Argentina is the wingshooter’s paradise. Here you can enjoy literally unlimited bird shooting – and not feel the slightest bit of remorse about it. Pigeons and doves there are pests who do immeasurable damage to agriculture. Local farmers and governments used to simply poison the birds by the thousand – and the only places where birds are safe from this are game ranches. Most of us will take a risk to be shot over a certainty of being poisoned, so when you go dove hunting in Argentina, you are staying safely within the gold rule of ethics. There’s no reason to restrain yourself…
… except the amount of shooting you’re going to do.
An average bird hunter in Argentina fires about 1,000 shells a day. That’s a lot. It may even sound frightening, but it’s not the limit of human endurance. Tom de Grey, Lord Walsingham, once fired 1507 rounds in a day of driven grouse shooting – using full black powder loads in 12 gauge hammer guns weighing a meager 6 1/2 pounds each – without any negative consequences. Many hunters in Argentina make two or even five times as many shots a day. It is perfectly manageable – but requires some training and preparation. Here are a few tips that may help you survive your first visit to Argentina with more smiles and less sores.
For most hunters, the question “what’s the right gun” is the question of the right gauge, barrel length and action type. This is really of a secondary importance, but in case you’re wondering the expert consensus on the right gun for Argentinean doves is a 20-gauge over/under with 30″ barrels. A gun that is too light will have too much kick. A gun that’s too heavy will wear you out with the effort it requires to raise to shoulder and swing. 20 gauge seems to be the best compromise between killing power, weight, and recoil, but 12 and 28 gauges are also used with great success.
Gas-operated semiautomatics are supposed to be easier on your shoulder, but pay attention: all good gun writers say that it’s the felt recoil that is decreased. You can’t fool physics; semiautos do deliver recoil a bit slower, but by the end of a big day the difference is hardly ever felt. In addition, semiautomatics, especially gas-operated, are more vulnerable to residue from gunpowder. After 250 or 300 rounds, a side-by-side or over/under will require, at worst, a few motions with a chamber brush to remove the plastic that gathers in the end of chambers, while many semis will ask for full field strip and rigorous cleaning. All in all, it’s not so much about action type as it is about fit and practice.
The single most important factor in both killing birds and handling the recoil is the fit of the stock. If you’re scared of the very idea of shooting more than 20 or 30 rounds, and especially if shooting a lot of shells gives you a headache, it only means one thing: that there’s something wrong with the stock of your gun or the way you’re shooting it. Probably both. Find a good shooting coach, take a few lessons, and keep working on proper shooting stance every day until departure. If it turns out that your unique body characteristics prevent you from shooting well with regular factory stocks, invest in gun fitting; it will pay off with more hits and less bruises.
Once you’ve mastered the proper shooting stance that will help you handle recoil, it’s time to think of the biggest problem that high-volume shooting presents – variety. Regular clay shooting games don’t prepare you for this – they’re arranged to help you focus on one, at most two, birds at a time. When you’ll see perhaps twenty birds flying to you all at once, it’s easy to get confused and just fire into the thick of things – a sure miss. Some shooting clubs have simulated driven game courses, which are especially valuable for practicing this skill, especially the grouse course that sends about a dozen clay birds into your face all at once. Even more important is to work on tempo and speed. One possible solution is to have a 5-stand to yourself and have the operator send birds from all stations at random a bit faster than you can reload.
You must make up your mind in advance whether you want to bring your own gun(s) or use a rental. Most lodges in Argentina offer over/unders and semi-autos by the “Big Bs” (Beretta, Benelli and Browning), in 12, 20 or 28 gauge. Learn what your lodge has to offer (that’s easy to do with our chat system) and familiarize yourself with the options. Another thing is the add-ons that you can use to reduce recoil, from aftermarket recoil pads on stocks to padded shooting vests. It goes without saying – but is easily ignored – that you must practice with precisely the rig that you’re planning to use on your high-volume shoot. And don’t forget to contact your outfitter and find out what will the weather be like when you’re there. The thickness of a warm jacket can make a big difference for your shooting stance.
High volume shooting is not only about recoil management. You’ll get a lot of physical strain just from shouldering and swinging the gun. There may be more unpleasant surprises on the 1,000+ shot days – some shooters reported their muscles hurt from the motion of opening and closing the gun; others developed blisters on their thumbs from pushing shells into the magazine. You can help things by taking a pair of guns and paying an extra tip to one of the game boys to load for you. Better yet, head for the gym and work on your arms an torso. Focus on stamina rather than strength, and remember you’re going to need a lot of flexibility too.
In high-volume shooting you’re bound to miss. A lot. The top “crack shots” of Victorian Britain thought they were doing a good job if they showed an average of 66% of hits. By the way, the best average on a record day was shown by a lady, “The Flying Dutchess” of Bereford, and was just over 75%. Most people in Argentina can boast much higher averages, but cynics say it is mostly because the scores are kept by designated “game boys” who know that a happy shooter leaves a bigger tip. In any case, thinking about misses will only make you lose concentration and self-assuredness, which will lead to more misses. As you lose your concentration, your stance suffers as well – and that leads to more bruises on your shoulder! Focus on the next bird instead.
Hunters are naturally competitive, and as you will probably be sharing the lodge with a few other shots, spirits may run high. In addition, Argentina is a family destination, and if your significant other and the children are there, you will naturally want to look good in their eyes too. Yet, nothing can ruin your scores more than competitiveness. As soon as you begin to wonder how the other guys and gals are doing, you’re as good as lost – you lose focus on your own shooting, began to miss, then worry about your missing and miss more. Make up your mind that the only person you’re competing against is yourself; stick to the proper stance and technique, focus on the next bird, don’t keep score – and by the end of the day you may be pleasantly surprised.
One sure way to ease high-volume shooting is to limit your volume – especially since there’s only so many shells included in your price, and whatever you spend over that will come at an extra charge. Doing the math in advance will save many unpleasant surprises. But moderation is not only about the number of shots. Argentina is one of the top winemaking areas of the world, and famous for its cuisine – the way Argentinean cooks deal with meat will make any vegan question their beliefs. With this in mind, the quote from an old British shooting book still rings true:
Eschew the late afternoon tea; eat and drink lightly at dinner, make but moderate love (this book is not written for ladies, and if it were they must know that ‘ there is causes and occasions why and wherefore in all things,’ as Fluellen says) ; curtail the hour of the smoking-room and the consumption of the weed by one half ; the spirits and soda altogether ; then you will sleep, as well as wake, cool and fit to take your part, at any rate up to your usual capacity, in the day’s sport.
This to those who wish to feel there is no distance they cannot walk, no bird they might not kill, and no one they could possibly hate, in short, to feel fit and shoot really well. To some others, if they will forgive me, I would say, swallow the tea, drink the champagne, discuss the port and sample the ‘old,’ make love to the prettiest woman, tell all the best stories and sing the latest songs, smoke the largest regalia and go to bed last, in short, enjoy everything, but don’t for the love of heaven go out shooting.