Brendan Burns, who manages KUIU Professional Services, just returned from an very demanding red stag hunt in the Andes Mountains of Patagonia. I asked him to share a photo essay of his experience. Brendan is always in search of great adventures that will increase his working knowledge of hunting conditions our customers may face worldwide. Experiences like this hunt continue to drive innovation and development here at KUIU. Enjoy!
KUIU in the Andes
As director of KUIU’s Professional Services, the best part of my job is the people I get to meet and the incredible places I am fortunate enough to get to hunt.
During the Dallas Safari Club show this winter, Junior Deane, a guide and representative from Argentina Outfitters, approached me about getting their whole crew set up in KUIU. I’m slightly embarrassed to say I had very little knowledge of what Argentina had to offer a mountain hunter, or the exact system I would recommend. Later in the show, Junior stopped back by the booth and graciously invited me to come hunt red deer in the Andes with them and see it for myself. It sounded like a great adventure and an invite I simply could not pass up.
The plan was for me to come down in late April at the end of their big game season on a horseback/backpack style hunt into a remote national park they have the exclusive hunting rights to for red stag. He promised me it would be a mountain hunt I would not forget in country very few people have ever hunted.
Just like that, I was headed for the Andes of Argentina.
Argentina is the second-largest country in South America, and home to the Andes, which is the highest mountain range outside of Asia. Spanish is the native tongue of Argentina, and it is known as a very friendly and safe place to travel. Traditionally known more as a fly-fishing and wing-shooting destination for sportsmen, Argentina is quickly becoming one of the top hunting areas in the world for true free-range red stag.
Argentina Outfitters is the largest free-range red deer hunting outfitter in Argentina (www.argentinaoutfitters.com). They specialize in free-range stag hunting in the mountains and foothills of the Andes in the Southwestern Neuquen Province. Red deer were brought to Argentina around 1910 and have since naturally spread throughout the country. The red deer rut or “roar” generally occurs from early March to early April. I would be hunting the tail-end of the roar during the fall to winter transition in Patagonia.
Travel to Argentina proved to be very easy from the States. From Houston, myself and photographer Paul Bride caught a 9-hour flight to Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aries. We were greeted by an interpreter in the airport who took care of all the travel logistics. After staying the night in Buenos Aries, we caught a two-hour flight to the small tourist town of San Martin De Andes, where we were picked up by our outfitter and guide Patrick Steverlynck.
Patrick is one of the owners of Argentina Outfitters. He grew up in the region, and has been hunting red deer in Argentina since his youth. A seasoned international hunter, Patrick began taking hunters in Argentina in the mid 90’s. He is also a partner in Patagonia Outfitters, one of the oldest fly fishing operations in Argentina.
Upon arrival in San Martin de Andes we were transported to one of the beautiful lodges of AO, Estancia Lago Hermoso. Ten minutes after arriving, Patrick asked if I wanted to take off hunting immediately or stay overnight and get settled. The lodge was incredible, and sitting by the fire looking at giant stags from past hunts was appealing, but after two days of travel, I was ready to get in the mountains.
He explained that where we were headed was a 15-20 hour ride by horseback over the next 5 days. We were starting at one side of a mountain range and getting picked up on the opposite side approximately 40 miles away. We had many options and three established camps where we could hunt along the way, but one way or the other we had to get to the other side of the hunting area for extraction by boat.
We grabbed our gear and headed for the trailhead where we were going to meet our Gaucho (horse wrangler/guide), Felipe and the horse string.
The best way I can accurately describe Felipe is a gentleman cowboy, master horseman, and mountain man. He is truly one of the most interesting people I have ever met hunting. Felipe’ s family had been living and working in this national park for well over a century. He is the only full-time resident of the area, and is grandfathered in to be able to run cattle and work the land within the national park. Using rawhide, he had personally made all the tack and horse equipment we used. He is a living time capsule to an era that no longer exists and proved to be one hell of a hand in the mountains.
After loading up our gear and food it was a quick 1-hour horse ride to the first camp. We arrived just before dark and had the good fortune to spot a couple of red stags close to camp before sitting down to a great meal. In spite of the slight language barrier, (Patrick speaks decent English but primarily Spanish, Phillipe speaks only Spanish, and I speak terrible Spanish) we enjoyed a great chat around the campfire. As it turns out we all speak antler sign language.
Camp was very comfortable and the food was incredible. One thing about Argentinians, they know how to eat. Every night was traditional asado (BBQ over coals) of aged beef or deer, fresh vegetables, exotic cheese, bread, and local red wine. It seemed very odd to have 6 bottles of wine and a giant wheel of cheese packed on a horse, but it was a welcome site every night compared to the freeze dried food I eat on most hunts.
The following morning Patrick and I rode out at daylight to a glassing point. We spotted several nice stags, but nothing old enough or big enough to interest us. The country is beautiful, and looks strikingly similar to Northern Wyoming or Montana with a hardwood forest below. We checked a couple of points before heading back to camp.
After surveying the area, Patrick decided we should make a big move and ride to the second camp. I was hoping the description of 12 hours by horse and pointing to mountains we could barely see was slightly lost in translation or exaggerated. No such luck. Patrick’s estimate would prove conservative.
The saddles we rode resembled a cross between a wooden pack saddle and a bronc saddle, with multiple sheepskins on top for comfort. They are extremely padded and the angle of the stirrups is far more comfortable than the traditional western saddle I’m used to riding.
We rode all day, taking a one hour break to let the horses eat, and grabbed a bite before setting off again. We crossed through several different ecosystems during the ride: from dense forest, to arid sagebrush looking alpine, to finally riding through a boulder-strewn moonscape plateau. I have no idea how much distance we covered, but it was well over 20 miles. We glassed for stags in every new area we came to, but failed to turn any up. The scenery was spectacular and the weather was good, so overall it was great day in the Andes.
Just before dark, we arrived in the valley we hoped to hunt. We made our way to camp in the dark, threw up our tents and crashed out.
In the middle of the night we were awakened by a pounding rain and high wind. When the sun came up there was fog to the ground. Not much we could do but wait out the storm. Patagoina is known for terrible and unpredictable weather that blows in over the Andes from the Pacific ocean. No matter where you are hunting, waiting out bad weather is a drag. The further you had to travel to get there the more unfair it seems.
We waited out the weather and enjoyed a seasoned beef shoulder over the fire. Patrick decided that if the weather breaks in the middle of the day we will again move to the farthest camp. It is his favorite place to hunt, and he figured we may as well travel if we can’t hunt.
Early in the afternoon the storm lightened up and the fog began to lift. We quickly loaded up and headed for camp three. Patrick and Felipe said it will be a 5 hour ride. We navigated a giant drainage, crossed onto another giant plateau and lined out for the last valley. We began to see red deer sign again and glassed up a few small stags in the high alpine. After crossing a patch of timber, we rode up on a big stag in thick timber. I hopped off my horse and got on the stag a second too late. I could tell by the look in Patrick’s eyes that it was a really good bull and a missed opportunity. Shortly before dark we crested a high basin and dropped into a giant valley to camp 3.
The gig was up. The stag winded us and bailed up the mountain headed for Chile’. At 360 yards he finally stopped and gave me a clear shot. I was able to make two clean shots on the stag. He made it fifty yards before going down.
We made our way to the downed stag. Patrick was very happy, as it was an ancient old bull well past his prime. They are a beautiful animal, very similar in size to a young cow elk. It took a lot of effort to get here.
The setting was a bit surreal. The beautiful basin that was our backdrop was like so many I’ve hunted over the years, only instead of a bighorn ram, mule deer buck, or bull elk, we were in the Andes with a red stag. As much as hunting varies throughout the world, it is remarkably consistent. Any animal taken above timberline feels special no matter where you are.
Felipe simply does not believe in walking, and amazingly rode the horse string right to the stag. We processed the stag and it was way after dark by the time we headed for camp in the moonlight. The horses knew right where to go.
We got back to camp well after midnight. Felipe and Patrick made an outstanding meal of fresh stag backstraps.
The following morning we were again greeted by rain and high wind. The weather was simply not going to cooperate with us. With the days on my trip winding down, we decided to make our way out as fast as possible. We rode the next 8 hours through some unbelievably steep terrain in big wind and rain. We arrived at our boat pickup with 10 minutes to spare.
With an evening and a morning before we have to fly out, Patrick took me to one of their other hunting areas to get a glimpse of another part of their operation. We arrived right before dark and finally got to hear some “roaring”– what an amazing sound. We saw more red deer in ten minutes on this ranch than our entire horseback trip.
Back again the next morning, we spotted an extremely old management stag bedded in a wide open valley. Patrick asked if I was interested in taking another stag, which of course I was. A great stalk and a 50 yard shot yielded my second stag of the trip: a 12-year-old, past-his-prime, 4×4.
With just an hour to spare we made it back to the airport. It would have been hard to pack more adventure, travel, weather, culture and new experiences into six days. I didn’t have a hard time sleeping on the plane ride home.
I want to thank Argentina Outfitters, Patrick Steverlynck, Joaquin Lynch, Rob McAndrew, and Junior Deane for their incredible hospitality. If you have not considered hunting the Andes mountains of Argentina, you should put it on your list. I cannot recommend the experience enough.
My full gear list of my hunt to the Andes.
All photos by Paul Bride…except all amateur/poorly composed photos by Brendan Burns.