Trip Report: Muchos Patos, Muchas Memorias en Uruguay

Bordered by Argentina, Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean, Uruguay has a population similar to that of Mississippi (about 3.5 million) Half lives in capitol Montevideo, where Rio de la Plata (named The River of Silver, because of the way it appears as sunlight reflects on its surface) exits into the Atlantic. It is a rich culture primarily influenced by Spain and Italy. An ally in WWII, there is a sunken German warship just offshore. It has an old country, European feel that imbibes tradition, culture. The city of Montevideo is built along an expansive beach that, for me anyway, defines this beautiful city. It's among the largest city-front beach in the world.

Imagine an expansive vista of grassland, no native trees (except for the ombu). It all looks vaguely familiar; is reminiscent of U.S. areas I have visited: the Dakotas, parts of Texas maybe. There are palm trees growing almost everywhere down right invasive and law, I was told, forbids their being cut. For all the grassland, there are no native ungulates, like deer. Instead there are rhea, huge ostrich-like birds that graze, and livestock. The seasons are the complete opposite of ours; it is seasonally February-like down there while we swelter up here during August. But Uruguayan winter temperatures are similar to coastal Louisiana, with daytime highs often in the low- to mid-60's (F). Pack your lightweight breathable waders for duck hunting.

Rice farming south of the equator appears to be very much like I would imagine rice farming to have been in the Carolinas a century or more ago. No wells, no crop rotation, little equipment and lots of manpower; a system of plugged ditches to get water on and unplugged ditches to get the water off. No government subsidies, no cost-share, no incentives, just hard work and common sense. Cash crops include rice, beef, wool, and fur (primarily nutria) - as well as waterfowl, pigeon, dove (which can be as good as the fabled Cordoba, Argentina, region) and perdiz. Gaucho are the authentic Uruguayan equivalent of an ATV: one came along as we were picking up decoys. Check out that simple, hand-made bridle, and rope reins. Our guide, Emmanuel, handed up a bag of decoys, which the young horse did not care for too much for and reared high-ho-silver-style on his back legs, which made the decoys bang around all the more. The gaucho never said a word, his calm expression never changed. He simply held the reins lightly in one hand, the decoy bag in the other and let the horse settle down (or get used to the sound of a sack full of GHG decoys banging on its haunches). He sat so smoothly in the saddle the entire time that the ashes never fell from of the hand- rolled smoke parked in the corner of his mouth. The Marlboro Man couldn't carry this fella's hat. He wanted a few ducks and we gave him several heavy straps. He told us the next day that every one has been eaten by the ranch hands for dinner that night.

Uruguay duck hunting is fabulous. Principle species include Brazilian ducks, rosey-billed pochards, speckled and silver teal, yellow-billed pintail, white-faced tree ducks. Peak hunting dates are typically June through mid-August. For those that have been hunting in Argentina and are looking for new scenery, Uruguay is the perfect venue; for hunters looking to enjoy a full itinerary of mixed bag shooting for waterfowl hunts over decoys in the morning, followed by a traditional asado for lunch, followed by high-volume dove, perdiz on point or decoying pigeon hunts, Uruguay is a must-do destination.

Duck hunts are typically conducted over well-maintained bait stations on small, natural water holes and sloughs. One afternoon, however, ducks were found pouring into a low-lying swag in the middle of a rice field after torrential rainfall. We made an impromptu blind near the new water and enjoyed some of the most fast-paced duck hunting two hunters might ever expect. As the sun began to set, I grew uncharacteristically weary from the preceding days of shooting and swapped shotgun for camera. Capturing Gene shooting a Brazilian teal at dusk, with the shotshell for the trip ejecting, provided a perfect ending to yet another epic hunt.

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Ramsey Russell's GetDucks.com