Travel – Travelling to Cordoba has never been easier. Passengers traveling from the USA via JFK, Atlanta, or Miami with Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas now have the option of connecting directly over Ezeiza International Airport. This eliminates the need to transfer to the domestic airport in downtown Buenos Aires. From the UK it is best to catch the British Airways flight leaving the UK at around 2200 and landing in Buenos Aires around 0800. On arrival, assuming you are on time, you go to the domestic terminal of the same airport and take the 1135 flight to Cordoba getting you in at 1300 and to your lodge by 1430. If you are very keen, you will shoot that afternoon but I recommend relaxing, preparing, maybe take a massage and enjoy yourself ready for shooting the next day. Other gateways to Cordoba worth considering are via Sao Paulo, Santiago, Lima and Miami but if travelling with guns Buenos Aires remains the best option.
While we are on the subject of travel, drive times are a hot subject for Cordoba. There are lodges that will tell you that their shooting is on their doorstep but this is because they have planted sunflower fields near the lodge and what if the birds go elsewhere? Others will tell you drive times are never more than 40 minutes, that would be economical with the truth also because the doves are a wild bird and to ensure the best shooting, the lodges need to take you to where the doves are. My inclination is towards the lodges who tell you that a guide for drive times for the time of year you are thinking of coming is X, but in reality drive times can be anything from 15 minutes to 90+ minutes because that is actually the truth.
Hills vs Flatlands – I hear much talk of shooting in the hills to get the higher doves and while I understand it, I am also wary of trying too hard to recreate what we have in the UK abroad. You are dove shooting not pheasant or partridge shooting and there is something to be said for enjoying the experience for what it is. Having said that if you are focused on the hills, the birds go to the roosts in the hills from about June/July until about mid-Jan to mid-Feb. If anyone else tells you otherwise, they are not telling the truth. Of course there is a little variation, these are wild birds, but this is the best guideline I can give you and I have yet to talk to a guide who disagrees. From February to early April the doves move to what I call the intermediate areas which are close to the hills still in rough terrain, like the famous aptly named ‘balcony’ area, and from April to June they are down hitting crops, harvested fields and feed lots in the flatlands which are too long a journey to go back to the hills so they establish temporary roosts near the feeding grounds. I should add that you can enjoy high birds and grouse birds, and everything in between, out of the hills but the contours of the hills make it easier for your guide to achieve there.
Kit – you do not need a lot of kit but what you do need is important. Ear, eye and sun protection; gloves to protect against blisters but occasionally for a chilly morning depending on the time of year; casual dull-coloured clothing is best but not vital; a light waterproof; a pair of outdoor boots or shoes with tough soles to withstand some serious thorns; hat or cap of some description; a vest with in-built shoulder pad or simply a shoulder pad to put underneath clothing; plasters or tape for greater reinforcement against blisters (gloves are really best); headache pills; and a range finder is also a useful and interesting piece of kit. You might also bring your own clicker- your bird boy or ‘field assistant’ as they are now known, will count your birds but the most reliable way to do it is yourself.
Guns and gun quality – Buying guns has become a very difficult process in Argentina. The cost of a basic Beretta or semi-auto is from $3,000 to $5,000 per gun plus a year to eighteen months of paperwork. Shooting operators do their very best to keep guns updated and in good shape but this is not always possible and they do have issues from time to time with ejectors, trigger pulls etc. There are usually replacement guns available on site. Bottom line, if you believe this will prove irritating or you do not want to shoot a semi-auto or over and under, it would be best to bring your own guns, which currently is an easy process from the UK – see my blog about this here or ask Frontiers for information. Most operators charge $70 a day for gun hire and most do not charge for two guns if you want to shoot double guns.
Safety – Safety is as simple as knowing where your fellow guns, livestock and other possible dangers are and ensuring you are safe in those directions. Guns are usually well spread out but follow the key procedure of asking your guide to tell you where your neighbours are positioned and any other hazards to be aware of and then, if you plan to shoot low ‘à la incoming grouse’, ensure it is safe to do so. Take the step to ask the guide because he will often be focused on placing other members of the party. When visiting your friends while taking a break, make them aware that you are approaching as soon as possible.
Shooting location – Your guide will place all guns to take best advantage of the flight line based on any specific requests for high, low, medium, upwind/downwind etc birds you have asked for. If you do not like where you are located or how the birds are coming, do not carry on shooting, ask to be moved. I have never met a guide who has been unwilling to move you to suit your shooting enjoyment. You will not cause offence and the guide would far rather know while he can do something about it than when the opportunity has passed.
Double guns – if you want to shoot double guns all day or for a period, simply ask. If renting guns, the shoot staff needs to know before leaving the lodge but onsite you can chop and change as you wish. The field assistants are well versed with double guns but it is worth having a practice before you start the heat of the action to make sure you are on the same wavelength.
Shooting Academy – Cordoba is without doubt the best live bird shooting academy in the world. If you want to practice a style of shooting or a particular angle or side or height, whatever, with some adjustment to your stand, you can shoot bird after bird of what you are looking to improve. I am often surprised by how few teams take an instructor and how few shooting schools offer their clients the opportunity to be coached under such conditions. Of course you want to have fun while you are there but equally, take advantage of the opportunity to learn and practice.
Crops – Nobody knows how many doves there are in the Cordoba region but estimates are consistently 40 million or more. The birds are there because of the food and the food is dominated by maize and soya beans with sorghum being the third crop, but currently less profitable from a farming point of view. The doves breed four times a year and produce two to four young each time.
Diet – I am not suggesting you diet while there but I am suggesting that before and after might be a consideration. You will be extremely well fed with superb beef, pork, chicken and sausages (as well as dove and pigeon breasts with bacon, onion and peppers on a kebab) so enjoy but if you want to feel a little less guilty a diet pre-departure so you are ready might be a good idea!
Cordoba is one of the most relaxing, sociable and fun places to shoot so above all, enjoy it!