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Argentina's dove scene is truly something to see

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012 10:17 p.m. CDT

I remember driving past Goose Lake Prairie State Park as a kid with my dad. He would look out longingly across the landscape and tell me about his childhood on the farm before it was a state park. Many of the stories revolved around duck hunting.

The parts that are lodged into my memory the most are the detailed descriptions he would give me regarding the vast number of birds. “The sky was black with mallards,” he would say. I can’t even imagine that.

I’ve hunted all kinds of birds, from ducks and geese to pheasants and doves, but nowhere have I seen the sky black with birds. Are these days of vast bounty beyond us? Will my children ever see this type of phenomenon in their lifetimes?

This last weekend ushered in the opening of dove season here in northern Illinois. Doves are a migratory bird that most of us see throughout the year. In fact, there were plenty of times this summer when I wished the season was open because of the shear number of birds I was seeing. I decided I would do a little research on doves, and that is when I ran into something that raised some questions in my mind.

If you Google dove hunting on the Internet, thousands of stories and images pop up. Some of the images, though, really stand out. There are multiple photos of hunters posing proudly behind their day’s harvest. Only these harvest photos showed thousands of doves piled in front of the hunters. Literally thousands!

Some of you may have already guessed where these photos were taken — Argentina. More specifically, these pictures were taken from the Cordoba province of Argentina.

The questions were racing through my head. How is that possible? How can the population sustain that type of harvest? Is that ethical? Would I enjoy that dove hunt in Argentina? I know that dove hunting in Argentina is awesome, but wow.

Let me share with you what I found out after a little more thorough research. The central provinces in this far South American country are ideal for livestock production. The land is also extremely fertile and produces bountiful crops of grain as well. The climate in this area is quite mild, and this also plays a large role in both crop and bird production.

The roosting areas for some of these flocks covers anywhere from one to two thousand acres. In one nesting location, it is estimated that there are 20 million doves. In the mild region they live in, they have 4-5 hatches a year.

Each clutch has two eggs. Even if only one of the eggs survives, that is an astronomical number of new doves being hatched every few months. This is only an example of one of the many nesting locations in the Cordoba province.

As I read on, there were some examples of how often hunters shoot on a typical day. One particular outfitter said that a client can average a box of 25 shells every three minutes! First thing I thought of is, “Who could afford that?” and then, “How bad does their shoulders hurt from all the recoil?”

To answer the first question, it seems that only the quite well off can afford one of these adventures, and the second question about recoil pain can be answered by the fact that almost everyone either uses a 20- or a 28-gauge shotgun.

One site I was reading talked about quite a few Americans that come down and bring their 12-gauge shotguns with. The guide said that after an hour of constant shooting, they are looking around for spare 20 gauges they can borrow.

It seems that these Argentinian hunts are chock full of amenities, like bird boys, who clean the doves, pick them up and also scour the ground for all the spent shell casings. The lodges looked first class with all the frills you could hope for.

Photo after photo showed the sky black with doves. What an amazing sight. I could only imagine what that experience would be like in person.

There are still plenty of questions to be asked about the differences between hunting for food and just plain shooting thousands of birds. Each of us has to answer those questions on our own.

I would, however, love to take my sons there sometime to see a sky black with birds.

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