To confess that I'm not much of a dancer would overstate the obvious. So it was no surprise that I was holding on for life and limb as the Argentine beauty dragged me mercilessly through the purest of South American cultural rituals, the tango. But when in Argentina, you do what the Argentineans do, right? For weeks to come, the young lady's bruised feet would serve as a painful reminder of her North American dance partner, "Gringo con Dos Pies Izquierdos" (man with two left feet).
One of the great joys of travel is to experience exotic lands, diverse cultures and colorful peoples. Argentina is equally rich in all three, and its national dance personifies the essence of this South American country. Embellished accounts of the origin of the "Baille con Carte" (the dance with the stop) abound—my favorite involves sweaty gauchos in crowded nightclubs, pestering the local ladies to dance. More likely, I'm told, is that the bawdy Latin dance was a
by-product of a cultural exchange during the African slave trade, evolving in the brothels of Buenos Aires, and finally achieving contemporary acceptance.
But none of that explains why our small North American contingent was in Argentina. Our overnight waylay in Buenos Aires was little more than a footnote to a greater purpose—to experience arguably the best wing shooting in the world.
Hunters who lament the dog days of summer—when they must take reprieve from their favorite pastime—can take heart that the earth consists of two vertical hemispheres. As spring turns to summer north of the equator, autumn hunting seasons are in full swing south of the great latitudinal circle. Our plan was simple: First we'd sample Argentina's incredible duck (patos) hunting, before embarking to its famed 1,000-round-per-day dove (palomas) fields.
From Buenos Aires we flew to Santa Fe, where our gracious host, outfitter Señor Luis Sier, picked us up at the airport and transported us to the ranchero where we would be hunting ducks during the first leg of our trip. Luis didn't waste time getting us acclimated—or getting us out hunting. After a quick lunch, we headed out to the blinds for the remainder of the afternoon—transported up a shallow river in two boats.
"Patos! Patos!" The guide closest to me tapped my shoulder and pointed skyward. I tightened my grip on the Remington 105 CTi as a half-dozen ducks cupped their wings, dropped their landing gear and descended into our small decoy spread—four animated Robo-ducks waving them in. The 12 gauge bucked three times in as many seconds and a pair of the oddly dark ducks dropped in front of our makeshift blind. I didn't even have time to reload before shots erupted from the adjacent blind and two more ducks hit the water.
I coaxed the guide's black Lab to the entrance of the blind as it made the retrieve and got my first look at Argentina's native rosy-billed pochard, a mallard-sized diver named for the drakes' large, rosy-colored bill. I turned the duck over in my hands and admired its rich, dark plumage, then put it aside and got back to business. By the end of the short afternoon hunt, we'd compiled a sizeable pile of the ducks, as well as worked up a healthy appetite. We motored back to the lodge for a late dinner as the sun set over the marsh.
Argentina's waterfowl hunting can best be described as—actually it's nearly indescribable—a smorgasbord of waterfowl species, liberal bag limits and a culture rich in hunting heritage. The next two mornings we arose long before dawn and, after a hearty breakfast, headed for the duck blinds, made from leafy branches the guides brought out every day on the boats. As is typical with waterfowl hunting everywhere, the best action took place just as the sky turned a lighter shade of pale. For the first hour or two, shooting was fast and furious, and bag limits were filled long before lunch.
Alas, it was time to wind up the first leg of the trip. Had I had my fill of Argentina's duck hunting? Absolutely not! But I was excited about getting to the famed dove fields of Córdoba. We packed our bags and made the 6-hour drive to "Estancia Riverside," another of Luis' upscale hunting lodges, where we'd hunt doves for the next 3 days.
I recall standing in awe of Niagara Falls several years ago, wondering where the vast volume of water comes from and why the tap never runs dry. A similar thought came to mind 4 hours into my first Argentina dove hunt, as I cycled my 639th shotshell of the day. The experience gained by South America's wing-shooting wonderland is accelerated by the magnitude of volume, repetition and variety—it's like every possible sporting clays scenario you've ever experienced—over and over and over again!
This is truly a wing shooter's dream incarnate, where you can expect to easily run 1,000 rounds through your shotgun each day. You'll have the opportunity to shoot at more live birds in a single day than the average upland hunter back home gets during a lifetime. Every possible shot angle, every reasonable range, every conceivable wing-shooting challenge can be realized on Córdoba's dove fields.
For those concerned about the plight of Argentina's non-migratory eared doves (a close cousin to our mourning dove) due to hunting pressure, don't lose any sleep. These birds number more than 23 million in the agricultural fields of Argentina's Córdoba Province, wreaking havoc on vast acreages of sorghum, milo, wheat and soybean crops, destroying more than 15 percent of the area's annual harvest. Hunting removes only a small percentage of the doves and contributes greatly to the local economy. And the tasty birds don't go to waste. Those we shot were either consumed at the estancia where we were staying (yum, yum), or given to locals as welcomed table fare.
"Allí, Allí. There, there," my bird boy, Arián, alerted me as another rocketing pair of doves materialized out of the blanket-thick fog—gone before I could shoulder my shotgun. It was the first morning of our 3-day dove shoot and poor visibility was making it very tricky. The birds would appear out of the fog about 80 yards away, offering only a split second to react and shoot. In a weird way it reminded me of snap-shooting ruffed grouse back home in Minnesota. Surprisingly, the conditions provided an interesting challenge and after a while, with the help of Arián, I was hitting with about every second shot—not a great average, but not bad either, considering the handicap. The fog finally dissipated about noon, just in time for lunch.
That afternoon, we moved to a grain field about a quarter-mile from a large roost. The flight was already in full-swing and nonstop. "Muchas palomas!" I parroted one of my few Spanish phrases, which did little to capture the gravity of the circumstances. Arián grinned widely and handed me two boxes of shotshells. I got busy and … soon learned the value of pacing. I felt actual fatigue after 3 hours of constant shooting and began rationing my shots.
If you're a casual wing shooter like me, you undoubtedly have shot angles that give you fits. For me, they always seem to show up on sporting clays courses. So rather than taking the "feel-good shots," I began working on those that give me the most trouble. On the dove fields, it was right-to-left passing shots, and after repeated attempts I began to experience improvement.
I often exercise similar restraint when pheasant hunting in the fall, when I'm in bird-rich cover where I know I can fill my bag limit in short order. Instead of shooting at every bird that presents a shot, I take only sure-kill shots, and only on those birds that my Brittany has found and pointed. If he bumps the bird or if it flushes wildly, no shot. This not only provides good disciplinary work for my pooch, it keeps me in the field hunting longer.
As I write this, it's been months since my Argentina hunt, but there are times when I can still close my eyes and see locust-like clouds of doves stretching to the horizon, or waves of dark-bodied ducks banking into the decoys. My trigger finger involuntarily twitches, and I long to return to the land of patos and palomas.