In times of escalating travel costs, it’s good to get the most out of shooting trips. A group of us recently spent six days in Uruguay that did that in spades. In fact, if there were anything we could change about the cast & blast trip for doves, ducks, perdiz and dorado, it might be to bite off a bit less.
The seeds for our trip were planted at an SCI Convention in Reno, where Milton Hanburry of Trek International Safaris mentioned a new multi-species opportunity in Uruguay. Uruguay was on our “list,” and we quickly agreed on a tentative date to make the trip. After a few phone calls and some wrangling, we were able to fill out the group of five Guns. All hailed from the West, so Trek arranged for our package flight to depart from Dallas rather than Miami.
It was in early July that we flew to Buenos Aires and then to Montevideo, arriving about noon. Trek’s agent, Javier, helped us clear our shotguns, and then we took a charter flight north to Salto. From the airport we drove directly to the dove field.
The van parked on a grassy slope as the acacia-tree shadows lengthened. It was unusually mild for the Uruguay winter, and a few mosquitoes hummed about as we excavated gear and guns from our duffels. Seeing the birds flying, I fumbled for my shell bag like a kid. At regular intervals singles and small groups passed by. Once I was in position, I started off shooting well; then five-for-five became five-for-11 as I slid into a mini-slump.
Eventually I recovered, as I let my instincts take over. For me, the physicality of dove shooting requires a well-fitted gun programmed to muscle memory. A loaner is fine until fatigue overcomes adaptation. Our group had all brought their favorites, including an RBL, a Parker Repro, an AyA boxlock and an early Sauer. One fellow had shepherded down a lithesome AyA sidelock 28—my favorite dove bore. We also shared a couple of back-ups.
When the shadows went from long to gone, so did the doves. We drove to our rooms at a hot-springs resort in the country, sampled the ubiquitous South American meat platter and retired after a long day.
At some obscene hour the next morning, I stumbled over to the Continental breakfast for coffee. When I returned to my room, the amount of “stuff” piled by my door indicated we’d be gone all day.
A short (one hour) van ride ended on a bumpy stretch of eucalyptus-lined farm lane, and when we pulled to a stop, my friend Bill and I clamored out, inhaling mentholated air. Our guide, Juan, led us across a Holstein-peppered pasture, where we squashed through grass under slowly fading stars. Soon we began hearing an unearthly series of low, buzzing calls that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Vee, vee, vee . . . . Vee, vee, vee . . . .
“Juan, cuál es ese?”
I couldn’t believe it. I knew that snipe emit a high, wavering tremolo, but this sounded very different. Then we saw a bird swooping backlit on the horizon. It was indeed a snipe. Turns out the southern bird is exactly like ours except for subtle differences in the stiff, sound-producing outer tailfeathers.
Mystery solved, we set out our decoys on a meadow pond and got situated in the leaf-branch blind. Even before we were ready five teal splashed in. We flushed them, and when the flock circled over, Bill deftly peeled off one of the wingmen. Ducks—mostly Brazilian and silver teal—flew well for the next two hours. The birds often arrived unannounced, so vigilance was the order of the day.
At 10 am we boarded the van to travel to Rio Uruguay, on the Uruguay/Argentina border. I’ll admit that fishing was not tops on my priority list, but I had never caught a dorado (a golden, salmon-like fish) and was looking forward to the experience. Arriving at the quarter-mile-wide river, we loaded into a launch, and then motored upstream to just below a large hydro dam. Two guides with boats were waiting for us in a shady cove. The highly regulated fishery allows only specially licensed guides in “La Zona” (“The Zone”)—below the bait-maiming turbines. As we cruised upstream, I watched a wading fly-fisherman hook two hot jumpers in as many casts.
Officials checked our passports at the dam (as mentioned, this is a highly regulated fishery), and then we started a drift, throwing gaudy surface plugs to eddies and swirls in the milky red current. One lure wobbled just feet before a golden Polaris missile smashed it from below. The fish taught a hard lesson: Hooked dorado usually jump, often throwing the lure back at the angler. For the next two hours acrobatic dorado provided incredible sport; there must have been wall-to-wall fish below. It was hard to fathom how the bait-stuffed pigs could even move let alone get airborne. After quitting, we couldn’t remember how many five- to 10-pounders we had released, along with several 15s. The day’s best were three bruisers weighing 22, 25 and 27 pounds. Pitching flies to these ultra-aggressive fish at low flow would be dynamite.
That evening we enjoyed a relaxed dove/pigeon shoot near the resort.
The following day consisted of ducks in the morning and dorado in the afternoon. Due to overcast skies, the fishing wasn’t as hot as it had been the previous day. Later we opted to walk up perdiz, challenging gamebirds that are smaller than chukar and colored like hen pheasants.
The final morning at the hot-springs resort was spent hunting rice-fed ducks, and we kept several teal for an asado, or barbecue. That afternoon we left early for the three-hour drive south to the next venue: Estancia Ninette, near Mercedes. Upon arrival, our well-traveled group was pleasantly surprised by the rustically sumptuous accommodations on the high bank of the Rio Negro. We met our host, Hector Sarasola, and it soon became clear that the building was a passion realized.
We cleaned up in comfortable rooms and met to “ward off the chill” around a fire in the lodge commons. At dinner we started a routine of memorable food and conversation that we enjoyed henceforth at every meal.
The next day brought with it hard rain, but we sat nonplussed at breakfast enjoying the view of gray clouds skimming the riverine forest. Instead of hunting we decided to check out the nearby town of Mercedes. On the drive back for lunch we noticed the weather breaking, and over the soup course we discussed options. The unanimous decision was to shoot doves for two hours, and then hunt perdiz until dark.
After lunch I took a walk and checked out Hector’s kennel. In it were setters, Drahthaars, Labs and the French Brittany Hector had decided was the dog for perdiz. (There was also a huge brindle cross that was used for running boars.) On my return to the lodge, I observed wads of wind-blown doves crossing the gables. Hmm, I thought, a lodge sited for more than just the view . . . .
A 10-minute drive brought us to a brushy hollow beside a large milo field. My dove itch needed scratching, but at 40-plus yards the downwinders were as hard to reach as that spot in the middle of my back. As my shell supply dwindled, I couldn’t suppress a tinge of envy as I watched Bill make some spectacular shots. Finally, I took the coward’s way out and grabbed a camera to document my friend’s triumphs.
What followed the dove shoot was as fine a display of dogwork as I’ve ever seen. We rendezvoused at a huge rolling field of green winter wheat, and while guides Eduardo and Gonzalo aired their Brittanys, the Guns pulled on their rubber boots. Our group then split, some heading northwest with Eduardo, the others quartering southeast with Gonzalo.
I was with Eduardo, and it wasn’t long before his black merle, Rex, pointed in the heavy, wet cover. When no bird was produced, Rex was released, and he began a wild, serpentine track. Surprisingly fast as they tunnel through cover, running perdiz leave little air scent. A staunch pointer could relocate itself innumerable times while a bird slipped off or flushed wild. Although older perdiz can run until they tire, young birds often hold on first contact. Eduardo whistled Rex to sit and let us catch up. Signaled off, the Brittany went straight uphill to a point. The Guns moved in, but after a few tense moments of sweeping the grass, Rex shifted into a fast belly-crawl like some supercharged feline. We tried not to run as we flanked the dog, guns at port arms. When Rex finally slithered over a rise and froze like an obsidian fieldstone, we slipped down and around to come in under his nose. The whirr of close wings preceded the launch of a brown blur, and no one breathed until the crack of a 28-gauge crumpled the bird.
Everyone spoke as Rex brought back the trophy.
“That bird must have run 300 yards!”
“Did you see the blind-alley and double-back?”
“The look in his eyes said it had to be there . . . .”
We turned away from the low sun and walked back toward the vehicle. On the way Rex tracked many more “typical” birds, but none of us was hard-pressed to take them. We were relaxed and having fun, having experienced an amazing display.
In all, the group collected 29 perdiz in a little more than an hour. After a hot shower and dove chimichurri, Hector called us to a meal of hardwood-broiled teal complemented by a robust Tannat from his personal cellar. The evening turned out to be as good as the day.
The next morning we finished early with another round of perdiz over the marvelous dogs. In the afternoon we shot a swarming dove roost and burned up flat upon flat of shells.
The final morning of the trip saw another perdiz hunt to remember. As with the rest of the adventure, there were simply too many heroics to report. Incredible dogwork, improbable shots, even a double retrieve. To learn the rest of the story—and create your own—you’ll simply have to go yourself.
Author’s Note: For more information on hunting in Uruguay, contact Trek International Safaris, 800-654-9915 or 904-273-7800; www.treksafaris.com.
Clair Kofoed is an Editor at Large for Shooting Sportsman.
- By: Clair Kofoed