Cordoba, Argentina – The Hunt
The country of Argentina is a great place, but it has this one problem.
Millions of Eared Doves darken the skies in shapes, patterns and layers, devouring over 20% of their corn and grain crops in the Cordoba area. They don’t migrate as other species do. Years ago,the Argentinian government even sanctioned programs to poison the birds at their roosts, but this had disastrous effects all the way down the food chain.
Incidentally, wingshooting is about as much fun as a gunslinger can have, and Argentina is famed for its fine steaks and Malbec wines. I thought I might step up to the plate and help Argentina out a bit.
SYC Sporting is a world-renowned outfitter, known as a favorite spot for Tom Knapp, a world famous exhibition shooter. My dad and I booked three nights at Estancia El Cortijo, a world-class hunting lodge, built of local timber, with a magnificent thatched roof and furniture made from lacquered woods and cowhide.
They even had one of those things in the bathroom that European guys use to squirt water up their ass.
The overnight trip from Miami to Santiago, Chile was on a massive jumbo jet (LAN Airlines) with free beer, wine, and liquor for everyone. We each had a console where you could watch movies, listen to a categorized library of music, or play Tetris, the perfect game for being stuck in a tiny seat for an extended period of time. The stewardesses were these cute, trim, polite little uniformed robots that shuffled around and brought us stuff. And we were flying coach.
An agent from Estancia El Cortijo picked us up from the airport. We changed into our hunting attire, which included a recoil pad that straps onto your shoulder and around your midsection. You know, like a bra.
“I don’t need one of these. I’ve done this before”.
“You’ve been dove hunting in Texas and Mexico. You haven’t done this before”.
I reluctantly strapped on the goofy-looking recoil pad.
I chose a 20 gauge Benelli Montefeltro, known worldwide for its durability and performance. Cordoba dove hunting is a wingshooter’s opportunity of a lifetime, and since thousands of shells would be running through the shotgun, I wanted to minimize any risk of firearm failure to avoid the necessity of performing repairs or maintenance in the field.
Not that I know how to replace shotgun parts or anything, but that sounded like a cool thing to say.
When we arrived at our spot, waves of doves peppered the sky, flying quickly and erratically. Simply stated, if you have never been to Cordoba, then you have never seen this many birds at once.
Let’s put this into perspective. When shooting dove at a hunting lease in Santa Fe, Texas, I would go through one or even two boxes of shells on a good day. In Mexico, several boxes.
In Cordoba, you’ll go through two cases of shells in one hunt, easily. There are twenty boxes in a case. And you’ll be hunting twice a day. Do the math, that is like over a billion shells.
Basically stated, a ‘birdboy’ is a hired hand whose job it is to retrieve the birds you shoot down. From my experiences dove hunting in Mexico, it will usually be a teenage boy or young man working for tips. Additionally, a birdboy will point out the location of incoming doves, by yelling out the “o-clock” number in Spanish, or yelling “Alto” for high, and “Bajo” for low.
In Cordoba, there is no need to point out doves.
‘Birdboy’ is a misnomer in Cordoba, because the birdboy role is taken to the professional level. The “birdboys” at Estancia El Cortijo are skilled armorers, and they are grown men that could probably kick your ass.
I’m not saying they could kick your ass personally, but they could certainly kick Daniel Craig‘s bidet-utilizing ass. Just wanted to clear that up, Ace.
Their main duty is not to point out birds, but to reload your shotgun for you as quickly as they can. Since we’re talking about thousands of rounds of ammo here, the bird-man will sometimes have tape wrapped around his thumb as he repeatedly shoves the shells into the loading port while counting the falling birds with a clicker they wear around their neck.
Shooting Scores of Birds
Remember “Duck Hunt” on the Nintendo?
It’s not like that at all.
Mostly, they fly in groups. Unlike other dove species, these tend to spot you a little better, so proper camouflage is necessary. More importantly, you need to find some kind of cover, such as brush, trees, or cacti. A swarm of birds will fly towards you from the fields, and they split into two directions when they see you. Decisiveness is key. Once you draw your line of sight on one bird, stick with it, even if an easier shot places itself in your sight picture.
It takes a few tries to get the hang of it, but once you do, it is a load of fun. The shotguns are of the semiautomatic variety, so if you miss a bird, you’ve still got a chance to hit it a second or even third time. The birds just keep coming, and you just keep knocking them down.
After a morning and an evening hunt, I had harvested 1,325 eared doves, and my dad yielded a slightly lower number (He’s the better shot, but he enjoys exhibition-style trick shooting). Dad was right about the recoil pad. Even with the thick padding, my shoulder was bruised and sore, and my hands and fingers were almost numb.
Returning from the evening hunt, we were greeted with an open bar and food for kings. Some hunters from Chile were also in attendance, and we thoroughly enjoyed swapping hunting and fishing stories with them.
The coveted “1000 Club” plaque rests in the dining room of the estancia, and both of our names were added. At the top of this board was a famous Spanish bullfighter, Paco Del Amo, that had harvested over 4,000 doves in one day (apparently, his record has held up for years).
How in the world did he do that?
Our translator and host Marcello Janik explained as he uncorked our third bottle of Malbec.
As the story goes, the bullfighter showed up at the estancia with a entourage of beautiful women and partied until sunrise. When he started his hunt, he requested that two shotguns stay loaded at all times, and had two birdboys that continuously loaded one while he fired the other. He was brought to the fields early in the morning, and stayed there shooting all day long, until the sun went down. What a badass.
I found it amusing that as Marcello told the story, I immediately pictured the dude in the Dos Equis commercials. (I tried to Google Paco Del Amo, but only found an hombre on MySpace that likes Freddy Mercury and LOLcats. I’ll assume he’s the wrong guy).
Volume dove hunting in Cordoba was an unforgettable experience. Stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll show you a few photos of the food and wine at we enjoyed Estancia de Cortijo.