The Deadliest Hunt: Arizona-Mexico Border
This article appeared in the November issue of Western Shooting Journal. If you enjoyed it, why not SUBSCRIBE? Only $19.95 for 12 issues right now, that’s 66% off the cover price!
Mountain Lions, Drug Runners, And Rattlesnakes Are Few Of Many Dangers
By Rachel Alexander
Chuck Makula of Peoria, Ariz., has spent several seasons hunting on Arizona’s border with Mexico. It is extremely dangerous, and we recently spoke with him about what hunters should know if they decide to dare the treacherous terrain.
RACHEL ALEXANDER What kind of hunting is there on the border?
CHUCK MAKULA We mostly hunt white-tailed deer, which are everywhere. You can hunt almost everything down there. There is also javelina, small bears, ground squirrels, doves, quail and mountain lion. Turkey is located farther north. It’s amazing there’s bear in the lower desert mountain ranges. We hunt in the Sierra Vista Mountains, located about 20 miles north of border, south of Green Valley, Ariz. Sometimes there is snow on the mountains. The location is section 34B on the hunting map.
R.A. What are the dangerous aspects of hunting on the border?
C.M. The main things you have to watch out for are the mountain lions, illegal immigrants and mines. There are open mine pits. They’re marked, but you still have to be careful. There is evidence everywhere of the illegal immigrants tracking through. On the top of the mountain there’s an inclave covered by trees that contains 10-15 backpacks, about 30 bottles of water, and canned food.
There are a lot of rattlesnakes up in those mountains. I am like a rattlesnake magnet whenever I go hunting. I was with my nephew, and we were going over a mountain range, and as I was stepping down, coiled up under my foot was the biggest rattler I’ve ever seen in my life. It scared the crap out of me. I jumped back and shot him with my rifle. It was at least 6-feet long, because when I held it up from my shoulder to the ground, the tail was still touching the ground, and I’d shot about 8 inches below his head off.
Right before our last hunting trip, we heard two people had been killed in the area. One guy, a hunter, was shot with a crossbow and left in a dropoff. The other victim was a Hispanic girl who was shot and found in a burned-out car.
The roads are dangerous. There are people walking around hunting who are not paying attention to the rules or their surroundings. Fortunately, nobody ever got hurt that I saw. There are also people walking around looking for minerals in the mines. I accidentally scared a few of them who weren’t expecting to come across me. We’ve seen a few groups of Hispanics out hunting, not clear if they were illegal immigrants or not. Surprisingly, there was nothing posted warning us about illegal immigrants or danger.
I’ve also hunted at Sierra Vista, closer to the border. You don’t know who’s coming across the border. There are drug smugglers and people trying to get here illegally. It’s a different breed down there, it’s scary. On the mountain, you can see the entire valley leading up to the border, and watch illegal immigrants walking through the desert. I never actually saw drug cartel members, but you don’t know who is who. I didn’t see an actual coyote transporting illegal immigrants, only people through my binoculars. I saw a passage they were using. It’s over a pretty tall mountain. You can see all the way to the border from the top of the mountain. It’s all Palo Verde and mesquite trees to the border.
I talked to a rancher down there and he said problems happen all the time. They clean up after people all the time there. It is a perfect area for that because there’s only like one or two ranches at the base of that mountain. One is around 100 acres. At the base of the range there’s actually some homes that are built in the desert, like one to two acres each all spread out, then it turns into a 20-minute drive from the base to Green Valley. It’s an hour walk to where the people are. If the illegal immigrants have gotten that far, they’re in.
We walked into a mountain lion den once, that was freaky. It smelled like a giant cat litter box. A mountain lion was sitting up on top of a rock watching us. We got out of there pretty quick. Another time we saw a bear. Although he ran from us, it was scary because it was clear he was sick.
R.A. What are the rules and permitting laws for hunting on the border?
C.M. There are certain animals you can’t hunt without a tag. You can buy the tag for mountain lion over the counter. We weren’t planning on hunting mountain lion, but in case we ran into one and needed to protect ourselves we bought one. Mountain lions are considered a varmint like coyotes so you can hunt them anytime of the year. You can hear them at nighttime. You can hunt deer during deer season and you need a hunting license and deer tag. The jaguar down there are very scarce so hunting them is prohibited. Javelina and bear require a tag. Dove hunting is allowed only during a certain time a year for a few weeks around September.
Hunters are prohibited from staking out watering holes. You must be 500 feet or so away from them. You’re not permitted to camp near them. If you’re caught, the Arizona Department of Game and Fish will fine you. Not only does it give you an unfair advantage catching game, but it hinders the rest of the livestock that are trying to get water. It’s all part of conservation and keeping a balance.
R.A. Have you had any encounters with law enforcement?
C.M. The law enforcement we saw the most of was the U.S. Border Patrol and Game and Fish. Game and Fish stopped us a couple of times. They check your gun to make sure it’s within legal limits. They also check for your hunting license and your tag. For the most part, they are very friendly.
We got stopped once by the U.S. Border Patrol. It was about 10 miles north of the border. They’re loaded to the T with military weapons. We were probably stopped because my friend had his adopted Hispanic son with him. You’ve got three white guys strapped with guns accompanying a Hispanic kid. They were really cool with us.
A guy who worked as a volunteer private “patriot guard” next to the border told me people would fire guns at the U.S. military. But the military was ordered not to shoot back, and to get in their vehicles and leave!
R.A. What kind of guns do you use for hunting on the border?
C.M. I use a .30.06; mostly lever-action, hunting rifles. My partners use a .270 Winchester, .30-30 or .30.06. That is sufficient since whitetail deer aren’t very big, maybe 100 pounds for a big one.
R.A. What is the terrain like?
C.M. You find interesting things from years past. It’s a piece of history. We saw a 1905 Ford pickup truck that was rusted out. There is old farm equipment and plenty of people around mining. There was a very old building with mining equipment located up in the middle of the mountains. It was completely deserted. It was probably originally for mining silver.
R.A. What kind of gear do you need?
C.M. We camp out, and I recommend bringing a four-wheel drive. You need camping essentials, water and food. During the storms, you have to watch out, a couple of times it rained, and if you’re not in the right spots, you get can get hit with a flash flood. One of our tents had a river start right under the tent and flooded it.
R.A. Are you going hunting there this season?
C.M. I won’t go farther south than the Santa Rita mountains near Green Valley anymore. I don’t buy that the border is safe. It’s a bunch of B.S. I’ve decided to stop hunting there because of the danger factor. Two people being murdered was enough.