Editor's note: In this recurring blog, editor Brian Lovett looks back at memorable hunts throughout his career. This occurred in 1998.
Standing in the chilly night air, I strained to look at the face of the man before me. He stood stock still, expressionless; his eyes visible only through the soft glare of road flares. Even in the darkness, I didn't have trouble seeing the AK in his hands, though.
No one spoke, and the tension was palpable. I remember thinking that if we died there in the Sierra Madre Occidental, even the buzzards wouldn't find our bones.
What a day it had been. That morning, some friends and I had embarked on a trip to Jecora, Sonora, Mexico, for a Gould's hunt. Our plane had experienced mechanical problems in Phoenix, so we'd arrived late at Hermosillo and missed our final connection, to Obregon. Our leader managed to hire a cab to drive us several hours into the mountains, but sometime in the middle of the night, our van was stopped by a roadblock of federales. None of them spoke English. None of us spoke Spanish. But they were very interested in the camera equipment a couple of our friends had brought with them, so a search commenced.
Finally, after staring at my new "friend" for more than an hour, someone must have figured out whose palm to grease, and we were allowed to leave; shaken to the core but glad to be back on the road.
When we arrived at our destination in Jecora, it was probably about 3 a.m. We wolfed down a few tortillas, took an hour nap and then — what else? — went turkey hunting. After a painstakingly slow hour-long drive into the mountains, we rolled out of an old truck, traipsed up an incline and sat against massive pines. And when the first Gould's I'd ever heard gobbled — "el obble, obble, obble" — I had to think for a moment before I was sure it was a turkey.
But it was, and it did what turkeys do. That is, it whipped my butt. In fact, every turkey I encountered for the next two days whipped my butt, and with only one day left in the hunt, I had to figure out how to save the first leg of my royal slam.
The third morning, we went to a small cattle ranch deep in a massive valley. Gobbling erupted everywhere, and it seemed we were surrounded by white-tipped-fanned longbeards. Trouble was, they were tight with hens, and the country was so open that we couldn't move much.
Finally, after we'd watched a breeding flock for almost two hours, the birds drifted away, and we circled around to find a better setup. Our first calls were met by gobbling from behind us, so I shifted to my left and waited. Instantly, four turkeys popped out one by one.
"Jake, jake, jake ... longbeard!" I thought.
The gunshot followed a second later. After two and a half days, I had the first and only Gould's of my career. I also like to tell folks that it was probably the world's smallest Gould's, tipping the scales at about 16 pounds. It had no spurs, which is not uncommon for that subspecies.
I didn't care. I had a gorgeous bird from an unforgettable adventure. No one could ever take that away from me.
Still, we chartered a private plane back to the Obregon airport. I wasn't driving through those damn mountains again.