In this edition of The End of The Line podcast, I am joined by Ramsey Russell. We talk about why he is not the most enthusiastic turkey hunter, but nonetheless has some of the most exciting stories. Listen as he tells one of the best Mexico turkey hunting stories ever as he describes chasing Ocellated turkeys in Mexican jungles. But what is he missing to complete the world slam? All that and more today!
What Do Turkey Hunting and Blood Sausage Have in Common?
I realized, I can eat this every time I’m here and I’m never going to acquire the taste. That’s the way I’m with turkey hunting.
Rocky Leflore: Welcome to The End of the Line podcast, I’m Rocky Leflore sitting in the Duck South studio. I guess this is probably going to go out on the weekend Ramsey, since we missed Thursday. We are joined by Double R too. Ramsey, I know you jumped out of bed to go turkey hunting this morning.
Ramsey Russell: No sir. I have a lot of reasons to get out of bed, turkey hunting is not one of them, it sure isn’t. Hey, I have been down to Argentina many times, down in South America and one of the big delicacies down there is blood sausage and I have tried it 20 times, it’s an acquired taste. Everybody I know down there love it. All my Argentine and Peruvian friends love it and I have tried it and I just don’t like it. I realized, I can eat this every time I’m here and I’m never going to acquire the taste. That’s the way I’m with turkey hunting. I just killed ten turkeys in my whole life. I have killed some good ones, but I just don’t know. Forrest is fired up about that stuff. Man, he got up this morning and I texted him at 04:30 this morning, said, “ou heading to turkey woods?” He was heading that way, drove clear out somewhere but I could care less, Rocky. Isn’t that terrible?
Rocky Leflore: You’re so task-oriented though and that’s kind of what turkey hunting is. You go duck hunting, duck is going to do what duck is going to do but turkey is a chess match.
Going for the Grand Slam?
I thought I might get the turkey bug then but I didn’t…
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I just don’t get it. I went turkey hunting with Forrest last year, I hunted with friends out in Oklahoma and we had turkeys. There were turkeys, we set up on them and the gobblers were – you can see them across this big packs – and they were in the back. You knew it was just a matter of time because where we were set up, they had to come right down to this little funnel and the parade of turkey was going by, and I was playing on my phone! Those turkeys were sitting out there, too far to shoot and just messing around. My heart didn’t skip a beat, I got a text and I was dying just to see what was going on, I could care less. Those turkeys walked on through the funnel and we kind of eased up over that hill, and there he was. I pulled the trigger, I don’t know, Rocky. I have tried it and I have had some good turkey hunting experiences in the past, but I’m just not a turkey hunter. I have tried it. I have got buddies that turkey hunt and I hear their stories and it’s interesting. Forrest loves it, but I just can’t do it, I just don’t care. I like even being in the woods this time of year, it’s beautiful but I’m just not a turkey hunter. Rocky, I already spent 150-200 days a year traveling. If I did get the turkey hunting bug, I might as well just move out – I’m not going to ever be home. I got home Tuesday from Azerbaijan and I had a whole lot of fires to put out and I’m still not settled in. You asked me a couple of podcasts ago how long it takes to get acclimated to the time change and I’m still not acclimated to the time change. I have been going to bed at 08:00, 08:30 and waking up at 2:30 or 3 here in Mississippi. And the last thing I’m going to do is get up and go turkey hunting, let me tell you!
Rocky Leflore: So, have you killed all of them for the slam?
Ramsey Russell: No, I have not. At Get Ducks we’ve sold turkey hunts in the past and especially Mexico the goulds and the ocellated. We have done some work on Rio’s, we sold some Osceola hunts there briefly, while that outfitter was still going pretty good. I lack only the Merriam’s for the world slam. I have killed 10 turkeys including the Rio I shot last year in Oklahoma. I have killed 10 turkeys and I have been forcing it by turkey hunter standards. First gobbler I ever shot, the first bearded bird I ever shot was a 13 inch beard. Practically 13 inches, it just stretched right on out to about 13 inches. It was in Alabama and an old friend of mine – he’s been RS agent, retired, since deceased – we went to Alabama and we chased for a couple of days. Back in the days, I was still kind of experimenting, was wanting to be a turkey hunter, trying to be a turkey hunter, I should say, and called it right in. It was a little exciting, I shot him and he’s a good bird. Some friends of mine do taxidermy. I cut the fan off, pull the beard out, cut the feet off, and mounted it myself. Turned out pretty darn good. Then as the years went on, in the house the situation changed, so I finally just cut the spurs off, did something different with the beard, and I just hung it up with the rest of them. Another bird I shot, another memorable bird, was with fraternity brothers at Mississippi State. We spent the whole spring semester preceding our graduating college fishing. I mean, I think 5 or 6 afternoons a week, we were out there fishing somewhere around Starkville, just the way our schedules were. I did real good that year, I was on the President’s List, we still had a lot of time to bass fish. We got to talking around Spring Break, he was going home to Lincoln County and he said, “I just can’t believe you’re not a turkey hunter.” So, I’m just nice and said, “We’ll come on down there and we will go turkey hunting.” It was just too easy. We went out, we walked around the woods and we saw turkeys and set up. The next morning, I had dogged three gobblers in my lap, come running uphill. As they were running to me I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t raise my gun and next thing I know they’re just sitting right there in my lap! Three of them looking around, one of them kind of cocked his head, was studying me up and down with one eyeball. They kind of spooked when they huddled up. When they moved again, I raised my gun. He later said, “I was scared to death that you’re going to pull the trigger, kill all 3 of them.” I waited until they kind of just relax and spread back out a little bit and shot one. That was a pretty exciting hunt, I will say. I thought I might get the turkey bug then but I didn’t and just feeling around with it on and off. One time I was with a client. In South Carolina is one of the most beautiful turkey properties I’ve ever set foot on. It was right on, I can’t remember the name of that river, famous river right there South of Charleston. The water was just as black as coffee with all the tannic acid but the soil was extremely sandy and pine trees are very firmed and well managed. I mean just really textbook perfect turkey habitat. I think Forrest and I, we both shot one that morning, a gobbler. I got back and he said, “Well, go back out and get another one.” So I turned around and I went back out with a guy. We’re walking down the winding road and he jumps back, here comes a gobbler, so we get into bushes and all that was seen was that beard. We jumped off the road and found a pine tree. Where I sit it was lower than the road and I was eyeball level with the turkey’s head but there was a lot of honeysuckle growing up on the edge of the road. So I was kind of looking through the screen honeysuckle and the turkey couldn’t have been more than 10 yards away. It came just right there and just stopped. All I could just see was just a vague outline of turkey and that beard when I pulled the trigger. When I got up, it was a hen. I thought, “Oh my gosh, this guy is going to kill me.” He’s got this beautiful property and I just shot a hen! I flipped it over and it had a beard. The whole way back, the whole mile was like a walk of shame… I shot a hen. When I got there, he patted me on the back and said, “Any bearded bird is legal. That’s a legal bird, man. Congratulations. You don’t see many bearded hens, that’s kind of cool.”
Hunting Ocellated Turkey in Mexico
Now I’m going to say this, I killed two Ocellated and that was maybe one of my all-time top ten favorite hunting trips ever.
Rocky Leflore: But you have killed Ocellated turkey though. I mean that had to be a heart pumping deal.
Ramsey Russell: It was. Now I’m going to say this, I killed two Ocellated and that was maybe one of my all-time top ten favorite hunting trips ever. It wasn’t just the bird. Rocky, we chased a lot of species, I chased a lot of species around the world of waterfowl and game birds. Look, for me it’s really not duck, it’s not the species, it’s where the chase for that unique species takes me. Azerbaijan is a fine example, it’s just a perfect example. It is not necessarily the Red Crested Pochard or that species, it’s just that immersive experience of being in it. For me Ocellated turkeys was just an epic adventure and it was so good that a few years later I went back with some clients and had the chance to shoot several more, and did not because I had no intention of shooting another turkey! I actually wanted to shoot a brocket deer and I just don’t have luck for brocket deer at all. I don’t have any luck whatsoever. Both times I have been, I haven’t laid eyeballs on one and they appear to stampede over everybody else in camp. But a little diminutive probably 30, 40 pound deer with little spiked antlers. Don’t ask me why I would like to shoot one, I would. The first time I went, you hunt those turkeys out on the eastern side of Mexico in Campeche, out on the peninsula, it’s kind of the Caribbean side of Mexico.
Rocky Leflore: Isn’t that a jungle?
Ramsey Russell: Oh, it’s a jungle. One of the literal translations of Campeche is “logwood” because the area has been just extensively logged. When I think of jungle, I think of a tropical Hawaii-type jungle, that’s what I think of jungle. Well, Campeche is not that kind of jungle, it’s a dog hair tick, hardwood thicket of a jungle, it’s thick and it’s hot, but it’s a little dry like you expect Mexico to be. I’m a forester nationalist. I was just amazed for example, almost distracted by the fact that, here we are you walked out in the woods this morning turkey hunting and the red maples are blooming, you’ve got the elms coming on strong, they’re piling everywhere. Pines are just about to explode, the trees are budding out. I’ve been noticing a lot of thee maples and hickories and oaks, just their buds are just about to explode into foliage. Well down there in Campeche, it’s all the seasons going on at one time. You’ve got trees that are fruiting, you’ve got trees that are shedding their leaves fixing to go dormant, you’ve got trees that are fixing to bud out, you’ve got trees that are flowering. It’s pretty amazing, such a species diversity in that jungle, I just thought it was really amazing to see that dynamic going on. But it was just an incredible experience. I have been there a couple of times and I have loved it both times. I’ll tell you, both times we’ve hunted, we’ve been within 20 or 30 miles of some prominent Mayan ruins called Edna ruins, which was a temple of sorts. Pretty big compound, we have actually walked through it now and it’s just in this land of Mayan Indians and it’s like a lot of the woods have been cut at some point in time. I don’t exactly remember the name of that tree, I want to say it was a bowie tree, but there was always this one tree every now and again. You see this one tree that just grew head and shoulders above the forest. One of my hosts explained to me one time that, do you remember that show Hollywood blockbuster movie with the big blue Martians, and they’re all attached to this tree and the tree was life and all this good stuff? Well the Mexican kind explained to me that a lot of loggers and natives wouldn’t cut that species of tree because it has some kind of cultural value to them. They just left them, and you would see them every now and again, just out there on the landscape, these great big giant trees and just growing, head towering above the rest of the forest. I’ll tell you the story. We went to this little town called Tic McCovey and it’s just a sleepy little Mexican village. A lot of the houses don’t have windows and bars. It’s hot, it’s blue blazes. I noticed just from being in a few of the homes that the locals sleep in hammocks. I mean they just hang a hammock up because it’s so hot. They had us in this little villa that had air conditioning, little grass roof apartment or hotel-like place that had air conditioning. Buddy, let me tell you what, when they crank that generator on at night, we turned the air conditioning on, we slept really good. I don’t think I would have slept very well in a hammock. Tic McCovey is just workers, and laborers, and simple people. There was this old man in town and his sons were our guides, and they were the best woodsmen I have ever met in my life. I’ll never forget one time we were walking, it was hot and we’re walking across this pasture apparently down to some water. The guide kept pointing at the cattle trail we’re walking down and saying “Phavo” I kind of got that he was saying: turkey’s used this trail. We’re going to go down and just sit out in this hot sun and wait on a turkey. He said, “No senor “Phavo”. Then he crouched down pointing and I can see this hard bait trail cutting out through there. He kind of put his hand on my head and pushed it toward the ground and he’s got the sun just right, I can see there’s a turkey track. Oh yeah, turkeys are walking down this trail. There’s water, I got it. Yeah, I get it. I didn’t have to crouch all the way down there to see that, I get what you’re saying. We go down about 100 more yards, by that time, turkey exploded from cover about 20-30 yards. This Ocellated turkey jumped up and it looked like a police siren. The way that sun hit that blue and that gold on that bird, it was spellbinding. I mean, had it been a duck or a goose, anybody could have shot just boom, snapshot. That’s what he expected me to do. Well, it was so spellbinding to see that turkey in the sun flying like that, I couldn’t move. I just watched him fly off, thinking that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. So, what he’d been telling me was, “There’s a turkey ahead of us, get ready to shoot him when he flies.” I just missed the translation. Long story short, we went back the next morning and got on that turkey. There was another morning he and I, we all kind of gathered on this road, woods on either side. The operator turned on a real loud speaker that was playing the cantor, that’s what they call the male Ocellated, it was playing the cantor’s call. It’s a real strange call. Back when I had a phone, I remember having a phone that actually had that as a ringtone. It was no doubt whose phone was ringing when that thing went off, such a strange song. The reason they did that is because those Ocellated turkeys are not turkeys in a conventional sense that ours are. Like right now, a lot of garbage may still be running around in bachelor groups certain times of year like they do. Then they break off and start running around, chasing and competing for hens. Well, down there those Ocellated turkeys are to me a lot more like a game chicken. I mean they’re a fighting cock, they just got long spurs and never really get together. They’re off on their own, chasing hens during the breeding season, and doing their own thing when it’s not that time of season. By playing that call, it will initiate another cantor to sing. So we had walked way down through this thicket and we got along this concrete flume, kind of like a three-sided ditch. It appeared to have concrete slabs on the side and concrete slab on the bottom. It just wound through these woods, and we stuck to that trail along this dried up concrete flume. We sat for a while and finally heard the call back on the road. Finally, we heard that turkey off in the woods singing, and my guide pursed his lips and I could see that he was whistling “Embider.” He kept saying female, it was such a high pitched whistle, I couldn’t hear it. That turkey started getting closer. Back over here on the road, you got this electronic cantor singing, and over here you’ve got this real cantor, in the middle, you’ve got a hen singing. Well, here comes the real Ocellated turkey to intercept the hen and so we kind of started proceeding towards him, singing. About that time he would let off a song and I mean he was pretty close, so we just sat down. I got ready to pull my knees up and got my gun up. Rocky, I was just in this thicket, I couldn’t see nothing. I couldn’t see maybe 5ft-6ft, 7-8ft in front of me. I couldn’t see nothing. I was just like, what am I going to do? I’m just right here looking at this little grass thicket and I can’t see a dang thing. The guide had laid down on his belly behind me and pulled his shirt up over his head. He just looked through the whole of the neck of it and was laid on the ground, and that turkey got so close it’s like my inner ear was rattling when he would sing. It was tickling inside of my head when he would sing and he was right there. By that time, the guy started pushing me in my lower back, started putting his hand and kind of like pushing me a little bit and I’m wondering, what’s he saying? He’s saying shoot? I can’t see anything. The turkey’s right there and am I supposed to be shooting? This bird was right sitting in my lap, I just couldn’t see him! Then we hear this roar throughout the woods and the jungle – all the birds – quit singing. That turkey, shut up, you can hear them, just step walking away. Everything got quiet. That was a jaguar roar. Everything got quiet when the king spoke. So, we stood up and walked back to the truck and I asked the translators to ask him why he’s pressing my back. Was I just to pull the trigger blindly? He said, “No, when he was laying down, he could see up under that grass and he could see the turkey’s feet and spurs, he was about 8m away. He was just trying to tell you to get ready because when he kept coming, he was going to be right at the end of your gun barrel.”
Rocky Leflore: He’s going to bite your gun barrel. Good grief.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, I could hit him with if he would have come on in, and that was pretty thrilling. I’m not going to lie to you, that was exciting, I’m in this jungle and all this stuff. I got to wondering why would somebody spend all that time and money building a concrete ditch that ran for miles through the jungle? My host looked at me like I was silly, he said, “Well this used to be agricultural.” He said, “That’s not concrete, it’s limestone that the Mayans built.” You see Rocky, that Caribbean part of Mexico, that’s where the great big meteor hit earth that particulated up in the atmosphere to kill the dinosaurs. When it did that, it created all these real deep fresh water bodies called cenotes. The Mayans – besides inventing the number zero (which, that’s pretty damn smart if you think about it)- these primitive people figured out a way to get that water to the surface. In Mexico, even tropical Mexico like Caribbean, that’s a pretty good way to be because Mexico is dry. They figured out how to get all this fresh water out, and irrigate crops, and build the whole flourishing Mayan civilization around all this water. So, that was just kind of interesting that thousands of years later, here we are prowling around turkey hunting where their old remnants were laying out. It’s just kind of cool. Sometimes you would be walking through the jungle and just he would stop and point, you’d see these stones and these old slabs and little short walls. Some of them bigger than your kitchen, he just said “Maya Maya” because it was an old house or building out from the ruins where the Mayans had been. To me that is just kind of interesting, I like that kind of stuff. So, we went back for that turkey the next morning and sat, just waiting for it to get daylight. Finally, just as it was starting to get daylight, we heard him sing.
The Differences Between Hunting Mexican Ocellated Turkeys and American Turkeys
Rocky Leflore: You were describing these turkeys just a minute ago. Would you say they’re more akin to a peacock than a turkey?
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I would say, I don’t know about a peacock but I would think they’re more akin to a fighting rooster than a conventional turkey. They’re a turkey, they taste like a turkey, they don’t have beards, they’ve got big long sharp fighting spurs, like one of the fighting roosters. We got there that morning, when we heard that turkey singing (and it’s certainly the one that jumped in the past) right there walking down a cow trail. It was pretty dang easy. I get from hearing stories of guys that hunt eastern turkeys, about not walking up the morning shooting them out of a tree. I get that, but let me tell you, an Ocellated turkey’s not like shooting eastern and sneaking up on them. Mexico is not like walking through a pine thicket after a rain, silent as a ghost, and shooting the roof, it is not like that at all. You shoot Ocellated turkey whenever you can get them into sights because you’re not necessarily going to call like you do our turkeys, it’s a different game. We found that turkey kept going to the sound and there was a belt-high, three feet tall termite mount or ant bed, and my guy crawled up and peeked up over. He got back down and crawled back and sent me. I crawled up and peeked up over it and there it was, about 8ft off the ground, singing. I leveled up on him and we just sat there and watched him for a minute singing because I thought it’s a beautiful bird. That was my first Ocellated turkey. The next one we went for was a memorable story because we were walking one evening, I guess it was the last evening or next to last evening down there. We were walking down this long gravel road through the woods, as far as I know that road went forever, and we’re just walking. I looked up and way off in the distance, coming our way, was somebody else walking our way. As we got closer, my guide knew me, old gringo, not much of a turkey hunter and he kind of turned around, that guy and he turned around and put his finger to his lips like be quiet. I did recognize him as this guy’s brother, one of the old man’s other sons who was the scout. We just continued on walking, our paths crossed and he went the way we come, we just kept walking away. He came and was directing my guy to stop, so I stopped and he whispered, over the distance of 100 some odd yards, he was whispering to his brother. They were having a conversation at whisper level. Rocky, I have been around too many rock concerts and shot so many years without hearing protection. I’m lucky to hear thunder, let alone hear a man whisper from 100 yards away, even in a quiet jungle. They had this conversation, so my guide indicated for us to sit. I just sat on the road and we had sat there long enough that I kind of laid down and got comfortable. Right where his brother had stopped, he left a little stone right in the middle of the road. We sat right by that little stone and just sat there as it kept getting darker and darker. I closed my eyes and pulled my hat down, and was just about dozing when we heard a turkey singing. He started singing and getting closer and closer and then we hear him fly up to a tree about a 100-150 yards away out of sight. And that’s the game. If you have never done it, don’t judge. Because I’m going to tell you, walking through those woods, they’re dry, it’s hardwood. You know how hard it is to walk in the fall, through a hardwood bottom in the South? Well it’s kind of like this but it’s a lot thicker and stem density is just unbelievable. My guide is like an Indian, he’s a masterful woodsman. He could move through the woods like smoke. I moved through the woods like a Kid Rock concert, trying to be quiet, but I’m just making all kinds of noise. He scolded me the whole way in and it’s gotten pretty dark and finally he stopped and faced me. He ws making hand motions like watching at his wrist. What I’m thinking is, “What’s he trying to say?” Well, what he was saying was he wanted me to pull my shirt sleeve down and cover the face of my watch in the dark. He kind of indicated for me to sit still and not move and not talk, and then mid conversation or so, he just vanished. I mean, I didn’t hear anything. It’s like one minute he’s right here, I can kind of make out his facial features and his hand movements, in the dark in front of me and in the next second he’s gone. I’ve got my arms stretched out in front of me, reaching around trying to say, where is this guy? He was gone. I don’t know if he was gone for 20 minutes or 40 minutes, he was gone a while though. Rocky, it was so quiet in those woods that I felt a bit of sweat come down my nose and hang right there on the edge, and thenn drop and hit the leaves. It was so silent, I could hear my sweat hitting the leaves, but I could not hear this man when he walked off. When he appeared back in front of me, it’s a wonder I didn’t holler because I know I ran in place momentarily because it scared me. I mean, here I am minding my own business in the pitch black dark, wondering where this guy went and it’s whoa boy, all of a sudden he’s right in front of me. He motioned me to come with him and I followed him. As we were walking, I was a little quieter than I’ve ever been because I wasn’t stepping on any sticks and I wasn’t catching any branches that I couldn’t see in the dark. Because for the 20, 30, 40 minutes he’d been gone, he had created a trail point where I was standing right to where that turkey was. The reason we stopped walking is because I woke that turkey up. That turkey had gone to sleep and Mr. Kid Rock concert walking through the woods woke that Ocellated turkey up. So when my guide had disappeared, he had gone ahead of me, and gotten all those little switches on the trees out of the way and any little sticks and debris that had been laying out, and got it out of the way. We walked 30, 40 yards more, 50 yards more –
Rocky Leflore: Hold on, let me make sure I heard this right? So, he walked ahead and he cleared a trail for you.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah.
Rocky Leflore: To get to this bird?
Deer Hunting with the Best Woodsman I’ve Ever Seen
Ramsey Russell: In the pitch black dark. I couldn’t hear a sound, I couldn’t hear him when he walked because I could hear sweat coming off my body and hitting the leaves, but I couldn’t hear this man doing all this. It wasn’t until I realized as I was following him in round 2, that I realized what he had done. He got all the little twigs, all the little everything out of the way so loud Ramsey gringo doesn’t step and wake this bird up again. He wanted me to get this bird. Isn’t that crazy? The guy was the best woodsman I’ve ever seen. Rocky, he was unbelievable. We had hunted in between the first turkey and his last turkey, we had hunted very hard, spent a lot of time out in the woods trying to get a deer and I didn’t even see one. That deer hunting a lot different because they carry these little book bags, these little school bags or little knapsack behind them. They’ve got all kinds of stuff inside that bag, they will have a ball of twine, like a bell high wrist, have a knife or two, might have a cloth or something. Now we got the balled up little hammocks, one for me, one for him and about the size of a softball when you unfurl it, it’s not like a great big hammock. It’s really a wonder. Hey you want to make a million dollars in deer hunting, this is a great idea because this is how they hunted. These little short hammocks that you could tie between two trees about 4 or 5ft apart, 6ft apart and sometimes near to the ground. Sometimes Rocky, he would break out his machete and cut a dozen saplings and right there in front of you, just lash them together and make a ladder to climb up, 8ft, 9ft off the ground. He’d hang a hammock, then lay another cross piece for himself to another tree and he would hang his hammock and we would just sit up there in that tree. You want to talk about comfortable! I have never been in a deer stand, nobody’s deer stand in terms of climbing type stand or ladder stand, never been in a deer stand off the ground other than a big comfortable manufactured house with the office here in it. I have never been that comfortable because you can put both your feet in that thing and fall asleep. You can sit up, you can lean down, you’re comfortable, you’re butt don’t fall asleep, you’re steady, you’re not going to fall out, the way that thing wraps up on you. You can sit there all day, and I have. It’s like sitting in your mama’s arms, you’re just sitting right there, it’s as comfortable as you’ve ever been sitting in a tree and that’s how we hunted. My luck, we didn’t see a brocket deer that trip. Do you know at the end of the trip we had gone over to the old man’s house – I know, I’m going to get back to shooting this turkey. We had gone to the old man’s house to get our permits and get the paperwork and they’re very kind, such poor people. His little home there was maybe twice the size of my bedroom. Out in the backyard it was just dirt under some shade trees. While the women work, the men would sit outside and as the sun moved, the shadows would move and they moved their chairs and stay in the shadows. There were chickens and turkeys in the backyard, and it just beat down on the hardened clay dirt. Out back he had a stove made out of cinder blocks, a little wooden stove, and they could cook on it and that was a luxury. He was one of the big shots in town and had all this good stuff. They sat back at his old wooden table with hatchet marks from where he had taking his machete and chopping the head off a million chickens over the years, and Ocellated turkeys over the years, and whatever else. His wife had taken that second Ocellated turkey and made up turkey mole sauce. Mole is that dark Spanish sauce and every little family and everybody makes a different mole based on their family tradition. It was the best mole sauce I have ever. Some of those mole sauce, they have a little bitter chocolate in it or something like that. It was just this wonderful savory turkey mole that she cooked on that outside stove, and we were honored guests, so they went inside and got a clean cloth and covered up that table. The table that they otherwise used as the work table out in the backyard, chopping heads off of chickens. We sat and ate that turkey mole sauce on a clean surface and it just wonderful. Telling stories and telling you about the history, just like we said in another podcast, people love when you’re in their country and you’re into that kind of stuff. They love to tell about their country and their culture and things of that nature. During that visit, when we were fixing to leave my guide disappeared for a minute. When he came back, he had 2 sets of brocket deer antlers. I’m holding up my index finger and my ring finger and that’s how wide and about how long that little skull and them antlers are on there. He gave me a set and he gave the other guy a pair, just a little set of spike antlers. We thanked him profusely and when he left, the host said, “You should have that skulled when you get home.” I said, “This little thing?” He goes, “Yeah. Ramsey, you got to remember these guys don’t hunt for sport, they go deer hunting, they’re feeding their families and the fact that he kept those antlers, I want to tell you how big it is. That’s a really big brocket deer.” We had hunted hard and connected and he just went to his pile and pulled out a big set and gave them to me. I keep them, not because I killed it or nothing like that, but I kept them. I keep them in a place right near where I got this Ocellated turkey mounted because that was such a great thing, that week spent with him in that jungle. He knew the trees and he would try to explain to me in Spanish about what’s fruiting and the rain and the bird habits, and the jaguars, and I just really enjoyed hunting with this guy. Back to that evening in the jungle – he had gone ahead and cleared this trail as best he could and I was fairly silent walking –
Rocky Leflore: Hold on. You got to put this in here, the rest of the story.
A Mexican History Lesson in Merida
I shot a couple of turkeys but it was just that whole jungle experience that was so profound.
Ramsey Russell: The rest of the story and so now we’re back in the jungle. We stopped and he turned around and he tapped my chest and asked for my stingray light. He had a light in his backpack, but it was just a little old battery operated light, it wasn’t stingray light, you know one of them ultra-bright lights. He indicated to get ready, so I kind of raised my gun up kind of – because I’m sitting there thinking, it’s pitch black dark. The turkey is somewhere around here, so he’s going to turn the light on, sweep through the woods like you’re shining a field or shining a ditch bank looking for a frog here croaking. When he turned that light on, he put it right on that turkey. He could see that turkey in pitch black dark, he knew exactly where that turkey was. I couldn’t see nothing but just shadows and I was in the dark jungle and when he turned it on, he put it right on that turkey. Of course the rest you did is you pull the trigger to fall. That hunt, shooting a couple of Ocellated turkeys, and to me it’s still one of the most beautiful game birds in the world. Even down to Campeche, the town is an amazing town. It’s a part of the Caribbean Mexico. It’s like the old downtown, you got the Spanish fort walls around it, old cannons because that’s where Mad Jack and all the pirates would come in and raid and all that good stuff, it was a real pirate town. You know Rocky, the oldest church in North America is right there in the little town of Merida, out in Campeche. It’s an old Spanish church in the town of Merida, the White City, and it’s little skinny slots for sticking them blunder bust out and shooting the fighting Indians if they had to. It’s built right in the town square, which is the old forts of the town of Merida, built under colonial rule, but it’s the oldest church in North America still standing. My host and I had been talking and we walked across the square and there’s an old facade – it would have been an old bank. Remember, we’re inside one the squares, inside the fort walls. He was telling me, “If you can see the relief, you can see the carvings and understand what is carved into these columns, decoratively carved into this old bank, then you’ll understand the history of Mexico.” It’s kind of dark outside, I’m squinting, looking, and we’re pulling out her cell phone to shine them up there. It was the Spanish conquistadors with their armor on and holding a double bit axe. Each conquistador soldier is standing on his little round things, each foot is planted on these little round things. He said, “No look at what he’s standing on, that’s the history of Mexico. That’s all you need to know about the history of Mexico.” I finally realized what it was, that he was standing on human heads. The Spanish conquistadors came into Mexico and they didn’t negotiate, they didn’t make treaties, they conquered. They were standing on the Mayan heads and that was the history of Mexico he was telling me. The conquistadors landed and they killed, and they took, and that was the history of his country. That was down in Merida. If you get into the town of Campeche – you got tacos and you’ve got a mole sauce, but no you’re right there on the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf, you got a whole lot of seafood culture going on too. One of my favorite restaurants is down by the Holiday Inn across the highway. You’re sitting there drinking, they got margaritas, they got all kinds of margaritas and you sit there drinking Sapodilla margarita. You see these two little boys out there swimming in the surf and they keep diving under and popping up. Probably 10ft of water, they dive under, be gone for a minute, come up and drop something in this inner tube that’s got a little net in between the hole in the middle. Then shortly, you don’t see them out there swimming no more, the maids comes in with a platter full of lobsters and conch or whatever else, which is the fresh dinner selection for tonight. A I was in this old beautiful restaurant in downtown Campeche at one time. It was just old and beautiful and the glass work was – it’s like the doors were like rounded at the top like art like rounded and had these lights, these beautiful pane glass above them. I’m sitting there eating and I look at the blue with gold tip glass. I realized that’s an Ocellated turkey, that’s the fan and the pane glass throughout the restaurant. This restaurant was old, I mean had to have been 100 years old. It’s an old restaurant, it’s an old building they come in, but it was an Ocellated turkey fan. The whole culture is around this. I sit there and I look at that Ocellated turkey, I see this bright, sparkling blue that when the light hits it right, boom, it’s like a police siren and it’s all edged in gold. When the sun hits it right, all you see is all this 24 karat gold outlined and it’s an ugly old head. Only his mama would love his light blue head and each eye is ringed with big puffy red eyelids and on top of his head he’s got this crown of gold. It looked Mayan to me, it looked like a Mayan chief, his face blue and outlined his eyes in red, and he’s got this gold crown on. You see where I’m getting with this Rocky? I shot a couple of turkeys but it was just that whole jungle experience that was so profound.
Stories of Mexico Hunting Trips
Ramsey Russell: The second time I went to that area to shoot Ocellated turkeys, I think there were six of us and in three days shot a curse owl, two or three brocket deer (I didn’t get a brocket deer), a javelina and eleven Ocellated turkey. I didn’t shoot an Ocellated. Could have shot three of them very easily from a blind, one of hammocks. I could have killed two of them because we were hunting in a fruit tree called Sapote. It’s just like eating these little brown sugar cubes. But believe you me, those Indian guys know exactly where those trees are because everything in the jungle comes to eat that Sapote fruit. The last thing my guide told me, my outfitter told before I left was, “Hey if you see a javelina, shoot.” I said no. He said, “Ramsey, it’s the best thing in the jungle you’ve ever eaten.” I said, “I don’t believe you.” You ever smell a javelina, Rocky? Collared Peccary? They smell like pork that have got a big old, gland on her back. It stinks. He said, “If you see javelina, please shoot. If you like that deer we roasted last night, you’ll love javelina.” So we were sitting in there hunting and you can hear that Ocellated cantor right there. He knew where that fruit tree was too. He was making rounds and he didn’t come into that tree, but he got right around the periphery, he was 40 yards. At one time walking through a little gap in the thicket, I could have got a good clear shot at him. I couldn’t get a good picture, but I could have killed him with a shotgun easy and I didn’t we’re waiting on a deer. I did get some pictures, not great pictures but pictures, and did shoot a javelina and it was good. That particular camp, we were camping in the jungle in tents – screen netted tents with a bed – and as warm as it was during the day at night, you wake up under all the covers because you’re out in that jungle area and the humidity cools off at night. They made a big pit to cook, dug a pit, the hot coal, and layered it with wet vegetation, and then it kind of covered it with dirt on top and let it roast all day. Like a big old crock pot roast. They pulled that meat out, and he just pulled it off the bone and shredded it like pulled pork. He put lime, lemons, and onions, and just a little vinegar, made these homemade tortillas, and we had these little homemade tacorias and it was fabulous. I couldn’t believe it. I mean, the one thing I noticed was when that javelina I had shot was put in the back of the truck, I couldn’t smell it. I mean for some reason he didn’t have that odor. I’m sure the guy was very careful of the way he dressed that animal when he pulled it out because it really was as good as pork. It’s kind of interesting being immersed in the jungle. I’ll never forget, every afternoon if you’re around camp before it got dark enough to go out and hunt (if you’re going to chase them at night, all these monkeys would come over camp, swinging through. One time there were two just kind of hanging around. It’s kind of cool to see that stuff. I’m still not a turkey hunter Rocky, but I liked that Ocellated turkey experience.
Rocky Leflore: You were almost Paul Harvey-esque today. In telling that story, you came real close.
Ramsey Russell: Good.
Rocky Leflore: Man, I know you got to get to a meeting this afternoon.
Ramsey Russell: No, it will be alright. Me and my buddy are fixing to go eat some crawfish. I have been gone 2-3 weeks and I’ve eaten my homemade hamburger, one food I crave when I have been on the road traveling to a foreign country. Food in Azerbaijan is very good. I got to have my homemade hamburger when I get home and now it’s crawfish season and I’m fixing to go eat crawfish with my buddy and our wives and I’m sure forward to come along. He’s not wanting to pass up on a free crawfish dinner. So, we’re just going to drink a couple of cold beers and eat crawfish. Sorry, it took so long to get together, Rocky.
Rocky Leflore: Oh man, we’ve both been busy. I have enjoyed it Ramsey, thank you for coming in and like I said, never imagined we were going to talk turkey, but great stories. Thank you again and I want to thank all of you that listened to this edition of The End of The Line podcast, powered by ducksouth.com.