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South America: The Summer Bird Hunting Destination

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June 18, 2012

South America: The Summer Bird Hunting Destination

By Phil Bourjaily

On my way back from hunting in Uruguay a few years ago, I met a group of hunters from Mississippi who had been shooting doves around Cordoba, Argentina. One of them asked me about my trip. I told him it was a mixed bag hunt for ducks, pigeons and perdiz. He asked how many rounds I had shot.

“About 500 in five days,” I said.

“That’s not very high volume,” he said with disdain. “Check this out.” He pulled up his shirt to show me a bruise the size, shape and color of a tenderized magnum eggplant covering his shoulder and half his chest.

It is summer and if you want to hunt birds now you need to go to South America. If you go, consider a mixed bag hunt instead of a 1,000 dove-a-day marathon. You will still shoot more than most folks shoot in a full season at home and come home unbruised by the experience. I have done it twice, once in Uruguay and once in Argentina. Mixed bag shoots consist of ducks in the morning, then breakfast, then massive lunch and naps, then either perdiz, pigeons or doves in the afternoon, followed by more eating, plus wine. It is an easy schedule to take and South America is a fascinating place to visit. The picture above is of the sun rising over the Parana River in Argentina.

South America has a tremendous variety of bird life, and nowhere do you see more of it than in the marshes. The big duck is the rosy billed pochard, but you may shoot seven or eight varieties of duck (only the cinnamon teal is common to both North and South America). You will see birds like the crested screamer, which is huge, has spurs on its wings and looks like Rodan, the winged Japanese movie monster.  Duck limits do exist, although they are often imposed by the outfitter: in Argentina, the camp limit was 20. In Uruguay we were given three boxes of shells and told to shoot until we ran out.*

Shooting doves in South America is very similar to shooting doves here, except when you shoot 15 down there, you’re just getting warmed up. On an afternoon dove hunt you might shoot 1,000 rounds if you are really ambitious. However, as the slowest reloader in the group that went to Argentina, I shot 12 to 13 boxes** in an afternoon, with breaks to hang out and practice my Spanish with the bird boy. No birds went to waste: there are a lot of poor people in South America. We ate many birds ourselves, and I brought a cooler of doves and ducks back with me from Argentina, too.

The spotwing pigeons are hunted in grain fields, sometimes over decoys. They are toughest birds I ever shot. No matter how hard you hit them, if you don’t break a wing or hit the head, they don’t stop flying.

The perdiz – correctly known as the spotted tinamou – is South America’s upland bird. You hunt them in very short grass habitat over pointing dogs in the same cover where you will often see ostrich-size rheas running around. Perdiz look like a tall, skinny quail, and run like little pheasants. You can shoot 10 or so a day, and sometimes you have to walk a long way to do it. I will always remember flushing one, raising my gun and thinking, “I better not shoot. I don’t want to hit that rhea over there.” That’s when you know for sure you’re not in Kansas anymore.  
 
*Yes, ducks are often baited and it is legal. The whole South American hunting experience is so different from what we have at home you just accept baiting as part of it.  
**Another reason to go on low-volume hunt in South America: typically outfitters charge $10-12 extra per box of shells. It adds up.

 

Comments (18)

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from 357 wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

sounds like paradise i just hope it's sustainable.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from PbHead wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Phil on your next trip south, if you want a bird boy who speaks English, I am available.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Could you give a breakdown of the cost of such a trip? Did you run into any problems that would need to be addressed before a person goes to argentina?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tom warner wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

I have always wanted to go on a bird shooting trip to South America, but none of my friends could ever afford it nor find the time to go. This leads me to comment that if we here in the U.S. had not stupidly wrecked much of our bird shooting in countless ways, we would not now have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles and spend big money in a foreign country to find decent shooting. "Progress"became destruction a long time ago here in America.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Whatever the cost, it sounds like you get your money's worth in sheer volume of shooting at game. In South America, it would seem, too much is not enough.
I like that eggplant bruise part of the story. I can just hear the shooter saying, "it hurts so good."

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Amflyer wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Phil, is it permissible to give us the name of our outfitter...provided everything worked out well for you and your group?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

1,000 rounds?

My head hurts just thinking of the nitro headache that goes along with it!

Sounds like South America is easier to get to with a unexplained empty casing in you luggage than Canada next door!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

As for the group of hunters from Mississippi

As I remember FirstBubba said it best!

Bill C. usta say, "The only reason they make magnums is so the Cajuns in south Louisiana can feel pain and hear noise when they pull the trigger!"

Louisiana, Mississippi, close enough!

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

I did not receive an answer on my last comment so I assume you are not permitted to disclose that information. I think I'll go along with Clay and just stay in the good ol' USA. I may have to wait a few months, but anticipation just makes it all the more sweeter when the season arrives

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Right now I would choose either venue and activity just to get out of this office, heck, Bolivia even sounds good,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

I have done both the volume dove and mixed bag hunts in Argentina and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Every wingshooter should do whatever he can to do the volume hunt at least once. The experience is simply awesome (an appropriate use of an overused word). In our Cordoba hunts, the birds usually came in consistent waves, so constant that you can position yourself to practice any shot you want. Other spots offer something more typical of your home dove field with birds coming from various directions, just a lot more of them. Our group did not even attempt to max out our shooting, yet everyone was well above 500 birds/day and most around 700-900. There is really no need for the bruising if you wear a good recoil pad, which I also highly recommend.

But my best day in Argentina was on the mixed bag trip. Two of us, the youngest of our group, took a long drive one morning and set up in the middle of a small pond. We shot ducks until they stopped flying in mid-morning. My companion was an LSU wildlife biology master’s candidate and he was as excited about the new variety of ducks he was seeing as he was the number he was killing.

That afternoon we hunted perdiz behind perhaps the best bird dog I personally have ever seen. I still remember her name: Diana, and she was a goddess of the hunt. We had 72 individual flights of perdiz that day. Those tasty suckers are better runners than most pheasant and utter shame prevents me from telling you our final tally – the birds were taking flight 20-25 yds out making most shots a bit long and that’s my only valid excuse.

After a few hours, we took a break but Diana didn’t and flushed another perdiz a short distance away along the stone wall we were sitting on. More ducks were flying overhead, but way beyond what I thought was killable range. The biologist said “oh, yeah? Watch this.” And with one shot he brought down a beautiful drake with single pellet to the head. One of the greatest shotgun kills I’ve ever seen.

The weather that day was perfect, in the upper 50s with an almost clear sky and steady easy breeze. On the drive back to the estancia, our guide woke us from our nap to point out a magnificent stag standing on a rocky outcropping silhouetted against the fading orange of the western sky. A perfect end to a glorious day.

Deadeye: check with a reputable outfitter for prep info. We took our own guns but these days I believe many outfitters will provide good Benellis and Berrettas, which will save you the hassle of getting gun permits. I’m not positive but I think most hunts currently go in the $2500-3500 range and typically include transportation to and from the hunt location, accommodations with room and food, some even include booze. As Phil mentioned, ammo ain’t cheap but is fairly decent quality (ammo is a primary source of revenue for the outfitter) and must be paid for in cash. If I remember correctly, bird boys are tipped $20/hunt (2 hunts/day, am and pm) and are usually paid at the end of the hunt. It is also customary to give them some kind of gift, a hunting hat, etc. On one trip, I gave my young hipster a Hard Rock Café t-shirt I’d purchased in Buenos Aires and he was tickled pink. Airfare to Argentina-Buenos Aires – varies of course but is the other major expense of the trip.

Which brings me to Buenos Aires. It would be a shame to fly all the way down to Argentina without soaking up a bit of the local culture and BA is a great place to do it. Unlike most South American cities, BA is very European in nature – over 50% of the population is of Italian descent – and at times you’ll think you’re closer to the Mediterranean than the Rio de la Plata. The food is quite good, although I personally am not a big fan of the grass-fed beef, preferring more marbling in my meat, and even neighborhood restaurants can produce delicious fare you’ll want to write home about. A trip to one of the better tango clubs is a blast even if you don’t dance. The Alvear Palace Hotel is located in the “most elegant area” of BA and is worth a trip to the restaurant even if you don’t stay there. The pastry chef is world famous for a reason.

I think I just talked myself into another trip.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Thank, Longbeard. I really appreciate the information.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

My pleasure, Deadeye. I got the chance to remember some very good times and help a fellow Gun Nut at the same time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from O Garcia wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

South America is also the reason we began hearing/reading about "Benelli." Whether it's Super 90, M1, Montelfeltro, Black Eagle, inertia-driven, we all knew what Benelli meant because of how flawlessly the guns performed in those week-long, high-volume no cleaning shoots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Believe it or not, I saw a Black Eagle jam repeatedly on one of those Argentina hunts. Don't remember exactly what the problem was but it was a compadre's brand new gun. Held me off of Benelli's for years, then finally got a Super 90. That 90 is now known as "the gun that won't shoot straight" because I missed twice at a running turkey with it (finally killed it when it stopped and faced off with my jake deek). Then a buddy borrowed it for a quick shot at another gobbler in SD. He also took 3 shots to kill a strutting bird. We finally figured out that you really have to get down on the gun to aim it or else you shoot high.

Although I've used it as my primary duck gun the past few seasons with reasonable success (because my favorite Berretta is in need of a magazine plug), I have thought about selling it because I would like one of the later model Benelli's to replace it. But it was the last gun my dad bought - actually he had me buy it for him and he really meant it for me - and as DEP said recently, don't sell any gun that has sentimental value or you'll live to regret it. Just to re-emphasize: I'm not knocking Benelli in general because I'd like another one, just this particular gun.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

1,000 dove-a-day marathon?

Ammunition cost

1000 / 25 = 40 x $12.oo = $480.00 per day

Where's the Tylenol, got one hell of a NITRO HEADACHE!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

maybe, Clay, but hurtin' never felt so good.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ramsey Russell wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Great read, and you are absolutely correct: mixed bag combo is absolutely the best value in South American wingshooting, and usually the most enjoyable. One should do their homework because mid-trip transfers to different lodges to accommodate alternative species adds time and money to the budget, and many - but not all - operators that advertise mixed bag combos do not have equally good shooting for all species. Like a box of chocolates, some pieces are way better than others. Waterfowl and upland birds are not equally distributed throughout Argentina and Uruguay, and there is also seasonal variation.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

As for the group of hunters from Mississippi

As I remember FirstBubba said it best!

Bill C. usta say, "The only reason they make magnums is so the Cajuns in south Louisiana can feel pain and hear noise when they pull the trigger!"

Louisiana, Mississippi, close enough!

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

I have done both the volume dove and mixed bag hunts in Argentina and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Every wingshooter should do whatever he can to do the volume hunt at least once. The experience is simply awesome (an appropriate use of an overused word). In our Cordoba hunts, the birds usually came in consistent waves, so constant that you can position yourself to practice any shot you want. Other spots offer something more typical of your home dove field with birds coming from various directions, just a lot more of them. Our group did not even attempt to max out our shooting, yet everyone was well above 500 birds/day and most around 700-900. There is really no need for the bruising if you wear a good recoil pad, which I also highly recommend.

But my best day in Argentina was on the mixed bag trip. Two of us, the youngest of our group, took a long drive one morning and set up in the middle of a small pond. We shot ducks until they stopped flying in mid-morning. My companion was an LSU wildlife biology master’s candidate and he was as excited about the new variety of ducks he was seeing as he was the number he was killing.

That afternoon we hunted perdiz behind perhaps the best bird dog I personally have ever seen. I still remember her name: Diana, and she was a goddess of the hunt. We had 72 individual flights of perdiz that day. Those tasty suckers are better runners than most pheasant and utter shame prevents me from telling you our final tally – the birds were taking flight 20-25 yds out making most shots a bit long and that’s my only valid excuse.

After a few hours, we took a break but Diana didn’t and flushed another perdiz a short distance away along the stone wall we were sitting on. More ducks were flying overhead, but way beyond what I thought was killable range. The biologist said “oh, yeah? Watch this.” And with one shot he brought down a beautiful drake with single pellet to the head. One of the greatest shotgun kills I’ve ever seen.

The weather that day was perfect, in the upper 50s with an almost clear sky and steady easy breeze. On the drive back to the estancia, our guide woke us from our nap to point out a magnificent stag standing on a rocky outcropping silhouetted against the fading orange of the western sky. A perfect end to a glorious day.

Deadeye: check with a reputable outfitter for prep info. We took our own guns but these days I believe many outfitters will provide good Benellis and Berrettas, which will save you the hassle of getting gun permits. I’m not positive but I think most hunts currently go in the $2500-3500 range and typically include transportation to and from the hunt location, accommodations with room and food, some even include booze. As Phil mentioned, ammo ain’t cheap but is fairly decent quality (ammo is a primary source of revenue for the outfitter) and must be paid for in cash. If I remember correctly, bird boys are tipped $20/hunt (2 hunts/day, am and pm) and are usually paid at the end of the hunt. It is also customary to give them some kind of gift, a hunting hat, etc. On one trip, I gave my young hipster a Hard Rock Café t-shirt I’d purchased in Buenos Aires and he was tickled pink. Airfare to Argentina-Buenos Aires – varies of course but is the other major expense of the trip.

Which brings me to Buenos Aires. It would be a shame to fly all the way down to Argentina without soaking up a bit of the local culture and BA is a great place to do it. Unlike most South American cities, BA is very European in nature – over 50% of the population is of Italian descent – and at times you’ll think you’re closer to the Mediterranean than the Rio de la Plata. The food is quite good, although I personally am not a big fan of the grass-fed beef, preferring more marbling in my meat, and even neighborhood restaurants can produce delicious fare you’ll want to write home about. A trip to one of the better tango clubs is a blast even if you don’t dance. The Alvear Palace Hotel is located in the “most elegant area” of BA and is worth a trip to the restaurant even if you don’t stay there. The pastry chef is world famous for a reason.

I think I just talked myself into another trip.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ramsey Russell wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Great read, and you are absolutely correct: mixed bag combo is absolutely the best value in South American wingshooting, and usually the most enjoyable. One should do their homework because mid-trip transfers to different lodges to accommodate alternative species adds time and money to the budget, and many - but not all - operators that advertise mixed bag combos do not have equally good shooting for all species. Like a box of chocolates, some pieces are way better than others. Waterfowl and upland birds are not equally distributed throughout Argentina and Uruguay, and there is also seasonal variation.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from 357 wrote 1 year 44 weeks ago

sounds like paradise i just hope it's sustainable.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from PbHead wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Phil on your next trip south, if you want a bird boy who speaks English, I am available.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Could you give a breakdown of the cost of such a trip? Did you run into any problems that would need to be addressed before a person goes to argentina?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from tom warner wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

I have always wanted to go on a bird shooting trip to South America, but none of my friends could ever afford it nor find the time to go. This leads me to comment that if we here in the U.S. had not stupidly wrecked much of our bird shooting in countless ways, we would not now have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles and spend big money in a foreign country to find decent shooting. "Progress"became destruction a long time ago here in America.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from 99explorer wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Whatever the cost, it sounds like you get your money's worth in sheer volume of shooting at game. In South America, it would seem, too much is not enough.
I like that eggplant bruise part of the story. I can just hear the shooter saying, "it hurts so good."

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Amflyer wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Phil, is it permissible to give us the name of our outfitter...provided everything worked out well for you and your group?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

1,000 rounds?

My head hurts just thinking of the nitro headache that goes along with it!

Sounds like South America is easier to get to with a unexplained empty casing in you luggage than Canada next door!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

I did not receive an answer on my last comment so I assume you are not permitted to disclose that information. I think I'll go along with Clay and just stay in the good ol' USA. I may have to wait a few months, but anticipation just makes it all the more sweeter when the season arrives

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from RES1956 wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Right now I would choose either venue and activity just to get out of this office, heck, Bolivia even sounds good,,,

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from deadeyedick wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Thank, Longbeard. I really appreciate the information.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

My pleasure, Deadeye. I got the chance to remember some very good times and help a fellow Gun Nut at the same time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from O Garcia wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

South America is also the reason we began hearing/reading about "Benelli." Whether it's Super 90, M1, Montelfeltro, Black Eagle, inertia-driven, we all knew what Benelli meant because of how flawlessly the guns performed in those week-long, high-volume no cleaning shoots.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

Believe it or not, I saw a Black Eagle jam repeatedly on one of those Argentina hunts. Don't remember exactly what the problem was but it was a compadre's brand new gun. Held me off of Benelli's for years, then finally got a Super 90. That 90 is now known as "the gun that won't shoot straight" because I missed twice at a running turkey with it (finally killed it when it stopped and faced off with my jake deek). Then a buddy borrowed it for a quick shot at another gobbler in SD. He also took 3 shots to kill a strutting bird. We finally figured out that you really have to get down on the gun to aim it or else you shoot high.

Although I've used it as my primary duck gun the past few seasons with reasonable success (because my favorite Berretta is in need of a magazine plug), I have thought about selling it because I would like one of the later model Benelli's to replace it. But it was the last gun my dad bought - actually he had me buy it for him and he really meant it for me - and as DEP said recently, don't sell any gun that has sentimental value or you'll live to regret it. Just to re-emphasize: I'm not knocking Benelli in general because I'd like another one, just this particular gun.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

1,000 dove-a-day marathon?

Ammunition cost

1000 / 25 = 40 x $12.oo = $480.00 per day

Where's the Tylenol, got one hell of a NITRO HEADACHE!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longbeard wrote 1 year 43 weeks ago

maybe, Clay, but hurtin' never felt so good.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

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