Costs, Obvious and Not So Obvious
Here are some obvious costs – you have to fly there, so you have Airfare, and you have to pay something when you get there, so you have what are referred to as Package Costs.
There are two choices for going to Argentina – Buenos Aires (BA) and Cordoba. If you book with an outfitter out of BA, you will be met at the airport and driven to your hunting area, which will be several hours from the city. Buenos Aires holds about one third of Argentina’s population, so it is a very big city. A drive of 3 to 4 hours or more is not uncommon. Understand it, expect it, and realize that when you get where you are going, it is probably going to be worth it. Outfitters using Entre Rios province will have you fly to BA. Other outfitters located anywhere other than Cordoba will probably have you come to BA so you can take a domestic flight to a city near them. There are a number of flights to BA, and, overall, they are direct flights from most major cities, like New York, Atlanta, Baltimore/DC, Dallas, LA, and I am sure there are others. Domestic flights are out of another airport, and you may, or may not, make your connection on day one of your trip. You may be ‘overnighting’ in BA and catching an early morning domestic flight. Your outfitter should clue you in on this and provide most of the leg work, including hotels and flight reservations, for you.
If your outfitter is located in or is taking you to places like Salta, Santa Fe, Santiago del Estero, Corrientes, Parana, and others, even Cordoba, you may be a candidate for a day in BA. Usually your outfitter can arrange your internal airfare if required, but you want all that figured out before you leave the US, especially so if you are bringing your own guns.
Upsides of Buenos Aires: BA has the most domestic flights to get you anywhere in the country. Buenos Aires is called the Paris of the South. If you want to spend a day or two there, go for it. I doubt that you will be disappointed.
Downsides of Buenos Aires: you are going to add at least one day to your itinerary if you do any domestic flying, and many people want to go hunting, not necessarily see the sights.
More simply – know where your outfitter is hunting and what you need to do to get to where he is.
Your other flight option is Cordoba. This too has become a relatively simple exercise and from most major cities in the US, you fly to Santiago, Chile, have about a two hour layover, and fly from Santiago directly to Cordoba. There are direct flights being added and changed pretty often, so check availability. As of this writing, a new direct flight from Lima, Peru, will take you to Cordoba; and there is also one from Panama City, Panama. Your outfitter will meet you at the airport in Cordoba, and, as with all outfitters, this is where your “package” begins.
Note that new and cheaper flights can also be inconvenient flights, as in having you arrive at one airport at 1:00 AM and your final destination at 4:00 AM. If you can’t sleep on a plane and don’t care about when you get there, there are probably some good less expensive airfares available. Of course, your outfitter won’t be keen on meeting you at the airport at 4:00 AM, but one or more of his staff will gladly be there and get you to wherever you need to go. Plus, having been awake for most of the night, the first day’s hunt may be a blur.
If you are planning on coming between August and February to dove shoot, the days are long. If you arrive in Cordoba in early afternoon, you can dove hunt your first day and have a great time. There is currently a flight that gets to Cordoba from Santiago by 11:00 and another that gets in about 2:00. Either will work during Argentina’s fall and summer months.
Airfares to BA will run as cheap as $700 to $800 RT from major American cities, maybe lower, if you catch some sort of sale going on. I recently saw a RT airfare from Miami to BA for $450, but that didn’t last long. From BA to about anywhere in Argentina shouldn’t cost you more than $300 US, and RT flights to Cordoba, for example, are around $150 to $200 at this writing. The flights from major US cities to Cordoba are slightly higher. You can usually find a flight in the $1100 range if you plan ahead and pay attention, maybe less if you are lucky. Some of the Travel Search Engines will set up alerts for you if airfares rise or drop for you destinations and time frame, so plan ahead.
A word about travel times from Cordoba and other cities to your hunt destination: there will be a drive. Like BA, you will have to travel from the airport to wherever your outfitter has his lodge. That can be as short as one hour or as long as 3 to 5 hours. Ask about this, don’t be surprised!
I am putting this under Obvious Costs, since everybody knows you have to pay for something on that end. This is worth the time to explain and, if you pay attention, you will have a good understanding of what you are purchasing.
Every outfitter has some sort of basic “price”. The lower the number, the closer you are to the actual operating costs for that particular outfitter. Let’s face it, outfitters are in the business to make money; and if they aren’t, they go out of business – Business 101. Anything that reads “Special Offer”, or “For a Limited Time”, or “Last Minute Deal” is most likely a number closest to an outfitters bottom line number – what it costs to keep the doors open.
I will give you an example. If you read an ad that says, “Special – Three Days of Dove Shooting for $900 – Only available for the next two weeks”, your outfitter has no one in house and is offering a day rate at a cost for him to keep the doors open – $300 per day. $900 divided by 3 days – simple math. If the add says $1200 for 3 days, that outfitter has a base cost of $400. Often times, they give you the day rate in small print somewhere at the bottom under the title “Additional Day”, with a cost following.
These numbers are your base number, your package cost, the cost to play. It is an actual number, but not the total number.
Your package will include, as a rule, transportation to and from the airport and to and from the fields, your meals, lodging, “use” of a bird boy, soft drinks, open bar after the hunt – as many things as they can think of to show you that you are getting your money’s worth. And, for the most part, you will always get “your money’s worth”.
Let’s say you have your plane ticket for $1100 and have booked a three day shoot for $900, a really good rate. Your total expenditure – $2,000, and anybody in today’s middle class work force can make that number, so you are there. Right? Not hardly.
Not So Obvious Costs
These are the numbers you need to know and account for if your wing shooting odyssey to Argentina is going to be the greatest shotgun shooting event of your life. Otherwise, you will feel that you have been taken advantage of and that the trips costs were far more than you expected.
License costs are fixed by the government. Currently in Cordoba Province the license cost is $65 per day, in Santa Fe Province, $45 a day. In other provinces who haven’t yet been bitten by the Greed Bug, licenses are less. Yes, it’s exorbitant. No, your outfitter can’t do anything about it, and, yes, he is going to charge you for them. A three day dove shoot will cost you a minimum of $195 for licenses. If the government really wants to hammer you, (this is a 2nd world country, not 3rd world), they may make the outfitter charge you a full day’s license even if you hunt a half day. Hunt four days – $260, and so on. You can do the math.
Gun Importation and/or Rental
Once you’re there, you’ll need something to shoot with. If you want to bring your own gun(s), it is not difficult to do. Yes, you are going to worry about your gun getting there – buy insurance. I, personally, have never had one lost or stolen in 20 years, but things do happen. You will never have the opportunity to “marry” your shotgun like you will in Argentina. If shooting your own gun is important to you, bring it. Your outfitter will help you with the paperwork and even arrange for someone to help you at the airport in BA. In Cordoba, bringing your own gun puts you at the head of the line and gets you through customs quicker. The cost – $100 per gun (another government fee, not your outfitter’s), and you will need two. Guns get hot. Add $200 to your trip.
If you don’t care what you shoot, most outfitters have Beretta’s or Benelli’s. Most of the guns will be automatics, mostly 20’s, sometimes 12’s, and hold four shells. 20 gauge autos have less recoil, and most people aren’t used to volume shooting – 1,000+ shells a day for 3 or four days straight. You will also find some over and unders, usually Beretta’s, but ask you outfitter. If he has a gun similar to what you normally shoot, don’t bother bringing yours, use his. Rental guns run $50 a day as an industry standard.
Hunt three days, add $150 to your cost, four days, add $200. Most outfitters will have additional guns in the field in case of breakage or malfunctions, and, yes, at some point in time, they all have problems.
No gun, no matter what the manufacturers say, are meant to shoot the volume of shells that a single gun may see over the course of one year. Gun costs (new ones and replacements) and maintenance (of old ones) are very high in Argentina, often twice the costs of similar makes and models here in the US (Argentina government pricing again).
As of this writing, quality 12 and 20 gauge shells are running $12 a box to the hunter. (Ammo manufacturers want a piece of the pie too.) A case of shells in Argentina is 500, not the 250 shell ‘flats’ we have here. At $12 per box, that is $240 a case. Plan on shooting a minimum of 2,000 shells (4 cases) in three days. There is a 99% chance you will shoot at least 3,000, but let’s assume you get sore and don’t’ shoot so much the last day. My first trip, 20 years ago, I shot 1,500 the first day through two 20 gauge o/u’s, and everyday there after – 4,500 in three days. Don’t be surprised if you do too. Four cases of shells will cost you $960; six cases will cost you $1440 (more than your plane ticket); plan on shooting more than you think and budget for it.
Look at what outfitters are offering you. Some will offer packages with 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000 shells. Remember outfitters must make money, or break even, to stay in business. The cost of those shells is somewhere in the number you see, whether the outfitter has included them at cost or is planning on making ends meet through the couple of dollars he makes through shells sales, or by trying to get groups with the “deal” to lower his overhead costs, there are no such things as “FREE” anything. Pricing is one man’s way of looking at numbers – that’s all, and you need to remember that. Outfitters are not stupid. If they are, they go broke, and you are the one who gets left with a less than satisfactory experience.
Americans, as a rule, are a generous people. We like to give tips, but when it comes time to give them, we aren’t sure how much and to whom, (especially when you just spent an additional $1200 for shells). The most often asked questions I get are “How much do we tip the bird boy?” And, “Who else should we leave tips for?”
Here are some rules of thumb again. You will most likely have a whole bevy of people waiting on you – bird boys first and foremost. Often there is a guide who is in charge for the bird boys and is also responsible for where you hunt. His job is to make sure you are in the best place, seeing and shooting at the most birds. You will probably have a chef or cook. You may also have a waiter and/or a bartender. You will usually have daily maid service, someone who cleans your room and bath room, makes your bed, and looks after the lodge as well. Some outfitters use an interpreter with American groups. The interpreter acts as your driver also, serves as the link between you and the bird boys and guide, is up before you to wake you up in the morning, stays up with you on those late night social hours, checks on you in the field to make sure you have everything you need, and represents the outfitter. Some outfitters have a masseuse (the real kind, certified physical therapists) – who can make those sore shoulders well again.
The point – tipping can get quite complicated and expensive. Here is how to figure out what to do.
Bird boys usually are non-salaried employees. Their tip, except for some small day fee which amounts to a few pesos paid by the outfitter, is what they make. They do a lot for you, as in carry everything out to the field, get your water or soft drinks, make sure you have shells, pick up all the hulls and birds, police the area when you leave, and, often, will even load your gun for you- thereby saving a lot of wear and tear on your thumb if you are using an automatic. Currently, $30 per day is the going rate for bird boys. Hunt three days, give him $90. Did you like him, make a connection, think he did a good job? Give him $100. He is YOUR guy.
Most of the rest of the staff fall into a group tip category, again, as a rule. Many are salaried but not at anywhere near what we consider a decent salary here in the US. What you do individually is up to you, but the group should pool money for the chef, cleaning people, and wait staff. If you have a group of four hunters for 3 days, and everyone pitches in $25 to $40; that is probably fine for the staff. If everyone pitches in $25 for the guide, who may be salaried as well, he gets $100, and that is good too.
Your interpreter, if you have one, is an important person as well. He is probably not salaried and only works when there is a need. If each member of a group of four contributes $50, he makes $200 for his three days and that is good as well.
Okay, $100 to your bird boy, and your part for the rest comes to another $100 roughly. Allow $200 to $300 for tips. If you don’t spend it all, you come home with money and you know you took care of everyone.
Oh, don’t forget the baggage handlers at the airport, many of whom speak English and get your through customs and gun importation without a hitch – another $10 to $20.
Most outfitters have an area where they offer items for purchase. These could be hand made items, like knives, belts, or jewelry in sliver or with Argentine or Chilean semiprecious stones. Sometimes they offer clothing – shirts, hats, T-shirts with their logo. And sometimes, they offer quality leather goods – carpinche leather articles, like hand bags, wallets and hats, or maybe silk scarves, leather gun cases, etc. Most people buy something as a memento or gift for someone back home. You will too – it’s a key part of the South American hunting experience.