“Watch the dog!” David Draper hissed. I tore my stare from the disappearing perdiz that had just flushed wild to our right in time to see Reggie, our host’s little Brittany, tiptoe to a delicate stop 20 yards to my left. Once again he was pointing downwind. Downwind? This would have concerned me an hour earlier, but now I knew what to expect — a sharp “brrrrrt” from a gray blur buzzing low over the short pasture grass. Perdiz!
One morning we collected three of the 12 species of duck available at Los Laureles. Yellow-and-blue bills are silver teal; yellow bill is speckled teal; pink bill and all orange feet are Brazilian teal. The one with two white dots on face and dark bill is female.
While Dave popped that bird, I watched and listened for a second flush. South America’s various species of Tinamou, commonly but erroneously called Perdiz, often run and flush in pairs, though rarely simultaneously. One typically rips out the backdoor. Dave was cooing “Good boy, gooood dog” when this sleeper broke cover. Focused and intent, I grassed it.
“Nice shot!” Dave called.
“You should talk. That’s three in a row for you now, isn’t it?”
“Yup. Now we’re rolling!” Dave admitted, referencing our shaky start.
The first four birds little Reggie had pointed for us had escaped unruffled. They’d been aided and abetted by cloudy light, small size, cryptic coloration and a trajectory so low they appeared to be shaving the tops of the already short pasture grass. Throw in the dog’s unique ability to pinpoint birds downwind and you started your gun mount with five strikes against you.
One of our guides kindly picks up downed ducks from one of many farm ponds we hunted.
Initially I wanted to blame our 12-gauge duck and dove guns as strike number six, but once we started hitting birds we realized the new Winchester SX4s we were test driving actually fit and handled more like true 16-gauge autos. Slim grips, a slight weight-forward balance and lighter overall weight made the guns quick and responsive, yet helped them maintain momentum nicely. While I still prefer a 28 gauge or 20-gauge double for upland birds over pointing dogs, the SX4 is clearly suitable for the job − and a lot more suitable than any double when waterfowling.
Exciting Outdoors’ Los Laureles Lodge was built specifically for hunting guests' comfort − and succeeds in high style.
We were conducting our May “field research” at John J. Reynal’s Exciting Outdoors’ Los Laureles bird-hunting lodge perched above the Parana River in Entre Rios province northwest of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Here 15,000 acres of rolling pastures mixed with grain fields provides superb habitat for the free-range, ground nesting Tinamou. Those delightful birds, however, were just icing on a feathered cake baked mainly with Ducks, Doves and Pigeons. Those are the famous Argentine volume birds. We met the Ducks first.
The flooded backwaters of the Parana River create good dabbling habitat for ducks and an easy place to build a brush blind, hunted here by David Draper.
After a quick, dark boat ride downriver, we slurped and sloshed behind our guides into a flooded backwater to a simple brush blind in knee deep flood waters. Throw out the decoys. Wait for the lights and here they come. Orange-footed, green-winged Brazilian Teal came from down river. They came from up river, sometimes from the flooded woods behind. They came as singles, pairs and confusing clusters.
Dave and I shot beautifully and dismally, the former when birds surprised us, the latter when we had plenty of time to think before rising to engage. The brain is always behind. Predatory focus and instinct prevails. A generous limit of 20 ducks per day leaves plenty of chances to figure all of this out and stop thinking. And then it’s time for a late breakfast with eggs made to order before launching that Perdiz hunt or perhaps a fierce hook-and-line battle with the toothy and toothsome Golden Dorado.
Hunting partner David Draper nailed this gorgeous Golden Dorado on his first cast into the swirling brown waters of the Parana River.
The fish were a bonus, but many Los Laureles visitors consider it the main allure. We were willing to sacrifice a couple of warm, sunny hours in the boat with rods in hand while awaiting the late afternoon dove flights. Despite unusually high, murky water, Dave struck fish lips with his first cast, his plug engulfed by golden, fanged maw the instant it splashed into a shallow eddy. And then the fish really went wild, leaping and skipping all over that brown water. They call this the freshwater tarpon for good reason. It looks like a cross between a rainbow trout and largemouth bass with the teeth of a pike and the aggression of a piranha with blood in the water. My desire to shoot doves was cooling, but we tore ourselves off the river in time to reach the dove fields just as the flight was ramping up.
After flurries of large flocks, shooters begin to appreciate smaller groups of passing doves. Makes it easier to concentrate on one at a time.
This story needs minimum embellishments for anyone who’s visited an Argentine Dove field before, but just in case you haven’t, let me elaborate: Eared Doves, about the size and coloration of our Mourning Doves, nest in the dry brush and woods that have sprouted in the uplands now that wild fires are largely controlled. They are fueled by ever expanding fields of milo, wheat, rice, corn and soybeans. The almost tropical climate allows the birds to nest multiple times. The result is a veritable plague of birds you must see to believe. Clusters and flocks wing from roosts to fields and back to roosts morning and evening, every day and apparently year round. You, as the hunter, stand beneath a flight path and shoot. And shoot. This is where a soft-shooting, auto-loading shotgun earns your love. A determined shooter can burn through 3,000 shells in a day.
Duck ponds bordered by woods often brought Pigeons as well as Ducks into range. Dave Draper pulls up on a big Picazuro gliding between the branches.
By our third day we’d injected so much carbon into our guns they’d begun to balk. That’s just what Winchester engineers wanted. These were prototypes. We were hired to make them balk so any shortcomings could be corrected in the final production models. It was a hard job, but I took it seriously. For the last hour of the final day, I was throwing single rounds into the open action, slapping the release button, rising, swinging on a bird and popping it in a puff of feathers before grabbing a fresh shell from atop my five-gallon bucket and going again. This is the kind of action with which you can discover why you miss, then correct that mistake and still have plenty of repetitions to cement the proper muscle memory. No one leaves an Argentine dove hunt a bad shot.
There are other birds to try at Los Laureles. Pigeons are my favorites. Compared to the Doves they are like pterodactyls, especially the big Picazuro. On the right pond or marsh you can collect a dozen species of Duck.
What with ducks, Doves, Pigeons, Perdiz and Dorado, the days can be long at Los Laureles, but at the end of each are hot showers, gourmet meals, fine wines, good company and the promise that you can do it all again the next day. Spring shotgunning isn’t so dismal after all.
Ron Spomer began writing about his outdoor adventures in 1976 and has since been published in dozens of magazines. He's Rifle's columnist at Sporting Classics, Travel Columnist at Sports Afield, Hunting Dogs columnist at American Hunter and Guns, Ammo, Optics columnist at North American Hunter. You can learn more at www.ronspomeroutdoors.com and see his educational video reviews on the Ron Spomer Outdoors YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/ronspomeroutdoors .