By Jen O'Hara
"There’s something about the roar of a free range stag that is mesmerizing to me as a hunter… I’ve always been an on-the-go person. If you ask Norissa, she wonders where I get all of my energy. Hunting is my time to be at peace. No work, no cellphone, no laptop… I love to take in all of the smells, sounds, and views each time I hunt. They are always different every place that I hunt, and I look forward to each and every hunt to unwind and enjoy the connection that has nothing to do with Wi-Fi."
Norissa and I were given the opportunity to hunt with TGB Outfitters in Santa Rosa, Argentina. Neither of us had ever been to South America and we were looking forward to the new culture and surroundings. We started out in Buenos Aires in teeny tiny rooms with two twin beds, very much different from a hotel in the U.S. We always like to see the culture of the newest country that our crazy Producer, Kappie, is taking us to. This time he brought his lovely wife and our Production Manager for Universal Huntress TV, Chantelle. Chantelle accompanies us on trips to help with the B roll, time lapses, and additional photography. She is also the Editor for Universal Hunter Magazine. During the visit to Buenos Aires, we toured old warships, checked out the street vendors in Argentina, and went to a lovely Tango dance. After a lot of begging, I convinced Chantelle and Norissa to do lessons. I love dancing of any kind and this was something that was new and fun and a part of the culture of South America.
After a few days of sightseeing, we headed to the small town of Santa Rosa and about 40 minutes of that small town was the lodge. Alejandro, our outfitter, and his beautiful wife Danielle along with their daughter Catalina greeted us as we pulled into the driveway. Their very friendly staff and a beautiful Argentinian Dog named Chango also greeted us. Most of the staff spoke Spanish, so it was fun to work on the one language that I knew quite a few words in. I was at once impressed with the lodge and all of the new animals that I had never hunted! The Blackbuck was on my bucket list, and they had a full-size mount in the lodge.
Norissa was first in the hot seat on this trip and we started very early the next morning. The sound of roaring free range stags filled the country side! It was cold out, but we soon warmed up, hiking through the thick brush following the sound while trying to glass as much as we could through the brush with our Swarovski binos. Surprisingly for our first day, it was a few hours into our hunt, and we got within 100 yards of what looked like two stags where one was chasing the other one.
It was so brushy that we could barely see if they were mature stags. Alejandro and Gustavo (our guide who had joined us) decided that we should continue to follow them until we could get a closer look. We followed the stags for what seemed like hours. We kept a good distance so that they did not know that we were there, kept the wind right, and stayed close enough to try and get a look at them. Alejandro finally got a good look at the stags when he came through an opening for an instant, and it appeared that one of the stags was very large for free range in that area.
As we continued following through the brush, I went to the back of the group, continuing to film with the B Roll camera and watch the brush to see if I could get a glimpse of the stags as well. They seemed to slow down and we had to start crawling on the ground. You would not believe how many stickers and thorns there are in Argentina! I was covered and so was everyone else. We continued on our hands and knees for several hundred feet. It can be very tough to film a hunt in that thick of an area and we always have to have so many people in order to get the real time footage. Norissa set up several times on the sticks, raising ever so slowly with Alejandro and Kappie. I stayed low to the ground trying to film as much of it as I could. Finally, the larger of the two stags presented a shot in a very small window that was surrounded by brush. Norissa squeezed the trigger and I saw him kick and heard the thwack! We all knew it was a good shot and Norissa was beaming! We gave the stag some time, and then walked to where he was shot. We followed his trail and came up on an open area where he was down. He was a beautiful free roaming stag, very mature, and Alejandro and Norissa were both very happy.
One of my favorite things about hunting is the delicious meat that we get to enjoy. We were deep in the brush and miles from a vehicle, so the 5 of us set out to cape out and quarter the stag. We all took as much meat as we could carry and Norissa took the head, horns and cape, and we continued to hike out. It was a great first day and I couldn’t believe our luck to get on a stag so early on in a hunt. The greatest part was now it was my turn!!
I also successfully harvested a free roaming red stag although mine took several days to find, but the story that I want to share with you is about my Blackbuck. Norissa and I were both very excited to hunt a Blackbuck. We had quickly made good friends with Danielle, Alejandro’s wife. Danielle ended up being from California just like Norissa and I. She had moved to Argentina with Alejandro years before, but the three of us talked California girl talk non-stop. She was pregnant with their second child and was several months along. She was also a hunter, and we had convinced her to come with us on the day we were hunting Blackbuck. Neither Norissa nor I had ever seen a Blackbuck in person. We drove several hours to a cattle ranch that Alejandro had told us was full of the free roaming Blackbuck. After driving around for some time, we had spotted some females and smaller males, and it was so neat to see them almost bouncing off through the fields.
The Blackbucks were tough to see when they laid down in the brush because they are so small. It was a frigid morning and I could no longer feel my nose or fingers. We started hiking and Gustavo, my guide who spoke almost no English, was with Alejandro and myself. He had spotted a mature Blackbuck up over a hill. We didn’t have to worry about noise because the wind had been blowing at least 40 mph that day. As we climbed to the top of the hill, we began crawling on our hands and knees. It was hard to hear any - thing at this point. I saw the beautiful Blackbuck bedded down and checked the wind. Norissa crawled up next to me and I told her that I would probably hold 6 inches to the right due to the wind.
Almost an instant later, the Blackbuck stood up. I had my crosshairs on him, but I jumped the trigger just a second too soon. My shot was perfectly lined up, just low. He was hit in the bottom of his shoulder and took off like a flash. We ran to the top of the hill and I hoped that I could see him again, but he was long gone. I was devastated. Not only do I take pride in always striving to take a clean shot, I was beating myself up for jumping the trigger. Alejandro, Gustavo, and I walked to where I took the shot and started following the blood trail. Alejandro said to me, “I heard your tough?” With a smile, I said “Yes, I am.” He said, “It’s going to be a long day, and you don’t have to, but if you want I will send Gustavo with you to track and you can finish your Blackbuck.” I knew it was the right thing to do, and Gustavo, my non-English speaking guide, and I took off while Kappie, Norissa, Alejandro, and Danielle went to find Norissa a Blackbuck.
The tall grass made tracking my Blackbuck hard, but we weren’t about to give up. We took turns looking up and looking at the ground using sign language and the bits of English and Spanish that we both knew. Several hours later, I felt like I was going cross-eyed and the wind was still howling at least 40 mph. Gustavo stopped short and I had been following closely and almost bumped into him. He had looked up just to see the tips of the horns of my Blackbuck move in the brush! I was excited that we had tracked him and he was down, but we knew he was still moving. Through hand gestures, we decided to make it to the top of the nearby hill. It was honestly like being stuck in translation. Neither of us really knew what the other was saying, but if we thought we did, we got really excited and smiled and nodded a lot. We crept up the hillside and laid down with my rifle trained on the Blackbuck. It was very uncomfortable, as I couldn’t get a rest. After about 30 minutes of laying in one spot, Gustavo noticed I was struggling and offered to put his elbow under mine to help keep my arm in place.
We laid in the brush for another hour waiting for the Blackbuck to stand up. Every part of my body ached to get up and move after an hour-and-a-half of lying there, but neither of us moved. We tried to communicate as best we could about whether we stay put and wait for him to stand or if we should try and make a noise. Gustavo whistled, but the howling wind drowned him out. At the almost two-hour mark, my Blackbuck slowly stood up. I didn’t hesitate. I took the final shot and we both jumped up and hugged celebrating a successful hunt. It was such a long day and I knew that it wasn’t over yet. With respect for this beautiful animal, we approached him. I was so thankful that we had found him. We carried him to the top of the hillside to wait for Kappie.
Lost in translation hadn’t ended yet. We had no way to communicate with the truck and they had thought that maybe we had gone back to the camp with the other hunters. We sat for hours and finally spotted the truck after being away from them for 7 hours. We both jumped up and down on the hillside until they finally flashed their lights and had seen us. It was probably one of the most interesting and most fun hunts I have ever had. Who knew that you could make great friends who don’t even speak the same language that you do. That is the kind of bond that hunting together can make.
Norissa had been successful, but Danielle unfortunately wasn’t. From what Norissa said she was one of the toughest pregnant women she had ever met and had even belly crawled through the thorns to try and get a shot at a Blackbuck. Norissa and I both ended our trip with each a free roaming red stag, blackbuck, and fallow deer. We also had a small opportunity to take Chantelle on a pigeon hunt the last 30 minutes of our last evening. It was such a great time, even though it was short. Chantelle is immersed in the hunting world with the TV shows and Universal Hunter Magazine, but she had not hunted for herself. I took the time to show her my Remington 12-gauge Sportsman and taught her the fundamentals of the shotgun and a few safety tips. She was a quick study and quickly shot her first pigeon. I think she will be doing more hunts with us in the future.
Hunting isn’t a sport or a hobby; it’s a calling to something greater…