Have you ever had any interest in going to Argentina on a dove hunt?” An innocuous question, or so I thought. The answer that followed, however, did take me a bit by surprise. As my father looked intently at me and replied, “A hunting trip to Argentina has always been on my ‘bucket list,’ but I think that time has passed me by.”
For Dad, at 78 years old, the clock has definitely been ticking and, even as surprised as I was by Dad’s answer, sweeter words I’ve never heard spoken! Finally, here was my chance–my opportunity to make one of his dreams come true, especially for the man who has spent his whole life helping me turn my dreams into reality. “Well Dad, pack your bags because I’ve written the check for both of us to go. We’re going to Cordoba, Argentina, dove hunting capital of the world!”
As if it had always been “meant to be,” the outfitter piece of the puzzle came together quickly and completely. Enter Jim Jones of Shooters International, a specialty organization catering to wingshooters from around the globe and headquartered in Madison, Mississippi.
Jim Jones is a well-known name, especially in the South. For more than 30 years, Jim owned and operated Indian Archery, a forerunner of the custom bowhunting shops so popular today. As the years went by, Jim moved into the fledgling hunting video/outdoor television business, spearheading the development of this facet of the hunting industry, first with “Hunting Across America” and then with “Hunting Across the World” television shows. It was during that phase of his career when Jim met, befriended and ultimately became partners with the Hayes family of Cordoba, Argentina, who would eventually become H&H Outfitters specializing in high volume dove hunting.
Jim eventually sold his shares in the video company, formed his own company, Shooters International, with his son Trip, and moved into the international wingshooting business fulltime. The Hayes family has traditionally been into farming–both agricultural as well as cattle production. They have allocated more than 20,000 acres of their vast holdings to the hunting facet of their operations and operate three outstanding lodges: La Portenita, Sierra Verde and La Loma.
Cordoba province, located in central Argentina, offers the best dove hunting in the world. The roosting grounds are heavily wooded areas, covered with native trees called “Piquillin,” producing ideal habitat for the reproduction of doves. Vast and fertile valleys producing incredible quantities of grain surround these refuges. The eared dove is the most prominent game bird in the area. It is known to produce up to three broods per year and will rear two birds per clutch. A recent Argentinean Game and Natural Resources study estimates the dove population in that area to be upwards of 60 million birds.
A typical shooting day starts after a sumptuous breakfast with departure for the fields by 7 a.m. The driving distance to the fields ranges between 15 and 40 minutes. Each client shoots with their own experienced professional bird boy who provides shells, acts as a loader, retrieves downed birds and keeps cool drinks at the ready. Shooting continues until midday when the group gathers in a shady grove of trees for a traditional Argentine “Asado” or, as we know it, a barbecue.
The Asado features an open-air barbecue of grass-fed Argentine beef (from Hayes family ranches), sausage, traditional Argentine salads, gourmet desserts, fantastic wines and regional beers. After lunch and an optional siesta in a hammock, the shoot continues until 6 p.m.
Upon returning to the Lodge, hearty hors d’oeuvres are served in preparation for the evening meal. Each Lodge employs professional massage therapists to help unwind and relax at the end of a long day. Next, it’s get a good night’s sleep and prepare for the next day!
Upon arrival in Cordoba, Juan Hayes, logistics chief for H&H Outfitters, along with other members of their staff, met us. After breezing through Customs and Immigration, we were transported to La Portenita, our lodge for the next five days.
La Portenita Lodge
Situated on the very top of a high hill with commanding views of the surrounding valley, La Portenita is set within the confines of a working Argentine estancia. The lodge was built in 1935, remodeled in 1996 and possesses six large bedrooms in the main house with a separate three-bedroom villa–La Casita–just behind the main building.
In Mississippi, we will gladly spend an afternoon in a boiling Southern sun to harvest a 15-dove limit. Now, the doves were so abundant that we could harvest 15 doves PER MINUTE!
The afternoon hunts were over the roost sites and if the number of doves seen in the morning was incredible, the volume of birds in the evening hunts was increased by a factor of 20. Literally millions of doves were in the air at any one moment, stretching from horizon to distant horizon. For more than three hours–and if you could physically stand it–you could shoot as fast as you wanted to. Your only limitation being the speed with which your bird boy loader handed you a loaded shotgun. The birds were endless.
At the end of the first day, we sat and watched doves continue to pour into the roost area while waiting for our driver to pick us up for our return drive to the Lodge.
On each of the seven hunts we shared, Dad and I were never farther than 30 yards apart, so we could always keep each other in sight and enjoy watching each other shoot. Watching Dad shoot, especially when he would get “into the zone” and shoot as fast as his bird boy, Damian, could hand him a loaded Benelli shotgun, was a real joy for me personally. Even at 78 years of age, his shooting eye was still pretty impressive.
Over the entire course of the seven hunts we shared, he shot at an 82.5 percent pace–Outstanding! The physical toll I expected, but the mental toll was incalculable. This type of adventure wears you down to the core. You’re sore in places you couldn’t imagine and I can honestly say that when that last morning hunt was over, I don’t believe Dad (or I) could have done any more.
As we said our goodbyes and boarded our flight homeward, it wasn’t long before Dad had stretched out and “passed out” for a much-needed rest. As I looked at my Dad, I realized that the aging process spares no one. Thinking for so long that Dad was “bullet proof,” I knew that those days were gone forever, just as they would be for me some day in the not too distant future. Reviewing my life, as one of his four sons, I couldn’t help but think of all the great times we have shared afield as well as in the practice of medicine and our chosen specialty of Obstetrics and Gynecology. I have been blessed to practice with some of the greatest surgeons our country can produce, but few compare with Dad. I know that is a biased opinion, but he was truly gifted, making the most difficult surgical procedures look effortless in his hands, all the while practicing with a humility that was an example to all.
I also know, more than ever, that everything I know about being a man, I have learned from him: 1) How to be the Christian head of the home. 2) How to live your Faith each and every day. 3) How to be a husband to your wife. 4) How to be a Father — a mentor and friend — to your children. 5) How to have friends by first being a friend. 6) How to be a physician whose bedrock principles of treating each patient as if they were a member of your family, have never wavered, faltered nor failed.
This time spent together on possibly his last international trip, “Dad’s Last Hurrah,” will always be precious to me. Thanks Dad–for the life you’ve led, the man you are and the father you’ve been to me. It is my highest privilege to be known as your son.–D. Kyle Ball, M.D.