El Monte – Dove Shooting

I was leaning against a large bail of rolled alfalfa, watching the waves roll in; one after another, they kept flowing like an endless sea of birds. This was my first dove shoot in the fertile San Luis Province of central Argentina, and there just aren’t enough superlatives to describe the scene without sounding like a second-grader on Christmas day. This was supposed to be just a lazy afternoon shoot on my day of arrival at El Monte Lodge, but after just an hour I have a large pile of spent shells growing next to me, perhaps 12 or 13 boxes worth, and the cut field in front of me is littered with Eared Doves. The funny part is, Juan Alberdi, one of the owners of El Monte Lodge, is standing behind me and apologizing for how slow the action is today!

San Luis Province is the new mecca of wingshooting in South America, with vast agricultural developments, water, and natural roosting areas for Doves, Pigeons, and Perdiz; it steals the show with overwhelming numbers of birds, and the opportunity to hunt three species from a single location. The central valley spreads out to the west from the Comechingones mountain range, and provides a wealth of agricultural production to the world. It has also provided significant reproductive capacity to natural bird populations that have now reached biblical plague status. The last bird census was taken in 2008, and estimated 8 million resident Doves; but the birds raise two and sometimes three clutches per year, and the total population continues to grow by 30% per year. The Pigeons find perfect roosts in the mountain sides, and migrate to the valley daily to feed and water, and have likewise exploded with the growing harvests.

El Monte Lodge, owned by Juan and Maria Alberdi, provides the perfect blend of location, accommodations, personal service, and unrivaled dove shooting. The lodge itself is an immaculate renovation of a 100+ year old residence built by the British during their railroad development in Argentina. With 14 foot ceilings, original English Oak flooring, expansive guest rooms with private baths, and filled with beautiful antique furnishings; it harkens back to an era of Victorian elegance. Several open living areas provide plenty of room to lounge in comfort when you’re not in the field, or for non-hunting companions to relax. For those who prefer the outdoors, you’ll find shaded galleries surrounding the lodge, and a couple of acres worth of manicured gardens to roam. I’ve been to so many fine destinations in this part of the world that I’m not easy to impress; but the personal service and meals at El Monte were deserving of attention. A few of my favorite dinners consisted of marinated Dove Bruchettes, lightly breaded Pigeon Milanesa, and handmade Sorentino pastas stuffed with salmon and ladled with cream sauce. And during full day hunts afield, the head chef follows along with a fully equipped kitchen on wheels, and sets up nearby in a shady spot to prepare the same quality fare as you might have in the lodge.

The accommodations are world-class, but it’s the hunting that brought me here; and I was seriously unprepared for how much shooting action awaited me. The team at El Monte Lodge goes far beyond the norm to insure that hunters are placed in the most productive hunting areas. The flyway patterns of doves and pigeons are ever-changing, based on the various planting and harvest schedules in the valley; and guides and bird-boys spend significant time and resources each day, driving and scouting across a vast range of hunting areas to pinpoint the bird’s movements and patterns. Hunting is timed to match the exact movements from roosting, feeding, and watering areas; and I was amazed at how precise the flyway patterns can be. The guides may occasionally shift the blinds during the course of the hunt by as little as twenty meters to align the hunters to optimal shooting positions.

On the second day of my stay at El Monte, I had the opportunity to try my hand at genuine decoyed pigeon shooting. The Spotted Pigeon in Argentina is a big, fast, and astonishingly agile bird that is cursed with brotherly curiosity. When they see other pigeons circling or landing, they swarm in like suicidal ducks. Our guide, Willy, placed a cleverly designed spinning turret with a few recently downed pigeons on the arms, out in the field about thirty meters from our shooting cover; and within seconds of activation we had birds rocketing in to join the fun. We emptied our beautiful Beretta autos, and before we could reload there were more birds landing beneath the mechanized decoy! We were well attended by guides for reloading assistance and an occasional chair and cold beverage.

Along with the pigeons coming in to decoy, there was also the steady stream of doves coming through, so there was literally not a minute that went by without opportunities to shoot. El Monte Lodge provides a range of rental Berettas, but the most popular is the 391 Autoloader chambered in 20 gauge. The 20 is plenty of gun for this work, and as fast as you find yourself pulling the trigger, it’s a greater pleasure to keep your reloading time to a minimum. And honestly speaking, after the first day you’ll be glad you chose an automatic for the shear comfort factor; because a thousand rounds is an average day’s fun down here.

El Monte Lodge is open year round for hunting doves and pigeons, and perdiz are limited to May, June, and July. My hunt was in September, but as unbelievable as it sounds, the shooting action is even better near the harvest cycles, between the months of April and August; but even the slowest time down here is beyond the imagination of most North American hunters. Reaching El Monte Lodge is a simple venture, with non-stop flights available from many cities in the US to Santiago, Chile with a connecting flight to Cordoba, Argentina. Baggage can be checked all the way to Cordoba for convenience. You can be picked up in Cordoba and driven to El Monte Lodge, or if you prefer, a short 20 minute charter flight can be arranged to a beautiful airport near the lodge (Aeropuerto International de Valle Conlara). For those who might wish to arrange a private charter directly from the US to this same airport, it has international designation and runways capable of handling large aircraft. The team at El Monte can assist with special arrangements for arrival, Customs, and Firearms importation. You may also travel through Buenos Aires if a little additional tourism is on the menu, and fly to Cordoba after changing to the national airport.

If wingshooting is your game, then you honestly haven’t lived until you have experienced a shoot in Argentina; because it will surpass your dreams of bird-filled skies. El Monte is, without doubt, the finest wingshooting lodge experience I have ever had; anywhere else in the world. Go to El Monte’s own website for more information and contact. www.elmonteoutfitters.com

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