"In Search of the Mexican Whistler"

Sunday, June 28, 2009
“In Search of the Mexican Whistler�

The acrid stench of cordite powder was burning my eyes and causing my skin to itch as the veteran Bennelli spoke again and again. Feathers, blood and gore covered the ground all around me. The smoking hot barrel had burned the bluing away as it guided small loads of number 9 shot into the sky, delivering death and carnage. I was the perfect poster for PETA. An evil American standing amidst wanton waste and destruction. It was the ultimate dove “hunt.� The experience will stay with me forever: the sky filled with millions of tiny marauding doves flying in a constant cycle from their roost to feed and then back again, to deliver sustenance to their waiting broods. It was my job to help as a conservation management volunteer. I must help save the poor farmers’ crops from the scourge of airborne marauders. As though I needed justification. I did my share over a period of three days, with thousands of shots fired and thousands of raiding doves eliminated. It was certainly not hunting, but as far as honing my shooting skills go, nothing could have been better.

The first evening when we arrived in this cropland east of Cordoba in central Argentina, the sky was blackened with a monstrous swarm of these pests. I had a bird boy assigned to load my two semi-automatic weapons and keep tally of my shots and kills. He passed the weapons back and forth as fast as I could empty them. Flailing about with very little accuracy I nevertheless filled the sky with lead. I guess, when you come to think of it, the lead comes back down into the cattle pasture where stock eat the toxic substance, and circling raptors devour tiny dove corpses filled with poison. I made no dent in the raging torrent flowing overhead, but oh, how I tried. When I had had enough shoulder pounding excitement, I walked over to watch my cousin and fellow murderer calmly and skillfully wield his Browning Grade 5 Superpose. Up. Aim. POP! POP! Down came two birds. Break. Load. The cycle was repeated over and over. Scott was a machine. After several days of this he received a nifty hat advertising his prowess. Doc, my dentist of 30 years and Scott’s father was suffering from the later stages of bone cancer and was on strong steroids that wore him out. He loved to watch his son shoot, but was not particularly interested in doing so himself. Over the three days we had allocated to this slaughter, we were housed in the beautiful estancia manor house of Juan Carlos located an hour drive east of Cordoba. We enjoyed outstanding accommodations and excellent food in genuine old world surroundings. The mansion contained a private chapel, numerous ancient Indian artifacts, and dozens of pieces of beautiful furniture from the time of the Spanish colonization. I could get used to a life in these conditions, I thought.

This July 4th expedition had been schemed up the previous October on a whim during a South Dakota pheasant hunt. Originally my father was to have accompanied us making it a foursome, but he passed away the month before we were due to depart. Scott and Doc were extremely enthusiastic about this foreign adventure and I decided that Dad would be upset with me for not going. We flew out of Minneapolis to Dallas, and on to Buenos Aires. A short drive through the countryside later and we were met by our guide Alex at a rural hunting lodge. He explained that we would hunt ducks for four days, and then later three days for doves, leaving two days in the city.

We were eager to get started and immediately prepared our gear for the waterfowl hunt. I had never been duck hunting before, so it was all new to me. Having wriggled into my brand new waders, I struggled into the boat for a high speed ride down the Parana River. I had a local guide to help me for the evening. We met at the blind he had prepared covering a small spread of decoys. Soon after I arrived and got set up, dark winged shapes flew over. I shot. “No! No!� The man shouted. I was confused. My Spanish was very poor as was his English. Apparently there were some types that I was supposed to shoot and others that I was not supposed to shoot?? The next flight swooped in low over my decoys and whistled a strange call. They looked quite similar to the last ones, so I did not shoot. “Shoot! Shoot!� yelled the exasperated local. “HM????� I wondered.� “I guess I will learn as we go.� I shot and shot as the ducks flew over. Small groups kept coming in. The outfitter had imposed a limit of 30 ducks per outing, and with my stellar shooting I was in no danger of exceeding it. When darkness fell and the boat returned, there was a good deal of laughter at my expense, and I tried to explain that I had no idea what I was doing, but that was unnecessary as my performance had made that very clear. Scott and Doc had done rather well at their position a mile further down the river bank. Over the next few days my performance improved and I got some idea of the shape, size and coloration of the target and non-target birds. I had a blast standing chest deep in the river behind a thin blind of vegetation with a disgusted bird boy wondering how he got stuck with this goofball. Just the same, I really enjoyed the murky river, and the denizens of mosquitoes. Occasionally a duck I had killed would disappear into the water. It had clearly been dead, but where had it gone, I wondered. Oh yeah, the Parana (piranha in English) River, I realized. Yes, there were piranha in it. Also, caiman crocodiles and one wonderful afternoon following an outstanding barbeque in the wild we were introduced to another of the local ruling figures. It was a chance to get a nap for the crew while we waited for the afternoon shoot. Scott and I decided to take a walk along the shore and try to pass shoot some ducks. A couple hundred yards later I looked at the distant bank of an island in the delta we were in and saw a huge black shape slide into the water. It was an enormous snake! Although it was early July and supposedly the middle of winter, it was 80 degrees and the cold blooded creatures were coming out to enjoy the weather. We quickly spotted another massive scaled reptile taking in the sun on our side of the water. We moved closer, Scott with his 12GA at the ready and me with a Nikon both hoping for a good shot. We got up on a dead tree ten yards away just as the huge serpent reared its head and raced right for us!! I had nowhere to go and no time to panic. Luckily the snake slithered under our tree instead of up it to have us for lunch. We raced back to our lounging team of professionals and informed them of our discovery hoping they might help us to catch a great monster. The locals were very excited and got into gear quickly waking from their siesta. We found several more snakes and actually caught a small one. It was whacked on the head with a club and I assumed it was dead. Scott held it menacingly for photos. I was standing close by, but definitely not interested in caressing the scaly green and black creature. The 10 foot Green Anaconda started to wiggle and hastily made its way back to the water as we scattered.

We later enjoyed an afternoon of fast action Perdiz grouse shooting over pointers. Finally a day tour of Buenos Aires rounded out the adventure. We saw the tomb of Evita Peron, the expansive River Platte, various government buildings and shopped for a polo horse saddle and leather jackets for the girls left back home and an amazing steak dinner at a wonderful restaurant for an astonishingly low price made a real impression on me.

Our adventure ended with one more good laugh on me by Scott and Doc. Having no idea how to fill out the customs forms to import a cooler full of frozen ducks to be mounted back home, my deviously clever cousin made up names like “Mexican Whistler�, “Brazilian Teal�, “Spotted Shoveler�, and “Rainbow Widgeon� for me to fill in the blanks. The Fish and Wildlife inspectors looked at me strangely, but they let me through sans ducks which were confiscated for further inspection. To my relief they reappeared the next day Fedexed to my office.

All in all, it was a very exciting adventure with a pair of great friends. Doc has since passed away, but it was a special time for me to get to share with an amazing man. I enjoyed his company a great deal more in this setting than with his drill in my mouth! Scott was ok, too. I guess I might let him talk me into another Mexican Whistler chase.