Archive for Sunday, September 4, 2005

Swarming doves in Mexico make for hunter’s dream

September 4, 2005

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— Riding a hot, dusty wind, the white-winged doves came in swarms. There was seldom a time during the three-hour afternoon hunt when there were no doves in sight.

With a 30-mph tail wind, the blocky doves screamed past at speeds so fast,

I had trouble swinging a shotgun far enough ahead of them.

Frustrated by low shooting percentages, I eventually turned my back on doves and prevailing south winds, concentrating on birds that were slowed by the gusts.

The results were much better for me, not so good for the whitewings. Dove hunting in Mexico is a sensory overload, a wing-shooting fiesta.

Thanks to an agriculture explosion, called the green revolution, whitewings are more plentiful today than 50 years ago, at least in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

Gary Waggerman, a retired biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, spent most of his career studying whitewings in Mexico and Texas.

It was the green revolution of the early 1970s, Waggerman said, that greatly increased Tamaulipas whitewing numbers.

"The farmers cleared thousands of acres of brush and planted the fields in grain," he said.

"There was plenty of brush left for nesting and roosting, and the grain crops increased the amount of food available to birds. There may have only been 5 or 6 million whitewings in Tamaulipas in the 1950s. We don't know how many are there today, but it could be 15 to 18 million."

I was hunting with Rancho Caracol, an operation owned by Barry Putegnat Jr. and run by his son, Dean.

Modern laws are so strict about transporting guns and ammunition across the border, I wouldn't attempt to hunt in Mexico without the help of a first-class outfitter.

Our trip to the Rancho Caracol Lodge, 150 miles south of the border, was the smoothest of a dozen whitewing trips I've made, dating to the late 1970s.

The only time we got out of the lodge van was when we re-entered Texas and U.S. Customs agents check-ed a bag of birds and signed our import papers.

One way outfitters streamline the border crossing process is by maintaining an inventory of shotguns at the lodge.

Hunters no longer have to buy a gun permit to transport their own shotguns, and they don't stop at every military checkpoint while soldiers check the serial numbers against the paperwork.

Rancho Caracol's gun room is stocked with Beretta over-unders and autoloaders in 20 and 12 gauge.

"We're in the hunting business," Dean Putegnat said, "but we're really in the entertainment business. There's no place in North America where you can see this many birds and enjoy this volume of shooting."

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