A ‘boerseun’ on the pampas.
By Kobus Fourie
With my eyes still halve closed, I fumbled clumsily for the zipper of the tent, and finding the right one, I slowly opened the flap. As the flap rolled inwards, the small opening revealed a kaleidoscope of thousands of magnesium white lights in the pitch black cloudless sky. I reached over and I smiled as my hand closed around the rifle. The cold steel of the barrel touched my arm as I pulled the rifle towards me, and as I crawled on all fours out of the tent, I could hear my hunting partner lacing his boots in the other tent.
As I emerged from the tent, I am greeted by one of the clearest night skies I have had the pleasure of seeing in a long time. I inhaled deeply, and closed my eyes as I savoured the new smells being carried up my nostrils by the morning breeze. I rested the rifle in the crook of my arm as I loaded the magazine, more by touch than by sight. Even in summer it is still quite dark at 5 in the morning. I greeted Martin as he stepped out of his tent, and we set of into the darkness….
I grow up in South Africa, and have spent close to 30 years there. I have recently started a business in Uruguay, and am spending a lot of my time here. Naturally one of the first questions I asked was about the hunting here, and after receiving some encouraging answers, I just had to hunt here as soon as possible. Uruguay has a lot of rivers, and is better suited for fishing, but here are some opportunities for hunting. The European wild bore, called ‘Jabali’ here, is a very big problem for the farmers, and is considered a national pest. Uruguay is a very flat country, comprising mostly of rolling hills covered in green grass and a river nearly every kilometre, a very pretty sight for someone like me who was born in a very dry part of SA. The grassland is also very good habitat for rabbit, and on this trip, it would be our primary target.
For this particular trip, the hunting party would consist of 6 people, Rodrigo and I, Jose Luis, and his 3 sons, Andres, Martin and Gabriel. The place we were to hunt is a newly acquired farm belonging to relatives of a friend, and is situated in the Tacuarembo department (In Uruguay the provinces is called departments). Our hunting trip officially started in Montevideo on the 26 of December in two heavily laden cars. We were to spend the next 5 days hunting, and I for one was certainly looking forward with immense anticipation to spending some time in nature again. I have a very strong explorer instinct, and hunting in unexplored terrain is very appealing to me, making this hunting trip even more special.
|The intrepid hunters ready and eager for action.
L to R: Martin, Andres, Jose Luis, Rodrigo, Gadriel.
I still had some business to attend to in Montevideo, so unfortunately we could not depart as early as we had hoped, but by 2 in the afternoon, we were on our way. As we drove the 300 kilometres to our destination, I was being hypnotised by a combination of the whine of the Lada’s differentials, the warm summer sun and the beauty of the countryside. As the black tarmac ribbon disappears beneath the tires, and the road markers flashed by, my mind was a million miles away, dreaming of past hunting experiences and companions.
After crossing the ‘Rio Negro’, we stopped at the gas station in a town called Los Paso de los Toros (the crossing of the bulls – named after the place were the Gaucho’s used to cross the Rio Negro with the cattle on the way to the market ) to stretch stiff limbs and to get some refreshments for the home straight. 40 more kilometres to the north, we turned left at a town called Peralta, and as the dust billowed out behind the car, I felt the tingle of anticipation creeping down my spine with every passing kilometre.
|The big statue of a bull as you cross the Rio Negro river into the town of Paso de los toros.|
After crossing the ‘Salsipuedes chica’ river, we stopped at the house of one of the foremen to ask directions to the best place to camp and hunt. He directed us to a farm called ‘el amanecer’, and after having a little trouble finding the place, we asked the foreman on ‘el amanecer’ where we can set up camp. Unfortunately, due to our late departure, we could not spend enough time scouting the camp for a very good campsite, and we choose a spot overlooking a large pool of water, but to our later dismay, without any trees.
Despite missing some tent poles, the four young guys had the tents up in no time at all, and we could sit down in the cool evening air and enjoy the sight, sounds and smells flirting with our senses. After our evening meal of cold barbequed meat and sausages, the young guys were very eager to go hunting some rabbit. I opted to stay in camp and enjoy a Johnny Walker black and a Cuban cigar, and I have to say, a whisky and a cigar never tasted better than that night. The hunting party returned empty handed, but they were very fortunate to see a little Tatu (armadillo) on their foray into the darkness.
|This little Tatu was kind enough to pose for a couple of photos before scurrying of into the wild.||
The next morning everybody was up early, and eager to walk the prairie in the hope of chasing up a rabbit or two. Rodrigo use the 16 gauge while I stayed in camp and zero the Lynx 3-9x42 we had chosen for his CZ 22 LR rifle. Jose Luis took the opportunity to double check the zero of his .308 and 223 rifles. With good company, time really fly, and before I know it, it was time for us to start prepare lunch for the boys. This trip was more to take the boys hunting and to teach them the finer points of the art than us doing a lot of hunting ourselves, so Jose Luis I and spend the majority of our time in the camp. We share a love for the shooting sports and firearms, and I certainly enjoyed his company.
On the menu for lunch was grilled meat and sausages, and Jose and I had to do some searching to find enough wood. Finding firewood is not always the easiest thing to do in a country that is mostly grassland, but we always managed to get enough to cook the food. We got the fire going, and as I stood there in silence, watching the yellow flames dancing over the rough grey bark of the branch, we heard the first shots of the hunt. The boys had managed to walk up a rabbit, and eventually bagged it after a couple of shots.
I showed then how to bleed and gut the animal, and we hung it in cool place to let it meat mature. We only took enough meat for two days, and the young hunters had to be good, or else we would not be eating very well the next couple of days. There is something very primal about hunting to supply the camp with meat as oppose to sport hunting, and I have to admit subsistence hunting, and living like the pioneers use to live, greatly appeals to me. After lunch, I took the shotgun and went for a walk along the river. Even though I was carrying a gun, I was not looking to shoot anything.
During the midday siesta, Rodrigo managed to catch a very nice fish in the river, but he released it again. We had a lot of fun doing some informal target shooting, or more commonly known as plinking, and none of us noticed our skin turning red in rays of the summer sun. It was only after we started to feel some discomfort that we searched for the sunscreen. I could not help but think this is payback for me for jousting with my hunting clients in Africa when they turned pink in the African sun.
|The pool which we camped next to, and the one in which Rodrigo caught the fish. I would love to visit this place with my fly-rod.|
After the evening meal, we somehow managed to squeeze 4 people into my Lada, and using a spotlight, we bagged 2 more rabbits, and by now, a rabbit stew was looking like a real possibility. I am used to the rabbits we have in Africa, and they are very gamy, but when I dressed the first carcass, I could tell by the smell, or lack thereof, that the rabbits in Uruguay are not that gamy, and I was looking forward to tasting it.
And I was proved right in the end, the rabbits in Uruguay taste a lot like the small game we have in the Karoo. I would say it tastes about the same as a Steenbok or a Klipspringer taste. By the second day the boys were dressing their own rabbits with accomplished ease, and by Friday afternoon, before the distant hills in the west tickled the belly of the sun, there were two more rabbits on the meat hook.
The Friday I set aside for some hunting of my own, and only Martin was willing to join me at 5 in the morning to go hunting. I was more interested in seeing a hog than in shooting it, but I took the rifle instead of the camera nevertheless. I never know when Diana would smile upon me and present me with an opportunity on a monster of a pig. I have some personal experience about finding the one you look for when you have nothing but a camera or a walking stick in your hand. At least you get some good pictures, and I appreciate the pictures more as I grow older, but this is a new experience and I have not taken a ‘Jabali’ yet.
|The westerly boundary fence can be seen on the horizon. Where the second shadow meets the fence is where Martin and I turned right towards the river on our hog hunt.|
The river in the camp we were ran roughly east to west, and we were camped bout halfway between the boundary fences. The part of the river to the east has no cover whatsoever on our side of the riverbank, but the last couple of meters before the boundary fence on the west side has plenty of cover, and that is where we were heading. The wind was gently blowing towards the west, and we had to take a detour to get into position without the hogs smelling trouble. We walked south for a couple of hundred meters before turning south west until we reached the boundary fence, and turned right towards the river.
It was still quite dark when we reached the dense trees on the river bank, and we had a sit-down on the edge of a low erosion gully next to the fence. It was still too dark for me to see the open sights on my rifle, and going into the trees would make it even worse, so we could do nothing but wait for dawn. We stood out clearly against the light green grass, and the pigs standing in the shadow of the trees had no trouble spotting us, and voicing their displeasure at our presence in no uncertain terms.
|This is the view we had the morning when we heard the hog. The pig was watching us from somewhere within the trees as we sit and waited for daybreak.|
The sound they make is one of the most peculiar I have heard, to me it sound more like a cross between a domestic pig and a crow. Very unlike any sound the Bushpigs and Warthog makes in Africa. I know exactly what it was and where it came from, but the sound still send shivers down my spine and made the hair at the back of my neck stand up. Hearing that sound close to me when I am crawling through the bushes would certainly be a hair-raising experience. As soon as it was light enough, we approached the thicket, but being unsuitably armed, we decided not to go after the hogs this time.
We leisurely hunted the river bank as we made our way in the direction of the camp under leaden skies. It rained the previous night, and judging by the colour of the clouds, we were in for some more teardrops from heaven. We just reached the tents in time when the heavens opened up, and blessed the rich black soil with its live giving water.
|Our campsite on the bank of the Salsipuedes river in the Tacuarembo department of Uruguay. Next time I will be sure and find a spot with a tree or two for some shade.|
By noon the rain had subsided, and the sky cleared, with only the occasional cloud giving free reins to the wind horses and racing from horizon to horizon. The others had hunted in the opposite side of the camp than the side Martin and I had the encounter with the hog with, and I had 6 rabbits to skin for the evenings rabbit stew. At 3 in the afternoon the clouds started to mass in the north again, and my task of skinning the rabbits was frequently interrupted by thundershowers. I did manage to cook some stew for dinner before the heavens darkened and the rain came pouring down again. We were on the edge of the storm, and did not get as wet as we expected and an hour later the rain stopped. That evening while sitting around the delicious rabbit stew, and being treated to one of the most spectacular thunder and lightning display ever, we decided to go after some hogs the next day.
The rain from the previous evening had swollen the river, and by the morning, the dense trees were cut of from dry land by a flow of water. Fortunately it was not too deep to wade, and Jose Luis and the boys waded to the trees while I opted to stay on the bank. After they disappeared into the trees, and I could no longer hear or see them, I slowly made my way downstream, crossing the fence Martin and me sat next to the previous morning.
|This is the stream that the boys had to wade on their quest for hogs.|
I was lost in the beauty around me as a ambled along the river bank, the gentle rustle of the leaves and the whisper of the stream as it passes over the rock in the riverbed was my only companion this morning, and I was thankful for it. I jumped from stone to stone and climbed the bank using a well trodden game path into the trees; the cool of the shade welcomed me as I ducked beneath the branches. I was on a different continent, but as soon as I stood up in a clearing, I could just as well have been back in my beloved bushveld of South Africa. I stood in silence for some minutes before I slowly made my way between the trees, searching the shadows for movement, and straining my ears for the faintest noise that would betray the presence of a wild animal.
I was daydreaming more than I was hunting, and after walking a few hundred meters, I decided to take the rifle back to camp, and to bring my camera back to take some photographs. As soon as I stepped out of the trees, I was immediately truck by the abrupt change in the environment. I am used to a gradual change from trees to open grassland in South Africa, but here it is like stepping into a different room. My walk back to camp was uneventful, and on my way back with the camera, I met the hunters coming back empty handed as well. They had heard plenty of noise, but did not see any hogs either. There is no doubt that the pigs are there, and I would love to go back in winter to try again, and even if I do not bag a hog, I would love to camp there again.
|I opted to hunt the river bank, and this was the view that I enjoyed.|
The afternoon I did some spinning in the pool, but did not land a fish. I did get a bite, but lost the fish when it was barely half a meter from the shore. One thing is for sure, next time I am bringing my fly-rod with me. The blood sucking flies are huge here, and as soon as I swatted on and it lands on the water, a fish take the dead fly within seconds. Maybe I would not catch the biggest fish, and maybe I will not get as many bites as in the more traditional fly-fishing venues, but I am positive it will be a whole lot of fun.
The last night I unrolled my bedroll outside the tent, and curled myself up with content as all the stars in the sky wished me goodnight.
The next morning we slowly started to break camp, and it was with a heavy hart that we turned the vehicles southwards and headed for civilization again. In a very short space of time I have really fallen in love with this country, its beauty and its people. In time I will explore more places and I am sure I will not be disappointed. I raise my glass and salute everyone who made this such as special trip, and I raise my glass to the beauty I was privileged to experience; here is to many more.
|Uruguay is home to the Rhea, or as the locals call it, Nandu (Rhea
Here is a hen with her chicks.