Long known for great free range red stag hunting, Argentina offers hunters a wide range of opportunities as Mike Malek discovered on his latest hunting trip.
I am a pure bow hunter and have been hunting in the La Pampa province of Argentina for years. This year was no exception, but what a change awaited me when I got there. This area of Argentina has been going through a severe drought for the past several years, but instead of looking out over a dry and brown landscape of dead grass and shrubs as I have the past few years, what I saw was a lush green landscape full of wild flowers and it seemed water everywhere. The area finally started to get normal rainfall during the second half of last summer and it completely changed the landscape. Dry lake beds in which I’d never seen any water were full shore line to shore line. Unfortunately, the lingering effects of the drought were still evident as the number and size of the stags seen and taken this season was still not up to past years. I did see many very nice free range stags during my time down there this season. If I would have been using a rifle I have no doubt that I could have easily taken several nice specimens.
This year I hunted at a newer and relatively unknown ranch (at least here in the US) during the first week of April. The actual name of the ranch is La Mota, but it goes by the moniker of Caza Pampa on the internet which, roughly translated into English, means something like “he hunts the pampas”. Up to this point they have primarily catered to Argentinean, European, and other South American hunters and have typically hosted only a few hunters per season. The ranch is located in La Pampa province about 1.5 hours south west of Santa Rosa and offers approximately 50,000 acres of free range hunting for red stag and other exotics. It also has a 1,000 acre high fenced preserve area where they do some breeding and offer limited hunting for gold medal animals for a trophy fee.
Most hunting ranches in La Pampa province are primarily working cattle ranches that also support populations of red deer. La Mota is somewhat different in that, as the owner Luis Manganaro explained to me, the ranch is managed as a “dual purpose” ranch for both cattle and game animals. The ranch only holds half the cattle that it could easily support with the other half set aside strictly for deer. Luis has also planted numerous food plots across the property, and I don’t mean just little 5-acre plots. Every fire break, along with many large and small plots, is planted with either corn, sorghum, milo, alfalfa, or other high protein native grasses. He says that his intent is to provide good nutrition year round to help the animals through the winter and to provide good development support during the spring and summer growing season.
The hunts here are conducted 1-on-1 by experienced guides and the primary method of hunting is spot and stalk. They also have many elevated box blinds, stands and ground blinds suitable for bow hunters. Hunters are transported to the field by four-wheel-drive vehicles and the guides all carry radios. It’s nice to know that if you chase an animal for miles and end up a long way from your drop off point, you don’t have to walk all the way back to be picked up.
The terrain at La Mota is fairly typical of most ranches in La Pampa province, with rolling hills and sections of hardwood forest separated by fire breaks and open pasture land. There are also areas of thick brush that the deer and wild boar like to hide in. Natural water holes are plentiful, as well as some man-made ones that attract deer and wild boar. These make excellent ambush points for those wishing to hunt out of a blind in the afternoons or at night in the European style. Wild boar hunting at La Mota is particularly good and many of the local Argentines go there specifically to hunt them at night. I saw a lot of photos of huge tuskers taken there by guests and actually ran into several pigs during the day while out stalking stags.
Unfortunately, the roar ended earlier than usual this year and was pretty much over by the time I arrived. There were two other Americans at the lodge and they told me that they both had taken big trophy stags and other exotics during the preceding week. There was still a buzz among the staff at the lodge – the day before one of the guys was out looking for a management stag to fill out his package when he and his guide came upon a huge 7X7 stag that stepped out of the brush at about ten yards. He told me that he was focused on shooting a management stag and was so shocked when he saw this monster that he couldn’t move a muscle even with the guide tapping him on the shoulder whispering, “Shoot, shoot.” The guide told a similar story, but was laughing a lot more while he told it. The guy told me that if he could have pulled the trigger, he definitely would have taken the shot.
During the first few days of my stay, there was still some roaring going on, but my guide told me that they were mainly management (or “descartes”) stags. However, we did manage to see a few very nice 6X6’s. On the second morning I was able to stalk to within 40 yards of a really nice one with big thick main beams and long tines. I would have given a body part for an animal like this. The stag was in pretty thick cover and he had a number of hinds (females) with him so we had to wait for just the right opportunity. Unfortunately, just as I started to draw my bow a female that I hadn’t seen off to my right barked once and it was all over. I have no doubt whatsoever that if I had been hunting with a rifle, I would have been able to take this great free range stag.
Since I was only the second bow hunter ever to hunt at the ranch, the owner was curious about the sport and was asking me about what animals I had taken with my bow. Somehow we got on the subject of blackbuck and I told him that the blackbuck didn’t really lend itself to bow hunting, because of the open terrain that they liked to hang out in. We talked for a while longer and he told me that since there was little roaring, he would let me take a blackbuck with my bow if I wanted. He said that the area where the blackbuck were found at the ranch was called the dunes and consisted of low rolling hills covered primarily in grass with a very few small trees. He thought that I might have a chance there since we could use the hills for cover. I thought that it was a nearly impossible task, but agreed to try after we’d exhausted all chances at a red stag.
A couple of days later, after hearing very little roaring we gave it a try. As we approached the area, we crept up the side of a low hill and spotted several groups of female and juvenile blackbuck out at 150 yards or so. While my guide Jorge was glassing the area I happened to look off to my left and saw what looked like a bunch of fly specks off about a half mile or so. I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed and after he glassed them he looked excitedly at me and said “trofeo” and off we went.
With hardly a tree or bush in the area and nothing but 12 inch high grass I didn’t see how we were going to get anywhere near close enough for a shot, but we used the low hills as cover and finally, when we crawled up the last hill we saw a group of group of blackbuck. There were three really nice males in the group, but they were still about 120 yards away. At this point I didn’t see how we could close the deal, but Jorge pointed back from where we came and indicated that we needed to go back there and then circle way around to the right and try to come up on the other hill.
After back-tracking almost all the way to where we started, then circling around to a hill on the far right side of where we last saw the group of blackbuck we crawled the last 20 yards or so and Jorge took a peek to see if the animals were still there. He motioned for me to crawl up and I looked through the grass. The group with the three big males were feeding and moving slowly off to my right. I ranged what I thought was the biggest male at 48 yards. I still didn’t think that I had a chance and knew that I needed to get to my knees quickly and shoot. I managed to get to my knees and draw just as the males turned and looked at me. I released my arrow and it went straight through the boiler room of what I guessed was the biggest of the three. We watched it go about 60 or 70 yards and drop over dead. What a rush…I never thought that it would be possible to take a free range blackbuck by spot and stalk with a bow. Back at the lodge I measured the horns at 24 inches. The owner was very happy, but he confided in me that he was skeptical that I could do it.