Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hunting Argentina

Hunting and Fishing In Argentina

(This article is incomplete and should be considered a work in progress)

Imagine a world where the number of doves seems to never end, where you can hunt a dozen different species of ducks and where massive red deer stag are so plentiful it boggles the mind.  Imagine fishing Montana & Idaho 50 years ago?  Welcome to Argentina.

For decades Argentina has been known for its world-class fishing and hunting.  From sea-run brown trout in Tierra del Fuego to clouds of eared doves in Tucuman, Argentina is a sportsman's paradise.  
Lets look at what species are found in Argentina and some of the history of each species....
Trout were successfully planted in Patagonia from the United States in 1904 after several prior attempts.  Lake trout, brook trout and landlocked salmon from New York State were the first to be transplanted in Argentina.  Later rainbow and brown trout were introduced followed by Atlantic salmon and some species of Pacific salmon.  Now rainbow, brown and brook trout are found in almost every fish-able body of water in Patagonia and in great numbers.  Great fishing can be found throughout the entire country.  In the very South of Argentina known as Tierra del Fuego fishermen battle the wind swept area in hopes of landing a sea-run brown trout.  Traveling into Central Patagonia will put you into some of the best trout fishing on the planet.  Rainbows, browns, and brookies have over-run every waterway in Patagonia.  Central Patagonia is probable the least well known fishery of the Patagonian regions.  Because of this you will also find fewer anglers and bigger fish. It's not uncommon to catch several trout over 20" and up to 27" in one week. Northern Patagonia near and around San Martin de Los Andes is well known for its trout fishery and the large number of fish-able rivers.  In the Northern provinces one can find excellent fresh water dorado fishing and can be combined with some of the best bird hunting in the world.

Red Deer:
While many like to compare Argentina's Red Deer to the Elk or Wapiti found in North America scientists are certain that they are different species.  In 2001 taxonomist Ettore Randi  published a study in the journal Animal Conservation supporting the idea that European Red deer should be differentiated from the North American animals.   The study compared the DNA from 13 different species of deer and concluded that the wapiti was a distinct species from European Red deer.  Although Elk and Red Deer are very similar in looks their 'bugle' is very different.  The Red Deer "roar" sounds more like a domestic bovine while the Elk emits a shrill bugle while in the rut (mating season).  The antlers of the red deer are similar but definitely different from the North American Elk in that Red Deer antlers form a "crown" at the top while Elk antlers form in a row.  Red deer were originally introduced in central Argentina about in 1906 for sport hunting, and soon after were translocated to the Neuquén province. They are now found in the provinces of Río Negro and Chubut.  

While Red Deer populations in Africa and southern Europe are declining, in Argentina and Chile the Red Deer is seen as a competitor to native animal species like the South Andean Deer or Huemul.  The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources has determined that the introduced Red Deer are one of the world's 100 worst invaders.

Red Deer are typically scored in Argentina using Safari Club International scoring methods. The current Red Deer record is held by Paul V. Smith Jr.

Wild Boar:

Wild boar were introduced in 1906, the same year as the Red Deer and are widely seen as a pest.  As there are no natural predators in Argentina it is necessary to cull wild boar utilizing professional hunters.  Land owners are all to willing to take on foreigners who are willing to pay them to hunt their problem. Wild boar can be found throughout Argentina. 

To say the least, most of the hunting down here is welcomed by land owners and misunderstood by the average Argentinian.  All of the animals introduced into Argentina were introduced for purposes of hunting and trapping.  While many hunters come to Argentina from around the globe there isn't nearly enough hunting to keep the numbers from reaching pestilence proportions.  Generally speaking not very many Argentines hunt, own a gun or have even shot a gun.

Consequently, land owners are hiring professionals to cull herds of red deer and wild boars that are over-running their estancias.   Many Argentines I have spoken with are animal lovers and hate to see anything killed by a hunter.  The reality, however, is that hunters thin the herds while providing income to estancia owners, guides, meat processors, retailers and the overall economy.  Even after the paying hunters are long gone back to their respective countries estancia owners must still hire professional hunters to keep the numbers of animals in check.

Hunting the eared dove is what Argentina has become famous for.  The eared dove is found in the northern provinces of Argentina and are considered by farmers to be a pest.  They welcome the opportunity to be paid by foreigners for the opportunity to hunt the 'pests'.  Eared doves have no clear breeding season and seem to nest continuously laying two white eggs which hatch in two weeks.  They will breed up to 4 times per year.  The Argentines have built spectacular lodges for the purpose of attracting serious hunters.  There is an estimated 23 to 32 million doves in the fields around Córdoba and Tucuman in northern Argentina.  It is not uncommon for a single hunter to shoot more than 1000 birds in just one day.

Perdiz (Tinamou):
There are 15 species of Perdiz or Tinamou found in Argentina. Even though the Tinamou resembles and is often called a partridge, it is more closely related to other ground-dwelling birds such as the ostrich or the rhea. The most common is the Spotted Tinamou.  Often found but less common are the Martineta and Colorado.  Female perdiz become mature at only 2 months which allows the species reproduce rapidly. They can have five to six broods per year of 4-6 eggs.  Although some hunt on foot without dogs the use of well trained pointers is the preferred method of hunting these birds.  Typically, perdiz are found in pastures and grasslands which makes for fairly easy hunting conditions.  The perdiz season begins in May and runs through July.  Argentina perdiz hunts are usually combined with some other kind of hunt like doves or pigeons.

There are 7 species of pigeons in Argentina.  The most plentiful species are Picazuro, Manchada (Spotted-Wing Pigeon) and the Casera (Rock Pigeon). Like Eared Doves, Pigeons are classified as pests with no season or bag limit and are often poisoned to reduce their numbers. The majority of the pigeon shooting is done in the north central part of the country in Cordoba or Tucuman. Pigeons are typically hunted on crop lands and olive groves. Like ducks, pigeons respond well to decoys and that is how they are generally hunted.  It is not uncommon to shoot 500 rounds per day on a typical pigeon hunt.

Pigeon hunting is often a combined hunt with doves and/or perdiz.  Interestingly, pigeons and doves are not typically found in the same places.  Consequently, a combined hunt usually involves two or more shooting areas.

 Quail (Codorniz):
Perhaps the best kept hunting secret in Argentina are the California Quail which were introduced into Chile in 1870 by a farmer who tried to raise them and sell them commercially.  After his realization that there was just no demand for his birds he set his quail free.  They rapidly expanded  throughout the central Chile and into the Lake District. Over the last century and a half quail have expanded across to the east slope of the Andes into westernmost Argentina. Quail are now abundant and actually exceed numbers seen in the Western U.S.  The arid agricultural and shrub covered areas of Argentina are perfect habitat for Quail.  Patagonia is now home to huge coveys of quail and virtually no on is hunting them.  They are generally found in the western sections of the Patagonian provinces Chubut and Rio Negro.