Where the clouds are birds
by Bob Matthews
Estancia Cortaderas is one of those phenomenal wingshooting destinations you have to see for yourself to truly believe.
By Bob Matthews
I think I know what Otis Redding had on his mind when he crooned Sittin’ on the dock of a bay. Only there’s no dock here. There’s no bay either, but I’m sitting on a high bluff overlooking the Parana River in Argentina, takin’ the rest of the day off.
Mi amigos have divided themselves into two groups. One bunch went to hunt doves. The other went to the river to fish for freshwater dorado. The lodge at Estancia Cortaderas is directly behind me, and right across the channel there’s a whole wad of islands, broken by a maze of sloughs and meandering small channels. Several miles away, the Parana shoulders its way into open water again. In the mornings and evenings there are more ducks than you can ever imagine.
As for me, I shot so much that I needed a break, so I’m just sittin’ on the bank of the Parana, letting the time roll away. It’s late July, mid-winter in Argentina. There’s just a trace of breeze, and the mid-afternoon temperature must be 60 or so. A hazy sun is peeking through, and the winter sunlight is all scrambled by ripples on the river.
It was chilly this morning when Robert Maclenagen and I took our 15-bird limits of perdiz in a half-hour. Yesterday we shot doves until we tired of it, and Roberto put away his gun in favor of a bow. He didn’t have much luck shooting doves with a bow, and I didn’t get my hoped-for photos of the feat, but we weren’t really looking for any kind of success. Success meant just being here – just seeing this phenomenal place called Argentina.
The day before, Robert and Mark and Bubba and Rodney and Chris shot over a freshly cut cornfield while I stood near a waterhole just around the hill. As expected, they got a few more pigeons, but I got an eight-duck bonus. The morning before that, we ganged up on ducks on the river and shot until our arms nearly fell off. And there were many more to come. Every afternoon we shot doves until we just didn’t want to shoot any more. Then, we’d just sit and watch the birds fly till dark.
For most hunters, the main draw in Argentina is highvolume dove shooting. They were certainly the main event for us in the afternoon. Once we were settled, they came in waves. Clouds. Legions. Use any name you want to describe impossible numbers! We’d set up with a “bird boy” and a couple of cases of shells and do our best to repel the invaders until we were sated. The doves came in such numbers that it became impossible to pick a single target. I finally solved the problem by picking a small section of sky and only shooting at birds that entered that sector.
One day we worked a field that the other guys, who had been there before, called ”Stevie Wonder” because they figured even he could shoot a thousand birds there. I was stationed facing the front of a huge section of bush, with a field of cut corn to my back. I gave it my best effort, but the doves won!
The whole thing was a continuation of the great adventure that High Adventure Company CEO John Burrell and I had dreamed up at the SCI show months earlier. Part one, titled “California Dreaming,” appeared in the March-April issue. That trip was already in the books when this one began. A short flight took us back to Buenos Aires, where we overnighted before another short charter into Entre Rios Province brought us to Estancia Cortaderas on this bluff a couple of hundred feet above the Parana.
This region of Argentina comprises hundreds of thousands of square miles of farmland, liberally laced with streams and rivers. And every acre of untilled land is choked with impenetrable algarrobo, a thick, tough, low-growing bush that provides perfect cover for the multitude of bird species that live here. Because of the sheltering brush, doves and other birds are free to multiply, safe from predators and bad weather. That, coupled with limited pressure from local hunters and natural predators, allows a proliferation of birds that is rare in the world. Even with foreign hunters flocking to Argentina to shoot, the bird population continues to grow.
I’m a quality over quantity kinda guy, so my approach to the hunt was different. I wanted to get a taste of the high-volume shooting that Argentina is justly famous for, but I also wanted to see what else the country had to offer. And I got to see it!