Crossing the Border

Ever wanted to complete your Royal or World Slams south of the border but were unsure of the process to get your gobbler back into the country? I was in that boat last spring before hunting the Mexican state of Sonora, about one-and-a-half hours south of Tucson, Arizona, with Tall Tine Outfitters (talltine.com) and Ted Jaycox. Most of us can accomplish the Grand Slam with a little travel and scouting effort on American soil. Finishing the Royal Slam in the U.S. is more difficult because it takes years to draw a Gould’s turkey tag in Arizona and New Mexico, and the most abundant populations are in northern Mexico. Completing the World Slam with an Ocellated turkey can only be accomplished in the Yucatan Peninsula in southeastern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

A do-it-yourself hunt in Mexico is doable if you have connections but nearly impossible if you have no land to hunt. There is no public hunting land south of the border, and Mexican hunting and firearm regulations are strict. To save you the headache, an outfitter is the best option. Here are a few tips to help with your travels if you pursue the Gould’s or Ocellated in Mexico.  

PAPERWORK
Here’s where an outfitter really comes in handy. If you’re bringing firearms into Mexico and plan to bring a bird back into the states, both require permits and other paperwork which an outfitter can help supply. We used firearms and ammunition shipped to the outfitter before the hunt. 

To import your bird back into the states, you need four forms:
• Hunting license/contract with outfitter: supplied by the outfitter
• SEMARNAT tag: Supplied by the outfitter and attached to the turkey leg after the hunt. Biologists issue these permits after they have surveyed the hunting property and determined an appropriate number of tags to issue based on population estimates. SEMARNAT is Mexico’s governing body over environment and natural resources. 
• U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service form 3-177: Supplied by the outfitter and required for all importation of wildlife. The friendly customs agents at the border will want to review this and other forms closely. 
• Contact information for USDA-approved taxidermist: You’ll need to supply this information to the customs agents. Have it written out in advance. 

CAPING
After the Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS load dropped the long-legged Gould’s at Rancho Mabibi (www.ranchomababi.com), Jaycox and the ranch’s guides went to work on caping the bird out in less than 20 minutes. When finished, they folded the head under and wrapped the wings and fan into a neat ball before stuffing the hide into panty hose. We ate the meat on site. 

CUSTOMS
When we crossed the border back into the states, customs agents at the gate sent us to a secondary port when they learned we had wild turkeys to declare. There, agents placed our gobblers on a table for inspection and vetted our documents — passports, tags and the previously mentioned forms. The process took 30 minutes to an hour. Customs agents do not like cell phones or photos taken during the process, and there are signs warning you. I was tempted but reminded of a popular saying: Mexican prison is the one place you do not want to meet Jesús. 

IMPORTATION
You can place birds in checked baggage and import them back home, which is most common. There were four of us, so we sent them to the same taxidermist. A quick stop at Dollar General after we crossed the border into Arizona yielded a plastic tub for shipping. Jaycox packed the panty hose birds — agents had wrapped them in U.S. customs plastic and quarantine tape — into the tub, surrounded them in hunting clothes and cut holes in the lid and lip of the tub. He then zip-tied the lid to the tub through the holes and marked the top with name, shipping location and contact info. 

TAXIDERMY
All imported turkeys must go to a USDA-approved taxidermist. View the list here: https://vsapps.aphis.usda.gov/vsps/public/AESearch.do?method=unspecified

There were only two such taxidermists in my home state of South Carolina and none within several hours, so we had the turkeys taken to and shipped from a USDA-approved taxidermist in Minnesota. It is important to check the date the taxidermist is required to renew his certification. If it expires during or before your hunt, it’s best to contact the taxidermist to ensure they plan to renew. You have up to 10 days to get the bird to the taxidermist. USDA officials will contact your selected taxidermist to make sure you have not absconded with a gobbler that potentially has avian flu or exotic Newcastle disease from Mexico.

Hopefully these tips ease your mind and help complete your next slam pursuit. These were our experiences during the trip, but I have heard different variations of the process from other hunters. With an outfitter, it’s a seamless process and will ensure you avoid trouble at the border. Go to www.fws.gov/le/bird-hunting-mexico.html for more information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on hunting Mexico. And don’t forget to register your gobblers — whether it’s your first or last of the World Slam — in the NWTF Wild Turkey Records at NWTF.org/hunt/records/register. You can now complete the process almost entirely online. Fill out the registration form, print it out, have a witness sign, and then attach it to an email and send it in. You can call in your payment information or use the mailing option.

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