Feature Article: Ocellated Turkeys

First Person Report: Ocellated turkey hunt in South America a success!

BY TOM MATTUSCH/Special to Western Outdoor NewsPublished: Mar 21, 2019

I went down to Carlos Cano Cruz on the Yucatan Peninsula in South America to hunt the unique ocellated turkey with Jorge Sansores of Snook Inn Hunting. This hunt would be much different than the week I spent in the jungle looking for ocellated turkeys last year.

The connection from San Francisco to Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan in Mexico, was not very user friendly, arriving about midnight, so I arrived in Merida a day early and went to visit the Mayan archeological site of Chichen Itza on Saturday. The outfitter had me picked up at the airport and delivered to the ­Holiday Inn.

ocellatedturkeysOCELLATED TURKEYS ARE found on the Yucatan Peninsula in South America, and Capt. Tom Mattusch of the Huli Cat in Pillar Point shot this one during a hunt there recently, but ran into big problems bringing it back to the U.S.

Sunday morning I found the other four hunters who would be making the 3-hour trip from Merida to Carlos Cano Cruz. We arrived and had a great lunch, then prepared for our first afternoon hunt. Jorge had a number of different shotguns to choose from, and I picked a Fabarm Hunter 12-gauge Lion H38 in 3-inch.

That first afternoon I saw my first ocellated turkey in daylight as it walked toward the blind. It was a jake, a young bird about a year old, utterly stunning, its feathers looking like a neon light show. Hunts were conducted out of portable blinds, Primos Double Bull.

The guides would look for a suitable spot, clear some brush overlooking Mennonite fields of various grains, soy, millet, sorghum or corn. The next day, about 30 turkeys worked across the field in front of the blind, within range. Not much English was spoken on the part of the guides, but they knew what we wanted. My broken Spanish was fine for me, and my guide indicated none of the 30 birds were really trophy birds, most spurs only slightly over an inch at best.

Ocellated turkeys have no beards, just great long spurs and incredible colors. Instead of gobbling they “sing.” A pair of peccary came out to feed, too early in the afternoon to chase in case more turkeys wandered by. When we did get out of the blind to see if we could find the peccary, we couldn’t find them.

Between the 5 hunters, it wasn’t uncommon to see roughly 100 birds a day. That being said, I did have days when I didn’t see any turkeys, perhaps just a brocket deer or a peccary out of shotgun range. We left about 5 a.m. after coffee, OJ, offers of cereal, toast, fruit or pan dulce. We hunted for about three hours and we would go back to the lodge about 11 a.m. or so for an incredibly prepared lunch. Hunters would be back in the blinds about 4 p.m. and hunt until dark. Back to the lodge for a great dinner followed by dessert. The lodge was a three bedroom house with three beds per room and bath and shower per room.

Thursday my luck changed. An early flock landed about 80 yards away and took their time working and feeding my direction. It took over 30 minutes for them to get within range, that time spent evaluating spur size. My bird took a load of number 5 at 21 yards. It collapsed in the brush completely and quickly. The other birds were on notice from the sound, but saw nothing and wandered about cautiously. We waited until there were no birds visible to get out of the blind. A few pics and we were off scouting for peccary.

My afternoon hunt was for peccary and brocket deer. We saw a brocket out about 180 yards, well out of shotgun range. The last morning was a brocket and peccary hunt. Puma tracks were encountered, so there were jaguar in the area and the only brocket I saw within range was a female.

My bird had spurs 11-2⁄16-inch and 114⁄46-inch, and weighed 10½ pounds. After a final terrific lunch, it was ‘tip the crew time’ and the 3-hour trip back to Merida. We stopped by other ruins on the way back, spent time at Kabah, a water temple abandoned in the 11th century, and spent more time than planned with a flat tire!

After hunters get their ocellated turkey, Jorge gives them a t-shirt recognizing this as probably completing your World Slam for turkeys. For more direct hunt info, contact snookinjorge@hotmail.com.

Getting the bird home is where the wheels fell off the cart. Groups that went through Houston had no problem with the turkey in their suitcase, because Fish and Wildlife has personnel at the airport. I declared my turkey on entry at San Francisco International Airport, and went to secondary inspection. CBP was puzzled on how to handle this, even with the CITES original permits. When they called AeroMexico baggage people, the person freaked and said it was hazardous material and wanted a hazardous material clean up and yelled at CBP for even letting it touch the counter!

The AeroMexico baggage person looked at the CITES permit and said he had never seen that type of permit in his life. CBP looked up info in their manual and said Mexico has HPAI and Newcastle Disease and avian flu so that was a big problem and I left the airport without the bird.

Fish and Wildlife Service does not have an office at SFO to help move this forward on Sunday, and I finally got a call on Monday from a FWS agent, requesting I fill out a 3-177 form using eDocs.

I finally got a clearance from FWS on Wednesday, but by Thursday morning, Delta baggage said none of the clearances were entered in the computer. I ran into all kinds of problems with potential solutions. I kept calling and e-mailing and most calls were not returned, while many of the Agriculture phone numbers were simply out of service.

I was about to break down and pay almost $500 for a broker, but I called one the airline said had just done a similar clearance and they quoted me $150. When I gave them my airbill number, they indicated what I had done had worked, go pick it up!

I went to Customs, they sent me to the airline to get some paperwork, then back to Customs for a signoff and back to the airline. I got the bird! It had been bagged and rebagged and was covered in enough yellow tape to constitute another bag in and of itself.

I sent it off to a taxidermist and will be anxious to see the final product. I intend to give it to a friend who admired it and took me on a turkey hunt last year.

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