Argentina is the wingshooter’s paradise. For a devoted bird hunter, “Cordoba” is not “a town in Spain”, but “doves galore”; other Argentinean provinces, such as Santiago del Estero and Salta, are also famous for dove shooting opportunities, and pigeons as well, and in the province of Entre Rios you can vary your hunting experience with perdiz (partridge) and ducks. The limits on pigeon, perdiz and ducks are generous, and on doves there’s no limit at all – in Argentina, they are pests that do immeasurable damage to agriculture. Hunting is the most efficient of legal crop protection methods, and hunters are often farmers’ only hope, so there’s no moral remorse and no reason to restrain yourself…
… except the amount of shooting you’re going to do.
Dove hunting in Argentina is about tons of burnt powder. When most people think ‘high volume’, they think of Victorian England’s ‘crack shots’ such as Lord Walsingham, who once killed 1070 grouse a day with 1507 rounds (shooting black powder loads in 12 gauge hammer guns weighing a meager 6 1/2 pounds each). But many hunters who go to Argentina can easily put the ‘old boys’ to shame. Game lodges often see hunters make 3,000 to 5,000 shots per person a day and more. That’s a whole lot of shooting – still, it’s perfectly manageable with a little knowledge, training and preparation. Here are a few tips that may help you survive your first visit to Argentina with more smiles and less sores.
That’s one of the first questions that hunters usually ask. The expert consensus on the right gun for Argentinean doves seems to be 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 is perhaps the best compromise between killing power, weight, and recoil, but 12 and 28 gauges are also used with great success.
Gas-operated semi-automatics are supposed to have less felt recoil, but it’s hard to fool physics: you don’t feel the kick as much because it is delivered to your shoulder slower, but if we’re talking 2,500-3,000 rounds a day the difference is barely noticeable. On the other hand, many semis will ask for full field strip and rigorous cleaning after only 250 or 300 rounds, when 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. All in all, your gun’s gauge, weight, barrel length and action type are not half as important as fit and practice.
The right gun is the gun that fits!
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: 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 mount and 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.
Practice the right skills.
Once you’ve mastered the proper shooting stance that will help you handle recoil, start to work on tempo and speed. Bear in mind that the biggest problem that high-volume shooting presents is variety. 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. 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. The best way to practice picking up one bird and focusing on killing it, ignoring the rest. is a “simulated driven game” course, that some shooting clubs offer. You can also get a decent imitation of a high-volume dove shoot by having a 5-stand to yourself and asking the operator to send birds from all stations at random a bit faster than you can reload.
Practice with the right equipment.
There are many add-ons that you can use to reduce the gun’s kick, from aftermarket recoil pads on stocks to padded shooting vests. They all work. However, surprisingly many hunters ignore the self-evident fact that you must practice with precisely the rig – up to hearing protection – 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.
The same is also true in case you find it easier to use a rental gun. Most lodges in Argentina offer a good selection of field-proven over/unders and semi-autos, usually by Beretta, Benelli and Browning, in 12, 20 and 28 gauges, and you’re almost certain to find something that will work for you. Still, it’s a good idea to contact your lodge (that’s easy to do with our chat system), learn what they have to offer, reserve the one that sounds right and find a way to practice with an identical gun.
“Fit” is not just the stock.
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 action; others developed blisters on their thumbs from pushing shells into the magazine. A game lodge will assign to you a number of ‘game boys’ – special attendants who help you with shooting and ensure safety – and it’s a viable option to take a pair of guns and ask one of the game boys to load for you (for an extra tip). Better yet, head for the gym and work on your arms and torso. Focus on stamina rather than strength, and remember you’re going to need a lot of flexibility too.
Don’t let missing worry you.
In high-volume shooting you’re bound to miss. A lot. Victorian ‘crack shots’, who kept accurate scores of their performance, found it was relatively easy to bring down over 90 birds with 100 shells – until the number of opportunities remained within a hundred or so. When they had over 250 birds a day to shoot at, they thought they were doing a good job with 66% of hits, and the best anyone could do on such a day was about 75% (this record, by the way, was set by a lady, Mary Russell “The Flying Duchess” of Bedford). Most people in Argentina can boast of much higher averages, but cynics say it is because the game boys who keep score know that a happy shooter leaves a bigger tip.
In any case, missing is an essential part of the game, and the trick is not to let it get on you. Because, if missing won’t hurt you any, worrying about it will. As you worry, you lose your concentration. With loss of concentration, there goes your proper shooting stance. With a wrongly mounted gun you hit even less and suffer from recoil more, which prompts more misses still. This is a tailspin of failure that leads to bruised shoulders, ringing heads, and bitter disappointments. Focus on the next bird instead.
Be easy on competitiveness.
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 lose focus on your own shooting and enter the first lap in the tailspin of failure described above. 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.
You don’t go to Argentina to be easy on your trigger finger, but that doesn’t mean you should lose your head: overboard enthusiasm may have the same effect as competitiveness or worries about missing. Besides, shotgun shells, like everything else in life, come at a price, and that’s also a factor to be considered. However, a different kind of moderation is important if you want to make the most out of your trip. 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.