The author with his gobbler and expert jungle guides Juan Carlos and Pancho.
After beating down a rugged, mountainous jungle road in a 4-wheel drive vehicle for almost two hours, elation swept over my son, Jayson Cooper, and I as Tiki lights broke into view. The headlights of the Montero illuminated a well-thought-out jungle wilderness camp as Ruben Encalada, our driver and General Manager of Maya Amazing Outfitters, swung the vehicle into a dirt parking space surrounded by towering Piich trees, the sprawling favorites of spider monkeys and Tarzan types. Overwhelmed by the magic of this remote place in the southern part of Campeche State, we knew we were about to enter a world of hunting like few will ever experience. We would spend the next few days hunting Ocellated turkeys much like the ancient Mayans.
Jordi Gene, the owner of the outfitting service, is a big man. He has a smile to match his stature. His massive hand swallowed mine as we met outside the dining tent. "Welcome to the jungle," he said excitedly. "Your adventure is about to begin."
Camp staff members quickly stowed our gear in an enormous, luxurious wall tent, complete with a portable air conditioner. Over-sized cots looked sufficient to handle even the largest guests. A portable shower and bathroom sat only a few meters down the hill. The dining tent and kitchen had been carefully planned and were conveniently placed 20 yards way. As toucans croaked a camp welcome, I quickly determined that I had become a resident of the most well organized wilderness camp I had ever seen.
Encalada and Gene covered every aspect of the camp over a fabulous dinner. Plans for the next day's hunt brought our day of excitement to a nervous peak. Guides Fransico "Pancho" Sambranis and Juan Carlos Lechuga introduced themselves and sported convincing smiles as Gene explained that the young guides had scouted the jungle thoroughly before our arrival and had successsfully located several pavos.
Four a.m. would come early the next morning, so Jayson and I elected to turn in soon after dinner. We had endured a long day of travel. "I am so excited I don't think I can go to sleep," Jayson whispered. I understood, but secretly reveled in the fact that my son would share the jungle experience.
Coffee, juice, cereal and muffins awaited us in the dining tent at 4:15 a.m. Jayson trembled with anticipation of the idea of being the first shooter while I filmed the adventure. Gene had fitted him with a Bennelli Black Eagle 12 gauge the night before.
Our guides showed up ahead of time and already had daypacks loaded with water and snacks. Our foursome loaded into the 4-wheel drive and rumbled through the rough jungle roads for 45 minutes before pulling off onto a grown over logging road.
Jayson Cooper carries his brightly colored occelated gobbler from the dense jungle.
Juan Carlos and Pancho quickly unloaded our cameras and hunting gear. Juan handed Jayson three 2 3/4-inch shells in size BB. He explained that the large shot penetrated the jungle vegetation very well. As a last tip, before heading into the foreboding darkness of the jungle, Juan instructed Jayson to shoot a turkey in the body, unlike our custom of shooting birds back home in the head and neck. Juan made an assuring gesture hat the heavy loads would do the job.
Sweat soaked my back as we headed down the old logging road. I secretly envied Jayson's new RedHead Stalker Light II camo shirt and Under Armour Lightweight Performance camo pants. Both garments whisked the profuse sweat away from his body rapidly. My much older lightweight camo proved effective, but fell far behind the performance of Jayson's clothing.
The jungle wise guides stepped off down the trail at a brisk pace. Our small headlamps became worth their weight in gold as we traipsed along behind. We had been instructed to stay within an arms length of the guides by hunt camp manager Jose Enrique Camara. Becoming lost in the jungles of the Yucatan is serious business. Miles of inhospitable jungle lay between us and the nearest improved road. Guatemala lay 50 jungle miles to the south.
Any hunter thinking about venturing to the Yucatan jungles should begin a well structured exercise program long before making a trip.
Our guides spent considerable time the previous evening to locate birds on relatively flat terrain. A half-mile down the trail, the duo halted our advance. The unmistakeable bongo-like beginning of the Ocellated turkey's singing (gobble) rang through the dark jungle, sending a tingle of excitement down my spine. The moment at hand seemed like an impossible dream. The melodious notes reached a high pitch, which woke me from my temporary inattention, and dropped off to a series of short chops. Nervous anticipation caused me to swallow hard. I sipped my water bottle both to calm my nerves and replace the fluids I had so quickly lost. Staying hydrated is paramount to staying healthy in the jungle.
Jayson chattered with excitement as the gobbler sounded off again. His first attempt to take a marvelously colored ocellated turkey rapidly approached. We quickened our pace as the guides resumed their stalk towards the bird singing well over a half mile away.
As we closed the distance, Juan Carlos and Pancho stopped again to get a final fix on the bird's location. I felt good and confident. Our guides' expertise in the jungle had quickly become evident. Too, my concerns about traveling in the jungle had been dissipated by my extremely lightweight Under Armour boots, which cushioned my feet against the ever present rocks and downed timber. Confidence in your equipment goes a long way towards bolstering your abilities to get the job done in the jungle.
Although not large, Ocellated turkeys are known for their long, needle sharp spurs.
The Ocellated gobbler sounded off once more, less than 75 yards away, just off the left side of the faint trail. Pancho moved up for a closer look and soon slowly signaled for Jayson to quietly sneak toward him. Pancho carefully pointed to the roosting bird high in a Red Chaca tree. Jayson stared at me indicating that he wanted me to move into position to film the action.
The silhouette of a large Meleagris Ocellata stood out against the rapidly fading darkness. Jayson slowly and cautiously raised the Benelli to his shoulder and waited for Pancho's instructions to shoot.Our foursome had successfully completed a stalk on a wild ocellated jungle bird, just as the Mayans had done hundreds of years before us.
The 12-gauge roared and the first ocellated turkey of the hunt tumbled to the ground. Jayson danced in the dim light while Pancho and Juan Carlos raced through the jungle to claim the hunter's prize. Dozens of photos later, we made the long hike out, loaded our gear and headed back to camp for a splendid breakfast and siesta before heading out for the afternoon hunt.
Our arrival back at camp sparked a celebratory gathering. Gene, Encalada, Hunt Manager Jose Enrique Camara, Camp Manager Alonso Puerto and the camp staff greeted us. Everyone listened as Jayson retold the story of his hunt. An incredible honor fell heavily on his shoulders when "The Legend of the Yucatan", elderly Senor Alfrevo Lechuga shook his hand, embraced him and extended his personal congratulations for a successful hunt. During his lifetime, Lechuga earned the reputation as the greatest jaguar hunter in all of the Yucatan.
Our air conditioned tent relaxed us quickly. Siestas are a very important part of a jungle hunting camp. The heat and humidity saps ones strength quickly. Paying attention to proper amounts of rest and water and food intake is absolutely necessary for staying healthy in the jungle.
A variety of game birds exist in the Yucatan jungles. We spent our afternoons pursuing Crested Guans and Curassows. Our superb guides knew where each of the species lived in the dense jungles and lead us to success. Additionally, they pointed out eagles, toucans, monkeys, brocket deer and parakeets. Pancho noted an eight inch wide trail which ribboned through the jungle. My imagination flashed back to scary jungle movies of my childhood when he told us the litter free path had been created by millions of army ants during the night.
The Ocellated turkey roams the jungles of southern Mexico in Yucatan and Campeche states.
Jayson filmed my hunt for a beautifully colored ocellated turkey as well. Awe overcame both of us when we observed the two inch plus needle sharp spurs on our birds. Locals have the uncanny habit of removing the spurs from ocellated birds they harvest and taping them to the legs of their fighting roosters. Despite our extensive turkey hunting experience, our pair of ocellated turkeys became our most prized turkey harvests.
As side trips, Jayson bow hunted for peccary and I sat in a tower blind overlooking a water hole watching for a puma. Neither of us scored, but our respected water holes held heavy amounts of sign. We will be attempting to take those animals on our next trip.
Water holes are magnets for yellow flies, which have a heavy bite, and black gnats. It would have been impossible to withstand the steady attacks from insects without my RedHead 3D Evolution Suit which doubled a a bug suit. It added minimal heat retention while keeping hordes of biting bugs at bay. The RedHead Bug jacket and pants will definitely be in my bags for the next trip.
Our grand adventure with Maya Amazing Outfitters proved the best of my life. A professional staff, well organized camp, excellent food, and above all, superb hunting, created a hunters dream come true deep in the wild jungles of the southern Yucatan. I knew as soon as I entered camp that the operation would be first class. Every direction I looked, I saw RedHead equipment, gun cases, packs, camo clothing, caps and RedHead seat covers in the Maya Amazing monster truck. And unbelievably, internet service and satellite phones gave this camp the ultimate in up to date technology.