HUNT­ING

An Ar­gentina wa­ter­fowl trip packs a full sea­son’s worth of lessons into a week of lights-out hunt­ing

Field and Stream - - CONTENTS - By Will Brant­ley

Lessons on duck shoot­ing, learned in Ar­gentina. By Will Brant­ley

IN AR­GENTINA, there’s plenty of time for duck em­panadas be­fore lunch, a siesta af­ter­ward, and one more cerveza be­fore bed. There’s just never enough time to reload. I know ducks are com­ing, and I fran­ti­cally fish 23⁄4-inch lead shells out of my wader pocket.

“Rosy­bills,” says Terry Den­mon, owner of Mojo Out­doors, from a few yards down the line. I don’t want to look over the shoul­der-high grass and be “that guy” caught pie-fac­ing the ducks—but I can’t stand it. I peek, and there’s a whole flock of backpedal­ing rosy-billed pochards 20 yards away. If not for the lead shot, un­plugged shot­guns, and our guide Diego Munoz’s heavy ac­cent, you could mis­take the scene for a Louisiana duck marsh.

The fa­mil­iar­ity of it all may be the most sur­pris­ing thing about duck hunt­ing here. Af­ter an overnight flight, clear­ing cus­toms in Buenos Aires, and mak­ing do with what­ever bro­ken Span­ish I could re­mem­ber from high school, I wasn’t sure what to ex­pect when I got to camp. But I was pleased to find waders dry­ing by a fire, hun­ters chew­ing tobacco, a plate full of fried and grilled duck ap­pe­tiz­ers, and a whiff of Break Free in the air.

Out in the marsh, the birds are a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, but not enough to no­tice when they’re work­ing in and your palms are get­ting sweaty. The show­stop­pers—the mal­lards of Ar­gentina—are rosy­bills. They’re big and noisy and work into de­coys just like green­heads, even though they’re divers, closely re­lated to blue­bills and can­vas­backs. The mul­ti­ple species of teal here still spring sky­ward when you shoot into them. Chilean wigeon whis­tle and laugh and com­mit from out of the clouds like their Amer­i­can cousins; yel­low-billed pin­tails cir­cle and tan­ta­lize, just like a flock of north­ern sprigs.

I had en­vi­sioned pushovers, ducks that we could kill with ten­nis rack­ets while stand­ing in the de­coys. Nope. They’re eas­ier than pub­lic-land birds at home to be sure—and the high lim­its mean I get to shoot more of them in four days than I’m legally al­lowed in a month at home. But Ar­gen­tine ducks are still won­der­fully wild and wary, and all that op­por­tu­nity only re­in­forces the core fun­da­men­tals that I know sep­a­rate the bona fide duck killers from the sun­rise watch­ers back in the States.

CHOKED UP

Once the first-day jit­ters wear off, I re­al­ize that even with lead shot—which is in­deed a bet­ter duck killer than steel—the shots from 30 yards and in have an over­whelm­ingly higher per­cent­age of dead-on-the­wa­ter birds than the longer shots. So I wait for them, and I can’t tell that I miss out on much other than burn­ing ex­tra ammo to fin­ish off wounded birds.

Like seem­ingly ev­ery­thing else in the Amer­i­can hunt­ing scene, there is a con­stant quest in the wa­ter­fowl world to find the gun, load, and choke that’ll help you shoot a lit­tle far­ther. Yet, the point of all the scout­ing, de­coys, and call­ing is to get birds close. Yes, you’ll watch some ducks leave by pass­ing on the long shots. I all but guar­an­tee, though, that you’ll kill more ducks per box of shells by hold­ing out for the best op­por­tu­ni­ties.

SHOOT THE BEAK

At the end of each duck sea­son at home, I’ve re­learned the les­son of de­lib­er­a­tion when shoot­ing at de­coy­ing wa­ter­fowl. Shoot­ing big num­bers of birds in Ar­gentina re­in­forces that in spades. Most peo­ple know to pick a duck from an in­com­ing flock, but re­ally: You need to pick a duck’s head, same as you’d pick the lead­ing edge of a clay tar­get. Diego does a lit­tle shoot­ing with us, and he is among the most tal­ented wing­shoot­ers I’ve ever seen—drop­ping more than a few birds from the hip. His only ad­vice? “Put it on their heads.”

By the last morn­ing, I’m tak­ing the close shots and star­ing at beaks be­fore I pull the trig­ger—and I’m killing ducks like my job de­pends on it.

SPREAD MAT­TERS

Part of the rea­son I’m here is to test Mojo’s new­est spin­ning-wing de­coy, the King Mal­lard. Like the orig­i­nal Mojo Mal­lard, this de­coy cre­ates flash that is sim­ply a game changer for at­tract­ing dis­tant ducks. But just like in the States, it’s not mo­tor­ized magic for fin­ish­ing birds. On days when the birds seem wary, we in­ter­rupt the hunt to ad­just the spread, widen the land­ing zone, and move the spin­ner in an ef­fort to get ducks to fin­ish right in front of our gun bar­rels. Usu­ally, the tac­tics work.

“A spin­ner is a long-range at­trac­tant,” Den­mon tells me. “Use it to get ducks within 100 or 200 yards, where they can see your de­coys. But if they don’t want to fin­ish over the top of it, move it. Get it 50 yards out of the spread or tuck it up next to the brush if you need to.”

GET HID­DEN

Ducks have eye­sight that ri­vals a turkey’s, and many hun­ters don’t give them due credit when build­ing blinds. Even in Ar­gentina—where you can get away with a whole lot more than in the States—ducks

that see you will flare in­stantly. All of our hunt­ing is done stand­ing in kneeto waist-deep wa­ter and squat­ting in marsh grass or be­hind sim­ple panel blinds. Time and again, when birds won’t fin­ish, Diego steps out into the spread, looks back at the hide, and tells us to tuck deeper into the brush. Same as the guys who go the ex­tra mile cut­ting brush, dig­ging de­pres­sions for lay­out blinds, and paint­ing their faces at home, that added care al­most al­ways makes a dif­fer­ence in get­ting those close shots we like so much.

Book a duck hunt with Diego Munoz in Las Flores at get­ducks.com.

Triple Team

A rosy-billed pochard (top), yel­low-billed pin­tail, and sil­ver teal.

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