This South American bird is the color of a mallard hen and not much larger than our Southern bobwhite, but it is commonly referred to as "partridge" because of its similarity to partridges, quail, and pheasants. Its nearest kin, however, is the ostrich, and it comes up from the ground like thunder.
The short grasslands of Uruguay. (Inset) A gentle retrieve.
The perdiz is a member of the tinamou family, with 47 species found from northern Mexico to Tierra del Fuego, South America. But the perdiz, a grassland, steppe and savanna dwelling species, is mostly confined to the southern half of South America. We were hunting in Uruguay and lodged at the Estancia La Nenette, built on a high bluff over seeing the Rio Negro River, which during the summer is filled with combatant fish called dorado.
This was not Uruguay's summer, but rather, its winter - in June. But the country's cold months are not harsh in the least. Only one morning would we wake to a weak frost in this sub-tropical land.
We continued to follow Pepo while several hundred yards away Jerry Magee and Jim Jordan hunted with their dog handler, Daniel Garcia, and another Brittany, Pelyto, a four-year-old male. Pepo and Pelyto are Hector Sarasola's two best Brittanys, and they are widely known throughout Uruguay for their abilities.
Hector, born in 1951 in Montevideo, Uruguay, is built on a solid frame and has intense brown eyes, a flecked salt and pepper beard and streaks of gray running through his black hair. Hector owns the Estancia La Ninette ("little girl" in French) and he says he named the estancia after his Brittany, La Ninette, who was responsible for his business in his early years of hunting clients.
Pepo scenting the air for a perdiz.
"A true sweeper of birds," is how Hector remembers La Ninette. "She was perhaps the best dog I've ever had," he recalled as we talked before an open fireplace in the living area of the lodge one afternoon. This is a man whose passion is Brittanys and perdiz.
"When you come to hunt perdiz with my dogs, you might say that Hector's dogs aren't worth much. That is because you're used to your American trained dogs," he explained. "But these perdiz do not act like bobwhite quail. First, they are not covey birds. Yes, you might find four or five in a rather small area, but they do not flush in a covey. It is more like hunting singles.
"Sometimes you might get two to flush fairly close together but usually it is one bird at a time. And perdiz do not hold well. So you need a slower working dog such as mine. When one of my dogs gets birdy, you must move quickly to the dog to get a shot. Perdiz come up very fast and when they quit flying, they sail for long distances like pheasants."
Hector's credentials are impressive. At age 17, he was the youngest handler ever to win the Hubert Uruguay Championship (with one of his Brittanys) held near Montevideo in a field of 20 dogs. At 18 he placed third in all of South America.
He wanted to show me some of his photos after winning his first championship, but he could not find them. "I was lean and with long hair - but that was a long time ago," he said with a sigh.
In 1987 Hector established his on bloodline of Brittanys and now keeps 10 fully trained dogs and nine in training.
"My system for training dogs is not complicated and mixed with a lot of unnecessary rules. I allow the young dogs to hunt as their breeding dictates," he said. "We begin at 90 days with exercises and obedience, and my dogs are fully trained at eighteen months.
Eight-year-old Pepo continues to hunt with the spark of a youngster.
"We do not hunt pointers or setters here because they are too big, too hyper, and they bump too many birds," he added. "Their retrieving is terrible and they range too far."
Ironically, however, Hector's first dog was a pointer from England. The dog was a gift from Hector's father.
"My hunters would never get a shot at a perdiz if I used pointers," he stated. "The Brittany is by far the smartest and most cautious dog to work with perdiz. You need a dog with patience and my Brittanys have composure. My dogs have a feline style when they get birdy.
"There are four characteristics that I look for in a good perdiz dog. First, you must have a good bloodline, a good nose, soft retrieves, and the will to perform. You get these traits and the rest is quite simple.
"Our dogs are also trained on wild birds. We do not train on pen-raised birds as is so often done elsewhere. We do not practice steady to wing and shot because perdiz don't hold very well. The dog gives a quick point, the bird is flushed and quickly retrieved if knocked down. This allows them to make a safe and fast retrieve.
"In the old days we would use a slingshot to the rear to keep them from breaking. Today we use the e-collar. But you must be very careful when you use this device. The dog is supposed to hunt for its pleasure and to the satisfaction of the hunter.
"Our dogs are not allowed to chase flying birds. This would be annoying to the hunter. It is hard to understand my methods until you have hunted perdiz for a day. It is a learning experience that will change your mind as to our training methods. And when the dog gets birdy, you must be quick on your feet and fast to get your shot.
|IF YOU WANT TO GO |
The Estancia La Ninette was named after Hector's first Brittany, whom he said was a "true sweeper of birds." The name means "little girl" in French.
You can expect to flush 30-50 perdiz each morning on a two-hour hunt. But be prepared to do some
double-timing when the dog gets birdy. Each hunting party consists of a dog, dog handler, and two hunters.
The perdiz season runs from May 1 through July 3.
Meals at the Estancia La Ninette feature succulent beef, chicken, pork, game and Uruguayan wines. The meals are as memorable as the hunt and the hospitality. Meats are prepared in the traditional manner of cooking over wood coals.
You can drink the water without worry.
The temperature during the winter season seldom dips below 32 or rises above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Pack light clothes. You will heat up quickly while gunning perdiz.
Shooting eared doves in the afternoon is a high-volume exercise, as there are millions in the area. They are considered pests by farmers and you can expect to shoot 20 boxes or more very quickly.
Contact Ron Stafford, Vice President Hunting/Fishing, Trek International Safaris at 1503 The Greens Way, Jacksonville Beach, Florida 32250; or phone (800) 654-9915; or log onto www.treksafaris.com.
"We've had no field trials in Uruguay since 1990 and there are almost no pedigreed pointers left in my country. Our trials were run with wild birds and judged on speed, numbers of birds found, approach and a sharp nose."
Hector said that a Brittany pup in South America costs from 50 to 100 dollars. A trained Brittany goes from 500 to 700 dollars.
When asked about his most promising Brittany, Hector said, "His name is Lorenzo. He is a young male that will make history for my clients."
Pepo's gait was slow and easy as he moved through the short grass field ahead of us. Sandy kept reminding us to never let our eyes leave Pepo. "He can get birdy in a hurry and you must be ready to shoot," he warned. "And remember that perdiz do not fly very high. But sometimes a perdiz will flush behind you. So keep your eyes on Pepo, for Pepo is a very good dog and seldom is he fooled."
The morning's chill had passed and I had taken off my light jacket and stuffed it into my camera backpack. It was then we heard the rapid fire of shotguns to our left. Jerry and Jim had flushed the first perdiz of the morning.
We walked on, watching Pepo as he quartered the field. Suddenly the small Brittany slowed his movements, for somewhere hidden tight in the short grass was a perdiz. "Be ready!" Sandy said as Pepo shortened his search. Then for a fraction of a second Pepo went on point with his stub of tail erect.
And try as we did, our eyes could not find this bird in the short grass. Then like an unexpected thunderclap on a hot summer's afternoon, the perdiz flushed.
Fred fired his 20 gauge over and under once...then again. The shot string connected and the bird bounced once when it hit the ground. A breeze swept away the bird's floating feathers.
Pepo was on the retrieve and gently placed the limp-legged bird into Sandy's hand.
We moved on to find more perdiz with this capable Brittany in Uruguay.