Hunting in Rancho El Carbón.
In the month of October, when hunters start to feel that we have to adjust our rifles, secure the ranches and do everything that’s involved in the rite of the beginning of the deer hunting season, I phoned my friend, Clemente Villalobos, in order to ask him what were his plans for the rapidly approaching hunting season. Clemente had a lot of plans, but what called my attention was that, among them, he had programmed a mule deer hunt in Sonora for the second week of January 2008 in Rancho El Carbón, owned by my friend Germán Rivas. Clemente was very excited because his deer collection lacked such a trophy, and, besides, because this is one of the most important trophies in Mexico, and definitively, the biggest.
I told him about some of my experiences in Rancho El Carbón two seasons before, and I also told him the odds were very high for his obtaining a respectable trophy in that ranch. We had almost finished talking, when he invited me to join him in the hunt. I immediately gave him the obvious answer, but a problem arose due to the fact that the group I’d just joind was formed by three hunters: the Hernández brothers, Rogelio and Mauricio, and Clemente. As I know that Germán, in order to not to diminish the odds of each hunter to hunt a good mule deer, only allows 12 mule deers to be hunted each season, that is, three per week, I asked him to sell to me a whitetail Coues deer hunt. This species is hard to hunt at Rancho El Carbón due to several reasons: the infrastructure and the logistics are designed for mule deer hunts, the mountainous area – the habitat of the Coues deer – only comprises 25% of the ranch’s area and, the most powerful reason, the fact that Germán doesn’t sell Coues hunts, he only offers them as an “extra” for those who go hunting mule deer. But, as Clemente Villalobos owns a ranch in the Sierra Fría, in Aguascalientes, where you can also find the Coues subspecies, he was not interested in hunting one of this trophies, so he kindly let me have his Coues hunt.
We traveled, in a comfortable direct flight, from Aguascalientes to Puerto Libertad, by courtesy of Mauricio Hernández. From the air, we could see a landing strip surrounden by miles and miles of… nothing!! The welcoming committee, headed by Germán, was equipped with direct radio communication with the plane, emergency and rescue medical services in charge of Eduardo Peralta MD, and army representatives that would check our guns and transfer them from the plane to the Rancho El Carbón van. I must say – as a historical note – that on that day the Puerto Libertad had an unprecedented flight traffic: two planes arrived!! Ours and, almost at the same time, the Brittingham brothers flight, something that caused a great commotion and crowded the airport in that place.
As soon as we got to the ranch, we were assigned –according to our snoring volume- to three comfortable rooms, and we were greeted by the staff, that was already waiting in order to offer us a delicious lunch. In the afternoon we took a tour of the hunting areas near to the main facilities. We were able to see several green fields, that is, all the necessary infrastructure in order to provide deer with optimal conditions and ensure that does will like the place.
The following day, I went out early and took a walk in the hills accompanied by my guide, “El Chacho”. We went deeper, and deeper, among the hills, always looking for tracks left by the deer, and scanning the horizon as we reached the mountain tops, and soon it was ten o’clock. I walked looking towards the ground, as I didn’t want to trip over something. Suddenly, El Chacho ducked and whispered: “By the palo verde…” “What about the palo verde, Chacho?” I said, “I can’t see a thing.” Chacho said there was a deer at about 150 m, standing by a palo verde tree, one of the thousands of palos verdes growing in front of us… When, at last, I was able to see the palo verde Chacho meant, I could finally see the buck. (I was surprised to see how well the deer can camouflage into the desert landscape.) I thought the animal was worth the shot and I looked for a rest for my rifle. I knelt and firmly aimed to hit my target. I softly squeezed a round off and, after the thundering sound of the shot came the typical thumping sound and the classical humped jump of the animal. The buck ran about five meters, and, after reaching a small bush, gave a small jumped and fell on its tracks, right into my trophy room.
After the shot, I turned towards my guide to shake hands in order to close our hunting day, but I noticed he seemed a little worried. I asked if there was any problem, an he said he had heard two shots at the same time, mine, and another one, not too far. As it turned out, at the same time I shot at the whitetail, Mauricio had shot at a huge mule deer. His guide told him he had failed, and Mauricio tried a second shot when the buck was getting away as fast as he could, but the result was the same. Mauricio went on with his hunt and the morning passed without any other incident. At 2:00 in the afternoon, as it is the custom in Rancho El Carbón, Mauricio and his guide started to look for a small shadowy place in order to have their lunch and take a little nap. But the shadow they chose was already taken… Both of them were extremely excited when they discovered the great mule deer that was enjoying the place they expected to have their lunch in. Mauricio placed a bullet in the chamber of his 300 Win Mag, aimed to a lethal spot, and called a shot. The mule deer buck jumped a couple of times and fled from the site. The guide shouted: “You missed again!” This caused Mauricio to try a second shot, but, after walking for a while, they found the trophy – perfectly dead and not suffering any more.
We had a great celebration that night, well, we celebrated almost every night, but that night we were celebrating Mauricio’s buck and mine.
As I had already hunted my whitetail, I decided to keep company to Clemente in his mule deer hunt on the next day. Ha had already spotted several good trophies, but, as this was his first hunting day, he didn’t shoot at any animal. He didn’t want this wonderful experience to last so little. We went out at dawn, riding in one of the vans with high seats Germán has specially adapted for hunting. It was about eight or nine o’clock in the morning when, suddenly, the guide asked the driver to stop and told us we had reached a spot he considered was appropriate for us to get off of the vehicle and walk a little. I decided to stay near the vehicle and lit a small campfire, as it was very cold. The driver –who resulted an excellent tracker- went away with the rest of the group. It took them about half an hour to find a good track which they followed until they found the owner of such impressive “shoes”, but Clemente was hesitant because, despite he is very experienced in deer hunting, he didn’t know how to judge a mule deer from Sonora. The animal became aware of the presence of the hunter, and he turned his head to look at the man. When Clemente had this front view of the trophy, all his doubts disappeared. He aimed his rifle immediately, took a deep breath, and sent the buck a plane ticket to travel to the beautiful city of Aguascalientes. Contrary to what we normally do after shooting, that is, waiting for a while for the animal to be cold, Clemente ran, full of excitement, towards his trophy and finished him off to end his suffering.
The following morning, Rogelio, who was a couple of days late because of his work, was passing near by the spot where Mauricio had missed the good mule deer, when, by a strange sort of luck, they found the same mule deer. And I say “strange luck” because mule deer are not characterized by being territorial animals, they move around a lot, and the more so if someone tried to shoot them. But, in this case we were able to confirm that the improvements or benefits Germán provides for them – with the drinking and feeding troughs- discourage them from abandoning the area. Rogelio liked that mule deer a lot, and got ready to shoot. Rogelio practices a lot and is a crack shot, so, he took his position and slowly squeezed the trigger, shooting at the buck his brother, Mauricio, had missed, but there was no luck… for the buck.
We were all very happy because we had hunted the trophies we had programmed – and in such a short time – but Clemente seemed a little strange to me… We asked him if there was any trouble, and he told us he would like to hunt a better mule deer… As we knew that, the previous week to our hunt, one of the hunters had left empty handed because he had tried to hunt a monster trophy, we asked Germán to let Clemente have another shot at it. Germán accepted and, the following day – in his way back to the Ranch’s house – Clemente got a wonderful mule deer trophy with a difficult free hand shot.
This is how our hunt in El Carbón ended. We went all went back home feeling happy and with wonderful trophies. Eventhough the hunting season in Sonora, according to the comments from many hunters, had been rather poor.
This article is dedicated to don Rogelio Hernández, Rogelio’s and Mauricio’s father, who has encouraged his sons to be such responsible hunters and for his being an excellent and amenable hunting companion.