Rancho Caracol

Mexico's Rancho Caracol provides first-class experience for bird hunters

Web Posted: 02/03/2006 12:00 AM CST

San Antonio Express-News

CIUDAD VICTORIA, Tamaulipas — Mr. Bob, the fast-flushing quail, can play serious hide-and-seek in a dusty buffel grass pasture, even with great pointers and able handlers hot on his trail.

That was his game plan on this cool Monday morning two weeks ago in a field near this city's municipal airport.

The birds were hiding and we were seeking.

Through it all, outfitter Dean Putegnat remained focused as dog handler None (pronounced NO-nee) and bird boy Simone worked the field.

Zigzagging in front of us were two lean pointers, born to hunt, and they were relentless in their pursuit.

Along a hedgerow near a dirt road, the energetic pointer Emily spun on the left front leg and froze. A working dog is a thing of beauty.

Shooter Bobby Whitehead, a visitor from St. Louis, came up fast on Emily's right flank. The covey flushed, and Whitehead took a late riser with his second shot from the 20-gauge Beretta semi-auto.

The mid-morning covey was one of seven we encountered before breaking for lunch on a daylong hunt that had everything going for it — perfect weather, beautiful scenery, wild birds, champion dogs, professional handlers and Putegnat, a host who aims high when he aims to please.

By the time we headed back to Putegnat's Rancho Caracol at dark, we had flushed 19 coveys of bobwhite quail, killed a few, missed many more and packed away so many good memories that retelling this tale leaves a lot of great material on the cutting room floor, as the saying goes.

Rancho Caracol's wingshooting is an adventure in a setting that a gunner must experience to believe.

No complaints

Rancho Caracol, or Snail Ranch, is an 11,000-acre spread about three hours south of the border crossing at Harlingen, and, for this first-time visitor, the journey to the interior was prefaced by a list of questions and a few doubts.

As it turned out, there was little need for worry.

The Rancho Caracol adventure starts at the Harlingen airport. The ride to the ranch is in an extended-length van equipped with captain's chairs and stocked with an ice chest full of cold drinks. All but the last 10 miles of the journey is on well-maintained blacktop highways.

The Putegnat family operates the ranch. The family has business ties to San Antonio, their roots are deep and members of the family have hunted in the region for more than 50 years. They have owned Rancho Caracol since 1998. The hunting operation is in its sixth year, concentrating on quail and dove hunting but with plans to include wild turkey hunting in the near future.

Dean Putegnat, with a staff of more than 100, runs the show in a modern compound that serves a maximum of 45 guests. He lives in Brownsville and spends the six-month hunting season at the ranch, personally handling guest and lodge issues.

Before Rancho Caracol, Putegnat studied economics at the University of Texas and managed Pok-E-Jo's barbecue restaurants in Austin, where he picked up good business practices, a feel for the hospitality industry, a penchant for covering myriad details and a little background in Spanish.

At Rancho Caracol, the bilingual manager has combined his business education with practical experience and a deft touch for managing people to offer extraordinary opportunities for wingshooters.

Key to those opportunities is the ranch's access to 500,000 acres of bird pasture, with about 200,000 acres reserved exclusively for clients of Rancho Caracol.

The logistics of covering that much territory means road trips that start early and end at sundown, with van loads of hunters heading off in several directions each day carting guns, shells, dogs, handlers, food and drinks to find bird-rich fields.

Despite the potential nightmares in running such an organization, Putegnat's clients voice very few complaints. A group of quail hunters from Georgina showed up late for supper one night and walked into the lounge displaying nothing but smiles.

In their collective hunting adventures, which covered several decades and many venues, the four men agreed that the day's hunt was one of the best they had ever experienced.

My hands were occupied with cheese nachos at the moment and no notes were taken at the bar, but I remember one hunter said they had jumped more than 25 coveys and killed about 80 birds — and I don't think it was the margaritas talking.

An 80-bobwhite day is extraordinary, even for Rancho Caracol, but it shows what is possible with good outfitting, great dogs and experienced, skilled shooters.

Perfect outing

Our trip south from the ranch to the quail pastures around Ciudad Victoria took about an hour. The field held plenty of birds and the dog work was tremendous.

What we lacked were the shooting skills, but we did come away with a few birds.

The day, though, was a complete success, and after the evening meal, a bright moon and the cool night air put the finishing touches on a perfect outing south of the border, Rancho Caracol-style.


"The ranch lies in the heart of the best wild quail country in Mexico."
Dr. Ron Haaland, in Quail Unlimited Magazine
Toll free: 888-246-3164 : Outside U.S.: 956-542-3482 : Fax: 956-542-5765
Rancho Caracol : 2424 Village Drive : Brownsville, TX 78521