Destination: Doves

Doves
Argentina is blessed—or cursed, as far as farmers are concerned—with millions of eared doves, and the shooting season is open year-round. Photo by Gary Kramer.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, and in the following months life as we knew it changed dramatically. Almost everyone on Earth was impacted, and eventually millions of people became ill . . . and worse. Thankfully, things have finally turned the corner, and life is returning to normal. People are back working in offices, friends and families are gathering at their homes, sports stadiums are filled with spectators, and patrons are enjoying restaurants and music venues.

Because they take place outdoors, sports like fishing, clay shooting and hunting have not only survived but also thrived, as an increasing number of people have discovered the joys of learning new skills in a fresh-air environment. And now that flying has been deemed safe again, more and more people are traveling to enjoy these pursuits. One destination in particular that has seen a resurgence in popularity is Argentina, especially as the country was closed to international travel during the pandemic. Now that things have opened up again, wingshooters are flocking to this South American paradise that offers the highest-volume dove shooting in the world.

Argentina’s seasons are opposite those of the Northern Hemisphere, so spring dove shooting takes place from September to December, summer shooting from December to March, fall shooting from March to June and winter shooting from June to September. Basically, wingshooters can enjoy dove shooting there year-round.

I often am asked why there are so many doves in Argentina. In part, it is because the primary species there is the eared dove, which is non-migratory. But really the birds do not migrate because everything they need is at their doorstep: a mix of large tracts of open land, vast agricultural fields and surrounding wetlands, and large roosting areas. In fact, Argentina is so favorable for doves that the birds have become a problem species, consuming an estimated 30 percent of local farmers’ seeds and grain. This is another reason why dove shooters are so warmly welcomed in the country.

Outfitters serve as the best source of travel information on getting to Argentina, and most are extremely helpful. When it comes to shotguns, many wingshooters like to bring their own, while others, wishing to avoid the licensing and permit paperwork, opt to rent guns at the estancia where they are shooting. Most outfitters have their own gunrooms and offer a wide range of smoothbores, both break-action and autoloaders, that are kept well maintained. 

The most popular rental guns are semi-autos, as they tend to be lighter, offer less recoil and often can be easily adjusted to fit. Berettas, Benellis and Brownings in 20 gauge are the most popular choices. Also, if desired, the plug in a semi-auto’s magazine tube can be removed so that the gun will hold more cartridges, allowing for more firepower and less-frequent loading.

Because shooters typically pull the trigger a lot every day, I suggest they rent or bring with them a choice of recoil pads and/or recoil reducers. There’s nothing worse than having a bruised face, shoulder or fingers one day into a trip. I recommend LimbSaver and Kick-EEZ pads as well as Pachmayr Decelerator pads. 

Clothing, depending on the time of year, is typically camo but can be khaki or tan. The point is to avoid wearing white or bright colors, to avoid spooking birds. If a trip is to include waterfowling, then camouflage is highly recommended as are waterproof boots. 

Doves begin heading to the fields in the early morning, and it’s important to get into position before the birds begin to fly, as any movement will have them jinking, stalling and landing in trees. Around midday the shooting slows as the birds return to their roosts, but then it picks up again later in the afternoon. Setups are almost always different for mornings and afternoons, as there are thousands of acres of options and scouts are constantly searching for the best flight lines and optimum shooting locations. 

During the warmer times of year when daylight hours are longer, shooters are typically taken back to the estancia around noon. Cool towels soaked in ice water are passed out to wipe off the sweat, dust and shotgun residue. Weather permitting, lunches are al fresco and are always special. The food is so fresh and delicious and in such quantities that guests feel totally spoiled. Any shooter heading to Argentina should be prepared to put on a few pounds. 

After lunch—and perhaps a siesta—guests head back out for the afternoon shoot. As the temperature cools, the doves return to the fields, often choosing those with nearby ponds or streams so they can get water before returning to their roosts as it gets dark. As the doves head back to their roosts, the shooters head back to the estancia to wash up and prepare for a delicious dinner—usually with some tender Argentinian beef and plenty of regional wines.

I have been to estancias where tales are told about fantastic numbers of doves shot in a day and of amazing cartridge-to-bird ratios of fabled super shots. This sometimes serves as an irresistible challenge and tempts some shooters to try to surpass the latest record. While this might seem like fun at first, I would caution against attempting such a feat and suggest simply enjoying a fantastic experience. Being that trips usually include three days of shooting, there is plenty of time to set personal records that are just as satisfying and will save not only your shoulder but also your wallet when it comes time to settle the shell bill.

There are many estancias and outfitters in Argentina but, as with most things, certain ones rise to the top. One in particular that I enjoy is Estancia Los Chañares, in the north-central province of Córdoba. With 20,000 acres of leased property, the lodge’s vast dove fields are renowned. Another is Four Seasons Adventures, which operates a high-volume shoot at Posada del Bolacua, in the northeast province of Entre Ríos. And then there is Exciting Outdoors, which has Los Laureles Lodge. Los Laureles is located in Entre Ríos Province, as well, and has a dove roost right on the property.

I must say that wherever I have stayed in Argentina, the people have been generous hosts and the accommodations, meals and wines have been exceptional—matched only by the extraordinary shooting.

And, of course, one should never leave Argentina without spending at least one night in one of the finest cities in the world: Buenos Aires. Visitors typically do this at the end of their trips, enjoying the phenomenal food and a night life that is as good as it is in Paris. An overnight in BA provides a wonderful finish to an exceptional adventure. 

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