by Bill Cooper
Shakespeare once said that all the world is a stage upon which we players await our entrances and exits.
This stage, and this entrance, began our quest for an ocellated turkey.
Jayson, my son, and I reached the camp deep in the Yucatan jungle at dusk. The nearest improved road lay 15 miles behind us.
Tiki lights illuminated the path, which wound uphill under a canopy of towering trees, to a complex of wall tents. We entered this new stage eagerly, feeling as if we had stepped back in time to share the jungle exploits of Teddy Roosevelt.
Ruben` Encalada, the public relations manager for Maya Amazing Adventures, introduced us to Jordi Gene, the camp owner, and we met the staff of cooks and guides. Gene is a big man. His powerful handshake and soft voice welcomed us to camp.
“Your adventure begins, amigos,” he said with a convincing smile.
Tired to the bone, Jayson and I were eager to get a hot meal, shower and hit the rack. Encalada had toured us around the Yucatan for the last several days. The exertion of exploring caves, cenote`s, colonial towns, haciendas and wildlife areas had taken its toll on us.
A gravity fed shower stall stood just a few meters below our tent. The solar warmed water never felt more refreshing. The cot in our air-conditioned tent swallowed my limp body.
Four a.m. arrived quickly. Our guides for the day, Juan Carlos and Francisco, already had all of our gear packed in the X-Terra. The pair of young amigos had plenty of jungle experience under their belts. They were the son and nephew of the famous jaguar hunter Alfrevo Lachuga.
A deafening roar from millions of jungle insects greeted us as we stepped from the truck after a 45-minute ride across rugged jungle roads.
Our guides passed 12-gauge shotguns and water bottles to Jayson and me. A trio of 2 3/4-inch magnum shells in No. 2 shot accompanied our guns. The large shot is utilized to shoot turkeys in the body, because a traditional head shot is difficult due to the thick jungle foliage.
Francisco led the way down a narrow jungle path, cloaked by the darkness of the early morn. We had been cautioned back at the vehicle not to get over an arms length away from the guides. Fifty miles of continuous, inhospitable jungle lay between the Guatemala border and us.
Sweat soaked my lightweight camo clothes as we quick stepped down the trail, illuminated by our tiny headlights. A mile into the trek, Francisco halted our advance. Carlos pointed to his ears and then to the trail far ahead. Then I heard it, a signing ocellated turkey. The bongo like beginning of the call rose to a series of chops and tapered off.
Fifteen minutes further down the trail the guides halted our approach. Carlos pointed out the red chaca tree where the turkey roosted. Francisco stealthy moved up the trail another 15 yards and paused.
The turkey sang again in the treetops, giving away its exact location. Francisco and Jayson made their last adjustment. Jayson slowly raised his Benelli shotgun, took careful aim and fired. Shouts of joy rang through the jungle as we listened to the turkey tumble from its perch.
Jayson’s voice trembled with excitement as he rubbed his hands over the colorful plumage of his first ocellated turkey. The guides offered to carry the bird back to the truck, but Jayson insisted on packing the bird the entire distance. I trekked along behind, trying to keep up with my son’s excited running commentary.
“Dad, these spurs look like raptor claws…”
Everyone back at camp gathered around to hear Jayson’s story and congratulate him on his success. The highlight of the camp came for Jayson when the greatest jaguar hunter of all time, the elderly, Alfrevo Lachuga, embraced him and congratulated him in Spanish.
After a much-needed siesta, the camp chef laid out one of his tantalizing meals. I listened intently to other camp members as they told old stories about hunting the jungles.
At 3 p.m. Jayson and I headed back to the jungle in search of crested guans, a pheasant-sized bird of the rain forest. As the sun began to set, one of he guides began whistling like a baby guan in distress. Soon we heard the flap of wings as several adult guans flew into the trees around us to investigate. The black and white peppered bird sported bright red waddles. The camp chef proved that the guan was indeed the best eating bird in the jungle.
The next morning proved a repeat of the first. Sneaking up on turkeys and shooting them from the roost tree is ancient Mayan tradition. It takes a great deal of stealth. The combination of heat, thick jungles, unknown territory and the wariness of the birds made for a true adventure of a lifetime. Back home, shooting a turkey from the roost is unthinkable, but it’s the only way to hunt these jungle birds.
Jayson finalized our bird hunts by harvesting a magnificent Currasow, a turkey sized back bird with a huge, bulbous, yellow fleshy area at the base of the beak.
The time for us to exit this splendid jungle stage in our lives came all too soon. If you would like to plan an ocellated turkey hunt in the jungles of the Yucatan, contact [email protected]. The services, hunting and atmosphere are second to none, and it’s every hunt camp where howler monkeys and toucans provide the evening entertainment.
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at [email protected].