I don’t think I ever had such a laborious, extended chase with such a rewarding grand finale. I had heard warm praises regarding Argentina’s big game hunting by several friends, so when I was planning my next hunting trip, I knew exactly where I wanted to hunt.
Many US experts recommended Terra Pampa Lodge so I hurried to book a week hunt for the middle of April, when days turn less scorching and not yet too cold. I was told that the lodge provided guns and ammo and all other heavy gear needed, so I was happy to avoid the inconvenience of carrying guns and ammo across borders.
I was expecting adequate lodgings but was unprepared for the beauty and the elegant luxury of the lodge. Its beautiful, super comfortable interiors and furniture together with earthy, ochre colors blending harmoniously with the landscape were a lovely surprise.
I decided to begin the week with a Blackbuck hunt. We started off before sunrise the following day, with my assigned guide “Pato”, our packs ready for a full day’s chase, sandwiches and water and all. We were driven a few miles out in an off-road truck and were dropped off at a small hill spotted with a few low calden trees from where we could walk for a few minutes and have a good view of an ample meadow.
As soon as the truck vanished towards the lodge and silence settled in again, we took our packs, rifles and other gear and set off uphill at a slow hike trying to make as little noise as possible. Once we got to the top, we crouched among the tall weeds and peeked through them at the large dip ahead of us.
The grassland below us seemed empty at first sight, but “Pato” pointed to a far corner where the uniformity broke with a group of squat caldenes: a small group of female Blackbucks grazed around the trees. There was no male in view, but “Pato” signaled me a little farther to the east: I lifted my binoculars, scanned the meadow in that direction and, sure enough, I found a couple of thick, long horns emerging from behind a dark bush. I suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline and the color climbing to my face. “It looks huge!”, I dropped under my breath.
Communicating by sign gestures, we began to move slowly sideways towards the north- east, for the wind blew from the west and we needed to get more directly downwind from the herd. A dove lifted from the ground, then another, then a few more. We froze on our feet and squatted lower than we had been, but the damage was done, or so it seemed: two does stood up and nervously moved their ears, the started taking small paces. We stared in a mixture of dismay and awe as the buck slowly lifted himself up and started heading to the west. It was a magnificent animal, its black coat standing out against the sandy grass in the morning sun, and he strode at a regal pace, the king of the meadow. I distinctly remember thinking for a split second: ‘he’s too splendid for me… There is no way I can get him’. Then I looked at “Pato” and he was gesturing me to go on.
We started what was to be a whole- day chase through several miles, climbing dunes, dragging ourselves through grassy depressions covered in the damned roseta, moving forward bent through small groves of caldenes and stopping once in a while for water and stretching our aching muscles and joints. On one occasion, just after a couple of sandwiches hurried at midday, we got to the top of the dune and, to our surprise, the herd was resting on the slope of the dune ahead of us, some two hundred yards away from our standpoint. We carefully prepared our rifles. I had arranged with “Pato” during our last stop and my ‘I almost took the shot’ chance, that if I managed to put a bullet into the buck, he would be ready to shoot him as well. We knew that we were reaching the last of our energy and I feared the thought of a poor shot and the consequent scouting of the hurt animal: injured game, especially blackbucks, can run for long distances fueled by adrenaline before they drop.
I adjusted my scope and found the buck. He was standing beside a small doe but the entire length of this body was visible. He was looking to the east but, after I had taken two deep, slow breaths and started to pull on the trigger, he slowly turned his head towards me.
The shot hit him hard just behind the left shoulder and the buck staggered and started to try to run, but his back legs gave way. He lifted a cloud of dust while trying to scramble back up for a while and then was still. We stood up and, before we noticed, we were loudly cheering into the wind and slapping our backs, such was the release we felt after such a long day.