November 04, 2010
By E. Donnall Thomas, Jr.
By E. Donnall Thomas, Jr.
We saw many bigger fallow deer, but I was more than happy to ambush this average buck while waiting in a creek bottom.
The crucial moment on a long, open-country stalk usually comes when it's time to reestablish visual contact with the quarry after hiking and crawling out of sight behind cover. No matter how carefully you've memorized the landmarks, spotting the animal again at close range before he spots you is always tricky business. Move a bit too fast or pay insufficient attention to every step, and all your efforts can unravel in an instant.
Back when I lived in Alaska, caribou offered a welcome respite from the usual difficulty of close-range stalking. Because of their ridiculously tall antlers, caribou bedded in willows often leave their top tines visible above the brush, even when their vision is completely blocked by foliage.
As I used my binoculars to pick apart the landscape ahead of me one morning last March, I felt an odd sense of deja vu when I spotted polished antlers protruding above a boulder in the rock-strewn terrain ahead. But those palmated top tines didn't belong to a caribou, and I was half a world away from the Arctic tundra. In fact, my quarry was a fallow deer, and I was hunting a unique new destination that already had provided my wife Lori and me with a welcome break from the demands of a long Montana winter -- the rolling hills of central Argentina.
But professional hunter Gonzalo Llambi and I had spotted not one but two bucks bedded in the rocks when we'd started the stalk from the ridge behind us, and I made myself slow down to locate the second animal before continuing my approach. I hadn't crawled all that way to blunder into another set of eyes by mistake.
In the hills of Cerro Colorado, we didn't have to glass long to spot numerous game animals.
Once I'd located the tops of the second set of antlers gleaming in the sun, I rechecked the tricky crosswind and continued on my hands and knees to within 30 yards of my quarry. That's my maximum recurve range, but I felt comfortable with the situation and resolved to take the shot if the buck stood and presented a broadside opportunity.
Gonzalo and I never did determine exactly what happened to scuttle our carefully executed plan, but Lori, who had stayed behind on the ridge glued to her binoculars, later reported that the two bucks simply rose and began to feed away from me. All I knew for sure was that neither one ever offered an acceptable shot as they left the boulder field for open ground.
Stretching my knotted muscles in the wake of their departure, I must admit to feeling a bit of disappointment, but it was hard to feel too sorry for myself. The day was young, and the hills stretching away to the west held game in numbers and variety I hadn't seen since my last trip to Africa. The day's first stalk may have gone south, but we were just getting started.
Argentina can nearly match Africa for shear numbers of game. Sights like this promise endless stalking fun.
THE EIGHTH LARGEST NATION in the world and one of the most culturally inviting destinations in the Western Hemisphere, Argentina has enjoyed a solid reputation for decades among American anglers and wing-shooters who come for the country's outstanding trout fishing, dove shooting, and waterfowl hunting. Bowhunters seeking big game have been slower to discover Argentina, but that is quickly changing.
Although the pampas west of Buenos Aires represent some of the best grassland habitat in the world, that choice ecological niche was slow to fill. The cold-adapted game animals that populated North America after crossing the land bridge from Eurasia simply couldn't migrate successfully through the hemisphere's tropical wasp waist. That left Argentina's fertile savannah to an assortment of indigenous brocket deer, guanacos, peccaries, and the continent's only major predator -- our familiar puma.
But early European colonists recognized the countryside's hunting potential and imported a number of their favorite game animals to inhabit it, including red deer, fallow deer, axis deer, Asiatic water buffalo, and wild boar. The new arrivals prospered, just as they did under similar circumstances in Australia and New Zealand. Today, large, free-ranging populations of these species thrive in the hills above those plains, and bowhunters are discovering the bounty.
Gonzalo Llambi has been quick to recognize the potential. Raised in a large ranching family with local roots that extend back for generations, Gonzalo decided that he was more interested in hunting than raising cattle. Today, his far-ranging operations include four major locations in northern and central Argentina that offer hunting for upland birds, waterfowl, and 18 species of big game -- both indigenous and introduced. Of those locations, the vast estancia at Cerro Colorado offers the greatest bowhunting opportunities for free-ranging game in a wild, unspoiled setting.
Red deer are abundant at Cerro Colorado.
LORI AND I SET OFF for Argentina last March -- autumn in the southern hemisphere -- with a sense of adventure in our hearts, rather than a tightly focused bowhunting agenda. Above all, we just wanted to see the country. I had not visited Argentina since a fly-fishing assignment in Tierra del Fuego over a decade before, and Lori had never been there. Since I'd had plenty of experience with hogs, buffalo, axis deer, and cougars elsewhere, I decided to concentrate on fallow deer, while keeping an open mind about whatever else might come my way.
In the southern hemisphere, March is the beginning of the storied red stag roar (analogous to our elk bugling season), a phenomenon I'd experienced in Australia and New Zealand. But not quite like this...
Even though Gonzalo assured us that the stags wouldn't really get wound up for another week or so, the hills resounded with their spine-tingling racket. And wouldn't you know it -- the first night of the hunt, guide Eber Berrade and I set up on a trail for fallow deer only to have a pair of good red stags wander by less than 10 yards
away. Would I regret the decision to pass up that opportunity to concentrate on fallow deer? Only time would tell.
It didn't take me long to realize that there are a lot of absolutely terrific fallow bucks (among other things) at Cerro Colorado. I've never been one to fret much about horns or antlers, but the sweeping, heavily palmated antlers we regularly glassed obviously belonged to exceptional animals. Stalking in the relatively open terrain of the foothills brought me close on numerous occasions, but not close enough for a shot.
The capybara, weighing up to 100 pounds, is the world's largest rodent.
For several days, Lori did better on the fallow deer with her camera than I did with my bow, but I was so busy stalking deer that I scarcely noticed. Along the way, I passed up numerous incidental shooting opportunities at good boars, and I thought long and hard about drawing down on one of the capybara that frequented the waterways along the valley floor. The largest rodents in the world, capybara can reach 100 pounds in weight, and they move like brown bears through the grass.
Exerting remarkable restraint, I confined my shooting to doves and pigeons with a borrowed shotgun during midday downtime, while trying to walk far enough to justify the tremendous meals that waited for us every night.
Abundant as all three deer species were, they were also very wary, simply confirming what I'd known about them from previous contacts in the Pacific. I finally acknowledged what I'd really known all along -- despite the challenge and excitement of those open-country stalks, the way for me to kill a fallow deer with my recurve was to sit in one of the numerous, lush creek bottoms and let a buck come to me.
That's just what I did. The deer wasn't one of the monsters I'd matched wits with earlier, but he was a mature buck that, in his own way, reflected the limitations of my own choices in archery tackle. And while I'd taken axis deer before in Hawaii and Australia, when one presented me with a shot opportunity, I took it and killed that deer too. So much for restraint, a virtue best exercised in moderation.
I've hunted and fished my way around a fair chunk of the world without en-countering anything like Argentina. In terms of abundance and variety, the game invites comparisons to Africa. The terrain is wild and stunning, the ambience as gracious as it gets. The real reason I didn't take that shot at the red stag? I needed a good excuse to go back.
Author's Notes:Prime hunting months in Argentina run March-September, making this a particularly attractive "off-season" destination. While a bit of Spanish will prove useful in Buenos Aires, it's not necessary, and Gonzalo Llambi's entire hunting staff speaks fluent English. Don't worry about the language barrier.
While the estancia at Cerro Colorado is pleasantly remote, the cuisine, accommodations, and ambience in camp rate five solid stars. Coupled with the amenities of Buenos Aires coming or going, this makes Argentina a terrific destination to share with a nonhunting spouse.
For more information on hunting Cerro Colorado, visit www.cerroindio.com and contact Neil Summers at Bowhunting Safari Consultants, 1-800-833-9777, email@example.com, or www.bow-huntingsafari.com.