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The Venezuelan Connection

A few years ago, I wrote a book titled My Main Obsession. Royalties were to cover the expenses of a full-fledged African safari. Unfortunately the royalties didn’t cover the safari, but a copy did end in the hands of a Venezuelan jaguar expert, who after reading it and wanting other people to enjoy it, gave it as a present to a gentleman from the city of Valencia in Venezuela. His name is Antonio “Tony” Padrín.

Tony Padrín called me at my office and after a 40 or 50-minute chat, we were the best of friends. I don’t know what it is with hunters, but there is a special bond, which doesn’t exist among people who pursue other sports and which only forms —  I am told — among companions in arms.  

After hearing Tony’s stories relative to the abundance of game in Venezuela, including a different and bigger sub-species of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus gymnotis); white-lipped peccary (Tayasu tajacu), running around in packs going into the hundreds; capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris); greater curassow (Crax rubra) of a different sub-species from the ones in Costa Rica; I was ready for an invitation but too shy to suggest it.  

So, instead I asked Tony if he would be interested in coming to Costa Rica, not to hunt but to fish, as the game in Costa Rica cannot begin to compare with that in Venezuela.  He readily accepted, asking if he could come with his cousin and partner in his building company, along with their wives.  I immediately agreed, whereupon Tony said that he would like to correspond and invite me to hunt in Venezuela.  

After a few months, the two couples showed up in Costa Rica and after some sight-seeing in the capital city of San José, we all flew to the Río Indio Lodge in Nicaragua, on the border with Costa Rica. We had a wonderful time catching snook and tarpon, feasting on fresh crawdads and fish and swapping stories about hunts.

But it was to be at least a couple of more years before I could go to Venezuela.  Towards the end of 2017, Mr. Padrín phoned, informing me that he had bought a hunting ranch about a four-hour drive southwest of Valencia, which was rife with game and that I should make every effort to come during the height of the dry season.  

Like they say, the next best thing to being rich is having a friend who is. After assuring me that he would fly me into his 12,000-hectare domain in his private plane and that if we needed to drive to the nearest town for provisions, we would do so in his armored Toyota, I was convinced to go.  Now all I had to do was convince my wife, sons and older brother, that the risk was not too great and that I would not get assassinated or kidnapped.  

To be sure, I was pretty leery of going, especially as I couldn’t take my own rifle, which would surely land me in jail, it being my experience that for whatever reason, a loaned rifle, for one motive or another, always presents problems.

Tony assured me that he had a Savage bolt-action rifle in .308 caliber, with a see-through high mount on which was mounted a Tasco scope. Aside from that, he had plenty of ammunition and a .22 Magnum bolt-action which I could also use.  Anyway, it was a hand-out and I could hardly refuse. Regardless, I played it coy until Tony called me again in February of 2018, to fix the day of my arrival. We agreed on March 3.

Contrary to the most elementary common sense and aside from the necessary hunting garb, I packed a Leupold Golden Ring variable scope and a cheaper glass for the .22 Magnum.

As Julius Caesar said upon crossing the Rubicon River between Italy and Gaul, “Alea iacta est” – “the die has been cast.”  I booked my flight to arrive in Valencia on March 3.

I boarded the plane and arrived uneventfully in Valencia in the early afternoon of the same day, somewhat apprehensively.

Upon exiting the terminal building, Tony was there to meet me in his armored vehicle and introduced me to Dr. Francisco Carelli, a medical surgeon and traumatologist, who was to be my guide during my stay.

Tony informed me that he would lodge me for the night in a four-star hotel and that he hoped I would like it. Like I said, the hospitality extended among hunters is unique in the world, as I ended up in a beautiful air-conditioned room in his own home and that very night he surprised me with a succulent dinner, where I got to meet the rest of his family.

As he wanted me to see the country, next morning we departed to his cattle and water buffalo ranch – Corralito – in his Toyota Land Cruiser, along with his wife, Alba, and of course, the good doctor, who was to be with me for the duration of my stay. We would fly out on the way back.

After about four hours of steady motoring over a good road in spite of some bad patches due to the lack of maintenance, and after passing a locked gate, we arrived at the ranch house, a quaint building over a hundred-years old with a beautiful swimming pool in the front. What struck me when I got out of the air-conditioned vehicle was the temperature. The air shimmered with heat — it was over a hundred and five in the shade and the humidity didn’t help, either. Fortunately, I was assigned an air-conditioned room (someone should consecrate Mr. Carrier!), although it couldn’t manage very well because of the oppressive heat.

Once settled, I was presented with the Savage .308 rifle, which I was to use for the duration of the hunt, along with the usual four or five boxes of “Heinz” ammunition. Yes, all 57 varieties! Winchester and Remington, Federal and Hornady, 110 grains, 125 grains, 150 grains and 180 grains, solid, round-nose and pointed!

The rifle had a see-through scope mount (I had to stretch my neck to peer through the Tasco riflescope) and to add insult to injury, the previous owner had managed to fray the stock, making it yet more difficult to accommodate one’s cheek.  But like they say in my country, I had only these oxen to till the soil!

As only the Hornady box of ammo was complete, I chose that one and proceeded to exchange the Tasco for my Leupold. I had taken the provision of bringing a couple of paper targets to sight-in the rifle, proceeding in Tony’s vehicle to a suitable place to sight it in.  Tony provided a Bog-Pod tripod (which I had suggested he obtain) and a folding chair.  

The target we first tied to a suitable tree at 25 yards and started with the bore-sighting process at about two in the afternoon under a relentless sun, as there was no decent shade in the featureless plain.  As I tried to focus in the dazzling mirage, sweat poured from my forehead and into my eyes.

The bore-sighting complete, I fired the first shot.  Low and to the left.  I made the necessary corrections and fired again. It looked good and I moved the target to 50 yards. One more shot and another careful correction. I fired the fourth shot which looked good enough and made a mental note that I had sixteen rounds left for my entire hunt.

Upon returning to the house, I noticed something which I hadn’t seen before: both household dogs were sleeping under the sprinklers to quench the heat!

After a quick bite and dunking my head in the water for a few seconds to appease the heat, Francisco and I, rifle in hand, departed in a Toyota pick-up truck which Tony had provided for us, to the Northern part of the huge ranch. Fifteen minutes later and after leaving the more civilized section of “Corralito,” we started seeing deer.

I noticed that these tropical white-tails were about the same size as those in Costa Rica (I don’t think the bucks exceeded 120 pounds), but of a lighter, tawnier color.  The antlers, however, were considerably larger, although they did not grow upwards and forward, like North American whitetails, but in a more upward manner, like the deer back home.

Tony had authorized me to collect two specimens and, of course, I wanted the two biggest ones on the ranch, so although I saw about fifty that afternoon, I refrained from shooting, not that the bigger bucks would stand around giving me all the time in the world. As is common to the species, they were skittish and nervous.

Early next morning I was out again with Dr. Carelli and Augusto and one of the ranch hands to look for a promising buck. But we didn’t see anything worth a shot. In the evening, we sat in front of a vast open field, hoping for a big buck to appear, but only does and small spikes showed up.

As the sun began to go down, a few light clouds floated like small islands in a lavender sky. A breath of cool air swept past my face and I decided it was time to move away and find out if deer were stirring elsewhere.

Francisco and I would stand in the bed of the vehicle while Augusto slowly toured the countryside.  It was close to five-thirty when I noticed two deer in the distance, standing under a small tree. Through my binoculars, they looked promising.  

I instructed Augusto to turn to the right so as not to alarm them, until we could get a big and leafy tree between us. He then veered in the direction of the tree to reduce the distance to the deer for a reasonable shot. Upon reaching the tree, Augusto veered slowly to the right until the two deer came into view.

The buck was standing broadside 140 yards away (I later paced the distance).  I had a solid rest  and held the crosshairs on the middle of the shoulder, desperately trying not to goof.  At the shot, the buck took two steps and gave me a puzzled look.  I couldn’t have done anything wrong and worked the bolt frantically. 

I held my breath and at the blast of the shot, gave it a Hail Mary. It worked! The buck collapsed as if its feet had been pulled from under him.  Francisco gave out a whoop of triumph and I thanked my lucky stars. As we walked up to my buck, there was no ground shrinkage. The nearer we walked, the bigger it looked.  When I picked the head and sized-up the gnarled nine-point rack, Francisco assured me that he had never seen a buck that big and that I had truly taken the biggest deer in the Venezuelan plains.

That put an end to my tropical white-tail deer hunt. I couldn’t have been happier.–Ricardo Guardia Vazquez

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