WATER BUFFALO OF THE PAMPA
By Dennis Kamstra
My curiosity about South America finally persuaded me to book a bowhunt for the buffalo of the pampa plains of Argentina. Having never been to that part of the world, my visions of Argentina were formed by the “Discovery Channel” on TV. I was surprised to find that Buenos Aires had a strong European type culture with old country charm mixed with the hustle and bustle of a progressive industrial city. This town was the home of my outfitter (Rodolfo Grizas), plus twelve million other soles. For a hick from the woods of Washington state, a metropolis that big was quite a transition. My wife (Cathy) and I were whisked off to neighborhood restaurant for one of Argentina’s famous Bar-B-Q’s. The Argentineans are big meat eaters and they enjoy their biggest meal of the day at around 2PM (like most European countries).
We were joined on this trip by Paul and Susan Sullivan, also from our home state of Washington. Paul was interested in hunting Axis deer, doves, ducks, and partridge; while I was in sole pursuit of the Asian Water Buffalo. I remember seeing a film of Fred Bear hunting these buffalo along the Amazon delta in Brazil. These are huge animals; close to a ton in weight. Although they did not exhibit the extreme temperament of the Cape Buffalo of Africa, these animals have been known to dislodge more than one goucho from his horse. There were all types of stories concerning the close calls of charging buffalo. All this adds to the “pucker factor” of hunting dangerous game. One always seems to pay just a little more attention to the small details when hunting game that can fight back. One does not simply pay attention to the wind direction; he simply does not move unless it is perfect. After the shot, one does not leap for joy; but instead he freezes like a stone to avoid detection. To me, hunting dangerous game with bow and arrow is the ultimate rush. It may not be for everyone, but you can’t beat it for finding your inner resolve.
Paul was to be hunting about 400 kilometers from my hunting area. So we separated with the understanding that we would meet later in the week for a little bird shooting, if time permitted. Cathy and I traveled south from Buenos Aires into the Argentine pampa. The pampa is a huge flat delta area, formed by the run off from the mountain country to the west. This area is predominantly cattle country. We were to be the guests of Manuel de Anchorena the Argentine ambassador to England (retired). His estancia (ranch) was to be our home while hunting on his vast land holdings. To say that the accommodations were opulent, is an understatement. Manuel was quite a sportsman in his own right. Although his great passion seemed to be polo, he had an extensive trophy room that housed the results of many hunts
My hunt started with the introduction to my guide (Jesus), and the explanation of my equipment. The longbow is not a common weapon in this country, nor is any archery tackle for that matter. Whenever I hunt outside the U.S., invariably I’m viewed with skepticism about my choice of equipment. Naturally, a demonstration is requested, which is nothing more than a thinly veiled challenge to the actual killing power of a bow and arrow. These demonstrations are certainly stressful because you must hit the target with reasonable accuracy in order to give your guide some type of confidence that he is not wasting his time. But, that does not compare to the stress of the ultimate show down with the animal; so one must take it all in stride. Even after you have proven your ability to hit what your aiming at, there is no way to convince people of the killing power of an arrow. They just have to see it for themselves.
The language problem between Jesus and myself was a major barrier. Even though the Manuel did an excellent job of interpreting the type of hunt I wanted to conduct, Jesus had plans of his own. The first day of the hunt was ruined by misunderstandings about how to best get into shooting position of buffalo. Jesus thought I should sit in one place while he busted brush in an attempt to jump the animals towards my position. While this was no doubt effective, I preferred slipping up on unsuspecting game, rather than taking a pass shot at spooked animals. Although I saw some nice buffalo on the first day out, the shot opportunities did not happen.
Back at the ranch, I tried to plan a different approach for the next days hunt, with the help of interpretation. On day two, Jesus was right on my shoulder all day. The swatting of mosquitoes and smoking of cigarettes made our approach almost impossible. I tried to explain the need for stealth and non-aromatic stalk; but it was to no avail. Back to the ranch for another “strategy session”. What I really wanted was to be left alone in buffalo country and be picked up at the end of the day. This was going to be a problem, since they were concerned about my safety. I consented to a plan by which Jesus would carry a rifle as back up, but would stay at least 200 meters behind me.
On the third day, I had a great time slipping though the brush by myself. However, the constant shifting of the wind caused problems. I could hear buffalo crashing out ahead of me, but I never actually saw one. Naturally, Jesus blamed my tactics. He was rapidly loosing confidence and patience with the Yankee bowhunter.
By the fourth day, I had a pretty good idea where to find the buffalo. It was just a matter of time, and some good luck. So, I set forth with the same approach as the day before. This time I asked Jesus to stay behind in the truck. I was surprised when he agreed. Rain had fallen during the night and as the horizon began to blush with the rising sun, the dew point was reached and a thick fog descended over the swamps. With the help of my handy GPS, I set a course towards the area of the previous days hunt. Today I was determined to get in close and wait for the buffalo to move into me. With that in mind, I brought my “shaggy camo” suit, a unique three dimensional suit made by Rancho Safari. I had found this camo to be very helpful in previous hunts.
Since I had a lot of open ground to cover, I picked up the pace as I cut through the fog. I was mesmerized by the eerie colors caused by sun’s attempt to burn through the mist. Then I saw shapes in the distance. The shapes looked like grave markers in some ancient cemetery. I froze while fishing out my binoculars for a closer look. Sure enough, thirteen buffalo all in a row with their heads in that unique, down the nose, arrogant stare. They had caught my movement but had not yet figured out just what I was. I eased down into a sitting position doing my best imitation of a pampa bush. I was caught out in the middle of an open grass plain. There was nothing to do but wait out the situation. After a good hour of intense staring, the buffalo seemed convinced I was some type of innocuous growth and simply laid down.
Two more hours passed while the sun continued dissolve the fog. Then, one by one, the buffalo came to their feet. They started to mill about and were feeding right in my direction. I just knew this good fortune wouldn’t last. However, here they came; just like an elephant train. For a moment I thought they were going to walk right at me, giving me little opportunity for a broadside shot. But the hunt gods decided to steer them past me, at an angle. I couldn’t believe my good luck. The lead cow passed by me at thirty five yards. The wind was brisk and right in my face. All I had to do was to get into shooting position. Ever so slowly, I extended my bow arm and locked my elbow. Rising to one knee, I picked a spot on buffalo number five (the biggest bull). I drew and released in one snap-shot movement. The hit seemed a little high, but only the tip of my nock was visible behind the shoulder. The bull jumped side ways alerting the rest of the herd. I remained motionless. Two buffalo ran up to their agitated comrade and stuck their noses into the blood running his side. With a snort, they ran off, followed by the rest of the herd. The arrowed bull turned to reveal the two blade Magnus just poking out the opposite side. He ran ten yards and fell on one front leg; got up, ran another ten yards before crashing to one side. He was down for good! After admiring my trophy, I set off to get Jesus. I found him fast asleep in the truck.
After the monumental job of skinning, butchering, and preparing my trophy; we headed for a rendezvous with Paul and Susan. Paul had collected a fine Axis deer and was anxious to begin his bird hunt (his real passion). Rodolfo’s boast of 250 rounds per day proved a bit extreme, but we didn’t miss it by much.
All in all, it was quite an enjoyable adventure. One I would recommend. However, even a rudimentary command of Spanish would be quite helpful, as English is a rare commodity.
80# Stotler Elite take down longbow
“Six Hex” wooden arrows by Whispering Wind
Two blade, 130 gr. Magnus broadheads
“Shaggie” camo, by Rancho Safari (a face mask is a must, because of the mosquitoes)
Arrangements for this hunt were aptly handled by Bowhunting Safari Consultants ( 1-800-833-9777).