Rancho Caracol

Mexico still a bird paradise

State of ocelot population in Texas dire
By RAY SASSER / The Dallas Morning News


RANCHO CARACOL, Mexico – A slight, cool wind blew perfectly from brushy pastureland into a fresh-cut sorghum field. It was 8 a.m. and the atmosphere was pregnant with moisture.

Hunting conditions were ideal when quail hunting guide Jordan Oliver cast his first rangy pointer of the day, then used the hunting truck to follow slowly behind the hard-running dog.

The run was swift but short. The dog slammed into a point 150 yards from where he started. We piled out of the truck – my son Zach in the middle, my wife Emilie on the right and me walking on the left flank.

The covey of 20 birds erupted from the thick grass and flew low around the mesquite brush dotting the pasture. We got two on the covey rise, then continued along the same line the birds had flown.

With eyesight that rivaled that of the regal caracara observing our progress from a nearby tree, our slender Mexican guide, Israel Silguero, unerringly marked where the covey had settled in and, with equal accuracy, marked the fall of birds that we shot.

We got five birds out of that covey, then left the quail alone to regroup. Ten minutes later, the dog was again on point. That's how the entire morning progressed in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, about 175 miles south of Harlingen. Before breaking for lunch in a misting rain, we'd found 14 coveys.

It seems that the best remaining wild bobwhite quail hunting in North America does not occur in the United States. Rancho Caracol manager Dean Putgenat has carefully documented quail hunting success since his family's lodge began offering guided quail hunts 10 years ago.

"In our worst season, we averaged 14 coveys a day," Putgenat said. "Overall, our 10-year average has been 22 coveys a day. On days when everything works perfectly, we find 30 or more coveys. This looks like it will be an average season for quail numbers."

The consistency of those numbers is even more impressive considering the typically hot and dry quail season weather in that region – not good conditions for bird dogs to find quail.

At a time when wild quail in Texas are suffering alarming population declines, what's going on with those Tamaulipas birds to make their numbers so consistent, despite the fact that nobody is really managing for quail?

Rancho Caracol has access to 500,000 acres of farm and pasturelands in an area that measures 75 by 90 miles. The habitat is a mix of dense native brush, pastures used for livestock grazing and farmland that's planted in a variety of crops, including grain crops that set the banquet table for all kinds of birds.

"Farmers grow a variety of grain crops here, and they don't all harvest at the same time," the outfitter said. "The birds don't rely on one food source."

Putgenat thinks the key to this bobwhite mecca is the size and diversity of the farms, plus old-style farming practices that leave fence rows grown up in brush and native grasses. Another factor is the proximity of nesting and loafing cover to feeding areas. It's less than 100 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and its weather patterns, which provide quail with the moisture they need for reproduction.

In fact, when you think about the quail area we were hunting in, it's very much like a gigantic version of the 40-acre farms that dotted the South during the heyday of bobwhite hunting.

The area also has light hunting pressure and a remarkable absence of raccoons, skunks and other small mammals that predate quail nests. We drove more than 500 highway miles and never saw a road-killed raccoon.

Putgenat said every rural household has free-roaming dogs that help keep the varmint population in check. The deep brush is inhabited by mountain lions and jaguars that also keep quail predators in control.

It adds up to the most consistent wild bobwhite hunting in North America. Maybe quail researchers should be sending teams to Mexico to figure out what they're doing right, rather than what we're doing wrong. For more information, visit the Web site, www.ranchocaracol.com.

"I have hunted the world over, including Russia, Scotland, Argentina and more. Rancho Caracol offered the best hunt I've been on..."
James Hulbert, Longview, Washington
Toll free: 888-246-3164 : Outside U.S.: 956-542-3482 : Fax: 956-542-5765
Rancho Caracol : 2424 Village Drive : Brownsville, TX 78521