Jungle Ghost

Hanging a hammock stand for the brocket deer hunt.
Hanging a hammock stand for the Brocket deer hunt.

If  whitetail is the grey ghost of the North American woods, then the Brocket deer is the ghost of Central and South American jungles.  Elusive and quiet as a whitetail, the diminutive Brocket deer provides a unique hunting challenge in a jungle environment.

I’d been planning an ocellated turkey hunt with my dad.  The ocellated would be his fifth species of turkey, and my third.   While researching options, I learned through SCI and hunting articles about Brocket deer.  The more I learned, the more I became interested in the small deer and the potential to hunt one.  My research took me to Cabela’s, where I was introduced to an outfitter with prime land for both ocellated turkey and Brocket deer.

Our adventure started in Campeche, Mexico.  Campeche is a beautiful historic city, and the drop-off point for many Yucatan adventures.  Campeche boasts world-class light tackle fishing, including some of the best baby tarpon fishing in the world.  I had fly-fished Campeche a few years prior, and was excited to be back.

Our outfitter was Arturo Malo at Baja Hunting.  Cabela’s did a great job with trip organizing and Arturo did an equally impressive job with transportation and camp logistics.  The area we were hunting was very remote, located approximately 60 miles from the border of Guatemala.  Driving from Campeche to our camp was an adventure in itself.  Along the route, small villages and Mayan ruins added to the journey.

Home for the next several days was a true jungle hunting camp with comfortable walled tents and traditional home-cooked meals.  Both the company and camp atmosphere were very enjoyable parts of the trip.

There are both gray-brown and red Brocket deer in the Yucatan.  While yet unexplored sections near our hunting area were thought to contain red Brocket, our hunt would target the more plentiful gray-brown species.

The author and guide in the hammock stand.
The author and guide in the hammock stand.

Brocket deer are hunted several ways, including from tree stands or blinds near water holes, to driving deer along shooting lanes.  Shotguns with buckshot are commonly used for quick running shots on the small animals.  Arturo’s guide decided our best approach would be hunting from tree stands along established deer trails.

I quickly appreciated that the guide’s experienced eyes were far more adept at finding the dime-sized hoof prints and delicate trails than this enthusiastic hunter.   Unlike deer hunting back home in Georgia, our “tree stands” were individual hammocks hung above the trail in the tangled jungle branches.  With much of the canopy low and relatively exposed, long periods of motionless hanging are a necessity.

Brocket deer have small simple antlers and, while any brocket is a trophy, I wanted to target a mature buck.  Our first hunt focused on an established deer trail in the transition between a watering area and deeper jungle.  While we saw no deer, the jungle bird life was incredible.  In addition to ocellated turkey, there are several large ground birds that also can be hunted.  We watched active breeding behavior between several chachalaca.  These roadrunner-sized birds move through the forest like darts, rarely stopping for more than a few moments.  We also had close encounters with great curassow–a large pheasant-sized bird.  The females are a brown color, but the males are an impressive pitch black with a striking yellow knob on the bill.  Arturo’s son took a large male curassow later in the hunt.

Mayan ruins are one of the sites on the trip from Campeche to camp.
Mayan ruins are one of the sites on the trip from Campeche to camp.

We later decided to leave the water source and try a new area, deeper in the jungle.  Once again, it was the trained eyes of the guide that found the delicate trails.  We located a suitable tree just ten yards off the trail and at the base of a small rise.  We hung two hammocks facing the rise, and quickly settled in for another wait.

Once again the jungle came to life with endless birds and insects.  We expected deer to come from the rise above and eventually heard the sound of an animal moving along the trail.  It was not a Brocket deer, but the unmistakable tail of a coati soon came into view.  Coatis are a member of the raccoon family and are as comfortable moving along the tree limbs as walking on the ground.

The coati’s body was not yet visible but the long bushy tail, which can be as long as the body, was held high like a banner and announced his presence.  While the coati would have made an interesting trophy, I was focused on deer and did not want to risk the final hours of the afternoon.  Before getting to the edge of the rise, the coati found a large tree towering above us and, as he began to climb, was joined by a second coati.  The next thirty minutes provided an entertaining show of the two animals chasing each other through the trees.

The final hours of the afternoon were quiet and uneventful.  Suddenly the slightest crack of a dry branch caught our attention.  It was directly behind us.  Nothing immediately followed, however, as with whitetail, you just know a deer is at the edge, hesitating to come out.  My guide and I did not move for thirty minutes, and then the sound came again.  This time my guide slowly risked a glance over his shoulder.  He tapped me and mouthed, “Deer…big deer.”

The brocket deer’s diminutive size makes it a challenging trophy to pursue.
The Brocket deer’s diminutive size makes it a challenging trophy to pursue.

The angle could not have been worse.  My only option was for the guide to roll over in his hammock, while I turned with the shotgun in my hammock and hoped for a clear shot at the deer, which we knew was facing us only 10 yards away.  We managed to pull off the acrobatics and, as I rolled with the gun, had a clear angle to the buck.  His spikes were the trophy quality of a mature deer and I immediately took the shot.  He did not run far, and what a great feeling when the guide estimated the age at five years or more.  He was the mature animal we were looking for.  Size is relative, especially with Brocket deer.  Our buck green scored more than 14 inches SCI, making it a good trophy.

While the Brocket was a highlight, spending time hunting with my dad is what the trip was about.  We were both successful in taking nice ocellated turkey, which must be one of the most incredibly colored animals there are.  Their colors reminded me of freshly caught dolphin, in that the brilliant shades are indescribable and change constantly with the light.  Like dolphin, pictures just don’t do them justice.

Simple horns of a mature brocket buck.
Simple horns of a mature Brocket buck.

We wrapped up the trip fly-fishing back in Campeche for baby tarpon and snook along the mangrove coast.  SCI is a great resource for hunters to learn about exotic species like the Brocket deer.  I had as much fun learning about it, and preparing for the hunt, as I did in the field.  Thank you Arturo Malo at Baja Hunting and Eric Pawlak at Cabela’s for putting this trip together.– Ridr Knowlton

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