‘Grand Slam’ Gunning

hunter shooting
A combination of wetlands, flooded pastures and agricultural areas produces excellent decoyed-duck hunting for a variety of species.

Doves, ducks, pigeons and perdiz in Argentina

It was in the late 1970s that travel for wingshooting outside North America first became popular. Among the destinations, Argentina quickly became the undisputed leader. At first it was superb goose shooting that drew hunters to this South American jewel. Later, word of dove flights that blocked out the sun and top-notch duck hunting made sporting news. Then perdiz hunting over pointing dogs was the rage. And finally decoyed-pigeon shooting was perfected. Today Argentina has a robust infrastructure to support wingshooters, including a number of outfitters well versed in meeting the needs and desires of visiting hunters. It’s little wonder that current estimates indicate that about 10,000 Americans travel to Argentina each year specifically for hunting and fishing. 

While Argentina is best known for its fabulous dove shooting, the country also provides excellent mixed-bag opportunities for pigeons, ducks and perdiz. Mixed-bag shooting has grown in popularity to the point that many lodges are booked a year in advance. The reason is the timing of the seasons. Doves and pigeons can be shot year-round, while in most provinces the season for perdiz and ducks runs about 12 to 14 weeks—from May through July. 

Eared doves are prolific and consume a lot of grain, which is why there is no season or limit on them.

Most mixed-bag lodges offer ducks, doves and perdiz, but only a few offer the “grand slam” of Argentina wingshooting by adding pigeons.One of these lodges is Malalcue (pronounced “Malaquay”) Lodge, in Corrientes Province. Owned and operated by Ariel Semenov, the lodge overlooks the Corrientes River and has six double-occupancy bedrooms, each with a private bath. The food is excellent, with the menu including grass-fed beef, freshly baked breads, salads and fine Argentine wines. Shooting includes pigeons over decoys, pass-shooting doves, decoying ducks and perdiz over pointing dogs. 

Decoying Ducks

While I have hunted ducks throughout Argentina, one of my most memorable hunts took place at Malalcue Lodge. We were up before dawn, and after a 45-minute drive we arrived at an open field beside a freshwater marsh. It took only minutes to put on waders and grab our shotguns. Our bird boys, Raul and Jose, were waiting, and we followed them for 50 yards in knee-deep water to a makeshift blind fashioned from palm fronds and local vegetation. The decoys were already in place, and as we approached the blind, a pair of ducks landed in the spread and then promptly flushed.

Once we were settled in, my hunting buddy, Ken Mayer, spotted six birds in the distance and we hunkered down. The ducks came straight toward us, but just before they were in range they began making a wide pass. The whistles and quacks from the electronic call turned them into the wind and toward the decoys. When the ducks were 30 yards out with set wings, I said, “Take ’em!” I shouldered my gun, caught up with one of the dark forms, and as I swung past it pulled the trigger. Ken did the same, and we dropped two birds. 

Next to decoy was a trio of rosy-billed pochards, and we dropped another pair. We continued shooting for another hour, and the stream of birds was nonstop. Most of the shots were at ducks 20 to 35 yards out and over the decoys. After several flurries and with numerous birds on the water, we took a short break while the bird boys gathered the bounty.

Ducks continued decoying with regularity, and our bag increased both in number and species. By the time we called it quits, we had more than a dozen birds each—with the species diversity, close-in decoying and nonstop action having made it a truly epic hunt.

bird
Perdiz travel as singles or occasionally pairs and are revered as quality gamebirds by resident hunters.

As for the diversity, it is the habitat—a combination of wetlands, flooded pastures and agricultural areas devoted to corn, wheat, sunflowers and soybeans—that provides a wintering ground for up to a dozen species of waterfowl. The most common are rosy-billed pochards, white-cheeked pintails, yellow-billed pintails, Brazilian teal, red shovelers, silver teal and yellow-billed teal. Among these, rosy-billed pochards and white-cheeked pintails are my favorites. Rosy-bills are diving ducks about the size of mallards, with the male’s most distinctive feature being a bright-red bill with a swollen knob at the base. White-cheeked pintails are the same size as our northern pintail with a white cheek/neck patch and a red marking at the base of the bill.

Dove Shooting

Dove shooting is one of the highlights of Malalcue’s offerings, with high-volume shooting available year-round. On my most recent trip, in July 2022, bags averaged 150 to 200 doves per gun perhalf-day of shooting, and it was easy to fire a case of shells. As for what is done with the doves, some are given to local people who welcome an added source of protein, while others are prepared and served at the lodge, often as hors d’oeuvres stuffed with jalapeños and wrapped in bacon. 

The eared dove is a species endemic to South America, with hunting most popular in Bolivia, Uruguay and Argentina. The handsome bird is about the same size and has the same general appearance as a mourning dove. The only real difference is that the eared dove has a square and rather short tail compared to the mourning dove. 

Eared doves are prolific, and under optimum conditions their numbers can be significant. Conditions are perfect in Argentina, with food being plentiful—including vast acreages planted to wheat, corn, sorghum and sunflowers. Irrigation canals and impoundments provide water, and woodlots are used for nesting and roosting. This equates to a population of doves numbering in the millions. In fact, the birds are considered pests by local farmers, as some estimates indicate that up to 20 percent of all grain crops are lost to marauding doves. This is why there is no season or limit on doves in Argentina, and the number of birds taken depends on the shotgunning abilities of the shooter, the number of birds using the area and how much money the shooter is willing to spend on shells!

Most of our dove shooting took place in the afternoon in harvested grainfields and along flight paths going to and from roosts. The drives to the areas varied from 30 minutes to an hour, and in most cases blinds made of local brush were in place when we arrived. Most shots were at 25 to 35 yards, although one afternoon the doves were about 45 yards up and being boosted by 15- to 20-mile-per-hour winds. Now that was some challenging shooting. 

Pigeon Shooting

While pigeons are sometimes shot along with doves as passing birds, in my opinion they are at their best when shot over decoys. Decoyed-pigeon shooting is challenging, but the bags can be high, often numbering a hundred birds or more. In Argentina pigeons, like doves, are considered pests, and there are no seasons or limits. 

During my trip to Malalcue, we hunted a harvested cornfield about 45 minutes from the lodge. At the edge of the field was a row of trees where decoys were set up in front of a blind made of cut brush. When we arrived, the decoys were already in place, and there were two stools in the blind along with a case of shells. The decoys had been set on the ground as well as on metal rods and cornstalks. As the morning progressed, we added dead birds to the spread.

The first pigeon arrived while we were getting settled in and landed in the decoys. When I stood, the bird vaulted skyward. I shouldered my gun, pulled just ahead of the bird, touched the trigger . . . and missed! Instinctively, I pulled the trigger again, and this time anchored the pigeon in a puff of feathers. 

Before we could decide whether to retrieve the bird, a trio of high flyers topped the trees and made a sharp turn when they spotted the decoys. Like mallards being coaxed in by a veteran caller and a good decoy spread, the birds banked sharply and let air slip through their wings as they lost altitude. When they were 20 yards out and committed to the decoys, I took the bird on the right while Ken swung left. Ken’s shotgun blast made me flinch—at least that was my excuse—and I missed. Ken connected, adding another pigeon to the bag.

hunter shooting
Shooting decoyed pigeons is challenging, but bags often number a hundred birds or more.

The morning continued at a frenzied pace, with about 75 percent of the birds decoying and the remainder offering passing shots. The combination of decoy and pass-shooting offered tremendous variety, with shots ranging from birds backpedaling over the decoys at 15 yards to high flyers passing over at 40 yards. By the time we had to pack up for lunch, we had 80 pigeons on the ground. About 90 percent of the birds were picazuro pigeons, or Argentine wood pigeons—blue-gray birds that are a bit larger than domestic pigeons. The remaining birds were smaller spot-winged pigeons—also blue-gray but with distinctive spots on their wings. 

Perdiz

Perdiz round out the gamebirds at Malalcue. They are actually tinamou, ground-dwelling birds that occupy the same ecological niche as the gray partridge of Europe and sharp-tailed grouse of North America. Like their cousins, they feed on seeds and green shoots and are consequently excellent table fare. In contrast to partridge, which form coveys, tinamous travel alone or occasionally in pairs. They are found throughout South America and occupy a variety of habitats from the high Andes to the temperate grasslands of Patagonia. They reach their greatest abundance in the grasslands, or pampas, of Uruguay and Argentina, where the main species is the spotted tinamou.

One of the better perdiz hunts I’ve experienced was at Malalcue, where the habitat is grassland interspersed with agricultural ground. On that hunt we loaded the dogs and piled into a van just after the sun had peeked above the horizon. We proceeded to a large pasture about 30 minutes from the lodge and wasted no time putting a setter on the ground. The dog immediately stretched out, and just 10 minutes into the hunt she froze on point. As we reached the dog, a single brown bombshell exploded from the sparse cover. Ken was on it quickly and dropped the bird, and a minute later the first perdiz of the day was delivered to the guide. Perdiz are larger than quail, the color of hen pheasants and fly like gray partridge. 

After the first bird was in the bag, we knew better what to expect and headed off across the grass-covered terrain. The setter ranged wide and quartered beautifully. The next point was mine, and as I moved in behind the dog, she edged forward and stopped. This happened several times until the perdiz had had enough and flushed from the short cover. My load of No. 6s did the job, and the bird tumbled to the ground in a spray of feathers. Every few minutes a perdiz was located. The birds came mostly as singles, but occasionally we jumped pairs and sometimes even managed to drop both birds. Most held and presented 20- to 35-yard shots that suited our 20-gauge doubles choked Improved Cylinder and Modified. It took Ken and me about 1½ hours to bag our limits of eight birds each, and we never left the pasture. 

Unlike doves and pigeons, which are considered agricultural pests in Argentina, perdiz are revered as quality gamebirds by resident hunters. (The shooting of pigeons, doves and ducks is done more by visiting American and European hunters.) The perdiz season runs from May through July.

I have been to Argentina more than 20 times, yet I continue to be amazed at the quality bird hunting the country delivers. With minimal hunting pressure, good habitat and abundant stocks of waterfowl and upland birds, Argentina will surely shine as the jewel of South American bird hunting for decades to come. 

For more information on Malalcue Lodge and hunting in Argentina, contact Trek International Safaris, treksafaris.com.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Toby Cromwell

    Hi
    Great article on Argentina. My trip 4 years ago to Entre Rios was doves only and we missed the start of waterfowl season by a couple of weeks.
    One of the birds we were told that is also a big problem is the parakeet. We were able to shoot some of those too.
    They destroy young ears of corn and other crops. Driving to and from the airport, we could see very large parakeet nest structures on power poles and other buildings. Crazy.
    Great place to visit.

    Cheers.

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