The treasure hidden among the hills of Sonora, Mexico, calls to us in spring. Like adventurous prospectors we pack our gear and cross the border in search of the bounty that is Meleagris gallopavo mexicana. It’s a Gould’s rush; dreams of completing the turkey royal slam work our winter-dormant minds into a frenzy.
Sandy, prickly and largely devoid of trees, the sprawling landscape of Rancho Mababi in northeastern Sonora is imposing. First-time Gould’s hunters have immediate questions on arrival: Do turkeys really live here? Where do they roost? How do we find them?
A trailside chat with a vaquero yields more info. Sí, he’s spotted guajolotes (turkeys) on this hillside several times. Ted suspects the birds likely water at the pond in the morning and then feed across the hill before returning to roost in the late afternoon.
Gobbles greet us at dawn. We peer from the blind window and there, at the top of the tallest tree in full-fan splendor, is our Gould’s. Time after time he hammers our ears, but he is for now out of reach.
Found and hunted mainly in northern Mexico, the Gould’s turkey subspecies is on any gobbler fanatic’s lifetime hit list. The Gould’s (named after British ornithologist and artist John Gould, who identified the subspecies during his travels through Mexico in 1856) is a big bird, with gobblers commonly weighing 22 pounds or more. Many Gould’s gobblers have somewhat spindly beards and nubby spurs—products of the high-desert environment they call home—but their tail fans, ringed by brilliant white feather tips, are the largest of all the subspecies.
I hunted the Gould’s on Rancho Mababi, a 6,250-acre working cattle and sheep ranch owned by Roberto and Alice Valenzuela, in the rugged hills the Sonoran Desert. The south-of-the-border setting with ties to the Mexican Revolution, the hospitality of the Valenzuelas and the expertise of Ted Jaycox of Tall Tine Outfitters made it a memorable experience—but of course the highlight of the trip was hearing a Gould’s gobbles roll through the desolate landscape of Sonora, while I looked down the barrel of my Mossberg and wondered if this bird would put the cap on my royal slam.