“I saw the Mexican army with rifles, bullet holes all over the place, on my way to the lodge on this first visit,” she said. “It was a scary situation until I reached the lodge.”
An early photo of Jeri Booth with some fishing guides in Costa Rica.
If her bold journey sounds chilling by any reasonable standards of self-preservation, it clearly demonstrates her entrepreneurship and rugged individualism necessary to make the cut as an outfitter. Although that trip was gutsy, Ms. Booth saw it as an essential first step to organize a network of South American wingshooting lodges for U.S. hunters – starting with a bunch of guys from her hometown of Houston looking for some hot-barrel dove shooting south of the border.
Ms. Booth wouldn’t be the first American outfitter to set up shop in Mexico, but as a pioneering woman she would persevere to create a legacy of female enterprise among hunters that endures today under the banner of her Detail Company Adventures.
“During those years Mexico was macho land and it was unusual to see a lady in this business,” she said. “The men didn’t like me telling them what to do with their guns and trucks and the wives were suspicious because I was working with their husbands. I encountered resistance from all of them.”
An undated photo from the Detail Company Adventures archives of one of the first wingshooting lodges in Mexico that Jeri Booth worked with.
Politically, the late 1970s marked the decline of the so-called second wave of the women’s rights movement that emerged in the U.S. after World War II and crested in the mid-1960s with cultural, political and pharmaceutical trends still felt today. Amid that historic upheaval, though, were women like Ms. Booth who persisted as freethinkers by pursuing their dream careers among rank and file businessmen (and suspicious wives).
For Ms. Booth, Detail Company Adventures became a bold act of pragmatism – a do-or-die exploration of self-reliance, willpower, commerce and adventure. Leaving behind her career in Houston real estate while transforming her tiny company from a personal shopper and party planner into an international outfitter became a passage of self-actualization rather than a strident feminist crusade.
In a way, she was destined to start Detail Company Adventures. “I truly love the outdoors a lot,” she said. “I was born in Greenwood, Mississippi. My dad was a big hunter and in those days he would go dove hunting and squirrel hunting and he would take me out and I would sit under a tree while he was hunting. That’s when hunting got into my blood.”
Hacienda Engracia in Mexico, circa 1980, was a wingshooting destination represented by Jeri Booth for American hunters. Courtesy of the Detail Company Adventures archives.
It was Ms. Booth’s first husband, though, who actually put her Remington 1100 to work in a serious way. His name was Crawford Booth from Taylor, Texas and he loved to hunt.
“I was in my twenties and we would hunt all the time,” recalled Ms. Booth. “Quail, dove, we went to hunt in Mexico a lot. We traveled all over the U.S., Mexico and Spain. We mainly shot birds and I still enjoy bird hunting very much now.”
Perhaps she was predisposed to become an outfitter when she met Mr. Brand in Sabinas Hidalgo (half-way between Nuevo Lardeo and Monterey). The place lit up her neurons to the wonderful possibility of high-volume wingshooting for American hunters.
Robert Brand with his wife at the Paloma Blanca lodge in Mexico during the early 1980s. Courtesy of the Detail Company Adventures archives.
When they first met, Mr. Brand wasn’t operating a lodge – just rented a few houses near the whitewing dove roosts that he used for clients. But once Ms. Booth laid eyes on the mayhem of doves that darkened the afternoon sky, she immediately recognized her vocational calling and agreed to represent Paloma Blanca in the U.S.
“I had never seen so many doves in my life,” she said.
Ms. Booth brought her savvy designer aesthetic to Paloma Blanca. Along with Mr. Brand they started redecorating some of the rented guest quarters – adding inventory as business grew. They introduced a bus to pick up hunters at the airport. Paloma Blanca had become a thriving business laboratory of fresh ideas on high-volume Mexican wingshooting for American hunters.
“I was flying from Houston to Monterey (Mexico) all the time,” she recalled.
It was a small private plane such as this one in which Jeri Booth survived two crashes shuttling between Texas and Mexico. Courtesy of the Detail Company Adventures archives.
She survived two small-plane crashes in Mexico during the early 1980s while traveling with clients, including a belly landing on a four-lane highway near McAllen, Texas after both engines quit. “We were lucky to walk away alive,” she said. “The plane was a wreck.”
A turning point for Paloma Blanca occurred when legendary Field & Stream writer, the late Bob Brister, visited to research a dove hunting story about Mexico. Once published, the impact proved dazzling. Mr. Brister’s article featured a centerfold photo of Ms. Booth in a red shirt shooting at a crazy mob of doves.
This photo taken by writer Bob Brister for Field & Stream magazine cemented Jeri Booth’s reputation as a top outfitter for wingshooting in Mexico. Courtesy of the Detail Company Adventures archives.
As Mr. Brister wrote in that September 1983 article, “Across the shimmering heat haze of the field, a figure in red snapped me back into focus on the present. Jeri Booth, a pretty lady hunter from Houston whose firm arranges many Mexican trips, was walking out to stir the feeding swarms for her customers. Wave after wave of doves rose ahead of her, and when she began shooting into the air, the field boiled up like a disturbed beehive.”
Paloma Blanca Lodge, shortly after its completion. Courtesy of the Detail Company Adventures archives.
The phone calls ensued and the wingshooting world gained a new star in Jeri Booth.
Veteran shotgun writer Nick Sisley was also dispatched to Argentina by Ms. Booth in the early 1980s as well. He remembered that “she started taking people from Texas and New Mexico to Argentina for dove hunts.”
Over the years, “she arranged a number of trips for me to get editorial coverage,” he explained. “Other outfitters were also inviting editors to build business. It was a big deal back then to go to South America. She was always very professional. I’d say her success was based on her professionalism.”
Writer Nick Sisley wingshooting in Uruguay.
With the influx of business, Mr. Brand and Ms. Booth talked to an architect about building a lodge. The plans turned out to be so incredibly elaborate, she remembered telling Mr. Brand “we can’t afford this. And that’s when he said to me, you book the trips and we’ll borrow the money and pay it back later.”
Ms. Booth upheld her end of the deal by bringing in more hunters. Mr. Brand had other ideas about the lodge. He chucked the idea of an incremental build-out and instead went ahead with the full-blown construction project.
And I said to him “Robert, you started this whole damn thing and now what’re going to do? Well. We made it through that. We named the lodge Paloma Blanca and Robert took over. It was a beautiful lodge and very successful and we started getting big write-ups.”
Several months after completion of the lodge, Mr. Brand suffered a heart attack.
“The deposits kept coming in and I didn’t know what to do,” Ms. Booth said.
Nevertheless, a top priority was transporting Mr. Brand to Houston for medical attention. “We had to stop for a Black Russian before surgery,” added Ms. Booth. “We did manage to pull off that season with about 200 hunters and the lodge was certainly presentable. Robert helped out while he was still in a wheelchair along with a friend of his.”
The boom in business would be short-lived. Houston’s energy bust, which started in the early 1980s, gained considerable momentum as oil prices plummeted. The lodge’s high rollers from Texas were forced to stay home as some 250,000 Texans lost jobs, unemployment rose to nine percent and some 200,000 homes remained vacant.
And then the whitewing dove population started to decline.
“Business had dropped and everybody was telling me I couldn’t make it,” Ms. Booth related.
She got creative. Quail hunting in Mexico had remained largely overlooked. She suggested they import bird dogs – enraging the bird boys who believed she was stealing their jobs. A group of Houston dentists and Mr. Sisley visited a 450-year-old hacienda to hunt quail over dogs and the results were staggering.
“They shot about 700 quail,” she recounted. “They must’ve walked at least 10 miles. The quail would jump up in front of you. The bird boys used a paper fan to beat the brush and quail would fly up. It was incredible.”
By 1985, Ms. Booth decided to explore the wingshooting opportunities in Columbia
“We started having trouble from the drug cartels,” she said. “There were travel warnings.”
Driving 125 miles on the Pan American Highway through Columbia she located a German lodge owner in Cali, where guards were stationed at every door. “There were so many birds. His wife was a wonderful cook. They had white table-cloth meals in the field. That’s when I started booking hunts in Columbia.”
In addition to Columbia, Ms. Booth started exploring Argentina about 25 years ago. It was where she discovered Flyways Argentina. At the time, Flyways Argentina operated one lodge in the Cordoba region called Los Chanares.
“When I took over Los Chanares 11 years ago Jeri was probably the first person I contacted,” said David Perez, General Partner in Flyways. “She gave me insight into how the sales work. She discovered Los Chanares and gave us most sales from an agent perspective. She was an integral part of getting the lodge going. Same with one of our other lodges, Sierra Brava. She was the first agent to discover Sierra Brava. I doubt I’ll ever have an agent like her again, that cares as much about clients. She really works her butt off.”
She pioneered the idea of marketing lodges in the U.S. when she mailed out brochures.
The author dove hunting at Sierra Brava Lodge in Argentina.
Now she works with some 16 lodges in Argentina for dove and ducks and perdiz hunts.
With her solid reputation she expanded Detail Company Adventures wingshooting packages into Costa Rica, Paraguay, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay for doves, pigeons and perdiz. And although she’s been marketing South African wingshooting since the early 1980s, she believes the country is ripe for Americans looking for something new.
“She’s constantly reinventing herself, she’s always going,” said Mr. Perez.
Ms. Booth still works 15-hour days, seven days per week with no immediate plans to retire.
“I still look great, I exercise, I’m still in good health and I’m very active, so maybe in the next few years I’ll consider stepping down.”
Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at www.shotgunlife.com.