“Don’t you boys have any birds to hunt in Minnesota?” The Nebraska farmer scratched his head and looked my younger brother and me up and down for any outward signs of mental deficiency. He found it difficult to fathom why two seemingly sensible young men would drive 14 hours just to hunt pheasants.
It was a fair question. We have top-shelf grouse hunting where Tony and I grew up in northern Minnesota, and we’d even driven through some marginally good pheasant country in the southern half of our home state to get here. But this was Nebraska!—a pheasant hunter’s Mecca. Throw in a few bonus bobwhites and we’d see, and likely shoot, more birds in a week down here than we would during the entire season back home.
So as we exchanged pleasantries with the farmer, and he gave us the go-ahead to hunt his property, we agreed to disagree: He still couldn’t understand why we’d travel all the way to Nebraska to hunt, and we couldn’t believe he took such a treasure trove for granted.
That was one of my first out-of-state hunting trips, and it occurred back in the late 1970s. And now, 3 decades later, I had a strong sense of déjà vu as the jumbo jet left the runway and banked south, headed for Argentina. The excitement, the anticipation, the sense of adventure were all there, exactly the same, only totally different. And just like our farmer friend from Nebraska did, you might question my sanity for traveling thousands of miles to hunt birds. Did I mention I was headed for Argentina? Maybe I can put this into an arguable perspective (you might want to remember this for that little chat you’re sure to have with the wife).
The expense is significant, of course; and if you do it right, the trip will require a fair chuck of vacation time. But if you look at it in terms of the quality of the hunt and number and diversity of birds you’ll be shooting, the economics of such a trip might make more sense than you think. Say you forgo other bird hunts for one or two seasons (maybe trips you’d make to neighboring states, or even within your home state) and pool that money into a once-in-a-lifetime hunt to Argentina. You might be getting a lot more bang for your buck.
Ah, The Birds
The flight to Argentina consumed double-digit hours, but it really was no worse than the many, many times I’ve pointed my truck west to hunt sharpies, pheasants and Huns. And the birds! Black clouds of doves returning to the roost swarmed like locust in the late-afternoon sky as we were transported to the lodge. Ah, Argentina—where wing-shooting dreams are realized, and shoulders are bruised, daily.
Every Argentina hunt begins the same: muchas palomas! It’s easy to fall into the pattern of overdoing it when faced with so many flying targets, and I was being predictably stubborn the first morning out. I figured as long as my bird boy, Dario, was going to hand me more shotshells I would cycle them through the gun. Problem was, he seemed to have an endless supply. By noon I had expended more than 500 shotshells and needed a break, and our host accommodated our small group of hunters in splendid fashion. We enjoyed an exquisite picnic barbeque in the field and a traditional mid-day siesta before returning to the dove fields.
No trip to Argentina is complete without experiencing its incredible waterfowl hunting, and we were up at 4 a.m. the next morning and off to the ponds. As the first hints of dawn cast a lighter shade of gray across the marsh, the setting could have been Anywhere, USA—until the ducks began piling in. Action was frantic, and even with Argentina’s liberal bag limit we were done before lunch, and back to the dove fields. We’d collected a wide variety of waterfowl species, and I’d even shot my first ever cinnamon teal.
A stiff wind added considerable challenge to the next morning’s shoot. I swear these doves were turbo-charged, and getting the right lead was tricky. I shot behind more birds than I connected on during the 3-hour shoot. It was a sobering contrast to the relatively easy shooting we’d experienced the previous afternoon.
With the afternoon came yet another winged change up—perdiz. These small Argentinean grouse are an upland hunter’s delight, and a great change of pace. It felt good to get out and stretch the legs, and my hunting partner and I filled our eight-bird limits in a few short hours. Unlike covey birds, perdiz are typically jumped in singles and pairs. We got to experience some excellent dog work while hunting behind one of the guide’s pointers.
Once you’ve bruised your shoulder (which probably means you’re about 3 hours into the first day of your hunt) and your ego (doves are really, really, really fast), it’s time to get down to work. Aside from the fun factor, which is way off the scale, Argentina’s target-rich environment provides the perfect classroom for improving your wing-shooting abilities.
Focus on one target. Resist flock shooting; it usually results in an embarrassing miss. Even though there might be hundreds of doves or dozens of ducks within shotgun range at a time, focus on a single target and stick with it through the shot and follow-through. Only then should you select the next target.
Shoot with both eyes open. I have a tendency to close my non-dominant eye when wing shooting, even though I know it’s poor form. Shooting with one eye shut reduces field-of-view and impairs depth perception.
Forget the money shots; work on the trouble shots. Left-to-right passing shots give me fits. I could take feel-good shots all day to increase my percentage of hits, but it would do little to improve my wing-shooting skills. Instead, I concentrate on those shots that typically cause me the most grief.
Follow-through each shot. I grew up hunting ruffed grouse in heavy cover and jump-shooting lakeshore green-heads, which made me an accomplished snap-shooter but built in a tendency to shorten my follow through. As a result, I found myself consistently shooting behind doves and when pass-shooting ducks in Argentina. This was easily corrected by concentrating on keeping the barrel moving and working on leads.
The good hunts rarely last long enough, and too soon it was time to head home. And just like when I pointed the truck north and prepared for the long drive back to Minnesota all those years ago, I was a happy camper. I had experienced some the world’s very finest wing shooting and the 11-hour flight home was nothing but a minor inconvenience. I eased the seat back and buried my face in my travel pillow. The best part was that someone else was driving this time.