Argentina’s legendary high-volume bird shooting is the country’s biggest draw, with the big-game hunting a smaller subset.
Did you know that Argentina is the world’s most popular hunting destination? Okay, maybe it’s not like key whitetail states like Pennsylvania or New York, where hundreds of thousands of hunters take to the woods annually…nor like Wyoming, where a large percentage of the small population buys hunting licenses. But in terms of hosting visiting sportsmen and women, Argentina stands alone, welcoming nearly 20,000 hunters annually from around the world. South Africa has the largest hunting industry in Africa…Argentina more than doubles South Africa’s numbers. In fact, as just one country, Argentina at least equals the annual number of hunting safaris conducted on the entire African continent!
As with most places the feral hog is probably Argentina’s most widespread big game animal, but the premier species is the red stag. Populations are established in many areas, but La Pampa and Patagonia hold the largest free-range populations.
This means that hunting in Argentina is a serious business and a multi-million dollar industry. There are many great outfitters operating from numerous fine lodges and camps, and the country has a good infrastructure of both excellent roads and internal flights. Although the language is Spanish, Argentina has tremendous European influence, and large areas were initially settled by English-speaking peoples. Especially in larger towns, and certainly with outfitters catering to an international clientele English is a widely-spoken second language; I have never encountered significant language barriers. Shopping and sightseeing are equal attractions to hunting, and the currency exchange has remained favorable. Both the Automobile Club of America (AAA) and Forbes typically rate Argentina as one of the top destinations where “the U.S. dollar goes the farthest.” Firearms clearance is very simple. In fact Argentina treats it as a revenue-producing business, with a fee with for each firearm. This is not a complex process for either rifles or shotguns, but virtually all outfitters have “good guns” available for hunters wishing to avoid the red tape, and ammunition is readily available.
Don’t count on losing weight in Argentina! A typical field lunch on a red stag hunt is a slab of beef brisket, cooked slow over a small fire.
There are no bad shotgunners in Argentina! Inexperienced shooters can concentrate on easier shots, while veterans can work on vexing angles. Either way, there’s plenty of shooting and no one is fast enough to take all the shots or good enough to hit every bird!
It is thus easy to plan a hunt for some of the greatest bird shooting in the world…famous destinations for high-volume dove and pigeon shooting include north-central provinces such as Cordoba, Santa Fe, and Santiago del Estero. The primary red stag hunting lies in Neuquen and Rio Negro (Patagonia) and La Pampa. The largest blackbuck, axis deer, and fallow deer populations are probably in southern Buenos Aires province, which also offers outstanding waterfowl hunting. Pockets of free-range water buffalo are found all over the place—I’ve bumped into them while shooting doves, which can be a bit disconcerting—but you get the picture: Wildlife populations are scattered, and no single province offers everything in equal numbers.
Much of the great red stag hunting is in Patagonia, around the huge Lake Nahuel Huapi. Much hunting is by horseback; this stag was taken with Four Seasons Outfitters.
Most provinces that offer good hunting have at least a few good outfitters concentrating on the local game. Again, the majority are primarily bird hunters. In Patagonia and La Pampa there are numerous good outfitters who specialize in red stag hunting. To a degree seasons do overlap. The best red stag hunting is during the rut or “roar,” generally beginning in late March, continuing through April, and tapering off in early May, although stags remain in hard antler at least through July. Nuisance birds such as doves and pigeons can be hunted year-‘round, but there are set seasons for waterfowl, perdiz, and native big game that usually don’t coincide with the red stag roar. So, while combinations are easily arranged, it is almost impossible to hunt everything Argentina has to offer in just one trip, and almost as difficult to do everything in just one area.
Marcelo Sodiro and Boddington with a capybara, largest rodent in the world and perhaps the most interesting and unique of Argentina’s limited native-game hunting.
This is complicated by the fact that many great outfitters concentrate on birds (the big market) and don’t mess with big game; and many great red stag outfitters, especially in Patagonia, don’t offer much in the way of bird shooting. For this reason Marcelo Sodiro’s South American Adventure Safaris has been my primary “go to” outfitter in Argentina. His operation is not unique; there are others and many good ones…but his operation is among the few that genuinely offers the full range of Argentinean hunting: High-volume bird shooting; excellent red stag; the full range of introduced species; and the much more specialized and limited hunting for native big game.
The first Argentinean water buffalo I ever took was in Santa Fe Province with outfitter Marcelo Sodiro. Though much smaller in the horn, Argentina’s water buffalo are much larger in the body than African buffalo.
Obviously few hunters will wish to “do it all” in one trip, and I concede that the legendary bird shooting is single biggest draw for most hunters. That said, for me the perfect “first hunt in Argentina” would be to combine the matchless experience of roaring red stags with a few days of equally matchless high-volume bird shooting. It’s a big country and certainly I haven’t seen it all, but La Pampa province is probably the most favorable place to accomplish this, combining hilly ranch country where red stags were first released nearly a century ago with extensive farmland plagued by doves, pigeons, and other airborne pests!
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