Dove hunting in Argentina
By Jim Ledgerwood
I have always wanted to hunt in Argentina
It was early dark thirty and the hunting adventure of a lifetime would be a long trip. Starting with a 4 a.m. wakeup call with a 6:30 a.m. departure from the Chico Airport to San Francisco; a five-hour flight to Dallas-Fort Worth with a six-hour layover and a 9 p.m., eight and a half hour flight to Santiago, Chile and finally the one-hour connection flight to Cordoba, Argentina.
I have wing shot in Mexico and been water fowling in Canada but the Mecca of water fowling and wing shooting is Argentina, and an Argentina dove hunting has always been on my short list of things to do.
So when fellow Republican Central Committee member Rick Hall suggested I join him with hunting guide Jose Luis of J.J. Caceria, for a combination dove and duck hunt, there was little to think about.
Cordoba is in the geographic center or Argentina, the topography is flat and the main industry is agriculture. The soil is some of the richest in the world and supports thousands of acres of grain including wheat and corn. The countryside reminded me a lot of the Central Valley, rich in its abundance.
Cordoba, ringed with mountains and hills combined with the large amount of feed grains, makes for excellent bird production resulting in flights of over a million birds per hour. Indeed, there is a major overpopulation of doves in the area and, as a control measure, local authorities have encouraged aggressive hunting – making it the destination of thousands of American and European hunters.
Arriving at Cordoba airport, I was assisted by Monica, the guide’s (Jose Luis) of J.J. Caceria) wife. I cleared customs with a minimum of time and hassle. After a 30-minute drive, I meet up with Rick, his son Zach and Ted Hall. We were treated to a delicious Argentina-style lunch at a local restaurant of barbecue beef, assorted sausages, salad and a local potato dish. Finishing in time to make the afternoon Argentina dove hunting.
After the hunt, we were driven to the estancia (large ranch) where we were assigned our rooms, located in a remodeled building originally constructed in the 1800s.
This building had thick masonry walls, brightly colored tile floors with 20-foot high ceilings. The rooms opened up to an interior courtyard decorated with solid wood furnishings in traditional Spanish style.
The rooms were spacious, clean with full baths. The dining room, opposite the courtyard, had warm surroundings, a hospitality table filled with a delicious array of locally produced sausages and cheeses complemented by an abundance of vino tinta – a local red wine for our pre-dinner snack. A fireplace lent warmth and ambiance
Dinner started at eight with a salad and duck hors d’oeuvres followed by the main course of Argentina beef and a fruit desert with plenty of good company. Conversation was stimulated by red wine and the presence of Maria, our translator, who spoke excellent English.
The next two days of dove hunting were similar, starting with an early breakfast of toast, eggs, coffee and orange juice followed by transport to the fields by our guide where we met up with our bird boys.
Around 11:30 p.m., we broke for lunch of barbecue beef, sausage, salad and red wine returning to the field around 1 p.m. and shooting till dusk.
It was nonstop with wave after wave of doves coming in to roost. Harvesting 600 doves per person per day was about standard and the harvested doves were donated to the poor of the local town. We returned to the estancia at about 6 p.m., to clean up and get ready for an 8 p.m. dinner.
The three days went fast and before I knew it, our stay had ended. Our departure made more memorable by being escorted to the gate by Juan Carlos’ son on horseback carrying an American flag in a farewell salute. It is seven-hour journey north to Corrientes for the second half of our trip.
The countryside changed gradually from the flat, dry grainfields of Cordoba to rolling green hills and woodlands of Corrientes.
We started to see rivers and large tracts of flooded wetlands and the grain-based agriculture gave way to cattle ranching. We arrived at our destination; a white-washed masonry ranch house with a green tile roof, situated in a picture-perfect wooded setting. It had large comfortable rooms and a dining area.
The wake-up call for a typical day of duck hunting was 5 a.m. followed by breakfast. After which we mounted up for the short drive to the duck blinds. Meeting up with our bird boys who called birds and set decoys, we were escorted to the duck blinds in the predawn darkness. The duck blinds were located in a large flood plain ringed with a verity of exotic trees and foliage.
It was not long before the ducks started to fly. Forewarned with the excited cries of “patos! patos!,” (ducks) my bird-boy Christian pointed to the yet unseen incoming birds.
Shooting was excellent and wide varities of duck species were harvested. The hunt was concluded about 10 a.m. with the best water foul shooting I have ever had. The harvested ducks were donated to the local school for their version of the school lunch program, a step up from peanut butter sandwiches.
Returning to the lodge, we enjoyed a hearty lunch followed by a ‘siesta.’ In the afternoon we were hosted to an upland game shoot for the native perdiz (partridge) behind well-trained pointing dogs handled by our bird-boy Christian. The country was rolling farmland and shooting was fast and challenging.
Returning to the lodge, we were treated to a partridge dinner prepared with a spicy mustard sauce presented by our server Gloria. Gloria was representative of Argentina women: tall, with clear olive complexion complemented by dark hair with red highlights and very attentive.
Gloria introduced us to the Argentina national drink ‘mate,’ a type of tea, drunk through a hollow spoon like straw from a small leather-covered cup.
Our time at Corrientes ended much too soon. Gloria and the staff honored us with a special gift of a ‘mate’ cup spoon and yemaype tea mix, one each for the four of us. We returned to Cordoba and spent the night at the Holiday Inn.
The next day Martin, a member of the J.J. Caceria staff, drove me to the airport to assure a smooth departure. In a farewell gesture, Martin embraced me Argentina style and said, “Jim, next year in the La Pampa for big game hunting” and so it will be.