birds, and insects. It enjoys a wide distribution in Central, South, and North America, where its range stretches in the southern parts of the USA. Coatis are diurnal, and mostly active in the morning and in the afternoon.
How to Hunt Small Game of the Yucatan
Local hunters usually harvest various kinds of agouti by spotlighting. This method of harvest is based on lighting up animals at night with a powerful beam. Blinded, the animals temporarily freeze in place, giving the time to shoot them with a shotgun or a small-gauge rifle. For many Western hunters this method does not seem very sporting, though. In most cases, rodents are killed opportunistically, if they present themselves for the a during a spot-and-stalk hunt or hunting from a blind.
The prime method for a focused Coati hunt is calling. Small predators tend to approach potential prey with all senses on the alert, so a hunter must learn to be extra silent and motionless during the hunt. A coati may also be hunted non-specifically, if an opportunity arises in the course of a hunt for another species.
What Gun to Choose for Yucatan
Most shots are fired at very close range, so if you’re going after both birds and big-game, you can simplify matters and take only the shotgun. In the hot and wet climate of the Yucatan, modern guns, with plastic stock and efficient anti-corrosive coatings, are to be preferred over the classic wood and blue steel shotguns. Renting a gun from your outfitter will save you the hassle of flying with firearms and obtaining the Mexican gun permit.
When to Explore the Yucatan
Historically for the Maya people of the Yucatan the best season for deer hunting was the end of the dry season, from January to April inclusive. In other parts of the peninsula, May to July was considered the best time for brocket deer hunting, the hunting being done at the fields, where brocket deer came to feed on maize. Today, too, hunting in the Yucatan is usually tied to the change of seasons.
Perhaps the worst time for a hunting trip to Yucatan is the wet season, which lasts from June to October. Not only the mud roads that lead into the jungle become nearly impassible, but also the hunting is less successful than in the dry season. In the wet season, water is everywhere, and many animals don’t drink at all, obtaining enough moisture from plants they eat.
By contrast, in the dry season wildlife concentrates among sources of water. Yucatan White-tailed Deer, for instance, use as water holes the so-called sartenejas – natural holes and depressions that collect water; hunters may use that to hunt from tree stands or blinds. Most ocellated turkey hunts take place during the mating season, which is from mid-March to mid-April. The rule of thumb is, big-game hunters prefer the autumn season, and the bird hunters – the spring season.
Why Hunt in the Yucatan
Hunting has always been an important part of the Maya culture, both before Columbus and today, and more and more international hunters discover the Yucatan. Some hunters come there for a specific species to add to their trophy list. For example, Ocellated Turkey often crowns the North American Big Six Turkey Slam. But the main attraction of the Yucatan is not any particular species that you can hunt there. It’s the whole of the experience. It is the immersion into an unusual habitat, and the hunting traditions that date back to pre-Columbian times. It is the sounds and smells of the jungle. It’s travelling the dirt roads and swinging on hammocks. A trip to the Yucatan is more than a hunt, it’s an adventure!