“Shoot, shoot!” Augusto implored as the doves bore down on us in an endless stream. We were in the La Pampa region of Argentina, taking a break from big game hunting to enjoy a day of high-volume bird shooting. My wife Jackie was to my left, and another hunter, Ed Reich, a resident of New York State, was on my right. Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the birds kept coming as we fired an incredible amount of shells. If you fancy yourself a good wingshot, a few hours spent trying to connect with these Argentine acrobats will adjust your opinion. They are a real challenge, despite their numbers. Augusto was my young shell boy, making sure I had plenty of ammunition to maintain my poor shooting average throughout the day. Other than “Shoot!” his English was limited. I did manage to train him in the use of the proper, somewhat rhyming expletive, for each missed shot. He got a lot of practice, and we both laughed often and enjoyed the show. We only stopped long enough for a leisurely lunch of rib steaks cooked over an open fire.
We were hunting with Alejandro Trigo, owner of TGB Outfitters and a long supporter/exhibitor of SCI. His donated hunts are premier auction items each year at the SCI Convention. We first met during a hunt in 2006, and were long overdue to return. My main desire this trip was a red stag, so Alejandro suggested we come during the rut, which is roughly late March to mid April. Besides big game, there was bird shooting, fishing and a few days in Buenos Aires for shopping and a Tango show–truly A to Z.
The rut or “roar” is quite a sight and sound experience. Both the red stags and fallow deer are fully engaged, so to speak. The stags have a slightly different vocal pitch from our American elk. Fallow deer sound like amplified bullfrogs.
The terrain in central Argentina is mostly flat with dense trees, knee- to waist-high grass and groundcover. Visibility is often limited. There’s no real high ground to spot from, and few open areas for long shots.
Alejandro’s estancia, or ranch, is roughly 150 km from Santa Rosa, a regional airport with jet service from Buenos Aires. The ranch house sits on top of one of few hills, and has an expansive view of the landscape. The lodge is very nice, food is great, and one has all the comforts of home—satellite TV, Wi-Fi, maid and laundry. We were made to feel like family, with both Alejandro and his lovely wife Danielle going out of their ways to make the entire trip fun and enjoyable.
Hunting began by pursuing a free-range stag. Listening to the animals roar, I thought it might be over quickly. I was wrong. Yes, they are loud, and there are quite a few around, but the dense cover and swirling wind worked against us time and again. Juan, my guide, had an excellent sense of direction and knowledge of the terrain. He used what looked like a piece of plastic pipe to call. To my ear, it sounded identical to the wild stags, and they would usually respond. Conscious of the prevailing wind, we would begin our stalk. Each time we were foiled by the sound of another stag issuing a challenge farther away, or an errant breeze leaving us with the sound of hooves pounding away. After a couple of days, reality started to set in. This ain’t easy.
On the morning of the third day, we had just finished our second unsuccessful stalk and paused for a short rest. Juan, as he always did, scanned our surroundings for movement. Suddenly, he froze, looking down a dense, brushy trail outside my line of sight. With a quick wave of his hand, I knew he saw a stag. With a few urgent, quiet movements, he set up the shooting sticks to give me a shot down a narrow opening, perhaps 100 yards long, and not as wide as a stag. I quickly placed the .300 Mag on the sticks and waited. In less time than it takes to read about it, the majestic animal moved into limited view. The target area was obscured by brush. He had to move a little more, but not too much, or too fast. Then he did just that. Perfect. He stopped. A well-placed shot. He bolted maybe 20 feet and fell, mortally wounded.
He was a very nice stag–mature and healthy with ten points. Juan and I shook hands, and prepared to take a few pictures. I hung my rifle on the sticks and walked over to arrange him for the photographs. As I got near, it became obvious the stag did not realize the meaning of the term “mortally wounded.” From about three feet away, and as I started to reach for his antlers, he bounded up, looking very robust and not the least bit injured. Fortunately for both Juan and me, he had enough of our company and ran away from both of us. The rifle was about 10 feet away. A mad scramble ensued, I grabbed the gun, and a quick offhand shot finished what should have already been done.
If there had been a video, I know it would make a network blooper reel.
I’ve hunted big game, including dangerous game, in many countries. The stag was shot through the lungs, and from all appearances was dead. I tell this story, perhaps in the hope that some reader might learn from my mistake. All joking aside, one or both of us could have been seriously injured. It will not happen to me again. I swear!
With the stag taken, Alejandro said he had a fallow deer he wanted me to shoot. It was a particular deer–a white one with a wounded right shoulder, suffered in a fight with another buck. He was a large deer, in full rut and very aggressive. “Listen for the bullfrogs, go toward the loudest one.” Like the free-range stag, it sounds easier than it turned out to be.
There were a lot of fallow deer–big, small, light, dark–just not white with a wounded right shoulder. Juan and I spent the better part of two days trying to locate the single animal. Ed was hunting a collared peccary from a blind, as we were moving game around on foot, when an urgent call came over the radio. They had seen the elusive white deer from their blind. We hustled over just in time to see a light colored blur disappear. All was not lost, however. As we were trying to track the fallow, two collared peccaries moved through the cover ahead. A quick call brought Ed just as the pair rounded a corner out of sight. As we discussed the best way for Ed to approach for a shot, they came back again, and right at us. Ed had enough time to get a steady rest on the sticks, and with one shot took a very large male. Collared peccaries, like puma and Brockett deer, are indigenous to Argentina. They’re legal to hunt, but not exportable.
After the second day of looking for the white deer ended, Juan suggested we spend some time in a blind looking over a water hole on the chance we might get a boar. We had seen a huge one on our drive in the first day, so it seemed like a good idea. The trail to the blind was 100 yards or so. As we neared the water hole, it became obvious the hogs had beaten us there. I never knew how many were there, but listening to them, it sounded like a bunch. The jaw popping, grunting and splashing sounded like a cartoon episode.
I chambered a round when we realized they were there and, through the dense undergrowth, tried getting close for a shot. We had walked up to this blind before, so I had some idea of its shape. With hand signals, Juan indicated I should get ready and said only shoot when he told me to. The rifle was a CZ bolt action .300 Magnum with a very positive safety. When I moved it off safe, the distinctive metallic “click” reverberated through the hogs like I’d hit a bass drum. There was complete silence for a second or two then, as one, the pool party was over and all started to leave. There was just enough time to snap a shot at the second animal Juan could find in the melee that followed. It seemed like a good shot–sound familiar? We hurried over to the edge of the water hole. No blood. We carried on in the direction we thought they went. Still no blood. Keep in mind it’s now dark with no moon and in tall grass–not the best tracking environment. I was starting to doubt my shot when Juan said, “Blood!” Sure enough, there was a small spot. With Juan’s skill he found the pig lying dead another 50 yards out. Not a boar, but as Juan astutely remarked, “Not a trophy, but good on the lunch table.” He was right!
We spent another day with no luck looking for the white deer. With dark approaching, we spent the last hour or so in the blind and after only a few minutes, a distinctive bullfrog grunt echoed through the timber, followed by thrashing of antlers against trees. Here the white deer came, right in front, obviously wounded, but hardly looking hurt, as belligerent as ever. He was quite a sight to see. As we approached after the shot, Juan kept repeating, “Really big fallow deer.” Indeed he was–no ground shrinkage there. He green scored 239 2/8, well up in the SCI record book. His old wound was serious and infection had set in. There’s no doubt he would not have survived the season.
A side trip, and a day spent fishing on Lake Chocon, was a perfect ending. The Lake reminded us of Lake Mead here in the States, with stark stone cliffs rising hundreds of feet out of the water. Alejandro’s friend Fernando hosted us at his lake house and took us fishing on his boat.
In addition to the above, Alejandro also arranged a capybara hunt near Buenos Aires. Who can resist shooting the world’s largest rodent? It was a fun and different experience. Capybara, as the other indigenous species, unfortunately cannot be sent home. Your trophies are your photographs.
Alejandro arranged our transfers, a driver and interpreter in Buenos Aires, got us to and from Santa Rosa, recommended restaurants, all without a single problem. Everything just worked, which means a lot.
We started this adventure with three nights in Buenos Aires. It’s a beautiful city with world-class shopping, fantastic food and architecture. The president of the Buenos Aires SCI Chapter, Fernando Soler, and his wife Soledad, graciously invited us as their guests at their Tango show, Senor Tango. It was great fun, with a wonderful dinner and show. It’s a must-see if you are in Buenos Aires.
Like all great hunting destinations, Argentina has much to offer. Add it to you list of “must-go” places.– Kevin Anderson