Robbie KrögerHunting

The Mountain Project

Old Mexico conjures images of old cowboys and forgotten, run down, desolate towns. Dusty. No electricity. Stuck in time. Old Mexico represents a simpler time. Old Mexico is a place that time has forgotten—in the very best of ways. It’s everything the old timers described of how life used to be. And it’s a place where a special turkey lives. His name is Gould’s.

To find him, I had to venture deep into the mountains of Mexico, beyond the bright cities, the tourist towns, and into Old Mexico.

These mountains, though extremely desert-like, hold green veins meandering through a contrast of arid land. This landscape is a place of contrasts. Snow-covered peaks and canyons during the winter share the same space as the golden-covered mesas in the spring and summer. Less than ten inches of rain annually means things are dry. Correction, very dry.  The mountains are covered in pines, and scrub oaks mixed with cedars. The earth holds boulders and rocks, lots of rocks. So many rocks are embedded in the roads that it makes me question what have I gotten myself into. In places, the roads are so bad, and the journey so agonizing slow, that I have to reevaluate why I decided ever to come. As the journey comes to the top of yet another rise, I hoped we were there, or at least close. Our guide points to the mountains in the distance. “Not those,” he says. “The next set. The ones behind those. That’s where the ranch is.”  I am seriously contemplating how I am going to make it.

But I do make it. I’m beaten, shaken. My teeth having been rattled in my skull. But I got there, and it was so worth it.

For such a desolate landscape, the isolation allows wildlife to teem. Bears. Pumas. Javelinas. Home of the grey ghost, the Coues deer. And of course, the Gould’s. He is a big-bodied bird that lives in the canyons and mesas. He roosts in the canyons and makes his way onto the mesas to feed, display, court. He struggles to find water. Cattle ponds and the creeks are few and far between. Come daybreak, I hear for the first time this long, mournful drawn-out gobble. A deep, melancholy gobble. The sound is unmistakable, something I am unlikely to forget. The noise is so unexpected that I have to question how it’s the same species that I know in Mississippi and Alabama.

Just like his cousins, sometimes a single gobble is all I heard. Other times, I had to ask how that specific turkey is breathing between his non-secant gobbling. Here, a stalk requires a carefully lined approach. Noise is king in the silence of Old Mexico. Dead oak leaves blanket the ground, turning every tip-toe into a herd of cattle crashing through the underbrush. There are silent areas, where leaves have been pushed here and there by turkey scratching. I use the scratch zones and abundant rocks to silence my approach. The scratch pads and exposed boulders push my acrobatic prowess to levels previously unbeknownst to me, as I hop from one exposed surface to the next.

When I eventually get him to come to me, I knew I had something different, special. I am in the midst of something unique that not many get to experience. The contrast of white on brown gives him away. The white-tipped fan comes slipping and sliding down the canyon-side. As I watch him approach, I wonder how is he remaining in full strut while skidding down the side of the mountain. He is descending directly towards me, and I know I sound like something he wants. Like the others, he is searching. Searching for love. Searching for me. He knows he is king. He knows he has the looks. A mournful gobble tells me, “I am here.”

Little does he know, he has been fooled.

The white rings running up to his tail feathers stand in contrast to the golden yellow grass that surrounds him. Wow, he is white. He is whiter than any other turkey. His strut is in contrast to the surroundings.  His head flairs an iridescent white with a hint of blue, like an iridescence of frustration, whereas his brethren are dominated by red, an angry red. Gould’s is an angry white, tinged blue, next to a collar of vivid red. Shocking. Unbelievable. Mesmerizing. The blue centers at the end of my sight.

The fan, now in my hands, fulfills the journey here. The discomfort of the physical journey a mere memory, now that I hold my trophy. The thought of returning to do it again is immediately at the front of my consciousness. Old Mexico, her turkeys, have invaded my being. And there’s no escaping that.