By Shannon Thompson
“I’m not sleeping in a tent or going without a proper bathroom.”
That’s the first response many of us have received when asking your wife to come on a hunting adventure. Hunting with your buddies is a ritual most often enjoyed without spouses. But, every once in a while, sharing the thrill of a safari with your wife can be great fun for the both of you. It’s a bit trickier if she is a non-hunter.
It had all started a year before. A group of men, Scotch in hand, sitting around the campfire on safari in Africa. No spouses, just a typical bunch of hunting buddies swapping our best, mostly true, stories. Our PH, Ivan Carter, was raving about the wing shooting in Cordoba, Argentina. He was passionate. I was sold immediately and started planning the trip in my head. This was one I thought my wife Ginger could buy in to.
Once back in America I set out to find a lodge in Cordoba. For me, five star dove hunting. For Ginger, five star luxury. It was a short search. Ivan had recommended Los Chanares Lodge and Trip Advisor had it at the top of the list. A couple of reference checks and the choice was made. Now I had to convince Ginger.
It was easier than I expected. The lodge had an excellent web site with lots of pictures. It boasted of world-class dining, massages, even a pool. I talked it up like a relaxing vacation and she was sold. This was going to be great…or a disaster. I felt lucky, so I booked some flights before she could change her mind.
Getting to Cordoba was actually quite easy. First, we took an overnight flight 9 hours direct from Atlanta to Santiago, Chili. Then, a 1 hour hop over the Andes Mountains. Staff from Los Chanares met us at the gate. An hour drive, and we arrived at a beautiful “Spanish Mansion” looking lodge with cocktails waiting. My gamble was paying off. So far, so good.
Our host, Nahuel (pronounced Noel), showed us to our room, announced dinner would be served in an hour, and left us to settle in. The lodge couldn’t have been more perfect. It had the right balance between a top-notch luxury hotel and a classic hunting lodge. Very European. It was decorated with lots of sturdy leather furniture and tasteful artwork. Heavy, dark, exposed beams supported the ceiling. Little did I know the best was yet to come.
We gathered in a candle lit dining hall for our first taste of Argentina. That night we were the only guests. Very romantic. Our meal was home grown vegetables, dove pate, excellent local beefsteak, wine from the region, and home made apple pie. The chef must have read my mind. If the hunting was to be as good as the food, we were in for a treat.
The next morning I was chomping at the bit to get to the fields. I chose a Beretta over under and a Benelli auto loader from the extensive gun library. Both in 20 gauge. No need to take my own guns. The rental fee was minimal, and the lodge had nearly any bird gun you might want. I was introduced to my loader/bird boy, Hugo, during the 5 minute ride to the first blind. Ginger, I later found out, slept until 10:00. This was working out just as planned.
I had heard the stories, but you really can’t believe the quantity of birds until you see it. We set up under a leafy tree with a field behind us and a briar thicket in front. The doves were everywhere. Left, right, behind, coming strait at us. Sometimes singles. Sometimes pairs. Sometimes by the tens and twentys. Honestly, I was a bit intimidated. Which one should I shoot? It felt like I was in the middle of a mosquito swarm, but they were doves. I got my feet wet by burning through 4 boxes of shells in about 10 minutes. Once I figured out the lead, my confidence returned and the birds started dropping. I’d fire off all the shells in the gun then hand it to Hugo. Lightning quick he would load the gun and hand it back. After 30 minutes or so we got into a pretty good rhythm. Before I knew it, Hugo says “That’s the first case, you like a beer?” It was 10:30 in the morning. I’d just burnt through 500 rounds in about an hour. I figure I’m on vacation so I take up his offer.
In the lodge I had noticed some T-shirts and caps lying around with “1000 club” and “2000 club” printed on them. I figured kill 1000 doves, get a hat. I was wrong. It was have 1000 kills in 1 day, and I wanted that cap. Hugo wore a “clicker” around his neck that I hadn’t noticed before. He stood behind me and clicked off each kill. Pretty slick way to keep a tally. I had lost count at about a hundred. So far, 375 kills out of the first 500 shots. Not great, but the 1000 club was within reach. After I got the hang of it my kill ratio improved. An hour and a half, and 500 shells later my clicker read 812. A thousand shots in about 3 hours. The stories around the campfire that I thought were “embellished” were true. Dove hunting nirvana! Time for lunch.
Back at the lodge, Ginger was stirring and met me at an outdoor table that would have taken 12 grown men to pick up. Nahuel and his assistant were there. Appetizers, salad, wine, some kind of meat on a kabob were served. Then the real food started coming. Beside a 15 foot brick charcoal grill stood a chef and a helper keeping watch over about 20 pounds of meat. There were only four of us. More people had to be joining for lunch, right? Wrong again. First beef tenderloin, then pork tenderloin, then big sausages, then short ribs and flank steak. I felt my cholesterol level rising by the minute. Each course was more and more amazing. Every time I looked up, they put more meat on my plate. A carnivor’s dream! “Seconds, anyone?” Nahuel asked. You have got to be kidding. This was lunch! We did manage to force down a nice strawberry mousse for dessert. Didn’t want to offend the cook of course. Now, siesta time!
Three hours later, as I’m loading into the truck for round two with the doves, I notice Ginger strolling across the lawn towards the pool. Bathing suit, sun hat, and a book under her arm. Tough call on who would have the better afternoon. Five minutes later we set up in a different blind than the morning shoot. No real need for the truck. All the hunting spots are within walking distance of the lodge. I guess after that lunch the ride in truck was mercy.
The afternoon had the same intensity as the morning. Doves everywhere. This time I’m more choosy with my shots. I try for doubles. I try to get 5 for 5 with each reload. Before I knew it, Hugo chimed out “That’s 1000 birds! How about a beer?” How could I refuse. After a break to let the feeling come back to my shoulder, I finished out the case of shells. Score for the day, 1500 shots, 1274 kills. That’s 85%, and I’m happy. Not bad for the guy who finished dead last in this years skeet league.
Hugo commenced to collect the birds. They were lying everywhere. Looked like some biblical plague had beset a flock mid flight. No way he was going to find them all. That bothered me so I asked about it. Hugo said nothing goes to waste. What he can’t find won’t be there in the morning. He said around here they have the fattest foxes in the world. There are also puma and two kinds of wild pigs. A Russian bread of wild boar like the one now all over the southern USA, and a smaller native species that has the coloring of a ground hog. With a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, it looked like a pissed off 100 pound hamster to me. There were also eagles everywhere. As soon as the shooting started they would mysteriously show up. A couple of times one would swoop down and snatch midair a wounded dove out of it’s death spiral. Those were the young energetic eagles. The older, smarter ones just scooped up their lunch off the ground and let out for the nearest branch to eat in peace.
Back at the lodge I found Ginger playing with her iphone. She said, “You know they have wi-fi here. I just updated my Facebook page with pictures of this place!” Score one for dumb luck. She’s happy, I’m happy. I took a chance and emailed Ivan. Even though he’s hunting in Zimbabwe he answered in about 30 minutes. Technology never ceases to amaze me. He congratulated me on my first day’s success and suggested not to eat too much red meat. Boy, he sure had a handle on this place. Supper that night was another belt stretcher. I could have chosen between this cut of beef, or that cut of beef, or pork, or a different cut of pork. I couldn’t keep up so I chose all of the above. I called it the cave man diet!
The next day Ginger accompanied me to the field. Once again, the doves swarmed like locust. She took pictures while I blasted away. I was having so much fun I forgot to suck in my gut for the camera. The pictures were Humbling! Despite what I’m sure is merely a bad angle for my physique, she gets some great photos. You couldn’t miss the big smile on my face. She said I was grinning like a jackass chewing on a cactus. About an hour is all Ginger could take. She said there was a hammock back at the lodge with her name on it. We dropped her off and then took a drive around the ranch. Nahuel had a surprise to show me.
I had asked him how many shells they keep on hand. The answer surprised me. “About a million.” he said. It turns out they use about 300,000 rounds a month and they hunt 10 months a year. I told him I couldn’t even imagine what 3,000,000 shotgun shells looks like. So he showed me. About a mile from the lodge we drove up a narrow road to the top of a rocky outcrop. The road was hacked out of brush so thick and thorny it practically made a tunnel. Once on top, a clearing emerged. Then I saw the surprise. One year’s worth of spent shotgun shells. The mountain of hulls was 50 feet around and 5 feet deep. Unbelievable! I climbed on top of the heap for some photos, and you guessed it. There were doves flying. I just couldn’t resist. Four boxes of shells and a photo shoot later I crawled off of the pile and headed back to the fields for my last shoot of the trip.
We checked on Ginger, and she had her nose buried in a new book. As not to press my luck with her good humor, we kept the second hunt that day relatively short. Just two cases of shells were shot up that afternoon. I headed back to the lodge to spend some quality time with my wife. A couple of cocktails, and some delightful conversation made for a very pleasant evening. She was quite the trooper for coming along on this adventure. Another feast awaited us in the dining hall. I tried to explain to Ginger that not all hunt camps are this nice. Los Chanares is like the Ritz Carlton with 20 million doves in residence. “Sometimes we sleep in tents and eat Beenie Weenies.” I say. She didn’t believe me.
Before we retired, Nahul presented me with my “1000 club” cap. It will reside proudly in my trophy room.
All in all, taking my wife on a hunting adventure was everything I hoped it would be. She got to travel to a beautiful exotic location and stay in a luxurious hunting lodge. She experienced how camp staff go to extraordinary lengths looking for ways to make your stay more enjoyable. We dined like royalty. She witnessed some of the “action.” She felt included in one of my passions. It was a success.
As we left, Ginger surprised me with a request. She wanted to do some hunting of her own. Our outbound flight was from Buenos Aires. She mentioned a place there called Florida Street she wanted to scout out. She said it’s rumored to have some of the best shopping in South America. I was had. No way I could turn her down. She had earned what ever it was going to cost.
Wing shooting in Cordoba, Argentina is everything you hear and more. Put it on your bucket list. Near the top! The mind boggling number of birds draws sportsman from around the globe. The hunting alone is worth the trip. And, if you desire to take your non- hunting wife on a safari, I can’t imagine a better location.