– Story by Gavin Harvey, as seen in The Sporting Life –
The Toyota Hilux slowed to a stop and Adrian, my guide, became fixed on something eastward. I looked in his direction, across this dry, grass and scrub covered valley. The land stretched away, slowly climbing for a mile or two up a bald, muscular ridge. The afternoon sun was low, the shadows long, the light—gold. It was springtime at Tipiliuke Ranch, but here in the southern hemisphere the season was autumn. In this open Patagonian vista of beige, rust, gold, straw and earth I struggled to see it.
Adrian was locked on. He smiled, looked at me, and slowly turned his gaze back east, almost willing my eyes to land where I needed to see. And there, five hundred yards in the open, I finally did. Nearly invisible in the muted mono-color scale of the valley, stood a lone stag. He was calmly staring back at Adrian.
“He is old.” said Adrian. “Maybe once the king of this valley. But now he is old.” Old, and still a monarch. In the binoculars I could see the big deer’s broad head holding thick branches of antlers which looked like weathered timber, his hide faded and scarred. His spread was not as wide, nor the tines as long as some younger mature stag I had previously harvested in the Tipiliuke backcountry. Past his prime, many years beyond his best breeding seasons, the king’s crown had shrunk with age. But what remained represented the legend of a dominant, exceptional, boss of a buck.
Without another word, Adrian and I quietly climbed out of the Hilux, grabbed our rifles, and began our stalk.
Arriving at Tipiliuke
I was here two years before. The road to this northern Patagonian paradise unfolds slowly. There is the overnight flight across hemispheres from New York to Buenos Aires, Argentina. The boulevards, squares and fashionable people of that spectacular city command a traveler to stop for a day, or two or even six. There’s no limit to the time you could take in the malbecs, milaneses, cafes, parrillas, plazas, teatros and tangos in the street.
From Buenos Aires there is the quick two-hour flight to Bariloche or San Martin de los Andes, the gateway airports into northern Patagonia. Along the way you see the landscape evolve from coastal Atlantic to pampas and farmland, then transition to the high plains and ridges of Patagonia, and finally to the doorstep of the massive snowcapped Andes.
While San Martin’s Chapelco airport has the advantage of being only 10 minutes to Tipiliuke, arriving in Bariloche requires you to slow down just a little bit longer. The three-hour drive is a scenic tour de force of Andean lakes and Andean mountains, Patagonian plains and the wildlife that inhabits it.
“Dad, oh my god do you see the flamingos!” pleads my daughter. Yes, the neon pink flocks are hard to miss. As are the guanacos, and the emus, the stag, and the condor. Turning on to the gravel road that leads into the ranch, we get glimpses of the Rio Chimehuin, the crystal river that runs through the property, where the muscular brown trout swim that I will soon chase.
We are delightfully slowed just a little longer to allow a herd of Angus cattle pass by. They are prodded along by a pair of gauchos on horseback—yes, real gauchos—the dusty cowboys in bright colored ponchos and flat-brimmed black hats who tend the livestock on this 60,000-acre working ranch.
The traveler is rewarded at the end of this journey with one of the most apex accommodations one could ever land in, the Lodge at Tipiliuke, which is managed by Kevin and Mary Jo Tiemersma. It is a sunny luxury boutique inn, nested in an arboreal oasis of trees, flowers and gardens. With a killer kitchen. You have arrived in Heaven.
My friend John Burrell, who is Kevin and Mary Jo’s partner in Tipiliuke as well as being the CEO of High Adventure Company, savors the time in his spirit home here in Patagonia. “Tipiliuke is a special escape for sportsmen and women,” said John. “It’s where you go back to a time and place where big deer roam free, coveys of wild birds bust out, and clear rivers are full of wild trout.”
This was my first trip to Tipiliuke, on a Spring Break family vacation to Buenos Aires with a four night “estancia experience” wedged in. Well, Spring for us—but Fall in Argentina. We acclimated to the Upside Down, where Spring is Fall and the sun travels across the northern sky, not the southern. The tall trees on the river displayed autumnal colors of yellow, red, rust and brown. The mornings and evenings were cool and warmed by indoor and outdoor fires. We ate like kings, picnicked on the beach, walked among the monkey puzzle trees, and rode horses every day. My eight-year-old son was given the honor of riding a stout criollo stallion heroically named “Diego Maradona.”
But I am an outdoorsman, and I was here to fish. Rio Chimehuin is legendary with anglers and needs no embellishment from me. Arriving with absolutely zero fly rods, flies, line, leader, tackle, or waders, Tipiliuke’s fly masters quickly kitted me up. The Chimehuin is a freestone masterpiece of riffles, pools, ponds and bends. I won the lottery and was guided by Kevin Tiemersma, who magically—and patiently—hooked me up with the trout I’d always dreamed of but had never been able to land. On a beat called La Costa, I caught and released a perfect 20-inch brown, which with a slap of its tail splashed a spray of Chimehuin river water across my face as a parting gift. The Tipiliuke angler is blessed with a pristine river sustaining an unpressured wild fishery, kept healthy by Kevin and the Lodge’s dedicated crew.
One night, relaxing by the firepit, contemplating the Southern Cross and all the stars in the Patagonian night sky, I was medicating my happy-sore muscles with a robust Malbec and thinking about fish, when I heard it: The Roar.
American outdoorsmen are familiar with such urgent, throaty growls and screams in our Fall, when the deer snort and the elk bugle. I was hearing it now, in April; but of course, this is the Upside Down, where Spring is Fall. My brain finally coalesced around the truth that I was in a hunting lodge. And outside there were hot, rutting free range stag, in prime hunting season, on 60,000 acres of wild land. It hadn’t occurred to me to hunt on our family Spring Break vacation—but the sound of that roar changed everything.
Arrangements were made. Again, the pro staff at Tipiliuke would provide me with everything I needed for an afternoon hunt. I had hunted enough to know that the odds of getting on a shooter buck, bull or ram in one random four-hour outing were very low. But the odds are zero if you don’t go out and look.
I woke up the next morning buzzed at the prospect of a perfect day, fishing in the morning and hunting in the afternoon. My wife, unaware of my afternoon plan, asked me, “So we should do something special for Irish (my daughter) this afternoon for her 12th birthday, don’t you think?”
I suppose I thought that having cake after dinner would be nice. But if it was “something special” my wife was after, yes, I definitely had something that would blow her mind.
“Daddy, why are you bringing a rifle on our ostrich search?” Irish asked as we loaded up the truck after lunch. She was too smart for a big lie, so I tried a little one. I explained that while we were out on our bird watching adventure, I might harvest a stag to help our chefs stock the kitchen for a delightful meal. And I told her that while that was extremely unlikely (true), I was bringing the rifle just in case.
It remains to this day, Irish’s most unforgettable birthday. We did see an emu, then “just in case” happened as Adrian put us on three stalks that afternoon. Irish moved along right in line with us on each one, down gullies and up ridges, on hands and knees, as well as at a brisk trot. At last light I took a beautiful 6 x 6 with the twin triple-tined crowns coveted by stag hunters.
A Solo Return
Two years later I returned to Tipiliuke during the Roar, this time on my own, to devote all of my time to the wild trout, wild boar, and free-range stag that populate the ranch and backcountry around it. (I’m sure my kids had nothing to do with it, but I subsequently learned that Tipiliuke is a haven now for grown-ups only.)
Adrian again quickly put me on shooter stags and not just at dawn’s break and last light, but all day long, rutting for doe. Here a hunter sees a thick-bodied stag on almost every outing. The landscape is friendly to glassing, with long uncluttered vistas from ridge top to ridge top. There are very few hunters pressuring the wildlife. The stag are numerous, and during the roar, recklessly chasing doe out in the open.
Throughout the week I harvested a dark silver-coated boar and a trio of stag larger than the one I had taken two years earlier. I also took enthusiastic advantage of the ranch’s encouragement to cull “Assassins.” These are stag with a genetic mutation resulting in a single long, spear-like top tine. This imperfection gives the assassin stag a lethal advantage over a typical triple-tined trophy stag in battle. The assassins are big, exciting animals to hunt, despite the atypical “flaw” of a single tine. Good management impels the ranch and their hunters to cull the assassins so healthy, typical stag can pass along their genes.
I have slept on the ground in tents, cooked over fires, and left indoor plumbing behind on a few hunting and fishing adventures, this was not one of them. Coming off the river and out of the mountains to Tipiliuke’s lodge is what the Vikings must have felt when they returned from sea to celebrate in the Longhouse. Everyone is happy to see you come in and tales of the hunt are shared. Wine and whiskey is poured and a feast is served. Afterward, heads hit lush pillows and the weary sleep on sheets with a thread count so high it would take a Physics professor to calculate it. The slumbering hunters dream of roaring stags.
“He is moving” observed Adrian, “We must hurry.” We had stalked to within 300 yards, and the old king had seen enough. He lumbered away at a slow gait. He was an aged buck who appeared tired of being chased away, again, by rivals he’d whipped in days gone by. Adrian and I closed another 25 yards of distance and it was time to get into position. The buck took one more look back at us, quartering away, then stopped. The Remington Model 700 in .300 Winchester Magnum was plenty enough gun for me to confidently take that shot.
When we finally saw him up close, I realized this stud was even more special than I thought. His thick beam had split on the right side forming a four-tined quad crown. The 7 x 6 buck was truly a monarch. Adrian examined his teeth, which were almost ground down to the roots. “Very old. Could be 13 years. Probably would not last another winter,” he said. I admired this magnificent ancient stag, my emotions swirling with the mix of paradoxical elation and remorse that hunters know well. I looked around, and savored the untamed panoramic high plains we met in. The road to Tipiliuke unfolds slowly, the journey is long, but it brought me right here. For me, it is a place against which all other adventures and experiences are compared.
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