OUTFITTER REVIEW ON:
Part 1:THE HUNT
Ducks And Doves In Ole Mexico
With Solimar Hunting Safaris
By Dan Wennerlind
Every serious waterfowler I know has a bucket list of hunting adventures to check off before they get too old. On the top of mine was a late season duck hunt to Mexico for big drake pintails and cinnamon teal. After coordinating the 5 day trip with a good friend of mine and World Class hunter- Paul Robey (who had hunted with Solimar Hunting Adventures several times before and gave them raving reviews), I was all in! This trip would turn out to be on that would not disappoint.
For some hunters it is a numbers game to see how many birds they can shoot, for others who enjoy adding to their collection it is all about getting that trophy mount for the wall. But for many die hard Midwesterners, come January it is just about getting out of the below zero temperatures with an opportunity to hunt ducks and doves in 80 degree temps and sunny skies, more than anything.
Several of the key factors that made the Solimar Hunting Adventures camp run by outfitter Ernesto Zaragoza, an absolute success for our group are as follows: first is the prime location. The camp is located on a private coastal marsh 900 hectares in size (approximately 1,800 acres) just north of Mazatlan. However the overall layout of the marsh in general has to be at least double that size. Outfitter Ernesto Zaragoza and camp manager Sergio Esparza have total control on how they manage the marsh for hunting and in my opinion they are spot on in the way they maximize its potential.
The first guideline they have set in place is to only allow 1 group of hunters in camp per week, with a maximum of 10 hunters per group. In addition to that, they only hunt the marsh 3 days per week- half day hunts only (Fri – Sun) resting the marsh the other 4 days of the week. This ensures the 20,000+ ducks that we saw during our hunt will be there throughout the entire hunting season. The birds winter there, arriving in late November, and staying through mid February annually. To further ensure the birds are comfortable and unpressured, they save half the marsh as a sort of refuge by not hunting it if at all possible during the season (however they do have 4 of the 18 permanent blinds on the marsh located in the “refuge” area as a failsafe.
So now that the stage has been set, here we go. After a short flight on a connecting flight from the Phoenix airport (where our group of 10 hunters all met from across the country), we flew into Mazatlan together and were picked up by camp manager Sergio Esparza and his crew. They quickly loaded our gear into the vans, fed us a nice lunch and drove us straight to the Solimar Hunting Camp located a little over 3 ½ hours north of Mazatlan. Now I have to admit, after sitting on a plane for about 3 ½ hours (including both flights) another 3+ hour car ride was about as much as my bottom could take, but that turned out to be the only downfall on this extraordinary waterfowl hunting adventure. I also learned after the fact, that for a little extra there is a direct flight into Los Mochis, Mexico- leaving a shorter 1 hr and 15 minute drive to the camp from the airport. Which makes a lot more sense to me, on my next trip back.
Once at the camp we were greeted by not only the full service staff of a dozen members, but also about 200 – 300 of our feathered friends that reside in the lagoon by the camp all winter (including about 50 drake pintails, 75 cinnamon teal and numerous beautiful shore birds). Sergio really knows how to get the excitement going for his fresh hunters as daily he dumps buckets of corn in the water by the beach to bring the big drakes into about 10 – 15 yards from shore, in the “safe zone”. This really does the job of getting the hunter’s blood pumping for the next day’s hunt I’ll tell you what! From there we were brought into the gun room where we were all able to pick out our own shotgun for the trip (which was a huge bonus as we did not have to bring firearms across the border). There were over 20 different Benneli and Beretta shotguns, both 12 gauge and 20 gauge for us to choose from. After we picked out the gun that fit us best, our name was taped to the stock and that was our personal firearm for the rest of the trip.
Day 1: We were all up and attem at 5 am sharp for a light breakfast in the dining hall (I was wide awake at 4:30am patiently waiting). We pulled out of camp on the airboats (which were about 20 steps from the rooms to the dock) in groups of four hunters and 2 bird boys. We would soon split up into two groups of two hunters, each with his own guide / bird boy for the day.
From there it was a short 5 – 10 minute ride through the marsh to the permanent pre-set blinds on the marsh. After dropping Paul and Gordy off with their guide Nicho, my partner for the day Russ Lillienthal and I, and our guide Jorge continued on to the next blind located around the bend and in a totally separate bay of the marsh. Jorge quickly set the spread of about 16 decoys that were waiting for us in the blind and within about 20 minutes the sun was high enough on the horizon to see and it was on.
An Airboat Ride In The
Morning To The Blinds
We started off by tag teaming a nice pair of drake shovelors. From there we took turns as much as we could on whatever ducks flew by, as it was still too early to identify the birds just yet and being our first day on the marsh and having a legal bag limit of 45 ducks per day, per hunter (any species any sex) we were in no danger of limiting out too early. Our guide Jorge turned out to be a seasoned pro. He was able to call and identify flock after flock into our spread over and over all morning long.
The action was fast and furious for the first two hours, at which point we finally decided to take a break and tally up our bag. We had 26 birds in hand, made up of: pintails, shovelors, widgeon, gadwall, green wing teal and blue wing teal. Many of which were beautiful drakes in full plumage.
Around 9am the action slowed down for a bit and we were able to cherry pick the closest ducks that flew overhead, as the sun rose higher in the morning sky.
At 10am we heard the airboat in the distance heading our way and Jorge started to pick up the spread. We thought we had done pretty well on our first morning with a combined bag of 36 ducks, until we picked up Paul and Gordy. They boasted a whopping 46 ducks and were grinning from ear to ear as they had just dumped 6 big drake pintails out of a flock just minutes before we arrived. What a great start to an amazing trip!
After a filling and delicious home cooked Mexican style breakfast back at camp we had a little time to relax and share a few war stories with the rest of the guys before taking a much needed 2 ½ hour siesta, before heading out for the afternoon on our first dove hunt.
The rest of the crew was a little more excited about the dove hunt than I was as most had been to Argentina and experienced what world class dove hunting has to offer. Being my first dove hunt I have to admit I was a little skeptical. However after I finished off my first box of shells and barely touched a feather at the fast flying rascals I was hooked. This had to be the toughest and most action packed shooting I have ever experienced as the little buggers came zipping through the cactus field non-stop, flying from 5 – 15 feet high and dipping and dodging through the brush. Finally after about 6 boxes of shells and 3 hours later I had a whopping 30 doves in my bag but it wasn’t easy… I would get better.
At dinner that night even the seasoned dove hunting veterans had to admit that this was much harder shooting than anything they had experienced before. I felt a little better about my poor performance as we laughed and joked about our missed shots that night.
A FEW SHOTS OF THE SOLIMAR HUNTING SAFARIS RESORT
Day 2: Everything started off very similar to the first morning with a wakeup call at 5am sharp and a quick breakfast before heading out to the marsh. Today I had the pleasure of hunting with professional hunter and good friend Paul Robey. Paul has hunted all over the world and holds more big game world records than anyone I know. He has successfully hunted everything from polar bears in the arctic, to elephants in Africa. But bird hunting I found, is Paul’s true passion.
This morning we started out hunting on the other end of the marsh, as each blind is set up to target different species of ducks. As with the previous day I started off by dropping another drake shovelor in the decs right off the bat. Then Paul proceeded to put on a mini shooting seminar- dropping several ducks in a row like clockwork that came zipping over the cattails at lightning speed (mostly teal and widgeon). Our bird boy Nicho didn’t miss a bird either, he was on top of his game as well. Again we took turns picking out the nicest drakes from each flock as they flew down the canal in front of us, until…..we had a pair of beautiful Canvasbacks coming right down the pipe. We both pulled up and pulled the trigger. Paul graciously gave me
honors on the drake and dropped the hen with a single shot. I on the other hand came up with a big swing and a miss! A shot I know I will not live down from Paul for many years to come. But it was all in good fun and we had a big laugh about it at my expense.
After about an hour we heard the airboat again and packed up our stuff as the guys were relocating us to another area of the marsh. This time we would be targeting the black bellied whistling ducks (better known to the locals as the pychawheelas). We were headed back south to a bay where these birds congregated, about 10 minutes away.
This turned out to be my favorite hunt of the trip. Within less than 20 minutes we were hunting again in our new location. It was remarkable to me how similar the “pychawheelas’ came in like the snow geese I am used to hunting back home. They were coming back to the marsh from the area grain fields in big flocks of 60 – 100 birds. They would start out very high and flip flop down just like snow geese. The flocks would then circle 2 or 3 times with their wings set and literally hover right over the top of us. Once in gunning range they made excellent targets and between Paul and I we had nine of the beautiful birds in hand within about forty minutes. Being the only spot on the marsh at this point in the season that was holding the unique birds, this blind was a hot commodity and Surgio was quick to pull us out of that blind after we had a successful hunt, to move another group in.
A Flock Of Black Bellied
Whistling Ducks (Pychawheelas)
Locked Up And Coming In!
Just before we picked up I was able to redeem myself from earlier in the day as a big bull canvasback blew by at top speed from out of nowhere. Without a thought I pulled up swung and fired. The mighty drake made a big splash about 30 yards behind us and was an easy retrieve for our bird boy Nicho. With another 26 ducks in the morning bag Paul and I were full of smiles again at the end of this hunt.
The afternoon dove hunt was just as fast and furious as the day before and as the hunt progressed I continued to increase my confidence and harvested 42 doves (up from 30 the day before) with about the same number of shells. The other hunters in camp were shooting better after round 2 as well and we all enjoyed another successful dove shoot in an area cactus field a few miles from the resort.
That evening over a few complimentary cervezas at camp we enjoyed a delicious round of duck and dove hors devours prepared by Chef Roberto before the main course was served consisting of a thick, juicy steak dinner. Trust me we never went hungry on this trip! After dinner Sergio sat us down and explained to us that after 2 hard mornings of gunning on the marsh , he would like to switch up the itinerary for the final day’s hunt and target the doves in the morning and the ducks in the afternoon, to give the marsh a full 24 hours rest before hunting it again. This proved to be a very smart idea as our last day turned out to be our best day of hunting.
Day 3: We started the morning with a 20 minute drive to a local cactus field plum full of doves ready to feed. And OMG was it fast action! As soon as the sun came up we were bombarded with doves. From start to finish for 3 straight hours. The first hour was strictly mourning doves and then once the sun got a little higher, the white winged doves moved in. I pulled a personal best harvesting a full limit of 60 doves! It was truly a hunt to remember as the rest of the group all took limits as well and we picked up an astounding 600 doves in one hunt. Truly amazing and well within the limits and laws of the land. In addition, as with all of our ducks and doves, not one bird went to waste. All of the birds were cleaned and consumed by us or the locals in town.
Back at camp that afternoon we made our game plan for the final hunt of the trip. I was teamed up with Russ again as we were both still in search of a trophy cinnamon teal to mount and Russ also wanted a pair of big drake pintails as well.
Surgio sent us to the west end of the marsh to start out in a little teal hole he had that we hadn’t even seen yet. From the moment we arrived the teal were bombarding us. Suddenly a big drake widgeon, with cupped wings, glided in and I connected! We had 15 birds in the bag within the first half hour. Heck we even had one of the many Flamingos residing on the marsh land in the spread as an extra little treat.
Knowing Russ was in search of a drake pintail for the wall, he took honors as a big sprig banked high overhead. The big bird plummeted to the water as smoke poured from Russ’s barrel. A perfect shot!
However with no cinnamon teal in site the airboat came back and moved us again. We were moved to yet another blind we had not seen this trip. With the setting sun in my eyes I dropped a nice ruddy duck. Hoping for a drake, it turned out to be a hen… not the wall hanger I was looking for. Then Russ yelled “over the top” as a pair of gorgeous drake pintails banked overhead. We made a nice double on the magnificent birds and dropped the pair. These two were true trophies, sporting 7 inch tails! This was the pair Russ was looking for and he was ecstatic.
With no cinnamon teal in site again and the sun setting lower and lower in the sky, the airboat was quick to pick us up for one last move. Blind three of the hunt was tucked back in a little cattail slough far away from everything else. A perfect roost for the last evening hunt. Now it was crunch time with less than a half hour of daylight left.
Russ dropped a gorgeous drake green wing teal and I nailed a nice drake shovelor. We then tag teamed another big drake pintail that swung in low. Another beautiful bird but still no cinnamon teal for our boat...
Jorge made his way across the slough to retrieve the downed bird as the sun hit the horizon. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen, since I can remember. I turned to my right and there he was… A big drake cinnamon teal was zipping by from right to left. Without a seconds notice I reached for my Benelli and swung on the beautiful drake. My last chance!
With a single shot I dropped the trophy bird at 20 yards right in the middle of the slough. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip!!! Russ and I slapped high fives and we were all smiles as we heard the airboat on its way back for the final pick up.
Dinner that night in the dining hall went late into the evening as stories were shared and cervezas were clanking. As I reflected on the adventure we had just partaken on, beyond the abundance of gorgeous ducks harvested and liberal bag limits that ole Mexico has to offer, we were all very impressed with the strong work ethic of each staff member- from the bird boys diving into the prickly cactus to retrieve every downed dove, to their expert waterfowl ID in the marsh. As well as the dedication of camp manager Surgio Esparza to make sure each and every hunter was completely satisfied with every aspect of the trip. And the exceptional handbaked meals prepared daily by Chef Roberto. This is a major operation and from start to finish we all agreed the crew did a marvelous job. At the airport Monday morning we said our gracious good byes to the guys and we were already making plans to return again next year to revisit our new friends at Solimar Hunting Adventures!
Part 2: THE REVIEW
|OUTFITTER KNOWLEDGE / PERSONALITY: ||Score||5 / 5 |
This is a truly authentic Mexican hunting adventure. Outfitter Ernesto Zeragoza and camp manager Sergio Esparza and the rest of the crew that run the operation were very, very generous and hard working. The hunt was well put together from every aspect. It was very evident that a lot of thought, hard work and money have been put into the operation and the duck marsh itself is a first class operation. Sergio and Ernesto are expert waterfowl hunters and have the set up turn-key. From the permanent blind set-ups on the marsh, to the management practices, every aspect of the hunt was exceptional!
|QUALITY OF |
|Score||4 / 5|
Overall I felt the hunting equipment used was very high quality for the most part. The 3 on-site airboats were in excellent condition. The permanent blinds on the marsh were all well placed and in great condition. We were able to hunt out of tennis shoes and not get wet. The firearms were all Benellis and Berettas. The only challenges were that the guns were a little older and the first day there were a couple jams, that were rectified that afternoon. In addition all of the guns were right handed, so the lefties in the group had to adjust. Also the decoys, although effective, were older and not in the best condition. But that didn't seem to make much of a difference to the ducks.
|Score||5 / 5|
The opportunity to harvest game during every hunt we were on was unprecedented. With the very liberal bag limits of 45 ducks per day and 60 doves per day, per hunter, the number of birds we saw and the amount of ammo we went through each day spoke for itself. In addition, the fact that there were no other hunters or hunting camps in existence from what we could tell made sure that the birds would not be overhunted and over pressured for the next group, all season long. A+++ in this category!
|QUALITY OF MEALS |
5 / 5
The quality of the meals and lodging were also excellent. With on-site Chef Roberto’s handmade meals daily, to the staff waiting on our every need. This was an All Inclusive experience. From the cervezas to the margaritas and bottled water. There were no hidden surprises in this area. In addition each hunter had his own bed and there were only 1 -2 hunters per room. There was plenty of room to spread out and there really wasn’t much of a need to bring anything with except some light camo clothing. Everything else was taken care of.
HUNT PACKAGES AND
|Score||5 / 5|
The overall package was as follows. A 3 day, 4 night All Inclusive hunt. This includes 3 - half day duck hunts and 3 - half day dove hunts. For groups of 6 – 10 hunters this includes airport pick up and return. All meals, beverages and lodging are included. The package also includes your hunting license, pre-purchased and waiting for you at the camp. The standard rate is $2,700 per hunter but If You Mention HuntTheNorth.com at the time of booking you will receive FREE Gun Rental to assure there are no hassels at the border. The only additional fees for the entire trip are your airfare into Mexico, your license and ammunition, which is supplied on site and the gratuity for the staff at the end of the hunt.
|OVERALL QUALITY |
OF THE TRIP:
|Score||5 / 5 |
Overall I felt that everyone at Solimar Hunting Adventures did an excellent job to make sure we were all extremely happy with the overall experience. It was evident all the way through the last duck hunt, the final night when camp manager Surgio moved us 3 times to make sure I was able to have an opportunity to harvest the trophy cinnamon teal that I was looking for. This is truly a World Class hunting adventure and I do not know of anywhere else in North America where one can find this unique and fantastic type of waterfowl hunting opportunity.
In addition, with the concern in the news these days about traveling to Mexico, I feel obligated to share that we had no issues during our travels in Mexico and at no time felt unsafe with the conditions. The camp is also gated for extra precautions and it was a very pleasurable experience.
Overall Solimar Hunting Adventures Scored 29 Out Of 30 Giving Them An "A" Rating. We Would Not Hesitate To Refer Them For Their Fantastic Mexico Duck And Dove Hunts!
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Part 3: Booking Information
|Contact Information For: Solimar Hunting Adventures|
Outfitter: Ernesto & Raquel Zaragoza
Address: Apartado Postal (P.O. Box)
41 Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico
| more photos from the hunt...|
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