10 things you need to know about dove shooting in Argentina
Tarquin Millington-Drake of Frontiers Travel outlines 10 things you need to know in order to make the most of a trip to Córdoba, the Mecca of dove shooting.
Getting to Córdoba has never been easier. From the UK it is best to catch the British Airways flight which departs Heathrow at around 10pm and lands in Buenos Aires at around 8am the following morning. On arrival, assuming you are on time, you go to the domestic terminal of the same airport and take the 11:35am flight to Córdoba – getting you there at 1pm and to your lodge by 2:30pm. If you are very keen, you will shoot that afternoon, but I recommend relaxing – perhaps have a massage – and preparing yourself for shooting the next day. Other gateways to Córdoba worth considering are via Sao Paulo, Santiago, Lima and Miami. But if travelling with guns, Buenos Aires remains the best option. While we are on the subject of travel, drive times are a hot subject for Córdoba. There are lodges that will tell you that the shooting is on their doorstep, but this is because they have planted sunflower fields near the lodge. What if the birds go elsewhere? Others will tell you drive times are never more than 40 minutes – this is also being economical with the truth as doves are wild birds and to ensure the best shooting, the lodges need to take you to where the doves are. My inclination is towards the lodges who tell you that a guide for drive times for the time of year you are thinking of coming is X, but in reality drive times can be anything from 15 minutes to 90+ minutes, because that is actually the truth.
2. Hills Vs Flatlands
I hear much talk of shooting in the hills to get the higher doves. While I understand it, I am also wary of trying too hard to recreate abroad what we have in the UK. You are dove shooting, not pheasant or partridge shooting, and there is something to be said for enjoying the experience for what it is. Having said that, if you are focused on the hills, the birds go to the roosts from June/July until mid-January to mid-February, or thereabouts. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are not telling the truth. Of course there is a little variation – these are wild birds – but this is the best guideline I can give you and I have yet to talk to a guide who disagrees. From February to early April, the doves move to what I call the intermediate areas which are close to the hills and still in rough terrain, like the famous (and aptly named) ‘balcony’ area. From April to June they are hitting the crops and harvested fields, and feed lots in the flatlands. These are, however, a long way from the hills, so the doves establish temporary roosts near the feeding grounds. I should add that you can enjoy high birds, grouse-like birds, and eve ythingin between away from the hills, but the contours of the hills make it easier for your guide to find such sport there.
You do not need a lot of kit but what you do need is important. Ear, eye and sun protection is a must. Gloves are useful for protecting against blisters and for chilly mornings depending on the time of year. Casual dull-coloured clothing is best but not vital. A light waterproof jacket and a pair of outdoor boots or shoes with tough soles to withstand some serious thorns are also very useful. I’d also recommend taking a hat or cap of some description, a vest with in-built shoulder pad, or simply a shoulder pad to put underneath clothing, and plasters or tape for greater reinforcement against blisters. Headache pills can come in handy and a range-finder is also a useful and interesting piece of kit. You might also bring your own clicker – your bird boy (or ‘field assistant’ as they are now known) will count your birds, but the most reliable way is to do it yourself.
4. Guns and gun quality
Buying guns has become a very difficult process in Argentina. The cost of a basic Beretta or semi-auto ranges from $3,000 to 5,000 per gun plus paperwork which is valid for 12–18 months. Shooting operators do their very best to keep guns updated and in good shape, but this is not always possible and they do have issues from time to time with ejectors, trigger pulls, etc. There are usually replacement guns available on site, but, if youare likely to be irritated by such problems, or you do not want to shoot a semi-auto or over-under, it would be best to bring your own guns, which is currently an easy process from the UK (see my blog about this or ask Frontiers for information). Most operators charge $70 a day for gun hire and most do not charge for the extra gun if you want to shoot double guns.
Safety is as simple as knowing where your fellow Guns, livestock and any other possible dangers are and ensuring that you are familiar with your safe angles of fire. Guns are usually well spread out, but you should always ask your guide to point out where your neighbours are positioned and where any other hazards are that you should be aware of. If you plan to shoot low birds, ‘à la incoming grouse’, ensure it is safe to do so. And take the step to ask the guide because he will often be focused on placing other members of the party. When joining your friends while taking a break, make them aware that you are approaching as early as possible.
6. Shooting location
Your guide will place the Guns so as to take best advantage of the flightline based on any specific requests for high, low, medium, upwind/downwind birds. If you do not like where you are located or how the birds are coming, do not carry on shooting, ask to be moved. I have never met a guide who has been unwilling to move you to suit your shooting enjoyment. You will not cause offence and the guide would far rather know while he can do something about it than when the opportunity has passed.
7. Double guns
If you want to shoot double guns all day or for a period, simply ask. If renting guns, the shoot staff needs to know before leaving the lodge, but on site you can chop and change as you wish. The field assistants are well versed with double guns but it is worth having a practice before you hit the heat of the action to make sure you are on the same wavelength.
8. Shooting academy
Córdoba is without doubt the best live bird shooting academy in the world. If you want to practise a style of shooting or a particular angle or side or height, whatever, with some adjustment to your stand, you can shoot bird after bird of the type you are looking to improve on. I am often surprised by how few teams take an instructor and how few shooting schools offer their clients the opportunity to be coached under such conditions. Of course, you want to have fun while you are there, but, equally, take advantage of the opportunity to learn and practise.
Nobody knows how many doves there are in the Córdoba region but estimates are consistently 40 million or more. The birds are there because of the food, and the food is predominantly maize and soya beans. Sorghum is the third crop, but it is currently less profitable from a farming point of view. The doves breed four times a year and produce 2–4 young each time.
I am not suggesting you diet while there but I am suggesting that before and after might be a consideration. You will be extremely well fed with superb beef, pork, chicken and sausages (as well as dove and pigeon breasts with bacon, onion and peppers on a kebab), so enjoy it. But if you want to feel a little less guilty, a diet pre-departure might be a good idea. Córdoba is one of the most relaxing, sociable and fun places to shoot. So above all, enjoy it!