La Pampa, Argentina: Red Stag and Buffalo
Years ago, I was hunting elk in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado when I met Santiago Rossi. He was from Buenos Aires, and he was guiding the elk season in Colorado for Winterhawk Outfitters. Back home, he ran a hunting concession called Poitahue. He was a vibrant personality and an expert bow hunter from the land of Patagonia. The campfire stories he told of roaring red stag in La Pampa had me instantly intrigued. I immediately decided that at some point in my life I would take him up on his offer and make the trip to Argentina to hunt alongside him on his home turf.
It was wonderful to see Santi and the guys I hunted with years ago as the plane touched down in La Pampa. It’s a bond that can only be formed in hunting camps, and it lasts a lifetime. The Pampas grasslands rolled on for miles and miles as far as the eyes could see. It was beautiful country that looked very similar to parts of Africa or Texas. The accommodations at Poitahue where just as I imaged. The camp was a third generation Hacienda with all the bells, whistles, and artifacts of the gaucho life its inhabitants continue to live to this day.
Poitahue is a full-time working cattle operation, and that doesn’t slow down for hunting season.
The first morning we rose early after a restless night of sleep attributable to excitement and anticipation. After slamming some Argentine coffee and fresh eggs, we headed out. The truck doors hadn’t even closed, and we had stags roaring in every direction. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as reality hit me that I was in Argentina after all these years and merely meters from roaring red stags. We put on several failed stalks on the first day and we got eyes on them, but we couldn’t get within bow range. The wind always seemed to swirl at the last minute or we would get busted by too many eyes. Such is the life of a bowhunter.
Stag hunting during the rut is much like elk hunting. The animals will bed down during the day, and you let them rest. The hunt takes place during the early morning and late evening. Fortunately, Poitahue is home to many other huntable species during the midday. There are large numbers of water buffalo, axis deer, wild boar, feral goats, mouflon and fallow deer that provide constant opportunity.
On the way back into camp for lunch we had spotted a group of European mouflons that headed into a thicket. We got our wind right and set out for a stalk. The cattle had also decided to use the cover of the forest to rest, but we were able to use the cattle and the trees as cover. I was able to slip within twenty yards before I released the arrow. The ram was almost broadside, and the arrow went straight through him. First blood had been drawn with a bow and arrow in Argentina. I was amazed at the small body yet heavy horns of these beautiful sheep. They were brought in from Europe many years ago and they’re doing very well.
We awoke on Day 2 to warmer weather. The change in temperatures almost completely shut down the roars for the time being. We encountered groups of stags, but they all seemed to be in bachelor groups which made a bow stalk all but impossible. Day 3 brought more of the same weather and rutting activity or lack thereof. Such is hunting, but you’ve got to make the most of the situation and you can get a shot from camp.
Midday, we made our way through some thick forest and Jorge froze in his tracks. He signaled for us to drop as he did the same. There was a chocolate fallow buck beaded at the base of a tree in a small depression. You could barely make out the top of his antlers. I was extremely impressed that Jorge even saw the horns as they were naturally camouflaged by the grass. We crawled on hands and knees and lay motionless in the grass for the better part of an hour. The thorny rosette stickers were doing a number on my hands and forearms as we crawled slowly closer. I couldn’t decide if I should try and close the gap or stay put. I was also having difficulty getting a range on him due to the grass and tree branches that always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was finally able to get a good range on the tree beside him.
After what seemed like an eternity, the buck stood, and I released the arrow on a quartering shot. The shot was a touch high, but we were able to make a follow up shot after a short stalk and it was all over. I was elated as I recovered the magnificent deer. I had the opportunity to play guide in Texas several years ago on my son’s fallow hunt, and I have always wanted to hunt them myself. They’re tenacious fighters during the rut, the meat is some of the best on the planet, and I think they’re one of the most beautiful deer in the world.
Argentina is also home to large herds of Water buffalo. Second only to red stag, they’re one of the main game species that draw hunters to Argentina. They’re big powerful animals in excess of 2,000 lbs and wounded or surprised they can be brutally deadly. They don’t have the deadly reputation associated with Cape buffalo in Africa but they’re still large, wild, animals that can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. When wounded, a buffalo goes to cover and they often double back to ambush their pursuers. I was only shooting a 400-grain arrow so opted to carry Santiago’s CZ .458 Winchester Magnum with iron sights for this pursuit. I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt Cape buffalo in Zimbabwe, and Zambia and I’ve witnessed the amount of lead one of these bulls can withstand. Not to mention, Water buffalo are generally larger in body size than Cape buffalo.
We were able to locate an old loan bull feeding about 800 meters from us. The wind was in our face, and he was slowing moving away from us. I knew from the onset that we had an excellent chance to get in close. We slowly worked our way in while we kept the wind in our face. We got to within 80 yards, and Jorge signaled for me to get on the sticks for the shot. I motioned to Santi that I wanted to get in tight with the iron sights. The bull was still feeding and had no idea he was being pursued. I shouldered the .458 and squeezed off the trigger from 22 yards. The first shot anchored him. He just turned and looked at me. I chambered another round and squeezed off the second shot into his chest. The old bull spun and collapsed. We had just taken an old Argentinian Water buffalo in the plains of La Pampa.
We spent the next two hours skinning and butchering the meat. Not a single piece goes to waste, and it was amazing how fast the guys worked with their gaucho knives. It was a true Argentinian experience. Upon returning to camp, we hung the meat in the open air to let it age.
It was getting down to crunch time on the stags. We needed some good luck and a cold morning to get the rutting action fired back up. Mother nature answered our prayers. We woke up to cooler temps and a cool breeze. We heard stags roaring immediately, and I got good feeling. After all our failed stalks, numbers were in our favor to get within bow range and now the weather was in our favor. We pinpointed a roar, and soon after, two stags started hammering each other. It was incredible hearing their horns collide in all out head to head combat. As we cautiously approached, the younger stag conceded, and we got eyes on the larger, more mature, animal. At this point, he decided to take out the rest of his anger on a tree that stood in his way.
He was moving right to left and was working towards a nice open shooting lane. I got a good range at 56 yards and set up for the shot. I came to full draw just before he stepped into the opening. I released the arrow and watched it fly. It felt like it was in slow motion as my focus was completely narrowed. We heard the impact, and it looked like a good hit. After reviewing the footage, it appeared he jumped string a bit on the release. I was worried the shot was a bit back, but we were confident because he was slightly quartered giving us the opposite lung. We decided to back out and give him time. After a few hours at camp, Jorge and Santi got on the blood trail, and we immediately located him. From a distance, I could see half of his antlers sky lining just above the Pampas grass. It is an image that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It was hard to get my head around the crown and points and the beauty of this majestic animal. The points coming off the crown were like nothing I’ve ever seen since I’m used to hunting elk.
Time stood still for a second as I reflected on all the things that had happened to bring me to Argentina. It all started with a friendship many years ago that was formed in a hunting camp in another part of the world.
That night we had a truly Argentinian BBQ with all the staff cooked over open flames. The protein consisted of numerous cuts of wild game and of course, Argentine beef. I can’t say enough about the guys at Poitahue and the people of Patagonia. They’re tough, hardworking people and their hospitality is first class. The next time I cook over the open flame, I will forever be reminded of the gauchos and the hunters of La Pampa, Argentina.