You are supposed to title your work at the end, so I am already doing this backwards since I just wrote the title. But what you see in outdoor television programming, and what is involved in making it happen, are about as backward as it gets. As a viewer, you see the great dog work, the great shots, the great panorama shots of sky, mountains, birds and the successful hunter. What you don’t see is the hard work and time investment on the part of everyone involved that goes into making that wonderful entertainment we call outdoor television.
I recently spent seven work days (yes, I emphasize work) with two wonderful television personalities, Tom Knapp and Colorado Buck along with their cameramen, my partner here in Argentina, Eduardo Martinez, and a host of bird boys, guides, dogs, and locals. Together we created the base materials for three 22 minute television shows highlighting everything that goes into an Argentina wing shooting trip – the hunts, the meals, and so much more.
People, let me tell you, all those smiles and laughs, great shooting, great dog work, and great views of the woods, waters, marshes and fields are real – but they are also the final product of many days afield, not always in the best of conditions, and hours and hours of camera time, editing, voice overs, cut ins and many other things too numerous to mention here. Let me elaborate.
The story, day by day: July 2nd
Over the next couple days, the cast of characters included: Tom Knapp, famous exhibition shooter and host and star of Benelli’s American Bird Hunter, Colorado Buck, famous big game hunter and star and host of Where in the World is Colorado Buck?, Jason Steussy, videographer extraordinaire and one of Tom’s right hand men, Jake Nay, world traveling big game videographer and one of Colorado’s right hand men, and me, John Wiles, the American partner in SYC Sporting Adventures.
We all met at the airport in Santiago, Chile, on July 2nd for the last leg of our flight over the Andes and into Cordoba, Argentina, an adventure that had begun at our various home airports on July 1st. We left Santiago at 11:00AM and landed in Cordoba about two hours later with guns, clothes and carry on luggage, everything – except the cameras we were going to use to film the excursion.
We had to formulate a new game plan. While we had planned to transfer to the pigeon hunting area that afternoon for the first of two days of pigeon filming, we instead decided to transfer to a wonderful restaurant in downtown Cordoba, Rancho Grande, with which Eduardo is very familiar. While we waited for LAN Chile (Línea Aérea Nacional, the Chilean national airline) to locate the cameras and give us an ETA on their arrival, we enjoyed the first of many stunning meals in Argentina.
We finally received an update from LAN on Eduardo’s cell phone – the cameras would arrive at 4:30 pm on the next flight from Santiago.
Another new game plan. Wait for the luggage, then go to our five star lodge, El Cortijo, only 50 minutes east of the airport, to shower, relax, have another great meal, some wine, and a good night’s sleep. We would head for the mountains and the pigeons tomorrow, on July 3rd. Due to the luggage mix up, we lost half a day of pigeon hunting and filming, so we would have to do our best. And we did.
We arrive at the hunting area in the Comicheng Mountains about 3 ½ hours west of Cordoba at 11:00AM, in time for a short hunt before lunch. Scenario: the hunting area is excellent, lots and lots of wild Spotted Wing and Picazurro pigeons – sharp eyed, fast flying, acrobatic pigeons who now notice the small, short brushy area over which they are used to flying is now occupied by two hunters, two bird boys, two cameramen, the guides, Eduardo and myself. As Tom says, “I go hunting with a 15 piece marching band including a brass tuba and a set of drums.” Hence, all the pigeons fly about 50 yards off to the right and left.
It was time for a new plan. Pick up everything and move to heavier cover. Hide everyone except the cameramen and the hunters. Wait, the sun is wrong for filming and the wind is going to keep the birds from decoying. Well okay, let’s break for lunch and talk this over.
For those of you who have never experienced a wonderful Argentine asado prepared over hardwood coals, knocked from a hot fire and shoveled under incredible Argentine beef and sausages, you are missing a culinary experience that rivals any in the world. An asado and a glass of wine have a calming, relaxing, thought provoking effect on the participant. It allows you to look at things and nature with a better understanding of time and space.
Then it dawns on me – “This isn’t hunting, this is making television.” Suddenly, how to set up and film for the afternoon becomes apparent and easy, and we set up everything in yet another area, with the sun and the wind as our allies and the cameras strategically located to capture the sights, sounds, and beauty of pigeon hunting in the mountains of Cordoba. It isn’t about the shooting, which can be incredible at times with as many as 100 pigeons in the air; it is about the total experience.
We wrap up a good afternoon hunt with a review of the day and a game plan for the next day as to where, when, and how all should be arranged. Off to the lodge area in the mountains for showers, snacks, wine, decompression, another large, late supper (I’m beginning to think we are eating too much) and a good night’s sleep. I have learned several things already on this trip, not the least of which are 1) Tom is not only a very good shot, but a very good teacher; and 2) Colorado Buck is, as Tom so eloquently put it, “the real deal.” He is a true cowboy, from Colorado, a rancher, an outfitter, a big game hunter, a television star, and most importantly, a down to earth, saved by Grace, genuine and enjoyable human being. ‘Nuff said.
We celebrate the 4th with lots of gunfire from a well concealed blind on the edge of an expansive peanut field. In front of the blind are 20 or so plastic pigeon decoys imported from England, some Mojo spinning wing decoys, and a carousel of two pigeons going round and round to attract the pigeons much like you would ducks over decoys. Much like ducks, many of the pigeons see the motion, bank, and fly toward the decoys, offering a world class shooter like Tom and his shotgun protégé, Colorado Buck, ample opportunities to take a limit of pigeons under the clear, blue skies and warm Argentina winter sun. A single swings in over the decoys, sees something amiss, and banks sharply right, and then left. Tom misses a tough shot and an expletive not acceptable for television is caught by the microphone. The video footage was great though.
Eduardo and I retire to an area where we can watch but be completely hidden, and the cameramen and their cameras, completely camouflaged, film and move, film and move, in a seemingly choreographed dance to record as much as they can of the best pigeon shooting to be had in Argentina. Another great in-the field-asado (I am certain we are eating too much now), another well orchestrated set up, we film, they shoot, and the magic which is hunting television begins to take shape. We wrap up early, do some openings and closings for TV (staged entries and exits) and head back to the lodge for some well earned rest, a debrief on what we have done, a plan for stage two with the raw pigeon footage ‘in the can’, and supper.
Up early and off to El Cortijo. Another beautiful drive through the mountains and we stop at La Condor restaurant and wayside viewing area for coffee and a bathroom break. Jason and Jake grab their cameras to film some local color – a waitress with a parakeet on her shoulder, and soon Tom is in the mix with the parakeet on his finger and a look on his face that says, “What am I supposed to do if this thing bites me?” The waitress saves Tom, and we all laugh. This, too, is also part of hunting, and we sip our coffees as the boys film the grand views from the terrace and watch for a condor, and we appreciate who we are, and where we are, and how fortunate we are.
Okay, more van time. We have television to make.
We arrive at El Cortijo in time for another wonderful lunch. We head to a roost area about 3:00 in the afternoon, set up on the edge of what should be great shooting area if it wasn’t for our 15 piece marching band. Birds stream right and left just out of good shotgun and film range.
We decided to separate into two groups and film for a while, then plan on putting the hunters together as we figure this thing out. Chinese fire drill – but within 15 minutes all is in order and we get at least 2 ½ hours of good footage, but not what we had in mind. As the sun sets, we collect at the van, open a beer and discuss the next hunt, albeit three days from now, with Lalo, head guide, scout, and paloma (dove) man especialle (special). Here’s what we need next time – the sun at our backs, good cover for the cameras, hopefully a favorable wind, etc.
Lalo’s response – “No problema!”
A late supper (it’s so good, you can’t not eat), an after dinner drink, bedtime. Boy, are we tired.
To continue on to part two of this story, click here.