Lucky for me, I’ve shot both countries during every season of the year. While I love the perdiz shooting, with the pigeons and ducks coming in second, I’m not always anxious to leave the USA in May, June or July. There’s just plenty for me as a wingshooter and general aviation pilot to do during those months. This summer shooting would mainly be clay targets and pest pigeon gunning, but my enjoyment would also center around enjoying the weather during those months.
I love high-volume dove shooting, so if I’m only interested in doves – why not go to South America during our winter months, which, of course would be the summer months in Uruguay and Argentina. This past January I could hardly wait to get to my local airport for the flight to Miami – as I was driving through a driving snow storm with wind gusts to 40 knots. During that drive I wondered if the plane would even depart.
But the plane did leave, and from Miami. American Airlines has a direct flight to Montevideo – which I was on. I spent two half days plus five full days shooting doves, in daytime temps that were 90 degrees – which I thought wonderful compared to the weather I left.
Further, a bit of breeze made the shooting very comfortable – as well as helping the doves become even more erratic in their flight – especially after the first shot. Further yet, I never shot in the sun – was always in the shade of an espinillo tree. So I quickly forgot about blizzard conditions and single-digit wind chills. Espinillo means something like “thorn” in English, and these trees are replete with long, sharp thorns galore. The trees are used for both nesting and resting and no doubt offer predator protection for the doves although there are so many doves that the local farmers probably would love to see plenty of predators.
My stay was at Estancia Ninette, built and owned by Hector Sarasola. I began hunting with Hector in 1999, haven’t returned every year, but I’ve shot with him plenty – not only doves, but perdiz, pigeons and ducks. On one trip during the early part of this century he took me to some land he had purchased that overlooked the Rio Negro – near Mercedes in the western part of Uruguay. “This is where I’m going to build my new lodge,” Hector told me proudly. Actually, the lodge foundation was already started. Estancia Ninette (named after Hector’s first great Brittany spaniel) was completed in 2003, and I’ve been there several times – prior to this past January.
There were four fishermen at Ninette when I was there – they were after the Golden Dorado in the Rio Negro. They had only to walk from the lodge to the fishing. Similarly, my drives to the field for doves were very short, sometimes only a few minutes, never more than 10 minutes. Also, in my 12 half days of shooting I shot from 10 different locations. Twice near the end of the trip I requested to go back to spots where I had enjoyed wonderful shooting earlier.
The shooting itself was not only high volume, all the shots were presented, right to left and left to right crossers, incomers, those going away, quartering shots, birds riding the wind, doves fighting the wind. Anyone who wants high birds – just make that request beforehand as Hector can provide them.
The guns? On a previous trip to Argentina in August of 2011, I learned that of wingshooters coming into that country – only 20 percent are bringing their own guns these days. Yes, 80 percent are shooting rental guns from the outfitter. In my view one of the main reasons for this trend is that the Argentine government charges $200 to bring one gun in and $400 to bring two guns in. If you bring in a double gun with differing serial numbers on the receiver and the barrels the government considers that two guns, so you pay $400. Bring in two guns with differing barrel and receiver serial numbers and you pay $800!
Is the Argentine government trying to fry the golden egg here? I wonder. In contrast, bring in two guns to Uruguay at no added cost, regardless of whether or not the serial numbers on the barrels and receiver match. More about that shortly. About rental guns – many of these rentals are shot 500 times a day, 1,000 times a day, 2,000 times a day – and occasionally more. Multiply 1,000 shots a day with 100 days of shooting – or 1,000 days of shooting. I don’t have to do the math for you to get the picture. Gun malfunction problems, no matter how well these guns are cleaned and maintained, are going to turn up. You just have to hope this does not happen while you are there.
One of my favorite guns to take to South America is my Caesar Guerini Summit Sporting. I bought it with a set of 32-inch, 28-gauge barrels. This is a wonderful dove gun if I can get the 21 gram 28-gauge loads Down There. But 15-gram 28s can be the only shells on hand at the outfitter. That’s just one gram more than our ½ ounce 2 ½-inch .410 shells. The 28s and the .410s are also more expensive Down There – as they are here – compared to 12s and 20s.
In the summer of 2011 I had Caesar Guerini fit that Summit Sporting with a set of 32-inch 20 gauge barrels. Of course, the serial number on those barrels does not match the serial number on the receiver. Taking this 20 to Argentina would cost me $400 – the government fee! In Uruguay the Customs folks don’t even look at the serial number on the barrels – as well they shouldn’t. That Summit Sporting stock is right off the shelf, but appears to fit me very well. I particularly like the 14¾-inch length of pull dimensions – which are standard.
The 20 gauge shells Hector had for me were excellent. Made in Spain, they came from the famous Basque gun-making area – Eibar. Interestingly, they were size #7 – and were packed with 26 grams – a rather heavy 20 gauge load at about 15/16ths of an ounce. Those loads were wicked on the doves this past trip. Despite wide open Cylinder and Skeet screw-ins I was taking doves to 35 yards and beyond easily, although most shots were within 35 yards.
The other over-and-under I took on that trip was an older Krieghoff – the Model 32 – the predecessor to the current K-80. In the 1990s I had this 12 gauge Model 32 especially rigged for this high-volume dove shooting. Briley overbored the barrels to safe dimensions, and they lengthened the forcing cones. The company then threaded the muzzles with their Thin-Wall screw-in chokes. The Thin-Wall chokes are made of strong stainless, and to help make their thinness stronger these chokes have “square” threads. I have two .003 chokes, two at .015 and two at .040 constriction.
Once that Model 32 came back from Briley I sent it to Joe Shiozaki in southern California. Called a JS Air Cushion – Joe cuts the butt stock down, installs an air cylinder inside, then fits an “over-the stock” over top of the cut down stock. Holding the gun relatively loosely, the entire gun moves rearward upon recoil – except that rear “over-the-stock” portion. The air cylinder inside the stock accepts the recoil or at least most of the recoil. This recoil reduction system is very, very welcome in a high-volume shooting environment.
Estancia Ninette, with its beautiful setting above the Rio Negro, is especially intriguing. There are six double bedrooms, a swimming pool where you can enjoy the view to the Rio Negro while relaxing, an open air veranda for taking sundowners, and a great room for relaxing in winter while a booming fireplace sends out its heat. There are two dining areas, one reserved for breakfast, one reserved for dinner, while lunch can be taken in either. Much of the cooking, especially entrees, is done over hardwood coals.
I am not a beef lover, but most rave about the grass-fed beef at this estancia. The sausages, I think, are extra special, including those stuffed with cheese. Meals are what Hector likes to call “home cooked” in that they are not fancy – while still being delicious. In season, cold and marinated perdiz are often an appetizer, but appetizers can run the gamut. Homemade pasta dishes are a specialty. Most will agree the best Ninette deserts are homemade ice cream, especially their chocolate with a generous dollop of dolce de leche.
Meals are seldom, if ever, taken in the field, which is not true of many lodges in both Argentina and Uruguay – where long drives must be taken each morning. The shooting is so close to Estancia Ninette – why eat in the field when the comfortable lodge is only minutes away after your morning shooting?
In wrap-up, my customs gun permit was number 01 for 2012 – and I entered January 14th – so I was the first hunter in Uruguay for the year. The point here is that January is a great time to go – not only to escape North America temps and bad weather – but also because bookings tend to me low. By contacting outfitters directly you might be able to negotiate a reduced price for your group of say six or more. By February and March bookings are traditionally increasing. In May, June and July Hector is usually fully booked or nearly fully booked – mostly with perdiz hunters.
Estancia Ninette again more than met my expectations, and I especially liked getting away in January for not only did I leave in the midst of a blizzard – I returned to 5-inches of fresh-fallen snow. Yuck!
Estancia Ninette web site