Photo by Eloir Mário Marcelino
The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is the largest rodent in the world, and when I started hunting “big game” as a child and teenager in northern São Paulo state, the “Alta Mogiana” region of Brazil in the late 1970’s and 1980’s it was pretty much the only such wild animal that we had around.
My father would hunt capybaras with hounds that we called “Americanos”, since they basically are American Foxhounds. The way to hunt capybaras with hounds is to let the dogs loose in a swamp, the typical habitat for the capybaras. When pursued the capybaras natural instinct is to go for water, so we would “block” the local small river or stream with a net, which we would make with a length of chain-link fence, in order to make them surface.
A couple hunters would work the dogs while one or more shooter or blocker would stay at the net in order to shoot the capybara when it surfaced. Generally they would hit the net hard before they would surface or try to swim against the current. This would be a very trilling moment, and at one occasion a friend that my dad had invited hunting ejected all the shells from his rifle without firing a single shot, due to his level of excitement.
My dad at a time had a very large cannel. The master dog was a female named Canoa. Other names that I remember are Corumbá, Botafogo, Rosana and Sargento, the later a yellow dog, clearly not a foxhound. But by the early 1980’s a hepatitis epidemic killed most of the dogs, and eventually my father stopped hunting.
Around this same time I started hunting with some of the farmer employees, in a very different manner. We would either build an elevated shooting platform or look for a suitable tree at a proper place in the swamp, and then we would use calls to attract the capybaras. It looks almost like deer hunting, except we hunted at night and had to use flashlights to help us see what we were shooting at.
The call was made out of a flattened and then bent bottle cap, with a small role made on the top part. The bending and tuning of the call or “pio” is more of an art (almost lost I would say) than science.
The only guns that we had at the farm were shotguns. We had two 28 gauge side-by-side, a Rossi with exposed hammers (that was “my” gun), and a nice hammerless Beretta that was never used in the harsh swamp environment. Later on my dad bought two 12 gauges trap guns, and we started loading the shells with IDEAL slugs.
The first time that I went hunting with a gun was at “ the island”, a place upriver were we had built an elevated stand some days before. I took the Rossi 28 and Mr. Candinho, a long time farm employee and the same gentleman that lost a part of a finger to a dead alligator and shot a 21-foot anaconda out of my father’s arm (but those are other stories), took one of the 12 gauge guns.
We climbed the stand overlooking the “Córrego do Rosário” at dusk and waited for nightfall. The first animal to come by was an opossum or something similar. Later on two alligators swam the river. Finally after what felt like an eternity a capybara herd started to approach, taking their time to graze on the swamp vegetation.
As the herd was in front of us I had one of the most severe attacks of what I later came to know as buck fever and just shot my gun on the general direction of the herd. Immediately all capybaras dived in the river and disappeared.
Eventually I was successful on my chase for the big tasty rodent, but first adventures have a special place in our hearts.
By the way, today, June 10th, my father would turn sixty-seven if he was still with us.