The Lady Guns of Cordoba – Tony Townsend – Shooting Gazette – February 2006
Dove shooting in Argentina was a special experience for TONY TOWNSEND. Not least because half of the group was female.
Sending out the pre-trip information to my team of guns to shoot doves at the Estancia Los Chanares in Argentina last autumn it suddenly dawned on me there were five female shooters in a total party of 11, and it would have been six but for a last minute cancellation by one couple, which made me realise how much has changed in the shooting world in recent years.
Back in the 70s the Chelsea nightclub Wedgies supported a clay pigeon day for its members at the then newly opened Apsley Shooting Grounds. The competition was split into two groups, the male shooting members totalled about 100 and the females barely accumulated enough entries to play a rubber of bridge. I can still recall when Lady Charlotte Curzon, the subsequent winner of the ladies cup, powdered a right and left at the partridge stand to rapturous applause from a large gathering of male onlookers. Today that competition would have received at least 50 female shooters, and many of the ladies would likely be the combined overall winner
Undoubtedly in recent years, Holland & Holland’s Green Feathers Club has done much to raise the profile of lady guns. But before they picked up the baton, an attractive American, Parker Gentry was popping up on shoots everywhere. Other front runners who make the headlines in the sporting press included shooting columnist Piffa Schroder and Pru Horsell who was featured in last year’s November issue. It was only four years ago in Argentina I had the pleasure of standing next to Kate Morrison during a spectacular purple patch she had on doves, and the year before last, tall leggy blonde Melinda Bullough shot absolutely brilliantly. Now even Purdey’s have started a lades’ course at the west London Shooting School; how times have changed!
Today it is not uncommon to turn up on a shoot and find that one or even two of the guns are ladies. In the past that could have meant, if drawn beside one of these female shooters, you might personally expect to shoot at half again more birds because she had either missed or was too slow loading but now that is a long forgotten memory. Eyesight problems apart, modern cartridges for 20bore guns have put up the ladies on a near level playing field with men. The ladies I meet in the field these days can shoot and they are getting better all the time. Recently I met Ondine Carington, another tall leggy blonde that shoots when I lunched in Vauxhall with Paul Roberts, Nicky Kerman, and her other half Alan Matson. Though saying she shoots is a bit like saying Tiger Woods plays golf, because Ondine is a regular member of a roving syndicate of lady guns shooting from the Dales to Devon.
This of course brings me back to where I started because my team of lady shooters for Argentina began to be referred to by my Spanish speaking friend Bill from San Antonio, Texas as ‘Las Dianas de Cordoba’ later anglicized by his chum Juan from Mexico as ‘The Lady Guns of Cordoba’ and I guess that prompted this piece.
Apart from the obvious advantages of having female company at dinnertime, it also adds a lot more fun to the whole party, and the men with ballistical thrombosis are always quickly shut up by the ladies. Frankly, Argentina should be a holiday as well as a shooting trip. You have traveled half way around the world, so it’s nice to have wives and girlfriends along to share the experience, especially if they are keen to shoot or learn to shoot. It is a fact, the head field guides at most lodges are only too pleased to give some coaching. Serge at Los Chanares, as well as being one of the finest shots I have ever seen, is also an excellent coach and is very keen to help the girls improve their shooting.
But you would be missing a trick if you thought Argentina was just dove shooting because before you fly to Cordoba it is always nice to spend a day or two in Buenos Aires, it’s a wonderful city with fantastic shopping and great restaurants so it is really mean to leave the girls behind. But before you whine about what to do with the children;
when I met my wife 20 odd years ago I gave her the choice of having kids or flying first class, so you’ll get no sympathy from me in that department.
Dove shooting has always been a no pressure shooting experience; that fearful and nerve racking moment when the first pheasant heads for you just below cloud level on a UK shoot is never an option dove shooting because doves will be flying over your peg when you arrive and will still be flying over when you re-sleeve your gun to leave, so from the moment you start shooting you feel relaxed. And that is the ideal environment for new to shooting lady guns or anyone else for that matter.
This year our trip to Argentina was going to he special because as well as my regular visit to Estancia Los Chanares in the Cordoba region, my wife Yvonne and I had another 10 lodges to visit for a dove shooting guide I am currently writing. Our first afternoon following our morning flight from Buenos Aires is always an interesting session because Serge likes to assess the standard of shooting especially if there are lady shooters in the group. That means you will have doves coming at you at every possible height and angle, so it’s a great start to the trip even for the old hands. Londoner Patty Push and Laura Armstrong, originally from here but now living with her English husband in New York were placed on adjacent pegs with Serge nipping from one to the other giving coaching. My wife Yvonne and Juanita Dompierre were close by me, and finally, Cecilia Barrionuevo was further along the line from my chum Paul Roberts. Leora got into the action firing 13 boxes of shells on this session, and Patty 14 boxes which was a good start for both of them. Patty has always been a pretty good shot and has been game shooting for many years before she moved to America, so Serge just needed to get her footwork sorted and help her to adjust to the height and flight of the doves, and she was soon performing like an old hand. Yvonne tends to only shoot at the highest birds, or that is what she tells me, so her cartridge count was always low compared to the rest of us, however, as we were visiting many other lodges on this trip I think she was pacing herself more than usual. So on paper her 11 boxes with her little 28bore Rizzini looked like she had been a bit of a wimp or she had been out of the shooting, but of course some of the time she is taking pictures for my articles. Anyway by the end of our Argentina adventure she had shot close to 8,000 shells so her first session could be misleading.
Although Juanita has been shooting doves for a long time, there is always a sense of sheer enjoyment coming from her peg. When I went over with my camera to take some pictures she was into a very hot groove bringing down birds that were so far out they looked like tiny specks on the photos. I didn’t get to see Cecilia shoot but I understand she didn’t make too much of a dent in her first case of shells. But having my chum
Paul Roberts lurking on the next peg is enough to concern any pretty girl, having said that he had shot 31 boxes that session so he wouldn’t have had time to distract Cecilia much anyway.
Patty got into some very serious cartridge abuse on the second day by shooting the second highest number of boxes, although she did sustain some tough bruising, and Leora shot only one box less on the following day, so the girls really got into the swing of things. Juanita took centre stage at one session with an audience of rubberneckers watching her stylish shooting. My old friend Shaun Redmayne summed up her smooth shooting style succinctly with the comment ‘watching Melinda shoot is like watching Michael Schumacher drive’. What more can be said.
The trip to Los Chanares was a complete success with all the girls having a great time. This year I would be delighted to have the same team of guns, perhaps with the addition of Kate Morrison and maybe Melinda Bullough and Ondine Carrington. As far as I am concerned the only thing better than dove shooting in Argentina is shooting in Argentina with some attractive girls.
Once back in England I asked all the girls to email me with their thoughts on how they enjoyed the trip. The one received from Leora Armstrong completely expressed the thoughts of all the other girls that I decided to just include her response.
Leora Armstrong’s view: As a single girl traveling to shoot in a foreign country there are plenty of things to make you apprehensive especially when travelling with guns and not speaking Spanish. However being met by Alex and Leticia (our ground agents) certainly put me at ease from the outset.
Although shooting can he a very male oriented sport I feel that it is one that both men and women can do equally but I would certainly recommend that you know at least a few members of the group you are joining; boys can be quite intimidating to us girls shooting and sadly there are some out there who think that women shouldn’t shoot at all, so you need some boys in the group that love having girls on side if you are really to enjoy yourself.
Buenos Aires is not an intimidating city to be alone in but it’s more fun in a crowd. Like any large city one needs to be wise about one’s personal possessions. But the people are delightful and always willing, both in restaurants and shops, to help in every way.
I think it is important when travelling alone to make sure you have all the correct kit. Getting all the info ahead of travel is important because when you’re on a shoot it is usually too late. Although everyone at Los Chanares was extremely helpful and with great cheer! Serge (the owner) mentioned that only 10 percent of his clients are women; with this in mind always make sure you have all the female items you need like a hairdryer.
Be in charge of your own kit. There is lots of help with carrying and of course if you forget something there is always someone who will nip back to the lodge for you but if one is on the estate that could be a problem, so have a good field bag with everything you are likely to need.
A good tip is to take a Spanish speaking guide book which you can always give to your bird boys when you leave – they love it. Also One cannot always tip directly so it is a good idea to also give them a small gift even a good hat is appreciated.
There wasn’t really any shopping at Los Chanares other than hats and cartridge pouches so do your retail therapy in BA. Timberland was full of bargains and there are designer and great leather shops everywhere.
A 28 bore is fab for Argentina and a perfect gun for the doves, but a 20 bore is also great as long as it fits well and is light. If possib1e take a gun with multiple chokes but make sure that they are regularly removed cleaned. Have your own cleaning kit and be prepared to tighten the screws in your gun that get loosened by heavy use and generally be aware of what can go wrong with your gun.
If possible always travel with your gunmaker! I also recommend you have a recoil reducer in the stock and a pad under your shooting jacket especially if like me you are shooting a 20 bore. All the boys on this trip were shooting 28s.
It is a great trip and certainly fun for the girls as well as the boys. It is a fantastic opportunity to improve your shooting in everyway whether you are a beginner or an advanced shot. The birds are sporting and will certainly give you a challenging time, especially when you pick your birds with care and push your own limits each drive. Taking breaks on the drives is a must. It’s not just about shooting lots of shells, ignoring the fact that you will be exhausted if you attempt to shoot for four hours straight each session. Drink lots of water and bring a good camera. Chatting to your neighbor not only allows you time to recuperate but it can be fun and you can watch how they shoot certain birds; it’s a learning curve. HAVE FUN!