Rancho Caracol

On the Fly in Sporting Paradise

STRATOS checks into Rancho Caracol in Mexico to go behind the scenes at the past Orvis-designated ‘Lodge of the Year.’
By Stephen Stainkamp

TERM: Casadores Palomas Norte Americanos
DEFINATION: North American dove hunters

The luxury van filled with anticipatory chatter. Our guide, ensconced in the passenger seat, opened the ice chest between him and our driver, deftly removed the bottle top from a dripping Sol, and passed the pint-sized, adult beverage to one of four guests seated in the back.

The driver exited paved highway – 101 – for the last leg of the journey, a 10 mile jungle tour on a gravel road. To my left, a crested caracara or “Mexican Eagle” perched atop the wire. Ahead, several chachalacas, a secretive jungle avian not unlike our common roadrunner, darted into the impenetrable canopy amidst a flurry of raucous cries.

A collard javelina stood its ground as we sped by.

Our driver made a call ahead and placed drink orders for his guests – a Forth Worth banker; his friend; this Plano-based outdoor writer; and a Kennedale, Texas, home remodeling contractor, turned fishing lure entrepreneur.

At the summit looking down, we gazed at a breathtaking view.

Undulating mesquite and ebony forests stretched to the horizon. Below, enveloped by jungle, the ever-placid Rancho Caracol compound glistened like rich topaz in the afternoon sun. In the distance her private, 430-hectare lake, Alazanas, shone like lapis lazuli, the indigo Soto de La Marina River, its source, snaking to infinity.

Rancho Caracol is a straight, 150-mile shot south of Harlingen, Texas, immediately below the town of Abasolo in the State of Tamaulipas. The lodge is 12 miles from Lake Guerrero, 50 miles west, as the crow flies, from the Gulf of Mexico.

John Guerin, owner of Minda Lure, Inc., and I, as well as the hunters from Fort Worth and a group from Houston, had flown from Dallas-Ft. Worth to Harlingen. A contingent of Mississippians flew by private jet to Victoria, an hour from the lodge.

I have visited some great destinations and consider myself fortunate when I discover one that is truly exceptional. Rancho Caracol has earned that descriptor, as evidenced by its 2005-2006 Orvis “Lodge of the Year” rating.

Set in pristine, emerald jungle far from the madding crowd, surrounded by hectares of wild, verdant untamed habitat, the lodge caters to their gusts every whim. The bonus is Caracol’s fabulous wingshooting, notably white-winged and mourning dove – some of the finest to be found in North America.

As you walk to your room, the lodge embraces you with its ornate stone patios, vine covered trellises, aromatic flowers, intricate tile design and woodwork and traditional palapas (thatched roofs). Caracol provides an Old Mexico ambience without sacrificing the modern-day amenities we have come to expect.

With five-star lodging, exquisite cuisine and an attentive, 70-person wait staff, Rancho Caracol is a sportsman’s paradise. Lineetching bass angling is minutes away at Lake Guerrero – so too, tackle-busting, blue –water fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

And this rare gem, Rancho Caracol, translated Ranch of the Snail, for its snail-like, meandering route off Highway 101, is virtually at our back door.

A Nature Lover’s Delight

On my first trip in September 2006, I was amazed at the legions of hummingbirds and ornately colored butterflies attracted to Caracol’s lush, landscaped gardens. In December, gone were the tiny hummers, so too the white-winged dove that migrate south for the winter.

Caracol sits on the very edge of civilization and boasts many colorful and exotic Neotropical birds and mammals – parrots, turkeys, jaguars, whitetail deer, mountain lions and bobcat. There are no main roads, no noise and no congestion. Staring at an azure or star-laden sky there are no contrails or aircraft lights, only a chorus of crickets and frogs.

Doves and Hunter

But Rancho Caracol is all about wing shooting. The lodge has access to 500,000 acres of prime dove and quail habitat.

The property is adjacent to the largest white-winged dove nesting site in the world. Biologists tell us there are 8 million birds in that sanctuary; overall, the area holds more than 20 million. The area’s farmers are grateful to gringo hunters who help thin the flocks and keep the birds from devouring their sorghum. And despite the liberal limit on bird harvests at Caracol, hunters can’t begin to put a dent in bird populations.

The first time I visited the 11,000-acre ranchero was in 2006, and I haven’t stopped telling friends about that experience – or my latest, in December 2007.

The van picked us up at the Harlingen airport Sunday afternoon, and we were there by sunset. I hunted Monday morning and afternoon, fished Guerrero Tuesday morning, and shot dove that afternoon before packing to leave early Wednesday. Tuesday’s hunt was indicative of the shooting fare at Rancho Caracol.

The afternoon was comfortably warm, and a slight breeze licked my face and shorts-clad legs. Thick mesquite and prickly pear enveloped me as I squatted to remain undetected.

My bird boy knelt at the ready nearby, scanning the treetops. My fellow hunters were spaced out on either side.

“Birds coming at ya, Steve!” yells Wayne.

“Birds on your left,” I holler, returning the favor.

I stood to shoot, missed and reloaded. Shots rang out in all directions. Birds approached from my 5 o’clock. I spun and fired.

My bird boy darted from the scene, returning moments later with two birds. He tossed them on the growing pile and opened the ammo box beside my unused seat.

“Mas cartuchos,” I exhort.

He ran and emptied 25 fresh rounds into my ammo pouch. And the Barrage continued.

I’m so shotgunner, yet on my first white-wing trip, I brought home 100 birds. In December, I brought home 80 mourning dove.

Bobwhite Quail Bonanza

In addition to excellent white-wing dove and mourning dove shooting, Rancho Caracol offers tremendous wild bobwhite hunting. During my mourning dove hunt in December, there were wing shooters at Caracol who enjoyed the concession’s combined mourning dove-quail hunt, with dogs.

Two gentlemen, who brought their wives with them on that December hunt, flushed 30 coveys and bagged 102 quail in just one day. That hunt was exceptional and not the norm, according to Rancho Caracol owner, Dean Putegnat. “Ordinarily, Rancho Caracol hunters can expect to flush 10 to 25 coveys per day,” he says. “However, this year has been unusually productive, with hunters flushing 20 to 20 coveys a day.”

Shotguns and Shells

You can bring your own gun for a hefty price – and a lot of hassle. I opted to borrow a loaner from Caracol’s armory – Berretta in over and under and semi-automatic. You can’t bring shot shells into Mexico; thus a box goes for about $13.

My borrowed 391 worked flawlessly; wish I could say the same for the operator. I am by no means a skilled dove hunter, but I’m working on it.

Mourning dove in Mexico are gun-shy migratory survivors, having been not so gently nudged southward by cazadores palomas Norte Americanos – North American dove hunters. And shooting them is one of life’s greatest, most irritable challenges.

A Taste of Rancho Caracol


Dove Breasts
Fresh onion
Jalapenos (fresh or canned)
Sliced bacon
Tooth picks

Remove half of the dove breast, place a sliver of onion and a sliver of jalapeno in the center; fold dove breast around the onion and jalapeno, wrap 1/3 slice of bacon, secure with a toothpick. Sautee, but avoid overcooking, as you want the center to be pink when served.


Abasolo, Tamaulipas, Mexico
(888) 246-3164

Uvavemex Agent

"I've hunted in Mexico for more than 30 years and I've never seen an operation as good. Nobody does it with the style and attention to detail as Rancho Caracol."
Ray Sasser, Dallas Morning News
Toll free: 888-246-3164 : Outside U.S.: 956-542-3482 : Fax: 956-542-5765
Rancho Caracol : 2424 Village Drive : Brownsville, TX 78521