There's Gould's in Them Thar Hills! The Feathered Treasures of the Sierra Madres
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
If I’ve learned one thing traveling to distant places to hunt, fish or just experience another culture and cuisine, it’s that the people living in those destinations are what set the lesson apart. Sure, there can be exciting moments in the field with incredible spectacles put on by wildlife, but for me the most lasting moments seem to be those where I’ve gained insight from people, some of whom might first appear to be worlds away from you.
Last year I joined a group of hunters and outdoors communicators in Sonora, Mexico at Rancho Mababi, an incredibly productive, well-managed ranch loaded with cattle, sheep, Coues deer and wild turkeys. Our host was Linda Powell, of O.F. Mossberg & Sons and we were hunting beautiful Gould’s turkeys.
You can read all about the hunt, more about the ranch and its vibrant history (including Pancho Villa's excursions across the property), plus see 14 additional photos in the July-August issue of Turkey Country magazine (click here).
The article begins on page 64.
Blog continues below.
We used Mossberg 935 turkey model semi-autos and pump action model 500s, loaded with Winchester Longbeard XR shotshells to take the big-bodied toms. Writer Craig Boddington and I actually doubled on the second day of the hunt.
A Hunting Convert
Here at the Outdoors Rambler, we'll share a story about how one of the ranch owners, a non-hunter, came to value and appreciate the importance of hunting and the dedication and conservation ethic hunters bring to their pursuits. The ranch, tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains, is owned by Roberto and Alice Valenzuela. Roberto is Mexican by birth. Alice was an American "military brat." They met in college. Both have MBA degrees but the fled Silicone Valley for rural life on Roberto's family ranch (see the Turkey Country article for the unique story of how the ranch came into the family's possession.
Alice shared that she first didn't want the ranch to become a hunting property and marketed it as a great place for birdwatchers. Eventually, though, abundant deer were attracting a lot of mountain lions. To manage the lion numbers they needed to manage the deer numbers. She began learning about deer hunting. The Valenzuela’s offered a free hunt to a group on the condition that Alice accompany the hunters to learn what it was all about. Her preconceived notions were grounded in Hollywood stereotypes and they weren’t favorable.
Her experiences with the hunters contrasted sharply with those she had with the birdwatchers. While the observations may be anecdotal, she was able to discern a clear difference in both the approach and commitment between birders and hunters. She observed that her bird watchers seemed more interested in simply checking the blocks -- seeing a bird and then looking for the next one on the list. “They weren’t interested in the habitat the birds were in,” she said, adding the guests seemed only politely interested in the history of ranch and how the world-class habitat was created and nurtured. “I tried to get them interested, but all they wanted to do was check off birds,” she said. The hunters gave her a crash, but in-depth, course, teaching everything from glassing for game to recovering downed animals. When they were finished, they quizzed her about the terrain, the vegetation and more.
“It was more tiring, physically, than with the birders but when they (the hunters) left, I felt so energized,” Alice said. On the hunters' last day at the ranch, they asked her what she thought of the experience. “It came out of me – it was beautiful,” she said with emotion. “I was really shocked by that…the whole thing was beautiful, from beginning to end.” She said she was impressed by the way the hunters honored the animals and told of one lifelong hunter who saw the biggest buck he’d ever spotted but passed on a shot because it was a little too long to be sure of a clean kill. “It was almost a religious experience. I could feel their excitement,” she said. “They had a deep interest in everything, not just getting a buck. That’s how we decided to do hunting.”
Electricity at Rancho Mababi is still provided by generators and all cooking is done on a wood stove. Alice loves the way food tastes cooked over a wood fire. For me, the best camp food is that which reflects the area, the culture and the game that’s being hunted. The meals at Rancho Mababi provided that total experience.
During our hunt Alice and Rosyy Pulido, a local chef she employed, crafted incredible meals. Pulido's breads and pastries, incorporating local ingredients such as mesquite flour, were phenomenal. She made adaptations of a Hawaiian pizza, using wild Gould’s turkey meat instead of ham. One of the highlights was a meal featuring wild turkey with a special molé sauce. She shared the history of the dish and her preparation techniques. Click Here for that interview.