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Bucks Below the Border
Rob F. Sanderson

           The sun had sunk into the Western desert when Chuck and I turned off the graded Nogales- Guaymas road. In the heavy dusk we passed the obscure turn- off three times before Chuck found the faint trail by searchlight.

           “That’s it,” I affirmed, remembering a peculiar volcano rock, which had grounded my sedan’s differential in December, almost two months ago.

           The road bobbed, bumped, twined and jumped. Steep arroyos scraped our rear bumper as we dived in and again as we reared out. Jackrabbits galloped confusedly before our headlamps. Once a little gray fox zipped nimbly across our lights. Gnarled branches of wizened desert trees slapped at the car sides as we went by in second gear.

           Presently a moon came up -- a Mexican desert moon. It rolled slowly over the eastern mountains, big and round and red. It silhouetted alike the giant volcanic peaks on the horizon and the tall saguaro cacti on nearby hills. Under the moon the rocky hills were almost shiny and valleys were black.

           For twenty miles we followed a dry creek bed until near the mountain base it became rocky and filled with water. The yellow moon was now at zenith. We were tired from the strenuous night drive over unmarked trails. Leaving Tucson at 2:30 pm and driving 180 miles into Mexico off the main road, is a feat for only the imprudent. Bu this was the last week of the Sonoran deer season and our only chance to make the trip we had planned since the New Year.

           Besides our hunting licenses which we already had (30 day licenses are obtainable for about $10 American), we obtained through the Mexican Tourist Bureau at Tucson a Tourist Permit (85cents) and a firearms permit ($4.00 plus), and all we had to obtain at the border was a car permit (65cents); so we crossed the border with minimum delay and determination to get to our hunting camp that night.

           At the end of the road we took to a rocky foot-trail. We crossed the creek on stepping-stones. High sycamores and cottonwoods growing in the creek bed laced the moonlight on the uneven trail. The night was very still. Suddenly dogs barked ahead, and in the moonlight we saw the dobe house.

           My Mexicano friends lay on the ground before the porch, a bulky affair of brush & dobe roof supported by massive, crooked tree trunks. Early February and three men were sleeping on the bare ground, under a single saddle blanked, heads pillowed on their saddles and not even boots removed

           “We wish to go hunting in the morning, “ I explained, after the salutary courtesies were over. “Could you give us horses?”

           “The horses,” Pedro apologized, “ are far off in the hills. Perhaps mid-day before we find them.”

           “Whenever you are ready, then,” I agreed, knowing better than to hurry a Mexican, and we departed with a chorus of, “Buenos noches, amigos.”

           We spread our sleeping bags where the car shadowed the moonlight. A coyote wailed the lonesome foothills. We slept soundly until dawn

           About nine o’clock the next morning a loud clatter of hooves sounded from the stones along the creek and the remuda crossed amid heavy splashing. We saddled immediately, strapped on our gun scabbards, and were off down the creek at a trot. Chuck sat a large boned buckskin, Pedro a jittery brown three year old, and myself a bay bronc of unpredictable age and disposition.

           Our route crossed the hills to the next canyon and went back into the rocky, cacti- mantled mountains. Pedro showed me crude cross-chopped into an oak trunk, in memory of a guerilla fighter killed by troopers back in 1918.

           The day promised to meet the standard Sonoran winter specifications; 60-70 degrees in the sun, fifteen degrees cooler in the shade. We kept our mounts walking briskly. We watched carefully for deer anywhere on the mountainsides. Pedro was taking us to a large valley between the mountains, where, as Pedro put it, “There are many deer - sometimes.” The water holes had been replenished recently with the only rain since Christmas, and around them we saw old deer tracks.

           Ahead at the opening of the deep, canyon-like valley I spied a movement high on the slope. Deer conscious, I at first hoped it was a “venado”, but soon I perceived the form was a lone horseman. Riding recklessly down an abrupt rock slope, he rode out on the lower mesa and waited.

           It was Pedro’s younger brother, Jose, who had been slow in catching his mount and had a struck across country to intercept us. He and I went one way, Chuck and Pedro the other, in order to cover as much ground as possible the first day and learn where the deer were ranging.

           Until afternoon I did not see a buck. About two o’clock my companion spied a deer on a side hill, about four hundred yards away. I rode up one slope, and he from the other side. As I dismounted to circle on foot, I jumped the bedded animal. I managed to get in an awkward snapshot as it cleared the brush for an instant, not over a hundred yards away - Avery moderate distance for this spacious, sparsely covered country. I could find no blood, and chalked up a clean miss.

           About four o’clock we saw a doe, and apparently bedded with her had been a young buck. I spied him running out of a canyon up another hill about two hundred and fifty yards distant. Dropping to one knee, I fired. The bullet struck about two yards to the left on three consecutive shots. I knew then that my sights were out of adjustment.

           I took six shots at a distant rock to target my sights back to center. When I left the U.S. my gun had centered very well, only four days ago I had tried it. As I slipped the weapon back into the saddle scabbard I noticed the friction of the snugly fitting leather case turning the wind age knob like a wheel - and the source of the discrepancy was immediately apparent. The occurrence likely cost me one deer if not two. I resolved to obtain either a new receiver sight or a scope before my next trip

           That night in camp we compared notes. Chuck had seen more deer than I, mostly does. Having heard my shooting when I targeted my sights, he had fully expected warm liver in camp and was disappointed not to have at least one deer in camp the first night. From our joint data, it was apparent that the deer had changed their habitat since the recent rain and we had not fund their new range.

           Next day we rode into lower country, thinking perhaps the deer had moved down for feed. The recent rain would allow them to move further down off the mountain, where for sometime there had been no drinking tanks. But the deer hadn’t thought of this and we found only a few old tracks.

           “This is no better than Arizona,” Charlie commented in camp that night. We had both failed to connect with our bucks the past fall in Arizona, and had planned to get our export limit of two bucks on this trip. The Mexican license allowed us two whitetails to take out on one trip, and one black tail also if during the black tail season, which had closed the last of December. Although I had brought out two bucks Christmas time, I was allowed two more whitetails now, as this was a different trip.

           My friends and I have found that Mexican hunting is a most convenient privilege, as often luck is not with a man during the short U.S. seasons; and many hunters like Chuck and I are so busing during the latter fall that they can’t take time from their business of profession, although after the new year plenty of time is available. So a whitetail season of November 15 to February 15, in the state of Sonora, Mexico, looked pretty good to our buck-hungry eyes.

           The third day we set out to investigate the high country up on the high mountain flanks. We worked up into the higher brush country, leaving the forests of thumb-like saguaros far below. Three miles upward from camp we hit fresh deer sign among the rocks of a steep slope. It looked like we had hit the deer range at last!

           Separating again into two parties, we rode opposite slopes of rough ridge, hoping to drive the deer across each other. Hardly had we separated when I glimpsed a sneaking deer ahead of me in the brush. I called my baquero companion riding below me, and we at once dismounted to start ahead on foot.

           I climbed the slope hurriedly. Further east along the rising crest of the ridge I glimpsed a white flag bobbing n the thick cover. Gaining vantage point, I spied horns. I raised my .270 and fired.

           After the shot I could see nothing. I found the track but no blood. It entered thick brush, and I circled to pick it up. Soon I fund the track coming out again, crossing through a small saddle to the other ridge slope. Below me I could see Chuck and Pedro.

           “See a deer?” I shouted.

           “No”, he called, but even as he answered he dropped to one knee and pulled up his 30-06, a special feature for this trip.

           “Wham!” The rifle echoed along the ridge. Chuck jerked the bolt. “Wham!”

           “Think I connected!” He shouted up. I ran forward, skidding among the loose rocks, and took the track. About a hundred and a half yards along it came upon the buck. It was dead. Chuck had drilled it neatly thru the heart.

           He arrived breathless from his speedy ascent, fondling the rifle that had downed a two- hundred yard running shot. It had been a masterpiece of bullet placement. “Sure glad I traded in my old gun for this trip,’ he grinned, reloading his magazine while Jose dressed out the deer. Like many other hunters who had hunted less mountainous country with denser cover, Chuck had found his old standby gun couldn’t produce the flat trajectories and smashing power necessary for hunting in the open, southwestern country.

           Pedro soon had his horse threading through the dense cover like a dachshund up to where we were. Taking the deer carcass across his lap, he held it against his saddle horn while he rode down into the canyon where he hung it by the horns in a low mountain oak, to wait our return trip

           Returning over the crest with Jose to our horses, I had opportunity to peruse the deer tracks more closely. Making half effort to ferret out the buck’s route, I suddenly realized there had not been one deer, but three!

           Judging by the tracks, there was another buck and a doe. My eyes jumped to a rock along the tracks - a fleck of red. Blood! I had scored after all.

           Jose and I spurred our mounts forward, following the tracks down and along the mountain ridge to where it narrowed and lowered before climbing still higher. Here we dismounted.

           We split, planning to converge toward the ridge top about a half-mile away. Half way to the top I heard a deer bucking the brush ahead. Knowing the deer was perhaps but seventy-five yards away, I was overwhelmed with inadequacy at not being able to see over the brush.

           Running to my right I came to a steep ravine leading down from the crest. Below, the ravine grew to a canyon. Above, at the crest, was a deeply cut saddle. I started for the crest.

           Barely had I begun to climb when I heard a clatter of rocks in the saddle. Jose had frightened the deer back in my direction. It was trying to slip down the ravine. It acted like a buck, all right.

           I froze, gun with safety off, ready to shoot. I saw gray movement opposite me, across the ravine. In about two minutes my chance came.

           About ninety yards away now. I raised for a bead. He slipped behind brush clump - and stopped! I know in a flash he had winded me. Positive he was behind a certain brush, although I could not make out his outline, I resolved to shoot before he bolted.

           Dropping to sitting position, my favorite stance when shooting downhill, I drew a careful bead and squeezed the trigger.

           The rifle roared. I felt the punch of recoil. For a moment there was no movement. I was ready to swear that my eyes had played tricks on me. Thirty seconds more. Everything was so quiet. Then a collapse from behind the bushes.

           Puffing up the other slope, I came upon the buck. He was a nice one. His hide was peppered with shrapnel that had split off the bullet as it hit the brush. Tying a kerchief on a palo verde limb so I could find the carcass easily, I left for the mountaintop to signal for my companion, who brought up a horse and we dressed out and loaded the buck together.

           That night in camp we fried the liver up. The fire from the hard desert wood was warm and soon we were very, very full of liver, frijoles, canned peaches.

           “We’ll have to make this trip again next season,” Chuck suggested, already making plans a year in advance.

           “It’s a deal,” I quickly agreed, “whether we get our bucks north of the border or not.”

           So we plan to go this winter too, and we talk about it a lot. Sometimes our friends hear u sand cut in with, “Well, I’d sure like to hunt down in Old Mexico, but I can’t afford it.”

           “Can’t afford it?” We challenged. And then we go on to enumerate. The four permits mentioned earlier in this story total about sixteen dollars American, with the peso exchange slightly less than five to an American dollar. Licenses are procurable from the federal building at your port of entry. Firearms permits for two guns, including one high-powered rifle, with ample ammunition for both, are issued by the military office, where the district general will take the serial numbers of the guns and issue your permits. Tourist permits and car permits are issued at the regular customs office. Many hunters join Mexican hunting clubs to facilitate getting their papers and accommodations below the border.

           Our food, we take down from the U.S., figuring fifty cents per day per person. We have been able to get riding horses and guides with their horses, for as low as one dollar per day for each of our party (five pesos). So, figuring a ten-day trip, we have a total expense of $31 plus necessary transportation expenses. Expensive? Hardly. See what a trip to a nearby state for big game hunting will cost you.

           Besides deer, you may hunt bear, lion, javelinas, and, with necessary permits obtainable only form Mexico City, antelope and mountain sheep. Small game, including all kinds of doves and quail, wild turkey, and ducks in some aread, can be found in abundance.

           Last year the regulations, which permitted crossing of firearms at border port of entry, were changed to permit firearms to enter only at the ports having military district headquarters. This change hung crepe on a trip I planned into western Sonora, crossing at Sonoyta. The main border ports are Nogales, Sonora; Juarez, Chihuahua; and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. Adjacent U.S. cities are, Nogales, Arizona; El Paso, Texas, and Laredo, Texas.

           As I say, we plan to go down again this winter get a couple of below the border bucks. We are keeping close tab with people on the border port of entry, and if you plan to go down yourself, better keep in touch with the chamber of commerce of the port you plan to enter through. During this past fall the Mexican federal government took steps to crack down on the passage of firearms across the border, but their citizens who profit from American hunters raised such a protest that the ban was lifted. At this writing, crossing can be affected with only the normal inconvenience.

           Once down in Mexico, you’ll find splendid hunting country within a half day or days’ drive from the border. No need to go further. Game is very plentiful and hunters very scarce in Mexico. You will meet no marauding bands of outlaws, but instead you’ll find that the interior residents of Mexico are helpful, courteous, hospitable people.

           If when you’re down there, somebody tells you about “dos cazadores Americano, de Arizona”, that means Chuck and myself, so drop over to our camp and look us up!

© 2003 Chronicles of Bob