This is part two of John Wiles’ piece on the making of outdoor television. Click here to return to part one.
Doves have to wait. We load up in the van for a 5 ½ hour ride to Santa Fe for a day and half of duck hunting.
Lali, our professional driver, takes over the chauffeur duties, giving Eduardo some much needed rest, and we all take turns sleeping and talking in the van for the next three hours. We arrive at the halfway stop, a GasOil station that also has a restaurant and convenience store all together – not unlike the US. We pile out for coffee, la banjo (bathroom), and a snack.
When we come out of the store, a young man asks Eduardo in Spanish, “Who is the big man with us?” Eduardo tells him it is Tom Knapp. He then says to Eduardo, “No, who is it really?” Eduardo says again that it is Tom Knapp. The young man’s eyes get wide, and he says that it has been his dream to meet Tom Knapp, the famous shooter, and would Eduardo take a picture of him and Tom Knapp with his cell phone. What comes together at a gas station in the middle of nowhere in a very large country has to be a genuine highlight for Tom, for the young man, and for all of us. With tears in his eyes, he thanks Tom and waves goodbye to us. A smile, a handshake, a picture, a moment in time – its value – priceless. By the time we reach Santa Fe, Tom has two emails from his new friend, complete with pictures of his own dogs, one of his own hunts, and an open invitation to take Tom hunting anytime the opportunity arises.
We arrive at the duck lodge in Santa Fe province, have lunch (another five course meal), pull on our boots and head out for an afternoon duck hunt. Our rooms are only 50 yards from the water, but it has been a dry year and the river is down. We should be hunting in a dry blind over a pothole, part of the 50 mile expanse of the Parana River. The band – guides, dog, hunters, cameramen, and outfitters – get in the boat, cruise for 10 minutes, and finally pull up into a relatively large back water slough as thousands of ducks leave in waves. The guide stops the boat in about a foot to a foot and a half of water, and he and the other guides get out and start building a blind.
None of us are in hip boots or waders. New game plan. Build the blind on shore about 50 yards from where we are. No, that isn’t really where the birds want to go. Yes, it is very muddy. No, the blind is only big enough for the hunters and the guide. Yes, the cameramen, and the rest of the marching band stand out like sore thumbs.
No, this isn’t hunting. This is making television. We do the best we can. Tom and Colorado manage to scratch down a limit of ducks. Jason manages to fill one boot full of water. I manage to get muddy from my feet to my waist, but we make some good television. The setting sun is spectacular and Colorado Buck makes some fantastic shots on Rosy Bill drakes that will be incredible – if we got them on film.
Okay, pull everything, get back in the boat. Here is what we need for tomorrow – sun behind us; a good blind, higher in the back to conceal the cameramen; the best wind you can find to help decoying ducks; lots of ducks, and can you have all that figured out by 6:00 AM tomorrow?
Lalo resplies, “No problema!”
After that, it was back to the lodge for supper, a debrief of what was good about today, what we hope will happen tomorrow, an after dinner toddy, and off to bed. The late night slumber party conversation starts.
“Okay, one more toddy, but that’s it.”
“What time is it anyway?”
“Where is my room?”
“What country are we in?”
“What was your name again?”
“What is the meaning of life?”
You get the picture.
We awake early, have breakfast, get waders for everyone, load the band – guides, dog, hunters, cameramen, Eduardo and I – in the boat and away we go. We land about 10 minutes later and take off walking through the marsh to a good sized pot hole some distance from the river. The morning sun, a crimson red, is just beginning to come up behind us (hey, that’s good), and the full moon is setting in front of us (man, that’s beautiful). The guide puts out 25 or 30 decoys, and before it is light enough to film, ducks start buzzing the decoys. Two ducks appear from my left and head directly toward the blind.
“Ducks left, Tom!”
“I was going to wait until it’s light enough to film.”
“The limit is 25 each, you can warm up!”
The dog heads out to retrieve two ducks.
Amazing what a little encouragement can do.
Ducks come and go and stay. The cameras roll. The cameramen move behind the blind, in front of the blind (okay, no shooting ducks over the cameraman), next to the blind, in the blind, across the pond from the blind. Ducks fly. Blackie, the Lab, makes some great retrieves. It is Heaven. And we are pretty sure it is good TV.
A half dozen working gauchos (Argentinian cowboys) herd cattle about 100 yards behind the blind and they shout, “Buen tiro!” (good shot), when they see a duck fall. One comes by later and Colorado and he exchange greetings with Eduardo interpreting. The camera rolls as Colorado asks about horses, saddles, quirts, work and all the things cowboys from different countries would want to know about one another. The gaucho asks for two ducks for lunch. We offer him more. “No,” he says in Spanish, “only two. Gracias.” A simple and beautiful person, in a simple and beautiful moment.
By 9:30AM we’ve got fifty ducks, lots of good film, more opening and closings, interviews with the guides with Eduardo translating, filming of the new duck lodge, Irupe, and more footage of the gauchos, all done. All the raw footage for the duck hunt is “in the can”. Whew! Two down, one more dove shoot to go.
Back to the lodge for lunch, a nap, a drink, and some serious decompression. Three American hunters from Kentucky arrive late in the day and they, too, are big Tom Knapp fans. Let the party begin.
“Just one more, please.”
“What time is it?”
“How did we get here?”
“Where am I anyway?”
“Let’s sing ‘O’ Suzanna!’”
You get the picture.
Up early and off to El Cortijo for an afternoon dove shoot and our last filming session in the field. Five and a half hours on the road. God bless Lali, the driver. These are not American roads and these are not American drivers. Why is my butt flat like a van seat? We arrive in time for lunch, get all our gear together and head out for an afternoon shoot. The weather is picture perfect, about 65 degrees, sunny, and not much wind. Lalo has us in the right spot with the right sun, but we still have the marching band to contend with.
We move, we move again, and we move a third time (sometimes making a TV show is like wipin` your hind end on a wagon wheel, soon as ya get past some of it…. Here comes some more ! – a direct quote from Colorado Buck), and then – bingo! Tom and Colorado have the right cover. Jason, Jake and the rest of us band members have the right cover and the filming gets underway in earnest. By 6:00 we have all we need to complete the dove show.
Tom and Colorado do some closings by simply talking about their experiences and the bird numbers, and the food, and the wines, and the people. As the American partner in this outfit, SYC Sporting Adventures, it is gratifying to hear their complimentary remarks as we have all worked hard to make this happen. Back to the lodge for supper and a plan for tomorrow, our last day together.
“Jason, Jake, what do we need to complete this event?”
“How many interviews?”
“Interviews with everyone. Jake and I need to interview John and Eduardo separately. Tom, you need to interview Colorado. Colorado, you need to interview Tom. We need to interview Jake.
“How long will that take?”
“Probably two or three hours.”
“We have to leave at 1:30 for the airport.”
“Okay, we’ll do the best we can.”
Up at 9:00, and off to breakfast. Today it is, for the first time this trip, “muy frio”, very cold! I mean like 32 degrees cold, and we need to do interviews – outside – in the cold. I do one with Jake outside in my heaviest coat, and a wool sweater, and a scarf, and long underwear, while Eduardo does one inside with Colorado, who is struggling to get the lighting right indoors.
I have a funny feeling about all this. Wait, the sun’s not right, the angle isn’t right, the lighting’s not right, the microphone’s not right; my butt’s not right, I can’t feel it or my legs anymore. Okay, one interview down, and it’s 11:00. (Did I mention we need to leave by 1:30 for international flight check in? I did. Okay.) Eduardo and I swap. More lighting changes, new microphone set up, okay, two down – it’s almost 12:00 and we have to do lunch. We eat and look at our watches simultaneously. Everyone packs their luggage and brings them to the van. Well, not everyone: the cameramen, who have the most to pack and load, are still working. Jason is sprinting across the yard to set up for Tom’s interview. Jake and Colorado are getting the right lighting so Colorado can interview Jake. It is 1:15.
Jason’s bag is the biggest. It needs to go on first. Wait, the rest of the bags are loaded. Okay, unload and reload. What time is it? 1:28.
Get in. Close the door. Where is my hat? Is that your tripod in the yard? Why does my butt fit perfectly in this van seat?
We wave goodbye. And that’s it – outdoor television. What a week!