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Golden Gould’s

I was on a beautiful ranch in Aguascalientes, one of Mexico’s smallest states. It’s a place unfamiliar to most American turkey hunters, but a close Mexican friend graciously arranged this hunt for me. I soon realized what an extraordinary treat I was in for.

Aguascalientes lies between 5,900 and 6,500 feet above sea level. It is located in the center of Mexico, bounded on the north, east, and west by the state of Zacatecas and on the south by the state of Jalisco. Aguascalientes is semi-dry and temperate, with an average temperature of 66 degrees. Half of the state is flat, and the rest is shaped by three mountain ranges.

On the first morning I struck off with my guides, Desi and his brother José, for a Gould’s gobbler we roosted the night before. We heard him greeting the day as raucously as he had the night. Approaching cautiously in the darkness, I could see wisps of my breath in the morning air, and it was cool enough that my fingers felt a bite. We set up, and Desi urged me to call. I was caught off-guard, so my first calls were somewhat tentative. I quickly adjusted and eased into some soft yelps with a mouth call and a slate over aluminum scratcher. My next surprise came when the gobbler bellowed back. Soon it was clear he was on the ground with several equally vocal hens, all headed our way. I smiled at the thought of how well this day started.

Within minutes the birds were within 70 yards. Our interaction lasted more than a half-hour, but suddenly everything went silent. We agreed that the gobbler had plenty of hens, so he certainly wasn’t lonely. However, I couldn’t help feel that hollow consciousness that creeps into a man’s head when he’s just been outsmarted by a bird with a walnut-size brain.
We worked several more spots that morning and then returned to the ranch for some consolation, a sumptuous lunch and a siesta. While we discussed the morning hunt, ranch owner Jaime Diaz told me he believed the quality and repertoire of my calling were good, but it was far too conservative for these Gould’s. He suggested I mix in more aggressive yelps and cutts. This was a new approach for me. Mostly I hunt Eastern turkeys, with an occasional expedition for a Rio or an Osceola, and I only get loud when I try to locate a bird or there’s no gobbling. Otherwise, my calling is typically reserved. But I knew I could get loud if I have to in order to incite some passion in these birds.

That afternoon we worked mesas, climbed mountainsides and descended into valleys. I called from mountaintops and ridges, making great use of a Neil Jacobs cedar longbox, and the bright, clear sounds from my favorite Tim Sandford double friction call. The echoes seemed to carry as far as my eyes could see.

The next day we anxiously went to a new area and climbed to the rim of a huge tree-filled canyon. At daybreak a storm of gobbling rose from the canyon. It was a turkey hunter’s dream. Desi had a destination in mind, so we followed on a lengthy hike.  We ended up on an escarpment over the narrowing end of a canyon. It was an easy trip for the two 30-somethings, but a bit trickier for me. When we arrived, I was too winded to operate a mouth call, so I worked a friction call instead. A hen was quick to answer, and she soon materialized about 100 feet below us, coming our way, clucking with each step.

Suddenly José tapped me on the shoulder and motioned with his head toward a tom making its way along the rimrock behind us. Then he motioned for me to call some more. It’s fascinating how gestures and silent communication function can work just fine even when each man speaks a different language.

I was seated in the open, hands on a friction call, a borrowed shotgun on my lap, and facing the wrong direction! Could it get any worse? I had to turn, find the bird, aim and shoot, all with the consideration that José was behind me. Luckily, years of banging heads with diabolical Eastern birds prepared me for the unexpected. I swung to my left just in time to see a white head emerging just above the rocks, followed by the bird’s chest and side glowing golden in the early morning sun. Finally, as the ample beard came into view, I shot and the turkey fell. José yelled, “Un tiro!” (one shot) and scrambled to the bird. Desi and I joined him to inspect the slendid old fellow that sported an 11-inch-plus beard and nearly 1-inch spurs.

We congratulated each other and excitedly reenacted the episode along with the oddity and irony of the situation. After all the gobbling we heard from so many different birds, this one walked in silently. Regardless, my shot gave me great satisfaction, and killing this old tom, my first Gould’s, was a thrill. Even though it wasn’t a classic battle of wits or a master strategy that allowed us to prevail, we made smart choices, and, importantly, we were in the right place at the right time.

Ah, isn’t luck great, and isn’t turkey hunting wonderful?

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