Dove Hunting at Los Chanares Lodge by Nick Sisley
As a flock of doves zipped fast from right to left, their altitude constantly changing as they winged toward whatever their intended destination was – I sort of lost focus – came out of my zone. Instead of concentrating my stare on one of the eared dove’s heads I began thinking about the winning Powerball number. I was thinking that if I ever hit for all those Powerball millions – that this is the place I’d like to be, or one like it, spending dollar after dollar on RD shotshells, shooting shell after shell at these flitting South American targets, enjoying the good life that abounds in this distant land. Needless to say, with such wonderful thoughts as I was pulling the trigger I had no hope of the shot pattern connecting, and it did not.
So – back to hard focus – try and get back in the so-called zone. It was easy to do because the targets were non-stop. I know that many of you have not shot in Argentina or Uruguay or Bolivia, but you have no doubt read about it. The difference between actually shooting in one of those places – and reading about it – well that difference has to be monumental. But let me see if I can rise to that task – maybe just a little.
The sky is black with birds. I mean really black. I know you can’t imagine that – since you have never seen it. Yet I’ve seen a huge flock wing across the sun and almost block out the rays – and not for just an instant. Side by side shotguns with splinter fore-ends are useless here, for even when wearing shooting gloves the barrels get so hot you will singe your fingers. Some ill-designed semi-autos simply fail to work – unable to withstand the constant pounding. In one short morning of shooting (many years ago) one fellow I was with “down there” had his shoulder bruised so badly that he never pulled the trigger the rest of the trip. He was shooting a 12 gauge light weight over and under. Big mistake. So better bring your favorite low-recoiling shotgun, your shooting glasses, your ear protection and more – preparing for the worst – or rather the best – wingshooting you can ever imagine.
In case you are not up to date on your Spanish – chanares is the name of a tree. It does not grow very tall – like maybe 15 feet or so – yet it spreads out quite a bit – plus is adorned with its share of sharp spikes. This type of tree makes for ideal dove nesting and resting habitat – so maybe now you can guess where the lodge’s name comes from – Los Chanares. The lodge sits right in the middle (1500 acres) of chanares trees – as mentioned – perfect dove nesting and resting habitat.
When I was dropped off at my stand at the edge of a small sunflower patch planted in the middle of the chanares grove – for my first afternoon of shooting I could not believe how short the ride was, so I retorted, “I could have walked this far!” The lodge was maybe 300 yards away. Accustomed to many a long drive to reach where the doves were using in South America, I was flabbergasted that I could almost see the lodge from where I loaded my gun.
But load up I did – with 21 gram RD (the shell maker) loads going into the chambers of my 28 gauge Caesar Guerini Summit Sporting. It wore 32-inch barrels (I like longer barrels for sporting clays and dove shooting), and the extended chokes were Improved Cylinder and Light Modified. I had tighter chokes in my pocket, but within a few shots I could see that I would not need them. I also knew from previous trips, previous shooting at lodges prior to my stay at Los Chanares, as well as patterning I had done at home – that this Improved Cylinder screw in was one dynamite choke.
I had already shot at two other lodges in the Cordoba area of Argentina – prior to my Los Chanares visit, plus taken a huge red stag at a third. So my shooting eye was fairly well tuned. Aside from my Powerball distracting thoughts described at the beginning of all this – I got back in the zone with hard focus and started picking off dove after dove. The birds were not only going right to left, my favorite shot, but they also offered every shot variety worth considering. I shot with both eyes open, with my right eye only, even shot a few left handed. But then I got back on the Powerball thoughts, this time wondering how well I’d do with a Krieghoff K-20 (very highly engraved, of course) instead of the Guerini I was shooting.
As the sun waned in the west the shooting action became even more furious as the late coming doves knew they had to find their overnight resting spot before darkness took over. So my 32-inch barrels became hotter yet, and I tried ever harder to get back into my sharp focus zone.
I was almost thankful when I heard the pick up van coming – I did say “almost” thankful. On the short drive back I found my shooting companions had enjoyed themselves just as much as I did. One shooter was Alessandro Vitale as restaurateur from Baltimore, his friend Brian Kavanagh – a bank manager – and veterinarian from South Carolina Dr. Ham Hamilton. They were shooting the lodges rental Benelli semi-autos.
The timing was late March, and we were the last shooters – as Los Chanares shuts down in April and May. Interestingly, this down time gives lodge personnel some vacation, plus a chance to repair equipment, refurbish the lodge where it might require a bit of attention, whatever. I also learned that in April and May the doves in this area start flying about an hour north – as this is when crops are maturing in that part of Cordoba province. So what this lodge prides itself on is not only the great shooting – but it’s all very close at hand. First there’s the already mentioned 1500 acres of chanares nesting and resting trees around the lodge, but owner Davis Peres also leases 10,000 acres of farm land practically adjacent to the lodge. The chanares trees can be hunted the first afternoon and last morning of the gunners’ stay, but the 10,000 leased acres, only 10 minutes away, are hunted most of the time.
Dinner was a repast with famous Argentine beef galore – and the very best cuts. Even restaurateur Alessandro Vitale was impressed. We were all impressed with the red malbecs and cabernets as well. With bulging midsections the chef, showing no mercy, then brought on desserts. Over the course of my stay their desserts consisted of chocolates to die for, Crème Brule, with other offerings made with South America’s custom dessert topping dolce de leche (pronounced dole-chey de lay-chey). I can never get enough of the latter on my trips to shoot in South America.
There was no need to get up early the next morning since the birds were so close by. So after a breakfast of eggs, hotcakes, bacon, sausage, fresh-squeezed juice and rich black coffee we were ready to board the vans. As we were dining the lodge crew was at work, one of whom had climbed the high tower shown in the accompanying photo. From that high perch a fellow with binoculars can see which areas the doves are using the most – so that’s where the van drops our quartet off. We separated by 100 and 200 yards so we are plenty far enough apart.
The shooting begins and barrels are soon too hot to touch. Keeping Powerball thoughts at bay I try to get in the so-called “shooting zone,” and stay in it as long as possible, negative thoughts blocked out, enjoyment of the moment uppermost in my head, allowing instinct and muscle memory to power the light little over and under – first to the right, then to the left, next in a tough curving path, all the time with my stare zeroed in not at merely the bird but the bird’s head, and even the bird’s eye when the shot is close enough. It’s a wonderful feeling to be in that “zone,” and thus being able to make runs of six, seven, ten and more birds straight before one shot is just too challenging.
Finally, it’s time for lunch. At most lodges the distance to the birds is great, so you have lunch in the field instead of returning to the lodge. I’ve never regretted an hour’s drive to the shooting because the shooting practically anywhere “down there” is so fantastic. But at Los Chanares there’s no need for lunch in the field since the lodge is always only minutes away. So after lunch you can go to your room, relax in a real bed, and there will be time to use the lodges Internet connection so you can check your email and email your spouse or significant other, telling her how tough you are having it.
But before you know it there’s a knock on your door, so it’s time to grab what little gear you will need and head for the waiting van. There’s more shooting to do – a lot more shooting. It’s tough job, but somebody has to do it. Try to keep Powerball thoughts at bay, however.
Nick Sisley can be contacted at [email protected]. He is a veteran of approximately 50 shotgunning trips to South America. Those trips started in 1972, when the Cauca Valley and the Magdalena River marshes were in their heyday in Colombia, SA – with eared doves in the valley and blue-winged teal in the marsh. He first shot Argentina in 1979, has shot there numerous times since, including traversing most of this huge country, and he shot has shot extensively in Uruguay, as well as gunned in Bolivia. His perspective on shooting doves, ducks, geese, pigeons and perdiz in South America is unmatched. He would be glad to email back and forth with any of you contemplating your own fabulous wingshooting trip.