Mike Malek shares his experience hunting Red Stag at Estancia La Mota in the Northern Patagonia region of Argentina. If you’ve ever considered hunting abroad or you just like a good hunting story, this is a must read.
If you’re a hunter like me you probably enjoy watching hunting shows in the off season and dreaming about exotic hunts in far away places. After watching an “Advantage Outdoors” show on bow hunting for red stag in New Zeeland many years ago, my dream was to go there some day and do the same. That is, until I was talking with an associate of mine at the company that we both worked for at lunch one day. He’s an avid hunter and has hunted all over the world. We were swapping hunting stories and I told him about my dream to hunt red stag in New Zeeland with a bow. He asked, “Do you know how much that costs?” I told him that I figured the biggest cost would be to get there since New Zeeland is on the other side of the world, but that the actual hunt itself was probably reasonable. Boy was I mistaken! He later gave me all of the info he had received from outfitters in New Zeeland while looking into the possibility of going on a hunt there. I was floored by how much it cost. The cost to take the kind of trophy stag you see on the hunting shows can easily run as high as $30,000. There went my dream of taking a trophy stag with a bow; or so I thought.
He then told me that there were other lower cost options if I really wanted to try my hand at taking a good trophy stag with a bow. He said that his hunting buddy had taken advantage of a cancellation to hunt for red stag in Argentina and had taken a really nice stag. The price at the time was around $4,000, which included one trophy stag, one management stag and one wild boar. He gave me the name of the outfitter and the rest is history… My hunting buddy and I ended up going the following spring. Luckily for us the ranch that the outfitter had leased that year was a first-class ranch in one of the best places to hunt red stag in Argentina. The nice thing about hunting in South America is that the seasons are reversed, so you don’t have to give up any time hunting in North America to go down there.
Since then I’ve gone back every spring and have hunted at several other ranches. Luckily for me they’ve all been top notch and offered good hunting and services, but you have to be careful when choosing where to spend your hard earned dollars. During my travels in Argentina I’ve met and talked to a lot of other hunters. Most related good experiences, but some had some real horror stories to tell. Things aren’t always as they appear on internet websites.
uthwest of Buenos Aires and offers approximately 60,000 acres of free range hunting for red stag and other exotics. They also have a 1000-acre high fenced preserve area where they do some breeding and offer limited hunting for gold medal animals for a trophy fee. It is a one-hour flight by commercial airline from Buenos Aires to Santa Rosa and then an hour drive to the ranch. The staff was very attentive and assisted with transfers at the airports, gun importation paperwork and provided transportation to and from the ranch. This is very comforting when you’re in an unfamiliar country with a different language and customs.
The owner, Luis Manganaro, purchased the property in 2001 and has worked since then to create an atmosphere in the tradition of the great hunting ranches of Africa. He is an avid sportsman and big game hunter who told me that his lifelong dream was to own and manage a hunting ranch in an area with good deer populations where he could provide the right environment to attract and support good populations of deer and other species. By all accounts he’s succeeded. While most hunting ranches in La Pampa province are cattle ranches that have populations of red deer that can be hunted, Luis told me that he manages the ranch specifically to attract and keep good populations of deer. He does raise some cattle on the ranch, but much of it is set aside and managed specifically for deer. He has numerous food plots planted with corn, sorghum, milo, alfalfa, or other high protein native grasses. His goal is to provide good nutrition year round to help the animals through the winter and to provide good food sources during the spring and summer growing season.
The facilities at the lodge include separate sleeping quarters for guests with four double occupancy rooms with their own modern private baths; two of which are handicapped accessible. The main house where meals are served is cozy and comfortable and consists of a large dining room, trophy room, and a great room with a fireplace and satellite TV. It was a great place to relax, enjoy snacks, and socialize with the other hunters. But the best part was the food. It was out of this world! There’s nothing like coming back from your hunt and sitting down to a five star meal. The kitchen was overseen by Luis’ mother Marta and they prepared some of the best traditional Argentine and international meals and desserts that I’ve ever had in Argentina. They also have a fully stocked bar with name brand liquors and regional beers and wines. Luis was in charge of the asados (Argentine style barbecues), which consisted of beef, lamb, and wild boar. They were absolutely delicious.
The typical hunting day at the Caza Pampa starts at 5:00 AM with a breakfast of bacon or sausage and eggs made to order including a large selection of cereals, pastries, juice, coffee and milk. After breakfast, we would meet up with our guides and head off to our assigned sections via four wheel drive vehicles. Normally we were out in the field about a half hour before first light. We would stand outside the vehicle and listen for the sound of roaring stags. The guides can tell, by the sound of the roar, the age and size of the animal as well as how far away it is. If your guide doesn’t like what he hears he will move on until he finds a suitable stag to pursue. To me the roar of a red stag sounds like a cross between an African lion and a bull. I can personally tell you that it will make your hair stand on end the first time you hear it, especially if one happens to be really close. Standing there in the dark, you may only hear one or two roaring or as many as eight to ten or more as I have on occasion.
As soon as it was light enough to see the guide selected the one he thought was best, then we would head off on foot to intercept it. If you are from a populated area in the US, you can’t imagine the number of stars in the sky that you can see in the remote lands of Argentina. The Milky Way can be seen on almost any morning or night. The light from the stars helps you navigate your way through the brush and around the armadillo holes as you move in to intercept the roaring stag. The stags could be anywhere from 50 to 400 yards away and we generally started the pursuit at a pretty good pace, but things would slow down as we got closer. For me, as a bow hunter, close is sixty yards or less. It was not uncommon for my guide and me to make four or five stalks during a morning’s hunt.
During the roar (rut), red deer stags act very similar to our elk. They collect harems of females, know as hinds, to breed with and try to prevent them from being taken by other stags. I’ve seen stags with harems that have as few as one or two hinds and large harems with up to fifteen hinds. So many eyes and noses make for a challenging stalk. The senses of a stag rank right up there with that of a whitetail deer, so you will be checking the wind often and staying by any cover that is present. A couple of years ago I was hunting at the beginning of the rut and almost scored on a big stag that would have easily scored over 350 inches. This monster only had one hind with him at the time. We stalked to within fifty yards before the wind shifted on us and ended things in a hurry.
My guide and I normally got back to the ranch by around 10:00 AM depending on how the hunt went. We were able to relax, interact with the other hunters and check out the trophies that were taken that morning. Hors d’oeuvres were served around noon in the great room before a big lunch around one o’clock. After lunch there was plenty of time to relax with a good book, check e-mail on the internet or take a siesta until the evening hunt, which started around five o’clock.
The evening hunts are interesting and offer some options that most of us here in the US are not familiar with. You can choose your typical hunt either on-stand or spot-and-stalk until sundown. You can also choose to hunt in the European style after dark for both stag and wild boar. Hunting after dark entails sitting with the guide in a blind over a food plot or water hole. When the guide hears movement he shines a light and the hunter has a split second to make the shot. The wild boar is mainly a nocturnal animal and this is the primary way that they are hunted in Europe and South America.
A hunter going to Caza Pampa during the rut can expect to see lots of good, representative free range red stags along with a fair number in the SCI gold and silver medal range. The possibility of seeing a true monster stag is also there. Over the years I’ve seen a number of animals in the 350+ range that I could have easily taken with a rifle. Being a bow hunter, I enjoy the extra challenge that comes with getting up close and personal with an animal. This means that many times you won’t score on animals that could have been easily taken with a rifle. Bow hunting for red stag is not an easy proposition, but it is definitely do-able.
I’ve taken several free range stags with my bow over the years, but this year I took the biggest stag of my life. Even though spot-and-stalk is my favorite way to hunt these animals, I decided to take advantage of one of the new bow stands that Luis had recently put up over a waterhole and give it a try in the afternoons. And boy did it pay off! A big 6X7 came in to drink one evening, shortly before dark with a group of four or five hinds. The water hole was in a section of trees adjacent to an open pasture and the deer would come out of the woods to drink before moving on to feed. The stand was set back off the water about 30 yards in the trees and he came with his harem from the woods on the opposite side of the water. It was still tough to get into shooting position with all those eyes on the lookout, but at last all the stars finally aligned and I took the shot. The stag was at about 35 yards, and I hit him right behind the shoulder. The shot was a little high and not my best, but the angle was right and the arrow ended up where it needed to be. He took off toward the open field and went a couple hundred yards before dropping. Let me tell you, there wasn’t any ground shrinkage when we finally walked up on him.
Whatever your choice of weapon, Caza Pampa offers something for everyone. Rifle hunters can expect to take their trophy and management stags as well as wild boar and other exotics, if they choose. Bow hunters can expect to get multiple shot opportunities at nice stags and see many more animals up close and personal. For those who would like to try bow hunting for these magnificent animals, but want to ensure that they bring home a nice trophy, the ranch also has rifles for rent by the day. You can hunt the first four days with your bow and then, if things don’t seem to be going your way, you can switch over to a rifle to make sure you bring home a trophy.
Although not as well-know as New Zeeland for red stag, the hunting in Argentina can be every bit as exciting, challenging and productive, at a much more reasonable price. The ranch is located in an area where the terrain is a mix of rolling hills of mature forest interspersed with open grass lands where even older hunters or those who are not in good shape can get out and enjoy stalking these magnificent animals on foot. They even have wheelchair lifts on some of the elevated blinds so that handicapped hunters can get out and enjoy this great sport.
My experience with Caza Pampa at Estancia La Mota was one that I will remember for the rest of my life. This is truly a first class operation. I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about an international big game hunt for red stag. For more information on Caza Pampa check out their website at www.cazapampa.com.