Hunt Report: Argentina and Uruguay

Never thought I'd say it, let alone admit it, but I shot out while hosting groups of guests. Wore down to a nub. My trigger finger anyways.

One of the best trips ever.  Volume doves and ducks. A perdiz hunt or two mixed in for good measure.  Travelled 15,600 airmiles, through a dozen connections, 3 foreign countries, several estancias in Argentina and Uruguay. Highlights: seven hunters averaged 43.5 patos per man per hunt. On 3 memorable hunts, clients averaged well over 50% hits with 5 boxes each of shotshells. Five hunters averaged 328 dove per hunt; two hunters, with an increased tolerance to 20-gauge recoil, shot over half the 5-hunt take. Shot over 74% one morning in a hunt I'll never forget. It's like: you've had plenty but "ain't no" way you're passing up the opportunity. I'm sure there are some that will disagree. And yet I hurt more from laughing and from eating than from shooting.

Favorites: steaks 3 inches thick, cooked medium rare and preceded by platters of blood sausage, goat, beef and pork; Maltagliati alla Bolognese or Pappardelle with Mushrooms (cream, dried mushrooms, chanterelles, mushrooms and portobellos); dove enchiladas, dove breasts over cous cous and, believe it or not, chocolate. Red wines - Tannats, Malbecs, Carbernets, Merlots.  Two glasses at lunch, perfect for pre-siesta; more following the afternoon hunt, during dinner and into the night. Watching tango in a smokey bar room located downtown Buenos Aires, a city of 17 million souls in which the dance originated; rheas trotting across the pastures dotted with palm trees, muskrats scurrying across the headlights on the way to the rice field, southern screamers (birds, not tango dancers) topping every palm tree in the fading moments of daylight, shooting stars as seen where the nearest streetlight is 20, maybe 30 kilometers distant; the fluted murmer of corscoroba swans before dusk, the shrill screams of lapwings at dawn.

Long, twisting, turning columns of doves for as far as the eye can see, the sounds a million doves roosted in the thorny scrub a short distance below your position, hawks and eagles swooping down, foxes bolting across the field, beating bird boys to the easy meals of dove that gunfire means. Typical Uruguay duck hunting set up: 1/10- to 1/2-acre of water, a sack of decoys.

Moved about half the decoys one afternoon and the rosy-bills responded perfectly. They locked up, sailed dead into the gap in front of the right-most gun, hung a 90 degree and came the next gun and then, finally, me. The teal passed between the blinds and the decoys, running the same firing line. It was all she wrote; the guide struggled under the weight of the strap on the way back to the truck.

The morning with an old college professor I've shared a blind with for nearly 15 years (heck yeah I got an A in that class), and I hunted a pothole in a rice field I'd hunted the first day when the ducks had streaked in from the east: we stood across the pond facing the blood-red easterly sky and were shot out of shells, 100 each, before the sun had quite made it fully above the horizon. I was the best hunt we've ever shared. Actually, I ran out a few minutes before he did.  I offered encouragement during his few remaining shots (sort of like a catcher talking trash to a batter).

Five ringed teal darting over the blind from outta nowhere, the young doctor and I shot 5 for five in a very brief, 20-yard distance of opportunity. It was one of those rare instances that, miraculously, neither hunter shot at the same bird.

The left-handed banker and myself, right handed, situated in separate dove blinds such that one particular flight path perfectly suited both of our "perfect shooting angles". We laughed and cussed, tried to beat the other to the punch, fell our birds onto the other's stand. One client shot his first-ever 30 doves the first morning (in about 15 boxes of shells), and finished his last hunt with exactly 1000 doves (and a much improved shooting average).

There's that groove you fall into when it's just clicking real fast and you find yourself instinctively, intuitively, searching the incoming flight first for that 2 (or maybe even 3)-for-1 shot - when one or two birds start sliding past a slower one - before moving through the remaining birds and taking it to the plug, handing off the unloaded for the loaded gun, and picking up that arc of swing where you last ended.  Repeat. Definitely repeat.

Ramsey Russell's GetDucks.com


Cordoba Dove Hunting

The Cordoba dove hunting tradition is much different than what we in the US are accustomed. You've likely heard about it, or seen it on TV, but it's far more easily experienced than accurately described. Experience is the only way you'll every really understand it. The hillsides are covered with relatively low brush, ten or so feet tall. Thorny, gnarled acacias were all I recognized. Dove take flight from nearly every bush as your drive along the dusty, winding senderos. Openings planted to milo or sunflowers.  The eared dove. At a glance the look similar to our mourning dove, but are maybe about 25% or so smaller. Adult males have mainly olive-brown upper plumage, with black spots on the wings. The head has a grey crown, black line behind the eye, and the blue-black on the lower ear coverts. These black markings give the species its English and specific name. The female is duller than the male, and immatures are grayish-brown, very dull, and have pale barring. Eared doves feed mainly on seed. They can be agricultural pests. This is a gregarious bird when not feeding, and forms flocks especially at migrations time or at communal roosts. We're talking millions of doves, not mere thousands.