I was tuned into Sportsman Channel, watching my good friend, J. Alain Smith, on his hit TV show, Rugged Expeditions, hunting some small whitetail called the Mexican Central Plateau whitetail. "Now that looks like fun," I thought to myself as I watched him carousing around in the high desert mountains near Saltillo Mexico.
When the informative and entertaining show was over, I checked-in online with the Safari Club International Record book and discovered that SCI indeed does have a category for these unique deer. Several years back, SCI began recognizing many different whitetail throughout Mexico. Due to extreme habitat variances and weather conditions ranging from humid jungle to high altitude cactus-filled desert, Mexico's indigenous whitetail evolved in various body and antler size, depending on the location. Just as in the rest of North America where different types of whitetail are recognized, Mexico has several new subspecies to hunt.
My policy is: I don't name 'em; I'm just here to hunt 'em. At the SCI annual convention in Las Vegas, I ran into Alain and asked him if he was going back to hunt in the same place again. He said he was. "I'm going back in December to test some new loads that Choice Ammunition put together for me. Another shooter would be awesome if you can make it," Alain said.
"Count me in!" I said as I pulled out my checkbook.
The ranch we were going to hunt is called La Herradura and covers more than 37,000 acres of mountainous, dry desert. The altitude at the fabulous main house we were staying in is 5,600 feet, so it took a little getting used to it since I live at sea level; however for most hunts at La Herradura, not a lot of walking is involved.
Arriving hunters can fly into Monterey (a four-hour drive to the ranch) or to Saltillo (a two-hour drive) or charter a helicopter from Monterey and be at the ranch in 45 minutes. We opted for the chopper since time was short on this hunt and splitting with others kept the cost reasonable enough to make it worthwhile. Plus, who doesn't like a ride in a helicopter?
Seeing the mansion we were going to stay in from the air, I knew I was in for a little pampering. No tenting and eating freeze dried food on this adventure. The food and staff at La Herradura are second to none.
La Herradura offers several options for hunters. They have estate hunting available for indigenous whitetail inside an 18,000-acre high fenced property. The fence was originally put up to protect the deer from local poaching when the owner removed the cattle that had traditionally grazed there in an extremely successful attempt to improve the habitat. This is very challenging hunting for the small elusive deer. Take my word for it.
The other option is chasing the deer outside the fence on the remaining 17,000 acres and surrounding ranches. There, the cattle were removed and with new water sources and improved range carrying capacity, the Central Plateau deer are thriving.
In both areas, a hunter can either hunt from a high rack in the back of a truck, or sit in a comfortable high stand. Our goal was to try everything, inside and outside the fence.
After checking the rifles to make sure the Choice ammo was performing as expected with both rifles shooting sub-one-minute groups, Alain and I decided to head out for a drive around the ranch seated high above the pickup truck.
Cactus in many forms, agave plants, aloe palms and more plants with stickers and thorns than I ever thought possible choke the hillsides in a dense pattern that gives the deer more cover than they need, if you ask me! The whitetail are very hard to spot and are skittish; running for all they are worth at the first sight of the truck. We saw several bucks, but none of them cooperated with our plan to give them a one-way trip to Jonas Brothers of New York's Taxidermy studio.
The next morning, an hour before dawn, found us shivering in a blind, waiting on Ole Sol to heat things up. The desert at this high altitude gets down to the low forties at night before climbing to the mid eighties by lunch. As the eastern sky turned a rosy hue, we began seeing does and several smaller bucks. One looked pretty decent to me, but J. Alain Smith, having hunted there the year before, gave me the "don't shoot that one," look so I reluctantly held off, assuming he had some idea what he was talking about. Not seeing a shooter, we drove back to the hacienda.
One of the things I love about the Mexican culture is that after a nice lunch, it’s traditional to take a siesta. OK, I'm in on that! I wish I had time to take one everyday at home...!
Late that afternoon with not much daylight left, I spotted a really nice trophy buck sneaking through the tall thorny cactus following two does. I eased my 7 mm Rem. Mag. out the window of the blind, hoping he would stop in a locale where I could get a clear shot. There were really no open areas where he was cruising the does, and my heart sank as he simply vanished into thicket.
"Stay ready," Alain whispered. "He might come into view on our left."
I was looking over the top of the scope with my fingers crossed when I noticed some antler tips moving to my left. I found them in the scope, and followed them as the deer walked slowly through the tangled cactus maze 175 yards away. I had a perfect rest when suddenly I could see the deer's head and antlers clearly, but that was all. With the scope dialed up to 14-power, I waited for more deer body to appear. When he turned his head to the left and took another step, I had a clear shot at his neck and figured that was all I was going to see, so I gently squeezed the trigger and sent the 162-grain bullet on its way.
The deer vanished in the recoil, so I didn't see what happened, but Alain's whoop and laugh along with a hearty pat on the back made me realize that Choice Ammunition and yours truly had done our jobs.
As an added bonus to whitetail hunting, there are lots of the local swine called javelina doing what they do best — raiding deer feeders at La Herradura. Roberto Lombard, the head honcho of the estancia, asked us if we would do him a favor and do a little thinning of the pig population, swine swatting and boar busting, while we were there.
"What better way to run some more tests with the ammunition?" Alain suggested.
One particular feeder had an over abundance of javelina, but the closest we could get to it with the wind the way it was that morning was 265 yards and we were going to have to shoot from ground level. It was not going to be a picnic. I found a good rest, lying down on a rare cactus-free small dirt mound while Alain hunkered behind some cactus and tumbleweed.
Dawn finally arrived and since I had won the coin toss, I got first shot on the biggest one, making a pig of itself at the feeder. When the swine gave me a broadside, I showed him what a 7mm can do to a feed raider.
Boom! Dead javelina.
The rest of the potential pork chops scattered and ran before Alain could get a clean shot off. We waited patiently just in case some new ham on the hoof ventured to the grain and were rewarded ten minutes later when a solo male made the mistake of stopping by for a snack.
Boom! Another dead javelina.
I was able to cull an old, heavy forked-horn buck before the trip was over, as well, with another precise neck shot I might add.
What a place La Herradura is. What fantastic ammunition Choice provided for us, and what a fun trip it was getting to hunt with my buddy, J. Alain Smith once again.
What's next? I'm ready!-- Dennis Anderson SCI Past President