Baja quail doing just fine at Rancho El Coyote
SAN TELMO VALLEY, MX. — Baja Norte received a little more rain at the right times this past spring and into the summer months and provided California valley quail with enough water to carry over adult birds from previous good hatches and produce a huntable population of chicks for this season.
Western Outdoor News was invited down to quail hunt Rancho El Coyote – Meling by Gregg Shobe of San Diego, the U.S. representative for the hunting ranch. The hunt party would also include Victor Morales, a Mexican Wildlife Specialist, who handles licenses, permits, and does biological studies of wild game species on Baja and wing shooter Erick Lencioni of Ensenada.
ONE HAPPY QUAIL HUNTER — Victor Morales, a Mexican wildlife consultant for Baja, enjoyed a great California valley quail hunt in San Telmo Valley last week while on a guided hunt with Rancho El Coyote-Meling. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC
The plan was to dodge a couple of cold fronts that were pushing down along coast and the timing couldn’t have been much better. There was little in the way of clouds or rain to contend with but the winds kicked up pretty good which kept quail holding tight in thicker cover. It was just a 4.5 hour drive from the early morning border crossing at San Ysidro to the San Telmo Valley turn off of Mexican Hwy. 1.
As usual, there were no problems encountered on the drive south with police and military presence along the way to ensure the safety of those driving down the Baja coast. While Shobe had his visa permit, this hunting editor enlisted the services of the Discover Baja Travel Club to obtain a visa, which was expedited over the internet and through the mail in just a couple days. Having permits in hand prior to crossing the border just made for a more comfortable feeling with the new Mexican regulations that are currently in affect.
Hunting would begin at one of the Meling ranches in San Telmo Valley where fresh carne burritos, homemade salsa and beverages were served up by outfitter Alfredo Meling. After lunch is was just a short drive to the adjoining cactus covered rolling hills that were loaded with valley quail. The main reason for there being so many quail in this vast valley is the amount of farming, available water and plenty of nearby protective cover for quail.
The first covey was small by Baja standards, numbering perhaps only 50 birds, but they were in an ideal arroyo which made for some pretty easy gunning with everyone bagging 3 or 4 birds out that covey before abandoning it to look for a bigger covey. It doesn’t take too long to find valley quail in this part of Baja and the next covey numbered well over 100 birds, but that covey was in a little bit steeper terrain and made for more difficult shooting. As the sun set, the winds kicked up even more making it harder to get on a flushing quail as it winged into the sun or over a nearby ridge just above stands of cactus and waist high sage.
Rancho El Coyote – Meling has hosted many quail hunters for more than a quarter of a century. WON first hunted this ranch back in the early 70s when hillsides seemed to move with huge coveys of quail numbering perhaps in the multiple hundreds. Today the quail population is holding up after coming off a couple of back-to-back wet years. Both Alfredo Meling and Morales agreed that Baja hunting has been good this season, but added that in order to sustain huntable populations of California valley quail the region will need significant rain this winter and into the spring months.
LIMITS OF BAJA QUAIL — Limits of valley quail are rather easy to shoot in the vast San Telmo Valley of Baja Norte. Alfredo Meling and Gregg Shobe of San Diego teamed up and shot afternoon limits of quail before heading up to the main hunt lodge and hacienda. WON PHOTO BY JIM NIEMIEC
“The San Telmo Valley has water, crops and cover needed by quail to survive and this combination makes this area viable. Some of the quail are already starting to pair up (as of the first week of December) and this is a good sign that conditions might be right for multiple hatches to occur. We got a little rain in November and more this week, but it’s going take a pretty major winter storm dumping lots of rain on this desert region to bring up the aquifers and produce native seed crops and protective cover for chicks,” said Morales.
A hunt day at Rancho El Coyote – Meling usually ends as the sun drops below the coastal mountain range in the best interest of good bird shooting and safety. The drive up to the hunt lodge takes about 30 minutes and that’s where our party met up with the other group of quail hunters hunting the same valley. Randy Champion of Glendora, a long time subscriber to Western Outdoor News (some 35 years), was teamed up with his son Randy, Jr., son-in-law Kenny Esquivel and Tyler Yuskiewicz of Big Bear Lake.
WON talked with Randy Sr. after an excellent dinner prepared by the Meling ranch chef on her wood burning stove/oven.
“We have been coming down to Rancho El Coyote for many years and have always enjoyed very good quail hunting. Some years are better than others, but you just cannot match the kind of quail hunting offered by the Meling brothers any place in the United States. We usually manage to harvest our daily limit of quail (15 birds) each day. Sometimes we limit out prior to lunch leaving us more time to simply relax around the hacienda or watch coveys of quail as they move around the ranch and adjacent property. We don’t hunt much at all in the states any more now that we have established such a good relationship with Alfredo, Esteban and their staff. We also see a lot of coyotes, rabbits and often deer down here in Baja and we have never experienced any problems. But we do only drive during the day and allow ample time to cross the border back into the United States,” said Champion.
Day-two quail hunts start after a hot breakfast and hunters are taken to different arroyos and canyons to avoid over shooting any one spot. Our party opted for just a morning shoot and after working three big coveys, with over 35 quail harvested, it was time to have a field-style lunch under the shade of big pepper tree and enjoy the taste of fresh wild valley quail grilled over a mesquite fire, served up with salsa, burritos, frijoles and your choice of a cold Pacifica or a glass of wine. (Editor’s note: We were not planning on hunting after lunch)
The quail hatch in California is down this year and hunting Gambel’s quail in Arizona has been off again as well, which should be enough reason to head down to Baja for a season ending quail hunt. The season in Baja Norte will run through Jan. 13. Last year the season was extended a couple of weeks, but this is not likely to happen this year due to current California valley quail populations on Baja. For additional information on booking a quail hunt log on to their web site at ranchoelcoyote.com, or give Shobe a call at (619) 540-9846 and to obtain a shotgun permit or a hunting license go to [email protected] Also look for the Rancho El Coyote – Meling ad which appears regularly during the hunting season in Western Outdoor News. For those not wanting to bring a shotgun into Mexico, Rancho El Coyote does have shotguns for rent and ammo to purchase.
Also of interest to those who hunt any kind of birds in Baja is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife advisory on declaring birds at the border crossing and regulations currently in place. Rather than opt to pre-cook valley quail for importation those hunting with Rancho El Coyote – Meling ate quail shot at the ranch. One evening the camp chef prepared quail six different ways, of which half were served as appetizers and the dinner plate was topped off with Cordon-Blu quail and a bottle of fine wine.