by Arnold Sandoval
The Mexican state of Sonora is still producing many good bucks for those who do their homework. Though Sonora Mexico is not as hot as it once was, it still has several characteristics for producing great bucks. One of which is limited hunting pressure due to stringent gun laws and private land ownership. Great genetics consistent through most of the regions in the northern part of the state all the way west to those areas near the Sea of Cortez, which are the traditional mule deer ranches. Though these regions may vary slightly, most look relatively similar with a variety of cacti and tree specimens. These areas can be harsh and desolate with very limited water sources for deer to survive on.
Not all areas are producing trophy class bucks today, but most of the well-known ranches will continue to take good bucks. Due to the strong presence of super gene pools, many of the original mule deer ranches will continue to produce super bucks if properly managed. One of the most famous ranches, which produced many great trophies in the beginning of the Mexican hunting era, has been almost hunted out completely. If that is not enough, it was broken up into several smaller land tracts controlled by various different interests. One of our guides actually scouted it recently having previously guided there back in its heyday. His outlook was bleak. The mule deer numbers were lower than most parts of the state. It will take several more years of non-hunting and proper management to bring it back to what it once was. As a result, when offered, I declined to lease the ranch for my hunters. Interestingly enough though, another famous ranch just due northwest of this ranch was purchased and managed for trophy deer for at least the last five years. As a result, it has made a dramatic comeback. I would eagerly hunt there myself without hesitation.
Outfitters are another issue when it comes to hunting south of the border. Though some of the big outfits (which I will not name here) did take great bucks in the past decade or so, many have done a disservice to their clients and other reputable outfitters in Mexico. I have heard horror stories from their clients and through personal knowledge know of their harvest and hunting methods. What has changed? For starters, they have put too much pressure on their properties and take an exaggeratedly high number of mule deer. Additionally, big bucks aren't as plentiful throughout those regions as they once were. It seems that their only objective now is the ever-wonderful American dollar.
Most mule deer hunts range from 6 to 7 days depending on the outfitter. There are several methods by which to hunt them with. Tracking has been one of the most widely used and one of the most effective. Mexican guides are well known for their tracking abilities and can stay on a buck track for hours through unreadable terrain. Many outfits use tower-equipped vehicles, just like whitetail hunters do in Texas, in order to see above the thick cover. This can be effective during the rut, as bucks tend to be more active. The terrain on some ranches offers the hunter the opportunity to see several hundred yards ideal for glassing. What I've found to be effective is to let my guide do his tracking as I scan the surrounding cover in all directions with my eyes and binoculars. I spotted a buck by this exact fashion this past season. I saw him when I glassed into the heavy cover of a Palo Verde tree. He was moving parallel to me about 70 yards away and had no idea I was there. Though he was a good buck, I elected not to shoot. Many times you will catch a glimpse of a horn, tail, or leg through the thick cover.
Permits are issued in relation to the amount of land controlled by an outfitter. The game commission will issue more deer tags than the outfitters can feasibly harvest, which does not mean every tag should be filled. The good outfitters will not sell every permit available. If they did, they would wipe out their herds without question. These desert regions traditionally contain low deer densities per square mile in comparison U.S. standards. Therefore low pressure is demanded if trophy harvest is the goal. The outfitter must submit a biological survey to game and fish officials every season as part of the process. Mexican officials then issue tags based on the results.
The gun permits are another issue. For those hunters wishing to bring their own rifles into Mexico, several months are needed to process the necessary paperwork with the military officials. Everything in relation to this process must be followed to perfection. Items such as passports, police clearance letters, color photos, and weapon serial numbers must be submitted early enough in order for the military to process in time for the upcoming season. Even one mistyped serial number on a weapon can lead to possible gun confiscation and hunt delay. This is where a good outfitter can earn his pay by having everything in order.
In my opinion, Coues deer are the hidden gem of Mexican hunting. Very light hunting pressure throughout many areas has allowed many older class bucks to thrive. A good friend of mine actually took a whopper of a buck by accident while hunting mule deer. That buck placed in the all time top ten category for both typical and non-typical. He is not a Coues deer hunter and had never taken one before, nor was he looking for one when he shot it. I, also, on several occasions have seen Coues bucks while hunting mule deer.
Coues deer vary in size from region to region. As a general rule, Coues deer inhabit hill or mountain regions while mule deer prefer the desert floor. Some ranches contain only Coues deer and it is not uncommon to see several good bucks in a day. These ranches contain high deer densities and will offer most hunters a shot at many bucks. On the other hand, other areas contain few Coues deer. These areas tend to produce great bucks also. Many of these areas are typically mule deer ranches surrounded by an occasional hill or two. The deer densities here will not be as high as other Coues deer ranches, but it has been my personal experience, that these areas produce some of the largest Coues bucks
Coues deer hunting in Mexico can be tricky. Let me explain. Most Mexican guides are trackers and hunt on instinct. To them, it is natural to track an animal in the sandy washes of the desert landscape. When it comes to the ever-elusive Coues deer, it's a different game entirely. Most Mexican guides do not own or have the funds to buy the top quality optics needed to spot these small deer. Even so, many guides are amazing at spotting deer with their naked eyes, but have no idea how to properly glass or pick apart areas.
When asked by my clients about hunting in Mexico, I tell them not to expect a 30-inch mule deer buck behind each saguaro cactus. Yes there are plenty of 30-inchers around, but not everyone will see one on most occasions. On the other side of the coin, you just never know what you're going to see in Sonora. Those who have hunted Sonora before can tell you stories of monster bucks they have seen or been lucky enough to take. When it comes to mule deer and Coues deer, it is truly the land of the unexpected.