As a boy, I chased bobwhite quail through the pine forests and palmetto thickets of Florida and south Georgia with a single barreled shotgun that I purchased with lawn-mowing money, and my poorly trained but handsome Irish Setter, Beau, bouncing along in front. I would hunt all day, and perhaps see a few singles or a double; and a great day was seeing a covey of 4-5 birds. I would stretch out in the grass during the heat of the day, and dream of endless covey rises that filled the sky; but they only existed in dreams, because the glory days of the quail had come and gone before my time. But I’ll share a secret with you; Dreams come true in Patagonia…
Quail in Patagonia
The one constant proved many times over in Patagonia Argentina, is the ability of immigrant species to thrive beyond expectations. And somewhere around a century past, as the legend goes, a farmer on the Chilean side of the border imported and tried to commercially raise one of the most beautiful of the wild sporting birds, the California Quail. After failing to convince them to breed in captivity, he set the few birds he had left out into the mountains and admitted defeat. But those remaining little celestial colored quail were a long way from defeated. They found their way across the Andean divide to the more arid Argentina side of Patagonia, and their own version of paradise. Today, they exist in uncountable numbers, but are rarely hunted. There are only a few estancias that offer quail hunting for the world traveling sportsman, and one of the best is Tipiliuke Lodge. In April of this year, I traveled to Tipiliuke and ventured afield with renowned wing-shooter, and founder of Expedition Adventures, Inc, Colonel Dennis Behrens.
The Patagonian landscape in this area is vast rolling hills that give way to more rugged mountain peaks. In the less tree covered areas, it’s dry with all variety of prickly shrubs, cactus, and grasses that provide perfect cover for massive coveys of California Quail. A good pair of hunting chaps or well designed brush pants is a must to pursue birds in this country; as well as a good pair of boots that cover above the ankles. April and May are autumn in this hemisphere, so you may be leaving for the hunt in crispy morning weather, and eating an Argentine Asado outside in warm sunshine at midday. The staff at Tipiliuke will put out the fine china and white table clothes for a proper feast; and be prepared for anything, including a little fly fishing for an afternoon diversion.
After a healthy breakfast, we loaded into two trucks and traveled only 5 minutes or so from the lodge, before our guide, Adrian Cataldi, stopped and started calling and listening for lonely quail. It wasn’t long before he heard a response and decided to put his German Shorthair out, and we took turns carefully negotiating a wire cattle fence and spread out into a nice hunting line. It was as familiar a scene as I’ve repeated so many times in the western states that I almost forgot where I was; but what came next was straight out of the daydreams of youth. Our pointer led us to a narrow marshy draw in the hillside, and as we approached, the landscape exploded with quail. Thirty birds; then another twenty; followed by small bursts of three and four. Several flew only a short distance uphill into the same topographical line, and we pursued to pick up what we thought were now singles; but as we moved into the more dense cover, larger groups of birds exploded all around us. We were in the middle of a single covey of quail spread out over 200 linear meters that contained at least 250 individuals. For most of us in the hunting party, it was one of those, “I would have called you a liar if I hadn’t seen it” moments. As for Dennis, Larry, and Dabney, they kept their composure in the midst of this aerial fur-ball, and cleanly dropped birds in all magnetic directions as I was firing the Nikon on full-auto. I tried to do my part in marking and retrieving because there isn’t a dog alive that could have marked them all. It was spectacular fun.
Not wanting to take too many birds from a single covey, it was determined best to leave this group and move a little further up the valley in search of another; and within 20 minutes we were repeating the same incredible scenario. Wave after wave of birds burst forth in front of the hunters as they moved forward behind a single pointer; this next covey being perhaps even larger than the first. As birds flushed ahead and settled, they would begin calling to each other to regroup, and we could hear even more large coveys in the next valley beckoning them to join. I had officially fallen through the “Looking Glass” of bird hunting legend. As I admired the beauty of these little game birds, I was struck by how strong and healthy they appeared, in addition to the unbelievable numbers. This part of Patagonia Argentina is ripe with foxes, pumas, eagles and all variety of predators that make survival a challenge for the Quail. But the shear vastness of pristine landscape, and the private estancias (some as big as a small country) all working to preserve the resources, have created a natural balance not seen in the northern hemisphere for centuries.
For the adventurous wing shooter, or those interested in a combination of world class shooting and fly fishing on the same trip; Argentina can bring your dreams to life. And if you’d like to mix it with an elegant resort atmosphere with activities for the entire family, Tipiliuke Lodge is a premier destination.
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