Doves in Argentina
Argentina has a lot more to offer the globetrotting game Shot than just great dove shooting. Chris Batha looks at the options.
Since the mid-1990s, I have taken small groups of both English and American clients to South America. By far the most popular destination is Argentina, the second largest country in Latin America.
Though Argentina is closely associated with high-volume dove shooting, there is much more to this country than that. The capital, Buenos Aires, is not called the Paris of South America without good reason – it is a spectacular city and you should definitely add a few days to your trip to experience this vibrant city. I would recommend the Alvear Palace Hotel as your base camp from which to explore.
Though famous for year-round dove shooting, Argentina's great size offers many more wingshooting opportunities and, having travelled so far, you should take advantage of as many as possible. The duck and pigeon shooting, for example, are exceptional – the wildfowler is guaranteed morning flights and the pigeon shooter can expect morning and afternoon bags of 100plus birds. The partridges are walked-up over dogs and offer a fast, testing wild birds as they flush from cover.
The climate and habitat in Argentina, particularly in the Cordoba region, combine to create the perfect breeding areas for the dove, with an estimated population of 50 million in the Cordoba region alone.
There are literally more estancias and lodges than you can shake a stick at, and they are represented by sporting agents around the world, with most taking bookings directly online. The cost, whether you use a sporting agent or book direct, is the same. The sporting agent's commission is paid by the lodge, so if it is your first visit to Argentina, I would recommend using a well-known sporting agent.
They will have a good working relationship with the lodge and will have visited it to verify the standard of accommodations, food, transport and shooting. They will know which permits and licences are required and will apply for them on your behalf. A good agent can also give you advice on flights, hotels and all the tips and sundries you may need for your trip. Simply put, they earn their commission and ensure a smooth journey without any surprises – priceless for the peace of mind they provide.
The majority of my trips are arranged so that I can work with my clients on their driven shooting skills and the perfect opportunity for this is in the high-volume dove and pigeon shooting. Shooting a bird in flight requires one to make an instantaneous judgement of speed, angle and distance and none of us are born with this ability. This is a skill developed through proper training and practice of the fundamentals of footwork, posture and gunmount. We all know that ‘perfect practice makes perfect performance', and each shoot in Argentina is like an ‘endless drive' on which clients can perfect their driven shooting techniques. These high-volume shoots are great fun and a fantastic wingshooting experience for the beginner, intermediate and experienced Shot.
The lodges that offer dove shooting also offer guiding for duck shoots where a morning flight can include anywhere from five to 13 different species of wildfowl. There are several types of teal, pintails, wigeon, whistling ducks, shovellers and a mallard-like duck called the rosy-billed pochard.
All these species decoy well and the shooting is from superb blinds in a variety of habitats. There is shooting over large ponds and small – practically puddles – and narrow canals and large lakes. The best duck hunting is in Santa Fe, which is a six-hour drive from Cordoba or a five-hour drive from Buenos Aires. You should expect a three-day duck hunt to set you back between £1,550 and £1,850. But whichever type of shooting you participate in, there are extra charges: cartridges are £9 a box; duck licences vary from £20 to £90; if you bring your own gun, a permit is required at £90, but if you choose to rent a shotgun, the cost is only £50 per day. Then, of course, there are the tips: an average of £75 a day for your loader and £10 a day for the house staff.
There are a few places where you can hunt a combination of all four species – dove, pigeon, duck and perdiz. The normal combination hunt starts with a light breakfast and early morning duck flight, returning for a second ‘hunter's breakfast' before going out to hunt partridges over dogs. The usual extravagant lunch and a luxurious siesta is followed by an afternoon of shooting dove returning to their roost. There may be the odd pigeon, but to shoot them in any great numbers you must go to their habitats, which are in a different region to where most combination hunts take place.
There are two species of pigeons in Argentina: the pica zuro – a big, blue/grey wild pigeon, about the same size as a woodpigeon and decoyed in the same manner – and the spot-winged pigeon, which is slightly smaller.
For the enthusiast, there are great opportunities for decoying pigeons. Bags of 100–150 are the norm. Pigeon shooting is at its peak from April through October, and the best regions are Salta and Cordoba. Expect to pay around £450 to £550 per day.
Perdiz is the Spanish word for partridge, but do not be mistaken, you will not be shooting redlegs. Tinamou, the Argentinian partridge, is actually a distant cousin of the ostrich. A fast runner, and a very sporting bird, they are generally shot over pointers as they hold well in cover and their flight is explosive and fast. Hunting perdiz is excellent out-of-season practice for quail, though there are strict limits on the bag in a multi-species trip. The season for perdiz is May through August with a limit of 10 birds per hunter, and will cost you between £450 and £550 per day.
All lodge rates are inclusive of meals, open bar, professional guides, ground transport to and from the arrival airport and any transport required to and from your lodge throughout your stay. Prices are exclusive of flights, permits and licences, tips, cartridges and gun rental.
The ultimate trip, whether it is for the bird shooting experience or to work on improving your shooting, is to do a three-day combination shoot for doves, wildfowl and perdiz, and then travel to a pigeon region for two days. Those who have sampled the wingshooting and hospitality of South America know it is, without a doubt, the best bang for your buck. For those who have yet to do so, I would highly recommend Argentina as a game shooting experience that is truly second to none. It will also seriously sharpen up your shooting.