I was becoming frustrated. How could I miss so many easy shots? Perhaps my shoulder. I really didn’t think a 20 gauge autoloader could make me sore, but I had been shooting for two plus days and I was really feeling it. I had put on a “shooting pad” I was thoughtful enough to take with me, but was too “macho” to wear for the first 2 ½ days. It was April so the crops were mature and I was standing about 20 yards out in a cornfield with corn at least head high.
Looking out over the corn, somewhat into the afternoon sun, it almost looked like gazing out at a calm sea. The small ripples coming in were wave after wave of doves anywhere from 5 to 50 birds spread out in long horizontal lines, flying about 5 to 15 feet above the corn. So low, and because they were quartering out of the sun, many times I didn’t really see those close enough to take a shot at until they were virtually on top of me. I pondered about where they had been and where they were going, but no matter, there are lots of them.
When I paused from my own shooting, I could hear the shooter on my right, Jeff, a young guy without any shooting experience that came from New Mexico with his father, and the shooter on my left, Manuel, a new arrival from Spain I had just met. Between the two, it sounded like they were slugging it out on some no-name World War II battlefield.
This was my first trip to Argentina and to SYC Sporting Adventures. Actually, the name was Safaris y Cacerias, which I could never say or remember, so I was pleased they shortened it to SYC Sporting. Perhaps influenced by my suggestion about the difficulty for those of us from the US. I was one of the first US shooters to visit El Cortijo.
At the time, after practicing law for 35 years, I thought I had seen most everything. But I was impressed, overwhelmed maybe. Not only with SYC Sporting, the people, the dove shooting and food, but I had really enjoyed Argentina as a whole. The initial apprehension about the trip was totally gone. My son West and I had started the tour in El Calafate in the Patagonia region to see the glaciers and the icebergs and the Fitzroy Mountains. Lake Argentina is beautiful and really big. Cruising around on the tour boats produced some interesting sights in addition to the mountains and the icebergs. I had never thought about South American parrots living in the snow and ice.
The Moreno glacier, Argentina’s largest, is very impressive. It is also interesting because it “calves” several times each hour so you have the opportunity to observe that spectacle.
West is not a shooter, but is a “big wall” climber and skier having spent the last 10 years or so helping run the IT systems at Teton Mountain Resort in Jackson Hole. The Fitzroy Mountains are some of the most famous climbing faces in the world. We had reached a compromise. I would go look at climbing potential if he would go to SYC Sporting and shoot doves for a few days. Once we did the tour around El Calafate, we returned to Buenos Aires where my wife’s nephew Collin, from Colorado, joined us and we celebrated my birthday at Cabanas las Lilas. A great restaurant. You should put that on your bucket list. We also toured Buenos Aires as all good tourists should.
I am not a shopper, but this shopping Mall in Buenos Aires is what all shopping centers should look like.
Then on to Córdoba with SYC Sporting and to El Cortijo Lodge. Then, a brand-new facility, but sans swimming pool and Jacuzzi. At that time, a couple of the shooting locations were far enough from El Cortijo that we did not return to the lodge for lunch. This is what I call “roughing it” in style.
A memorable recollection on that first trip was Collin. Young and strong and an enthusiastic former football player, but he got so tired, he set down on his stool, held as his gun at his waist and started shooting like he was manning an an anti-aircraft battery. Most amazing is that doves started to fall! Perhaps scared them to death.
Several friends from New Mexico joined us at SYC Sporting for the dove shoot. The next to last day of our shoot, a group joined us from Spain. Three guys, two with girlfriends or wives, and Manuel (the name I will use) who came alone.
Before long, due to lack of energy, a painful right shoulder, and frustrations about my inept shooting, I handed the bird boy my gun and quit for the day. As Jeff and Manuel were still shooting, I hung around and help the bird boy clean up the hulls, etc. I am not typically a semi-auto shooter, but the area a Beretta 391 can scatter 500 shell casings around was surprising. Then, as the sound of shotguns wound down, I strolled over to see Jeff.
“Jeff, you must have been in a great place, you were shooting a bunch.”
“Yeah it was great, I had a great time.” (It was his last afternoon)
“So how many times did you shoot? “
After checking with his bird boy; “1325”
“ Wow! So how many birds did you shoot?”
Again after turning to his bird boy who read the score on the clicker; “49.” Still grinning from ear to ear!
It was on the ride back to El Cortijo that I sat down by Manuel and had a chance to visit. His English was about 100 times better than my Spanish, so we conversed in English. He was a nice gentleman in his late 30s. That afternoon, his first, he used up 2000 rounds and scored on 1125 birds.
We immediately established a rapport and I started getting into more things like what he did in Spain and the sort of thing that you start talking about when you are getting acquainted. All he would say about his line of work in Spain was that he was in the “sporting” business. I thought perhaps I did not understand or that perhaps that was part of the language barrier. It was not until Eduardo traveled to Spain the following summer to compete in the live pigeon World Championships (where he won the Italian class) that he learned Manuel was probably the most famous bullfighter in Spain. He returned with a beautiful hardbound book all about Manuel, but, of course I couldn’t read it because it was all in Spanish. But the pictures were nice.
We returned to El Cortijo and in the corner of the “gathering” room was an old guitar, something that I had discovered a day or so earlier. Relapsing into a prior career, I could not help but pick up the guitar and strum a few chords.
About that time the other two Spaniards and their companions came into the Lodge, saw me holding the guitar and one made a move “somewhat” like a flamenco dancer. I changed modes and did my rusty best to hit a couple of flamenco licks. What followed was a time to be remembered.
The two guys went to the rooms and returned with a couple of wigs. Crazy, bright, colorful wigs. I have no idea why anyone would have brought them on a trip to Argentina, but the next 15 or 20 minutes was spent with me trying my best to be a flamenco guitar player and the two of them trying to be flamenco dancers. It was a terrible performance, but much fun and laughter. Somebody got it on a video that showed up on the SYC Sporting website for a while. I never saw the video but heard about it from friends, although I am not sure the comments were all that complimentary!
That was my introduction to shooters from other countries coming to SYC Sporting. There were the guys from Germany. Great shooters and one was a European sporting clays shooter. But for some scheduling issues, my wife and I were going to make connections with Hans in Budapest for the world FITASC Championships a few years later.
I should probably stop here and explain something. I have mentioned competitive clay target shooting in these articles a couple of times. I am not a great shooter. If you do not take up a sport until you are 68, you are not going to be a champion. However, when the quail populations became too depleted to hunt, sporting clays presented consistent shooting opportunities, although I have never figured out how to cook them. As a bonus, some shoots are in great places and present opportunities for travel (something my wife enthusiastically supports), do something I like, and meet interesting new people. After so many years of being tied to a desk, the telephone, or the courtroom it is a great change of pace. I now tell my family and staff that if I do not get out on the weekend, make a lot of noise and blow things up, I am a lot harder to live with when Monday morning comes around! Of course the more things I smash, the easier I am to live with.
Another group from Canada and I crossed paths on two different occasions. They were either retired or current upper level government guys and were great to visit with. Everything from guns and hunting to comparing Canadian politics and Obama politics. (Surprisingly, we were not too different on our opinions about Obama politics). However, the subject that fascinated me most was that they owned hunting concessions in Cuba. This was before the US/Cuba “thaw,” but the thought that there was hunting in Cuba (birds) is something that I had never thought of. Much less that foreigners (not US folks) could buy hunting concessions there. I have never followed up, but I am still intrigued. I wonder if the new ultra-sonic issue is applied in the shooting areas.
There have been several groups from the UK. An investment banker was there with his son and I was quite interested in what he related about hunting in the UK. He owned a “farm” and between them and their two neighbors that pooled the acreage, they went out and shot several hundred driven pheasants every weekend. No doubt they had to release a lot of birds but, intriguing. I think the birds were sold to resturaunts. In fact all of the UK shooters talked about how much bird shooting they do. Something I would not have guessed. But, as soon as I mentioned I was from Albuquerque, the conversation lit up. Everybody in the room knew about Albuquerque because — you got it – “Breaking Bad.” Many, many questions, but unfortunately as I have never seen a single episode I was of little help. Which is not all that uncommon for me. Although I do know the guy (he is a shooter) that owned the car wash which was the “headquarters” for the show.
I was also there with Martin Papworth and Paul Bachelor, two other Brits. At the time, both prominent shooters on the European sporting clays circuit. Martin was a Perazzi sponsored shooter and Paul was a Krieghoff sponsored shooter. Both had shell sponsors that even paid for the shells in Argentina. (Sounded like a great deal to me.) Two or three things were “impressive” for lack of a better word. First, they averaged shooting 50,000 – 80,000 rounds per year. Wow!
In four days of shooting at SYC Sporting, between the two of them they shot 20,000 rounds. However, they were not invincible. Because Paul’s shoulder was bothering him, he passed on the last day of shooting, at which time, Martin went out with three shotguns and two loaders and shot 5080 birds. An El Cortijo record. He started a little before 8:00 AM, took about an hour break at lunch time and wrapped it up about 2:30 PM. Shot close to 90%. There were still five or six hours of shooting time left but it was not necessary for the record and even his shoulder (and fatigue) started showing the wear and tear.
Back to that first trip. Before I left for SYC Sporting, one of the partners called and asked if I knew how they could get some duck decoys with the rotating wings (Mojo) for their duck hunting operations. I saw no reason I couldn’t just buy some and check them as luggage (I don’t think I could get by with that now). When we arrived, we arrived with two Mojo duck decoys. I understand they worked great, but the story has an interesting twist. As Paul Harvey would once have said, “Now for the rest of the story”.
In 2016 I traveled to the Dallas Safari Club Convention for the opportunity to hang out around the SYC Sporting booth and visit with Eduardo and Paula who were there for the show. While there, Eduardo introduced me to the president of Mojo Outdoors who told me the “rest of the story.” He was at SYC Sporting, to shoot waterfowl and saw the Mojo decoys still operating and decoying ducks. He was curious. How did they get the decoys in Argentina? How long had they been operating because they were a very early vintage? He learned the history and then because Mojo did not have working decoys of that vintage, wanted them for the Mojo Museum. To make a long story short (but not very short) the Mojo decoys traveled from Mojo to Albuquerque to Argentina and back to the Mojo Museum. SYC Sporting ended up with new robo-ducks.
I shouldn’t forget the ladies. My wife starting “lobbying” to be included and has now been with me three times. Twice we were with one other couple and once with three additional couples.
Don’t let the shooting pad fool you. She is not a shooter but I did get her out for 8 or 10 shots. On that trip her nephew Collin, that met us onthe first trip, and his wife accompanied us.
The Lodge staff was great in setting up a tour of Cordoba for the ladies when they were not relaxing around the pool or reading. There are many historic and cultural attraction is Cordoba. It was the first capital of Argentina and the University there is the oldest in Argentina. Also, Eduardo’s family has a great restaurant you should try. El Rancho Grande.
Kristi also tried shooting a bit. We had made stops Buenos Aires for the sights and Mendoza to taste the wine.
Both wives agreed, the part of the trip they enjoyed the most was relaxing at El Cortijo lodge with SYC Sporting.
Argentina is a great place. Buenos Aires, El Calafate, Ushuaia, Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes, (fly fishing), Mendoza (wine country), Salta, Santa Fe, Iguazu Falls and places in between. Really good food, hospitality, and friendly people, all opened up because of my good experiences at SYC Sporting and El Cortijo.