ROGER WILTZ: Argentina hunt continues
My Patagonian hunting adventure was about to begin. At 6 a.m. April 18th, I received a wakeup call. Breakfast would be at 6:30, and we would meet our guides and head out at 7:00 a.m. The previous evening I had set out my attire for the next morning.
My Patagonian hunting adventure was about to begin.
At 6 a.m. April 18th, I received a wakeup call. Breakfast would be at 6:30, and we would meet our guides and head out at 7:00 a.m.
The previous evening I had set out my attire for the next morning. It would include Thermax underwear, a jacket and stocking cap as the fall outside temperature hung around freezing.
At breakfast, Mariano, the Algar ranch manager, asked me if I was interested in a particular color phase of fallow deer. The hunt I had purchased the previous year at Safari Club International banquet was for fallow deer. I replied that it made no difference to me. Doug, my partner, would hunt red stag with his guide, Noel.
Before I continue, I want to say that I stole the Algar hunt I bought at auction. The lodging, meals, staff, game, amenities and property were five star. It could not have been better. Doug also profited from my purchase as it included a non-hunting partner that he upgraded to hunter status. Though I won't name drop, we joined an elite list of Algar clientele.
At 7 a.m., while still dark, Tito, my guide, picked me up at the lodge in a Toyota four-wheel drive quad-cab truck and headed for the corrals and our horses. With the help of a stump, I climbed on Farty, my appropriately named horse, and followed a mounted Tito out of the yard in a northwesterly direction toward the distant snow-capped peaks.
Tito, my lean and wiry 65- year-old guide, carried my .30-06 Steyr carbine slung across his back. A quarter-mile into our ride, he looked back. I gave him a thumbs up, and he never looked back again. Tito, who spoke not one word of English, wore an olive-colored beret, matching jacket and pants, and gaiters. Binoculars hung from his neck. His facial features resembled those of the late Jack Palance.
Argentina has much indigenous wildlife. Pumas or mountain lions top the food chain, followed by two lesser varieties of cat. There are coyote-sized red and silver fox, jackrabbits, skunks, armadillos, waterfowl, grouse and quail, an ostrich called a choique, and a llama-like animal called a Guanaco. These appear to live in harmony with the flourishing European red stag, Eurasian fallow deer and European wild boar.
The fallow deer we hunted were native to western Eurasia. The same size as our whitetails, they are found in four principal color variations: off white, mouse, chocolate and black. All have barely discernable spots on their back and a black tip on their tails. From my perspective, judging trophy quality was difficult.
On our first morning's hunt, Tito must have glassed a dozen fallow bucks. He would look at me and say, "Chico," which means little boy. Though I tried to use my binoculars effectively, my tremor made it difficult. We returned to the lodge at noon for a lunch of salads and thick cuts of tender beef that were pink in the center. Algar was no place for a vegetarian. Observing the traditional siesta time, hunting resumed at 4 p.m. when I once again climbed on Farty, a stocky, strong, sure-footed horse.
The afternoon's hunt offered more of the same -- plentiful bucks that were "chico" in size. I was having the time of my life, and was modestly pleased with my horsemanship. I could mount and dismount using the higher side of the slopes we rode, and I was totally comfortable.
Upon our return to the lodge at darkness, we retired to a cozy great room with a warm fire, hors d'oeuvres of cheeses, veggies, and salamis, and a big screen TV that gave us Fox News in English. Juan, the assistant manager, poured beverages of choice -- most often Sprite for me. Monday night's supper included salads, thin-sliced beef in rich gravy with dumpling-like staffed pasta and a dessert of vanilla caramel mousse.
After supper, I suggested to Mariano that I would be pleased with a medium-sized fallow buck if it meant an easier shot. No, we still had all week, and Roger would take a very large buck. Like me, Doug never fired a shot on our first day. The day ended with Mariano sending e-mails to our anxious wives.
Tuesday morning found Tito and me in a Toyota that would cover more of Algar's 85,000 acres effectively. The sun was barely above the horizon when a white fallow buck in the tall, high saw grass of the stream bottom caught Tito's attention. I thought I had seen antler tips above the tall grass to the left of the white fallow. Tito looked at me and said "Chico." Through our charades game, I indicated a second buck in the tall grass. Tito then spotted the tell-tale antler tips.
Tito took the expandable bipod and we climbed to a position about a hundred yards above the buck. He finally stepped out, revealing his antlers, head and three inches of back above the grass line.
Tito whispered, "Mui, mui grande," meaning very, very large. I sat down, adjusted the bipod, chambered a cartridge and set my trigger. I aimed at the line behind his neck where the grass met three inches of exposed spine. Upon touching the sensitive trigger, the buck disappeared. An animated Tito grinned and the buck was down.
We loaded the buck, a beautiful chocolate color, took it to the locker facility complete with chain hoist, concrete floor, and walk-in cooler, and unloaded. I visited with Mariano. I had already told him I couldn't afford any trophy animals. How would I like hunting cull red stags (inferior antlers) for the rest of the week at no additional charge? These needed to be removed from the gene pool. My prayers were answered. We were back on the Argentine steppe by 9:30 a.m.
The hunt keeps getting better. See you next week, and thanks for the overwhelming positive response to my column on the Zacharias mountain lion.