The Shooting Gazette – Dove Shooting in Argentina – September 2005
What is dove shooting?
THE FIRST THING TO say in a dove shooting guide, is what dove shooting is and what dove shooting is not. It certainly isn’t clouds of birds flying over your stand in flocks even though almost every sporting agency and outfitter will feature that sort of photograph in their brochures. Of course you could see thousands of doves lift-off from a crop as you could in the UK with pigeons. Equally drive through a roost or pass by a water hole and YOU could also see a similar picture. But your shooting stand will be on a flight line between combinations of any two of the following three locations; a roost, a feeding area or a drinking spot. There is also the further option of being placed on a major flyway where although you will get spectacularly high doves there will likely be little else to shoot at to boost your confidence if you are having problems finding the archangels. More often than not you will find there are a variety of stands available from positions in valleys to the tops of mountains. But that doesn’t mean that if you are positioned in a valley you will only get tall birds or for that matter a high ground position will only present low birds. The reality is almost anywhere will present you with a dramatic variety of shots, and although there will be a predominance from one direction, almost as if they are being driven, birds are likely to come at you from every direction in both singles and pairs but certainly not in flocks. Perhaps the only exception is if you happen to be positioned on the fence line of an adjacent crop with a low roost behind you. In that situation you will not get tall birds and although there will be singles and doubles; they are more likely to come in small covey sized flocks of five to 10 birds. But if you find you are killing them too easily in this type of location, just break cover at the last moment and the birds will starbust presenting you with a very exciting target. It is not uncommon, when shooting in a valley where the doves are stratospherically high, for shooters to liken them to tie-pin pheasants. Equally when shooting on high ground they are often described as grouse and partridge type targets, and even when a dove sees you mounting your gun and jinks and dives to avoid the shot string, it is often considered to be woodcock-like. Which is a bit like saying beer is like milk because you drink it out of a glass. If the dove actually looks like anything we are familiar with, you could say that a high dove might resemble a high driven snipe but much faster. The birds are similar in size, and if you have ever shot driven snipe you will know that they are not as high as they look, so it can be easy to miss them in front. So where does the dove sit in the world of shooting? Without question it is one of the finest wingshooting targets we can pit our skill against, so we shouldn’t think of it as a poor man’s Spanish partridge or Yorkshire grouse, or for that matter a Devon pheasant. Just think of it as a dove.
The right time to go
If you are keen to shoot testing doves then you want to shoot in the Southern Hemisphere spring or our August, September and October. Certainly August can be chilly especially in the mornings and so can September but by mid-morning it will be warm enough to shoot in shirtsleeves. October is a perfect month although it can get hot, but this is a dry time of the year and that means no mosquitoes, a big plus for me, but does clash with our early shooting season especially if you are shooting partridge. But even if you are shooting early season, you can if pushed, go to Argentina, shoot four days and be back in a week. How tough is that.
During our stay throughout the month of October, we suffered a five minute shower during our stay at Pica Zuro and an overnight storm without rain at La Loma; there was also an overnight storm with rain during our stay at Los Ombues but none during the day. I guess more than 90 percent of the time we had wall to wall sunshine.
Lots of UK dove shooters always seem to want to go around March/April time. That’s fine but I have never had a completely dry four days at that time of the year, and if it rains it will also mean mosquitoes especially if you are shooting the flat areas. April and May shooting is the time for shooting out on the farms, and the quality of birds is not always that inspiring. I have friends that regularly go in June and July. Of course this is the Southern Hemisphere winter and although it is not seriously cold, it would be advisable to take a fleece or two. But if you want to shoot a mixed hag and combine doves, perdiz and ducks, you have hit it right.
There are almost 20 species of dove in South America but it is the eared or golden dove as it is sometimes called that is our principal quarry. It can be found as far north as the West Indies and throughout South America. In just a few days it can reduce the yield of a crop ready for harvesting by 60 percent, so it’s a very serious pest for the farmers. The doves primarily nest in the scrubby piquillin tree that grows in vast high ground forests in the Cordoba region. The bird builds a very scruffy and flimsy nest structure that looks less than half finished; nothing is used to line the interior and you could almost expect an egg to fall through it, but it’s obviously adequate for the dove. The piquillin tree is short and squat with tangled branches covered with very long sharply pointed spines producing protection for the nesting birds from foxes and other ground predators as well as the airborne enemies including hawks and eagles.
Oliver Hayes (from H&H Outfitters) took me into the interior (I still bear the puncture marks from the spines) of the 3,000 acre roost in Churqui owned by Alex and Zeke Hayes; there I saw trees that were no more that 10 feet high supporting nine active nests. Most of these nests either had one to three eggs or a similar number of young in them, and as the dove can nest four times a season it might mean that a mature breeding pair could produce up to 10 offspring a year. Of course all that assumes conditions are ideal, unfortunately for the farmer they are.
For doves to breed successfully they need three things, food, water and somewhere safe to nest and the Cordoba Region has all of them in spades. The nesting sites I have already mentioned, but to sustain life the doves need food and water. It will happily eat sorghum, millet and soya but it absolutely needs the protein and energy from corn to boost egg production and there is plenty of corn grown in the Cordoba region. Finally the tiny gin clear streams that meander around the base of the hills, although not exactly in abundance, are the final ingredient to produce locust like flocks of doves to ruin any farmers’ day. Although these days the income from shooting leases go some way to minimising the crop losses perpetuated by the doves. Make no mistake we are very welcome visitors by everyone other than the doves.
As a result of this experience, Lamboy said, Zoli’s chambers now have been bored out slightly and also mirror-polished; the ejector springs are 20 percent more powerful; and opening the gun has been eased to offset the stiffness of the new springs and to reduce effort. The latter is accomplished simply with better hand-fitting. (Lamboy again: “During rapid-fire sequences, we all labored heavily after only four boxes of shells.” I feel better.)
ESTANCIA LOS CHANARES
The lodge: Lunches and dinners are eaten in a large screened porch that contains two open fires for the chillier winter months, and the large leather seated gun room is the focus point for post-shooting and pre and post-dinner drinks. The overall look of the lodge is South American with a splash of European thrown in, and all the rooms are decorated with European hunting and fishing paintings and wildlife sculpture collected by the owner.
There are five en-suite double room with twin beds plus two other larger en-suite bedrooms that have queen-sized beds that are ideal for couples. There is also an adjacent annex or cottage that contains two further bedrooms. Overall there are seven en-suite double bedrooms and two further rooms that share a bathroom.
The shooting: The shooting is meticulously organised by the director of hunting Martin Carranza. Guns are placed in pre-defined designated spots at about 50 yard intervals. Martin usually judges the ability of the group during the first session where there will be birds to test any level of shooter, then accordingly they will place you in locations that you will find challenging. At Los Chanares there are 27 shooting areas, some will deliver serious quantities of doves to cater for Texans restricted to low limits their own state. Other areas will stretch the ability of the European high bird shooter and everything in between. All the shooting areas are accessed via well-made dirt roads so no walking is required reaching your stand. No area is shot more than once every 10 days and only then if Martin’s dove count gives the area a green light. The dove fields are as close as a one minute walk from the lodge to a 10 minute drive in air conditioned 4-wheel drive vehicles.
Cartridges: They carry stock of RD 12, 20 & 2 8 bore cartridges costing $10 a box.
Gun Gire: U$S 50 a day or part of a day.
Shooting season: Because Los Chanares is not in the true sense a workable arable farm, it is extremely hard for the shoot to hold the number of birds needed to run their operation successfully during harvesting time on the surrounding farms, so they shut the whole operation during April and May.
Food and beverages: A mix of European nouvelle cuisine and traditional Argentine meat dishes served with good local wine. There is also an open bar, but we did ship our own champagne up from Buenos Aires. All lunches are taken back at the lodge rather than the traditional barbeque locally called asado organised by most outfitters.
Entertainment & other activities: One or two evenings after dinner they have tango dancers and singers with traditional accompaniment. Horse riding is available and the pool is operational throughout the summer months from November to March.
Comments: The estancia has almost everything but the big plus at Los Chanares, because it owns the land it shoots over, is the lack of travel to and from the dove fields. Also because the original owner regularly shot in Europe, Martin is aware of the need for quality birds, but that is not to say that he ignores the requirement of quantity. Tell them at Los Chanares that you want to shoot a lot of shells and they will have you taken to a high volume spot, but if you think that you might want to shoot something like 1,000 or even 2,000 shells in a day, they will tell you that can be achieved anywhere on the property. What they mean by high volume is somewhat higher. Two years ago a shooter from Houston in Texas shot over 6,000 shells in a single day. Yes I know the thought of shooting that many shells in one day would fill most of us with dread, as would the USS2.500 plus cartridge bill, but realistically they can give you exactly what you want and that makes this place special.
Cost: Los Chanares is one of the most expensive dove shooting operations in Argentina, but it is also arguably the best and they know that, so they have little incentive to be competitive with some of the other outfitters. Currently a four day shooting package that includes the afternoon on your day of arrival, followed by three full days and a final morning on your departure day will set you back USS2.190 to $2,590 depending on high and low season shooting. However this is an introductory offer from new owners so next year this could increase. Also these figures will rise further depending on how sporting agents have packaged together the cost of gun clearance, transport to and from both the international and the domestic airports, plus your import and export licences for your guns, your hunting license, and of course Buenos Aires hotel and internal flight costs. And don’t forget to budget for your shells.
What to take
Guns & gun security. Decide on the guns you are planning to take and get the specification to the trip organiser so a temporary export licence can be prepared prior for submission to the DTI in the UK and PAN in Buenos Aires for your Argentine import/export licences.
If you plan not to bother with taking your own guns you will be able to hire guns at the lodge, but it is important that you ascertain what guns are available to hire, and will they suit you? There is also the matter of hire fees.
You should also think very carefully before you persuade yourself to take your pre-war English guns; even if they are a suitable calibre like a 20 bore. If you are taking a gun to Argentina you should really take a modern 20 or 28 bore gun made in Italy or Spain, depending on your preferences. Even then they will need to be looked at occasionally. On my 20 bore S/S Arrizabalagas I need to tighten the bridle pins (screws) every other day on the Holland & Holland style detachable locks. It takes me five minutes in the gun room after a day in the field and I am always accompanied by a glass of bubbly, so it’s no hardship. It is a smart move to have your gun stripped and cleaned prior to an Argentine trip, and at the same time it is a good idea to ask your gunshop or gunmaker if there are any spares worth taking with you. At least you should take a couple of gunmaker’s screwdrivers, plus if you have detachable chokes, it is best if you remove and clean them each day, even if the lodge includes gun cleaning.
In order to comply with HM Customs & Excise and get your guns onto the aircraft, the guns you are taking must be on your shotgun certificate either as guns sold to you or lent to you or shared by you and the case that carries these guns must be lockable, and for your own peace of mind, strong enough to withstand the stress of the journey from Customs to the aircraft and the rigours of airport baggage handlers.
Looking the part, what to wear
The ideal clothes to wear in the dove fields are American style shooting shirts and cargo pants. The best colour is olive drab, but tan is also fine. I tend not to wear shorts, but cargo pants with zip off bottoms could be an option. You certainly don’t need camouflage shirts or trousers but if you have camo gear and you don’t mind being mistaken for an American then bring them. You can of course wear any modern training shoe but for support and comfort I wear a pair of Russell upland bird shooter’s boots but any lightweight hiking hoot is okay. You should also take a lightweight shooting waistcoat and a country coloured baseball cap. Plus a pack-away Gore-Tex water-proof jacket and trousers, because it will certainly rain if you don’t take them. You can order all these items online from Cabela’s in the States; they have a great selection of gear and if you are already planning to order a Kick Killer shoulder pad from them (see shooting accessories), you might as well add a few extras. Orvis will also be able to supply you with most of your requirements, and even a quick check out of M&S could certainly solve the cargo pants situation. If you don’t like ordering over the internet or by mail order and you are in London, you just have to visit Farlows in Pall Mall. They have some great gear, and you could combine shopping there with a visit to the Orvis shop off Piccadilly.
Most lodges will have a laundry service so you won’t need a change of shooting clothes for each day you are shooting, but in very hot conditions a spare shirt in your field bag is useful.
Forget your ear defenders and you are skunked as the Americans would say. And forget the idea of salvaging the little yellow spongy things found in aircraft amenity kits because they will not do the job.
Bisley make a lightweight gun sleeve that costs 25 pounds and can be bought from J. Roberts & Son, it has an outer olive green canvas type covering with a thin sheepskin liner and only weighs half a pound. These pack down very small but still give the gun adequate protection in the field.
It is worth taking a can of oil, a cleaning rod and chamber brush in your field bag. It can avoid the possibility of a dogged extractor getting broken. Kick Killer Shoulder Pad is available from Cabela’s over the internet and is the very best available. But if you can’t be bothered with using a shoulder pad and you still don’t like the idea of getting badly bruised; you could always hire a 20 bore five shot semi-auto from the lodge. I understand they kick like a Mayfly.
Actually if the lodge has an auto and you shoot off your right shoulder it will give you the opportunity to still fire plenty of shells even with a sore shoulder from the previous day.
Recoil butt extension with a Velcro fitting is also another method of reducing recoil, and like the shoulder pad above, the best is also made by Kick Killer and is available from Cabelas. Although it will add about a half an inch to your stock, you should remember that you are not wearing your usual bulky winter clothing so it might just be okay.
Take at least a couple of pairs of shooting gloves. Apart from protection from hot barrels they also protect your fingers and hands from nicks and cuts and to some extent from aggressive top levers.
A field bag to carry all your bits and pieces. Including items like cameras or binoculars. A small – first aid kit with plenty of plasters and antiseptic wipes for small cuts, blistered fingers, and the ever present risk of top thumb damage. And a good pair of shooting glasses will protect your eyes from the sun, as much as anything.
Mosquito repellent and anti-histamine cream should be included in your kit. If you are very allergic to biting insects like me I would try and book a trip during the Southern Hemisphere winter and spring. I have shot 6 times during the Argentine springtime (September and October) and have never been bitten.
High factor sun creams are also a must because you are likely to spend six hours a day exposed to the sun rays and it is unlikely anything will be available at the lodge.
Balm for sore muscles: a small pot of Tiger Balm or Amrutanjan is effective. However, if you have badly bruised your shoulder you have strained a muscle in then you cant really do better than use Lasonil or Nurofen gel.