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Birding with Balderrama
or
Hot Barrel Hunting in Mexico

I had never thought of Mexico as a bird-hunting destination, but spending a week there has really changed my perspective. Some of the most exciting and fun hunting I’ve experienced recently can be had out of Los Moiches, Mexico where a variety of bird hunting is available along with excellent fishing and train touring as well. If you’re a couple and only one of you hunts you’ll enjoy the premier hotel facilities of the Balderrama family and shopping in Los Moiches, touring the province, in addition to the excellent hunting offered.

The Plaza Inn Hotel and Convention Center offers first class lodging facilities and has three excellent restaurants, a night club and a cocktail lounge for your convenience along with a business office with several computers for all your business needs. It’s the perfect place for your base camp while you enjoy the varied hunting offered and your wife can enjoy the shopping or side trips that are offered in certain packages if she isn’t a hunter.

On my first full day of hunting, we went north of Los Mochis into the hill country to hunt the rare quail called the Elegante. The area we hunted in reminded me of some of the country I had traveled in South Africa while on safari. The grass, trees, shrubs and geology all had a familiar look and feel to them, as did the thorns. The Elegante Quail are only found in the one area of Mexico and is one of the most challenging quail I’ve ever hunted. By the end of the day, I had a new name for them, “The Grey Ghost’s”. Their habitat is the tall grasses close to higher and denser brushy areas and some trees. They don’t all take off at once, but just as one takes off and you start your swing to the bird another one or two will take off in the opposite or different direction, and so on, until the covey has all taken off or run to another area. Their flight paths are varied as well and very challenging. Some will skitter just a few inches above the ground dodging between and around bushes while other will launch into the air at about a forty-five degree angle or anything in between, and reach for the stars. You never have any idea of what the birds will do. You’ll only catch a fleeting glimpse of a gray blur of feathers. You have to be quick and precise.

The first few birds we flushed we never had a shot at because of the cover or the sun. The third bird flushed was shot at by two hunters off to my right but continued unscathed until it appeared about twenty yards in front of me about six inches above the ground like a rocket going from right to left. I gave it plenty of lead with the Browning 20 gage O/U and it tumbled into some heavy brush. We saw quite a few more birds but only were able to get two more birds for the morning. The fellows off to my right were hunting with dogs and the dogs were flushing the birds a little to far away at times. Your much better off hunting these birds without a pointer or a dog out in front of you because of the cover, but it would be good to have a dog that would retrieve them. You can flush plenty of birds by yourself or with other hunters. These quail were the most difficult I’d ever shot at because of their speed, and flight characteristics and ability to move around objects quickly.

For lunch we stopped at the local ranchers hacienda and had a refreshing lunch and lay around in some hammocks under a canopy and let the light breeze cool us off for an hour or so. The dogs needed as rest as well because of the heat. When we went back out, we were able to get a couple more birds in the afternoon although we saw quite a few. Their ability to disappear so quickly makes their new given name, “The Gray Ghost” appropriate. They were great fun to hunt and the most challenging quail I’d ever hunted.

Dinner that evening at the Plaza Inn was another feast. I started out by having their seafood soup, which had everything from octopus, mussels, white fish, shrimp, salmon, (and I’m sure I missed something) some vegetables and a broth that was out of this world. It became my favorite soup while at the Plaza Inn. They pour plenty of excellent Mexican wine throughout the meals, and I though the house white wine was superb. I actually preferred it over some of the more expensive white wines they served. That evening we all had one of the Elegante Quail for dinner with as many additional quail as we could eat that they normally serve for dinner. The rice and vegetables that accompanied the dishes were prepared to perfection. The deserts leave nothing to be desired as well, the selection each night is outstanding. The dinning at the Plaza Inn is on par with any high quality restaurant you’d find in the U.S., and always excellent.

Early in the morning, before dawn, we had a quick but delicious breakfast and headed out to the suburban to take us out for a day of duck hunting. The airboats got us to our blinds early enough to be in place before the ducks started flying. It didn’t take long before the action started. I shared the blind with an older gentleman from Wyoming who had been duck hunting many times, and I advised him I’d never been duck hunting before. He was a little surprised, and advised me he’d take all the ducks on that side of the blind, and I could take all the ducks on this side of the blind. That seemed logical and normal. In a few minutes two ducks came flying in low on my side of the blind and I popped up with the Browning 20gage O/U I’d been hunting quail with and fired two shots and dropped my first two ducks. He congratulated me on my first two ducks. I felt pretty good being that I dropped each of them with a single shot from a 20 gage with size six shot. Before long, he had a couple of ducks himself.

It started getting fast and furious, and ducks where coming in left and right in flights of a dozen of more. With the large flocks of ducks coming in, I realized I was at a disadvantage with the 20 gage O/U, so I switched to a Beretta automatic. There aren’t any plugs in the guns in Mexico, so you could load four in the magazine. Before long, each of us had over twenty ducks. I also got my first clubhouse double in duck hunting, that is, I killed two ducks with one shot from the 12 gauge.

We could hear the airboat stirring up the ducks a mile or so away, and we could see huge flocks of ducks rising up into the air. We knew we were in for some hot and heavy action. The ducks seemed to come out of nowhere, you’d be looking around, not seeing anything and all of a sudden there would be several overhead. I saw a single duck coming in on my partner’s side, so I yelled DUCK, and he ducked. That wasn’t the response I expected, so I shot his duck. We roared in laughter at that little misunderstanding.

The ducks really started coming in and it felt like we were being attacked. It was like a scene from and Alfred Hitchcock movie. There was almost constant firing by my blind mate and myself. Every time I had to reload the gun I was burning my hands on the hot barrel and action. Even the synthetic stock was getting hot. I was also trying to get some photographs taken, but every time I reached for the camera, more ducks came over. That happened over a dozen times and I never did get the shot I was looking for. Suddenly, there were five or six ducks that came straight at us at a moderate height, 25 to 30 yards. We agreed I’d work them from the right and he’d work them from the left and we started shooting. I got the first one and then went after the second one, which took two shots to put down and then went after a third when I heard a loud crash. I thought a duck he shot fell right into our blind. When I was done shooting at the third bird, I finally turned around to see what landed in our blind. It turned out not to be a duck, but the shooter who continued to lead one of his targets till it passed over his head and caused him to fall over backward in the blind. The sight of that caused me to burst into laughter, and he started in as well. We were laughing so hard I couldn’t even help him up for some time. That incident gave quite a few ducks a second chance at life. The day ended up with quite a large haul of ducks. If I had known duck hunting could be so much fun and exciting I think I’d of gotten into duck hunting long ago.

My sentiments regarding duck hunting prior to this trip could best be expressed by a story written by Baxter Black, a cowboy writer of poetry and other interesting material. He wrote a piece entitled, “Luther And Duck huntin’”. In it there were a few lines about how he feels about duck hunters. He felt that duck hunters were the craziest of the crazy people in the world. That anyone who would get up in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter in the most freezing weather to stand up in ice cold water up to their belt buckle just to shoot a duck had to have some synapses miss-firing. Now if you want to find out what happens to Luther and Baxter when they go duck hunting, you’ll just have to buy his book Coyote Cowboy Poetry.

After hunting ducks for a couple of days Bobby Balderrama asked me if I’d be interested in visiting his hotel in Copper Canyon. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. If hunters come to Los Moiches and their wife’s don’t like to hunt, they can take a side excursion to Copper Canyon for a couple of days. The trip involves a half-day train ride through the exciting and beautiful Copper Canyon to a little village called Divisadaro, located right on the very edge of the canyon about half way along the route. Be sure to bring a camera on this trip. It offers some spectacular scenery and an opportunity to buy some of the local arts and crafts made by the Tarahumara Indians. The hotel will come and pick you up and deliver you to your room.

The hotel is built right on the edge of the canyon and all the rooms offer you a grand view of the canyon either from the room of from your private balcony. The dining room also offers spectacular views and you want to get there early to get a table adjacent to the panoramic windows. When you check in, they give you a coupon for a welcoming Margarita, and that sort of sets the tone for the evening. They have a guitarist that plays in the evening and there is usually a roaring fire in the large fireplace in the lounge area. The rooms are large and comfortable and also have fireplaces as well.

There are a variety of hikes in the area, but you have to make sure you allow yourself enough time for your return, for to return you have to hike back uphill the whole way. There are some easier hikes along the rim of the canyon as well, and they will take for a tour in one of their vans if you ask them to. The other alternative is to just enjoy the piece and quiet and take in the scenery or enjoy a good book or take in a little shopping for a gift at the train station where all the natives sell their wares.

When I returned from my trip I found some of the shooters did a little goose hunting and fishing and we had some of the fish for dinner that evening. It was delicious as were all the other meals. It was decided the next morning we’d go for some dove that was only a short drive from the hotel. It was desert country with plenty of large cactus and some large barren trees and some smaller shrubs that offered a little concealment. As we drove in we noticed a cattle drive had recently moved through the area as we could still see them off in the distance. As it turned out the cattle drive apparently spooked most of the birds out of the area. We had some good shooting, but not anywhere near the number of birds we’d have had had not the cattle been pushed through the area. After a lunch back at the hotel, we went to a different area and had much better success. I was again burning my hands by handling a gun with hot barrels. This time it was the Browning 20ga. O/U.

On our last day hunting in Los Moiches I was invited to go quail hunting in the afternoon with Bobby Balderrama just outside of town. So in the morning I went and did a little shopping at of all places, Sam’s Club. The price of Tequila at Sam’s Club is the cheapest you find anywhere and they have the best selection. What would normally cost you $40.00 to $50.00 at a liquor store in the states will cost you only $20.00 a bottle, and I’m talking about the really good stuff. You can find Tequila there that will cost you $300.00 if you care to spend that much. I can’t tell you how many bottles I brought back, but it was more than one.

In the afternoon, we headed to an area outside of town with a lot of low shrubbery and a scattering of trees. It was low rolling countryside with quite a few creek bottoms in the area. No sooner did we get out of the vehicle than we had birds taking off around us. I had their trusty Browning 20 gauge with me again and it proved quite effective on these quail. These birds didn’t get very high off the ground; rarely did they go above the height of the bushes. But it was easy to get them when they did. In a few minutes we both had a couple of birds. A couple of guides from the hotel went with us and they were stirring up all kinds of birds for us. It was sometimes hard to see the guides and a few times I didn’t take a shot because I wasn’t sure of where the guides were. The quail were plentiful and we ended up with a nice bag of birds at the end of the day.

The best way to get to Los Moiches is out of Salt Lake City via Aero Mexico. Because of connections, you might have to spend an evening in Salt Lake City. If you have to, you have to stay at the Airport Comfort Inn at 200 N. Admiral Byrd Rd. You won’t regret it. They have a shuttle service that will pick you up and drop off at the terminal. They have a VIP section in the inn with large rooms where you really have some great accommodations. They also have a great full service restaurant in house with an excellent wine list. The evening I had dinner there I had an excellent grilled salmon entrée with a tremendous salad and a delicious white wine. But with the happy hour they have and free drinks and the great snacks they serve you hot, you might not have room for dinner. You’ll have to make that decision.

For complete information on a variety of packages for hunting in Los Moiches Mexico and other areas you’ll want to contact GS Safaris. Additional contact information is listed below.

Airport Comfort Inn
800-535-8742
www.slccomfortinn.com

Baxter Black
800-654-2550

Author:
Jerry Sinkovec
photojournalistjerry@juno.com