Saturday, April 26, 2008

Getting outfitted for Dove hunting: Guns and Gear

As success in the field is much dependant on having the proper gear in good order, the best options may not be the cheapest. When half way around the world I prefer to have reliable gear. Economize elsewhere.

Vanderbilt family biographer Ulf Aschen records one safari led by the Baron Bror Von Blixen, (Blixen was 'The Great White Hunter', see The Man Whom Women Loved, also by Aschen) “was probably the most expensive ever outfitted. A fleet of 20 trucks carried equipment and stores which included cases of champagne that were drunk until two in the morning… The plane left each day for Nairobi, either to take a guest to the hairdresser or trophies to Zimmerman, the taxidermist. It brought back fresh fish and Evian water for the Vanderbilt matriarch’s bath.”

That is how it should be done, but I did not marry a Vanderbilt.

Guns and preparation

Sure you can rent a gun, and they are fine. But they are not set up for you, and will not fit the same as your gun. Argentina is safe, you have little to worry about there. The only hassle is dealing with the Americans on the way back in. Just bring your receipt from when you purchased the guns or register them. I do not like that they wanted me to register the guns but I did it, and no federal agent has ever showed up at my house.

Bring automatic guns. Plural, guns. Take two exactly alike, the parts are interchangeable. I carry a pair of Benelli Super Black Eagle II's. I do not recommend this model, as they are heavier. They perform incredibly, but after hoisting them a few thousand times I want lighter guns. I just happened to have 2 of them, and could not get what is preferred, 12 gauge Benelli M2 with the comfort tech stock and 28 inch barrels, in time as I shoot left handed. You will need to make a few modifications to them to make them ready. The link is to Able Ammo, the can get you any gun you want, and ship it to your local FFL holder. I know them, Randy and his crew are good guys, and are in Huntsville, Texas if you are close and want to go pick them up.

First, clean the new gun, right down to the recoil tube in the stock. It is filled with sticky grease from the factory the will ruin your day. Old oil or grease will do the same. Do not trust the gunsmith unless he is a fine one, and has an ultrasonic vibratory parts cleaner, as they short cut on this.

Most important, replace the factory butt pad. Replace it with a Limbsaver Precision-Fit Recoil Pad, nothing else will do. I shoot 1,500 rounds a day and never bruise. The factory butt pad is OK, but will bruise you after 500 or 1000 rounds. Once you are bruised, you are done. You will chaff and bleed. Take all my advice on recoil management. Do not short cut. Here is what happens if you ignore me, like my friend Mark did.

Replace the red plastic follower, that is in the magazine tube and pushes the shells out, with an aluminum one. This part wears quickly and will cause feeding problems, especially when exposed to gun cleaning solvents. The replacement part is available from Briley, and is anodized aluminum. I did not find it on their website but email them or call. For solvents, I recommend Birchwood Casey Synthetic Safe Gun Scrubber. Anything else will eat the finish off if it is camo, and is otherwise rough on the nylon components. No brake cleaner or gasoline. Also the Argentines call gasoline NAFTA, I mistook them to say naphtha. My gun caught on fire with flames jumping out of the breach. A quick squirt from my water bottle and I was back to shooting, but should be avoided as a solvent.

Replace the bolt handle and the bolt release with Briley's. Briley's bolt handle is great as it is rounded. You will tear up your finger on the factory one. This is true off all automatic guns I have seen. The bolt release is important as the factory one is a small round metal button that is hard to locate and difficult to operate. The big paddle they have makes it so you just bump the thing with your palm and it closes.

Next, shoot them in. Granted these are not Cape Buffalo, but you should never go into battle with an untested gun. You will need to fire a few hundred rounds to get them to run properly. Clean them again, all the way to disassembling the cycling tube. At this point apply the lightest coat of oil possible, either Rem Oil, or WD-40, then wipe it off and reassemble. Oil is a magnet for dust and burned powder, that will foul the gun. Then when it fouls, spray hell out of it with WD-40 and keep shooting.

Recoil Management

Taking these preventative steps will ensure that you do not hurt your shoulder, thumb, cheek or ears.

Mount the gun properly! Bring the gun up to your line of sight, do not bring your head down to the comb of the stock. Contorting your neck this way will mess you up with all this shooting. If you are having to do this your gun does not fit properly. The Benelli's are easily adjusted if you know what you are doing. If not, go to a good gunsmith. Larry Feland in Houston is great, Briley can do some of this as well.

Get the Recoil Pad from above! Then follow these steps:
1. When dressing, rub your shoulder with a lot of Vaseline.

2. Then put a soft cotton undershirt on.

3. Then your shooting shirt, that has a recoil pad in it. This does not have to be a really technical gel or rubber insert, the plain shooting shirts sold by TAG Safari work well. I use them because no one else makes a left handed shooting shirt worth a damn, and these are tough. Tough also means the fabric is a little more course, so pay attention to #'s 1 & 2, or you will be bleeding.

4. Take a couple ibuprofen before the hunt. The spent powder will give you a headache, and the recoil does not help.

5. EAR PLUGS. Take a lot of extras, and give them to every bird boy you see, and show them how to use them. They have no concept.

6. Tape the end of your thumb loosely with athletic tape, to the knuckle, like a big thimble.

7. You must have gloves. Mechanix gloves. Your hands take a beating. You can get these at auto parts stores, Wal-Mart, etc. They are better than overpriced leather shooting gloves.

8. You are going to be showing these pictures off to your friends, so make sure you look cool. I had a tailor in Buenos Aires custom make a leather shooting coat for me. Mostly to give my friends something to talk about, but it is really nice to shoot in. Shoulder pad, shell pouches, hand warmer pockets, a bird bag in back, and a little pocket inside for my pistola.

They all just refer to it as my 'Pimp Coat'. I am going to have one made out of fox fur, cuz thats the kinda Pimp I am. They are all a bunch of jealous ass player hatin bitches anyways.

It was not all that expensive, about $500. Here is a picture I took of it hanging up while I enjoyed evening over a lake. Shortly after I took this picture a group of Silver Teal came and lit right on this shore, not 10 feet away. I was out of film.

The coat was made for me by Laffon Leather at Florida Street on Viamonte Street in Buenos Aires. Nice folks, and they do good work.
Pimpin' ain't easy, everybody wants the fur coat and the cadillac, nobody wants to put up with a bunch of triffling Ho's.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Argentina, best dove hunting in the world.

There are a lot of reasons I have returned to Argentina so many times to hunt doves, ducks geese, and perdiz (short list):

Very favorable exchange rate, 3:1 or better, which is important these days.
They like Americans, or are really good at hiding what everyone else says aloud.
Stable political environment.
Buenos Aires is a lot of fun, great food, nice hotels, restaurants, lots of history.
It is safe: I take my family, the shopping is great.

Mostly it is because you can shoot vast numbers of doves, until the ground looks like it has snowed feathers and little grey birds. A day without blood is like a day without sunshine.

Argentina is a grand frontier that is now what the American west was. It is a wild, free place that is Valhalla for hunters. Limitless game. Few limits. Fewer rules, No other Hunters. I have never encountered another hunting party other than at the airport. This is different if you go with other outfitters, it is unique to Daniel's outfit. Cordoba is a circle jerk. If you have never been party to a circle jerk, trust me, you are not missing much.

Stunning, and I mean stunning good food. I am not a skinny granola eating hippie. I know good food. All the cooks we have had are trained in classic French and Italian techniques. The beef is some of the best in the world. Want good food, ask a fat man. Did I mention the food? It is good.

In Buenos Aires there are a lot of great restaurants, a lot of Spanish and Italian influence, cafes that remind you of Madrid. If you don't like a really good steak, it is the wrong place for you. I like La Chacra. It is traditional and has a wood fired grill. You do not notice the smoke until you leave, but do not plan on going anywhere until you change or be happy smelling like a nice steak. It is mostly locals, but they have an English menu if you need it. Save a little room for dessert.

I attribute my great experience there to my guide, Daniel Zanuso that owns Safaris Rancho Salvaje. Daniel is a hell of a good guy, and he minds the details. He runs all of dove hunting, duck hunting as well as big game. His second in command, Luis, handles the goose hunting. Daniel caters to American, Italians, French, and all sort of other like minded murderer types. He and his staff are attentive, and determined to make the trip relaxing and enjoyable. The link above is to Daniel's site, which gives a different perspective on all the different types of hunting than Roger's site. It is easier to contact Roger, as Daniel travels a lot.

There is a variety of experience to be had with different outfitters. Some are more in the $1000 a day range. We spend around $550 a day plus shells. The shells are $12 a box. This is not a high profit margin item in Argetina, as all the components are imported. In Mexico, they make lots of money on the shells, and the bird boys are bad about stealing them. I have never had that problem here. I say the average dove hunting trip to Argentina will cost:

$1250 airfare
$2200 guide fees
$400 licneses & gun import duty(or rental)
$300 tips
$1500 shells ($2500 for me, but I am not average on this)
$500 for walking around money, gifts.

So about $6150 for 4 days. It can be done for less, by about $1000 if you hunt in the off season, March and April.

Yes, it is a lot of money. Consider that going dove hunting in Texas costs $250 a day by the time you buy gas, eat out, pay for hotel in south Texas, pay the day hunt fee. Then you might shoot your 12 birds twice a day, and hope the game warden does not check the cooler for having more than 2 times the limit. These birds cost $10.50 each.

This last trip I shot a total of 2937 birds in 3.5 days. Even considering we charter a Turboprop to avoid the van ride ($2500 but if you have 10 guys, it is worth it) my birds only cost $2.38 each. It is like they are free!

Argentina Dove & Pidgeon Hunt

Pidgeon Hunt in Argentina

Argentina Duck Hunt

The Estancia we stayed in on this Duck hunting trip belonged to the Prince of Austria. Most of the accomodations are very nice. They don't know we is from the country.

For those who were not raised in East Texas, you can skip this paragraph. Daniel is also a first class spotlighter. I mean he runs a light like a machine. If you want to go run around all night with him and shoot rabbits and fox and bonus critters, he will take you. Some areas allow rabbit hunting at night, others do not. But should you be so lucky there is a giant rabbit there. No kidding, 2 feet tall, 25 lbs. It looks like a horse. You could saddle the damn thing and ride it. I mean I prefer to shoot them, but whatever you are into.

That is a big rabbit. They call it a Mara, and they tell me it is not a rabbit. It hops, eats grass, poops little rabbit turds, and tastes good fried. It's a rabbit. Sure it has short ears, but I don't eat the ears. They also have smaller ones with long ears they call Livre, that they say is a rabbit. It tastes just like the first one. It is a Rabbit, I tell ya.

These are the Livre. They are less than half the size of the other one, but it is still at least as big as Bugs Bunny, only not so lucky. There are also a few Perdiz, and a couple Parrots in this photo. It was an interesting morning.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why not hunt Mexico?

I figured I would spend a little time on the topic of why not Mexico?

I will start and say I love Mexico. There is no anti-Mexican bent to what I have to say about hunting the place. I grew up knowing Mexico as I wish to remember it, a beautiful country with an amazing culture. The Sauza's (Sauza Tequila) have been part of the extended family for decades. There is no better way to see the Tequila producing region of Mexico than thru the eyes of the people that brought modern agriculture to Mexico, Don Javier and Nina Sauza. I grew up with their son Don Eladio Sauza as my Uncle. The Sauza'a and Eladio are are dead now, sadly. I spent summers in Los Cabos, and my family vacationed at haciendas in Tequila, Guadalajara, and most importantly Acapulco. That place was magic. The movie Night of the Iguana with Rock Hudson was filmed at their home in Acapulco, if you want to take a look at Villa Sauza.

Despite my affection for Mexico, I am not going back. At least not to hunt, and for now not even to visit. It is very dangerous. Last time I was there 15 year old 'soldiers' pointed machine guns at me on 3 occasions within a week. I encountered PROFEPA, which is a Mexican federal game agency on all but one hunt. The only reason they did not give me trouble is that I spoke Spanish to them, so they considered me a 'good Gringo' and went to screw with the next guy.

Another big note: Kidnapping in Mexico is considered an industry. Do not just hop into a cab, unless you are certain they are a regular cab, and be sure the door opens from the inside before both of you get in. Do not go to an ATM or a bank alone. Do not flash a big roll. Do not go get plastered and stumble home. Do not give money to the little groups of street children, they follow you to identify you as a mark. These are some of the bandits favorite setups to pick off tourists. The Mexicans say you can always tell a thief, he dresses like a cop during the day.

Dove hunting in Mexico is more expensive, like $1000 a day before shells. The shells are about $14 a box. The good news is that you will not shoot that much. I am a good shot and my best day in Mexico was 180 birds. My best single hunt in Argentina is 1,007 doves in about 3 hours, no kidding.

Add to this that the Mexicans do not like Americans much right now. They are pissed because we want to close the Border, so they are raping the shit out of it. Now that being said, they have nicer swimming pools with swim up bars and hot tubs. It is a small bit of satisfaction, because you are going to get the shits. Overall the Mexicans have hospitality worked out because there is normally an American running the show, to help the Mexicans understand our spoiled asses. Here is a picture of the swim up bar at Don Quixote, I would float my butt up to it and eat lunch. That part was nice.

Below is a hot tub that 10 big men can all sit in at once and not feel the least bit insecure.

Don Turner is the gringo running the outfitter I used when I went white wing hunting in the area around Lake Guerrero, near the village of Abasolo, east of Monterrey, Mexico. I cannot say enough bad things about this experience, but I will try. My opinion is he is not trust worthy. When he wasn't, and this is me guessing, stuffed full of Bolivian marching it was first thing in the morning, which was about 1 p.m. for him. The outfit is Hacienda Don Quixote, (i have not included this as a link, in case someone would go to him by mistake). I ran into a guy that makes the nice shooting shirts he sells, and the maker said Don stole the last two orders, and will not come back across the border as there are so many folks anxious for his return.

It has a nice pool, decent food, lots of waiters, a huge hut tub. The problem is that Don is as busy trying to take advantage of the Mexicans as he is the hunters. A couple of hunts I hunted with a Mexican that introduced himself as 'Pepe'. This is unheard of, 99.5% of Mexicans do not hunt. (Gun ownership is basically illegal unless you are very rich). He was head of the Mexican department of fish and game. Don was kissing up night and day to make up for something while trying to appear to not be making money. This is the only time PROFEPA did not show up. My guess is that he had not been paying the police, and Pepe had showed up to find out why. I was very nice to Pepe, and helped him work on his left to right shot. Pepe was very interested in what I paid for the trip, and license fees.

The other problem we have all heard of is that if you violate one of the Mexican laws, you go to Mexican jail, until the bail (ransom) is paid or you die. A fellow from my hometown carried a box of shotgun shells across the Border into Mexico and it cost him $50,000. He did not have $50,000 to begin with, so his family had to come thru.

Despite what Don and other outfitters will tell you, there is a strict limit of 40 doves per day in Mexico. Violate this law and you get a fine payable on the spot in U.S. Dollars, or see the comment about Mexican jails.

Soooo...I do not recommend it.

Monday, April 14, 2008

How it Started

The Poacher's Journal was originally the name of the photo scrapbook that my friend J.P. kept of the hunting adventures of the Wells Creek Boys: Alex(that's me), J.P., Alan, Allen, David. More on them later. The book was more evidence than memories.

In the early days we killed without much thought to the legalities and no concern for conservation. After many years great strides of maturity we have all become conservationist hunters.

Conservationist Hunter means we can all afford to pay to hunt, and the game warden runs folks like me off my place now. I have had to quit hunting deer at night, but it is worth it. Now I travel to foreign lands, to see animals in their most natural environments, kill them and eat them.

The cast changes as finances and wives opinions change. But we have a great group of friends to share the outdoors, and all the hilarious bullshit that comes along with it.

What I hope to do here is offer a bit of my experience to folks who are interested in hunting and fishing as I do when I travel to Argentina, Mexico, and Canada. I still hunt ducks and geese here, but I hope I never have to hunt doves here again. I have a great bias to hunting in Argentina. By hunting I mean birds, as I quit deer hunting years ago. I have killed enough of them. I grew up hunting in East Texas, 'nuff said.
I travel to Agentina a couple times a year now to hunt doves, ducks, geese, Perdiz and different stuff, or just to shop and eat in Buenos Aires.

I love Canada for fishing in the northern tier for Walleye and Pike. Mostly I have done fly in, and stay in a cabin (no running water, electricity, plenty of bears) for a week. Great fun, unspoiled wilderness.

I will not return to Mexico to hunt, it is far to dangerous. I will cover each of these later.