Hunting Javelinas


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A javelina

This past weekend I participated on my third hunt, the second in which I was carrying my own weapon with the possibility of making my own kill. (For my first hunting experience I only came along as an observer.) The goal was to find and shoot a javelina, a boarlike wild animal whose range covers the southwestern United States down into Central America.

The hunt itself was what Arizona Game and Fish calls a HAM hunt, specifically limited to the use of handguns, archery, or muzzleloaders. This means that the only long gun you can use must be loaded through the muzzle one shot at a time, use black powder, and function somewhat like an old-fashioned musket. My weapon of choice was the 1911 pistol I use for bullseye competition, with a red dot scope, a customized left-handed grip, a carefully adjusted trigger, and in general carefully adjusted to be as accurate as possible. With this gun, shooting 45 caliber ammo, I can hit the black bullseye 50 yards away shooting one-armed about 70% of the time. At shorter distances, using two hands, I can easily group my shots in a space less than a few inches across. (Such accuracy on my part is actually not very impressive. Among bullseye shooters I am about average. The public’s general belief that pistols are not accurate beyond 20 feet is simply wrong. Practice, make sure your gun functions as it should, and you will reliably be able to hit your target at 50 yards.)

Since I really have no knowledge about hunting, I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing this without some help. My mentor this weekend was a local friend, Gary Kessinger, who has been hunting for decades, has a number of record kills, and routinely comes home successfully from his hunts. When I mentioned to Gary my desire to learn more about hunting and see how it is done, he gladly offered to guide me through the process. He hadn’t hunted javelinas much in the past few years, but decided to get his own license or tag so that he could shoot one himself.

As I told Gary on Saturday morning, I am essentially a babe in the woods, and would do whatever he suggested. My attitude was that I was the equivalent of a 10-year-old on his first hunt. Anything I accomplished well would be a success, even if it was merely learning how to spot javelinas on a distant hillside using binoculars.

Gary picked the location, a place he had seen javelinas previously. We arrived at 5:45 am, about thirty minutes before dawn, just as sky was beginning to lighten, located on a ridgeline about 100 yards beyond where we parked the car. We got out our binoculars, sat down, and began to scan the opposite ridgeline about a 1000 feet away on the other side of a wash. According to Gary, the javelinas, which travel in herds, would be foraging for food during the night, and would continue to do so for the first few hours of daylight, when they would bed down for the day. Our goal was to spot them before they bedded down, when they were moving and thus easier to spot. If successful, we would then carefully hike to them and attempt to bag two, one for him and one for me.

This was my first challenge. Though the southern Arizona countryside is open, spotting a herd of knee-high javelinas among the scrub grass, the mesquite trees, the various cacti, and boulders, is not easy. You look for small, moving, dark spots, but the javelina can easily disappear amid all the objects on the hillside. Moreover, you have to get a sense of scale, and get used to seeing the terrain through binoculars. In the first hour I saw nothing, even as Gary was able to spot some deer. He pointed out where they were, but I couldn’t see them.

At this point Gary decided we should walk further up the ridge so we could study a different area of the opposite ridge. It was now brighter, my eyes were getting more educated in what to look for, so when Gary spotted a white cow on the hillside with his naked eye I recognized it immediately. And when I aimed my binoculars at the cow I was even able to spot a deer zip past it. (By the next day I found I was even able to spot deer moving through the brush, without the binoculars.)

Still, our search remained in vain. Gary explained that if we had not spotted them by about 9:30 am we might as well head home for the day, as they will have bedded down and would be very difficult to find. He didn’t see any point of wandering around the hillside aimlessly. Better to go home, get some rest, and come back in the morning. We started to walk back down the hillside to the car. At one point however we had a better view of the thicket of mesquite trees on the opposite ridge where Gary had seen the javelinas the year before. We stopped for one last look.

At one point I thought I saw a hump in a shaded flat area between two trees. It seemed to me to be about the right size and color of a javelina, but it didn’t move, so after few seconds I scanned away. When I scanned back however I could no longer find the hump. Instead, it looked like the hump had flattened out into a smaller triangular shape. Unfortunately, in my inexperience I had not noted carefully enough the landmarks surrounding the hump, so I wasn’t sure I was looking in the same place. What I saw however could have been a javelina that had laid down on its side to go to sleep.

Gary looked but was unconvinced. At this point we had a choice. We could head home, or we could hike across to the opposite ridge and see if there were any javelinas there. While Gary thought the odds were low, he also though it worthwhile looking. As he said, “You can’t learn anything driving in a car going home.”

We hiked down into the wash and found a way up to the opposite ridge, taking care to be quiet and to arrive several hundred yards to one side with the wind blowing towards us so the javelinas wouldn’t grab our scent. We separated by about 100 feet and began to slowly walk parallel toward the spot where I thought I had seen the hump. I had marked the spot with my GPS to help guide me to it, and we had both carefully eyed the terrain before we started out so that we would have a reasonably good chance of finding the spot once we were across and on the opposite ridge. At this point I had also taken my pistol from my daypack, chambered a round with the safety on, and held it in my hand. Because the gun has a scope it does not fit in any standard holster. Gary had said this wasn’t an issue, because when you are hunting you have to hold your gun in your hand anyway at all times. “There have been hunts where I’ve carried my rifle the whole day.”

We moved slowly, checking out shady areas in the hope we could spot the javelinas without waking them. Unfortunately, there were none there. I was even able to recognize the spot where I had thought I had seen the hump. The flattened triangular shape turned out to be nothing more than a rock. If I had seen a javelina, they had moved on and we had missed them. They could be bedded down anywhere on that ridge, but finding them would take hours.

We hiked back to the car and drove to another location where Gary had seen javelina in past years. Since it was now too late to spot any moving javelinas the plan was to scout out where we would go first thing Sunday morning. We then went home to get some rest and recharge for the next day.

Sunday was a little different. After about 30 minutes of fruitless scanning at this new location, Gary said let’s get in the car and try some other spots. As we drove towards the main road we would stop several times at likely locations and scan, unfortunately finding nothing. Then we went out on the main road and took a different dirt road back to a high point, where Gary hoped we might have more luck. Here we had a much wider view.

Within thirty seconds Gary called out, “I got ’em.” Just by luck he had aimed his very powerful binoculars at the far end of the opposite ridge, and spotted what looked like four or five javelinas moving about in an open area near a thicket of mesquites, as if they were getting ready to bed down. It was a long walk, but he decided the fastest way to get to them was to hike directly there, down the ridge we were on and then cross the left wash up onto their ridge. We started out at a very brisk pace.

As we got closer that mesquite thicket and the hillside it was on started to become more and more familiar, until I felt compelled to ask, “Isn’t that the same area where I saw that hump yesterday?” It was. Gary sat down to see if he could spot the javelinas, but now they were gone. They were there, but we didn’t know exactly where. At this point Gary decided it made no sense to repeat what we did on Saturday, climbing up and walking the hillside. The odds of finding them was too small. Instead, he proposed coming back later in the day, before the sun went down, and seeing if we could spot them when they started to move again. In the meantime, he suggested we go down to the wash below and walk its length back to the cars. There had to be a reason the javelinas liked that ridgeline, and his theory was that there were water pockets down in the wash. If we could find those, we could then set up by them and wait for the javelinas to come to us.

Gary turned out to be right. There were four substantial water pockets in the wash, with numerous animal tracks at each, including javelina tracks.

That Sunday afternoon we drove back, with Gary waiting silently at one water pocket and I waiting silently at another. I set myself up about twenty feet above the water pocket, on the slope opposite the hillside where we had seen the javelinas, in a spot with a mesquite tree behind me and an ocotillo plant in front, helping to hide me. I was certainly not invisible, but the important thing was to be quiet and not move should any javelinas approach.

Less than five minutes later I heard footfalls and a noise of branches breaking above me. Turning around slowly, I noticed two dark round objects in the brush about fifteen feet high up. “Are those javelinas?” I thought. No, they didn’t move. Then something did move about twenty feet higher up the hill. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a javelina. It was the white cow we had seen Saturday morning. Obviously intent on coming down to the water hole, the cow froze when it saw me turn and look at it, and we proceeded to stare at each other for the next few minutes. I eventually turned away and focused my gaze instead at the opposite hillside, where I hoped the javelina would be coming from. The cow meanwhile lost interest after a few more minutes and wandered away.

For the next ninety minutes I waited. I heard nothing, and saw nothing move. Nothing came down to the water hole. Nor did I hear shots from Gary, so that meant he hadn’t seen anything either. He had estimated from his experience that there was an 80% chance that one of us would see the herd of javelinas, but it wasn’t to be. At sunset I hiked back, meeting Gary at the car.

Gary intends to go out several times in the morning this week, while our license is still good. He is confident he will get a javelina. I am probably done with this hunt, as I have work to do this week (including preparing for the public release of my space policy paper) and cannot spare the time. Nonetheless, the weekend was a fascinating experience, as I got for the first time a really good understanding of the sophisticated thinking that goes into hunting. As Gary said, “You go where the animals are.” The trick is trying to figure out where they are.

24 comments

  • wayne

    Very interesting Mr. Z.
    Michigan has no native animal such as this, but we are being infiltrated by “feral swine” the past 30 years, but which amounts to 3K animals total, statewide. In contrast, we have about 1.5 million Deer prancing around.

  • t-dub

    Wild pigs are a nuisance and can be very damaging to the environment. Still, I hope if you guys do shoot one of these that it is at least edible. I dislike trophy hunting and would never participate in the activity, however, if the animal is filling freezers with fresh meat, and is also a pest, then by all means hunt. Varmint hunting is a valid activity to help control environmental degradation but for me, if I can’t eat the animal, I just won’t participate.

  • Ted

    I can just see it now … Mr. Z recipe for a JLT sandwich on RYE!

  • t-dub:

    1. Javelinas are not pigs. Different species entirely.

    2. Javelinas are very edible, though like all game need extra work to make them taste good. And yes, we planned to eat them.

    3. They are not much of a pest. We see them around our house periodically, and when we didn’t have bungee cords holding the tops of our garbage pails closed, they then tipped them over to get at the garbage. Since we added the bungees, we’ve had no problems.

    4. The whole reason there is a licensing system is because hunters set up this system to manage the wildlife so that they both prosper and do not become pests. The fees the hunters pay to go hunting pays for the system entirely. If anything, hunters apparently care more about the environment than those that protest hunting.

    5. While I have no interest in trophy hunting, I have really never understood the indignation of those that oppose it. Hunting is a skill that requires great intelligence, endurance, and care, especially when hunting the more dangerous animals. For a hunter to be proud of that achievement is perfectly reasonable, even if you or I have no interest in doing it.

  • BSJ

    Cool Bob, Sounds like you had fun!

    Back when I hunted medium game I used a Thompson Center Contender with a 14″ .44 Magnum barrel. 1.25-4x scope.

    But by far my favorite game was squirrel with a 16″ .22 rimfire barrel on the Contender frame. I’d spend the day still hunting, picking them off from the tops of trees. So yes, pistols can be very accurate at extended ranges. Even on tiny targets like a squirrels head. I didn’t like dealing with blood shot meat so I always went for the brain…

  • t-dub

    Robert said: “5. While I have no interest in trophy hunting, I have really never understood the indignation of those that oppose it. Hunting is a skill that requires great intelligence, endurance, and care, especially when hunting the more dangerous animals. For a hunter to be proud of that achievement is perfectly reasonable, even if you or I have no interest in doing it.”

    I find that all life is sacred. Killing, just for sport, to me is a violation of natural law. Natural resources are becoming depleted as habitats are lost. We need to conserve life, every bit of it we can.

  • wodun

    Nor did I hear shots from Gary, so that meant he hadn’t seen anything either. He had estimated from his experience that there was an 80% chance that one of us would see the herd of javelinas, but it wasn’t to be.

    That’s why they call it hunting and not shooting animals.

  • wodun

    @ t-dub I find that all life is sacred. Killing, just for sport, to me is a violation of natural law. Natural resources are becoming depleted as habitats are lost. We need to conserve life, every bit of it we can.

    Consider though that “trophy” animals like lions still benefit from managed hunts. People pay a lot of money and that money goes to maintaining the rest of the lions in the area. Also, that meat gets eaten. Other trophies though, like a deer or elk with a giant rack, are tough to find and come from populations of animals that are not in any danger.

    I view hunting and fishing as obeying natural law and that these activities keep is in contact with our humanity, heritage, and nature. Being good at hunting and taking enjoyment in success is being a good human.

  • LocalFluff

    Those little beast do outsmart the hunter if one isn’t clever and patient. Of course they are rarer now and the shyest and smartest ones are the only ones left. But imagine how hard it was hunting them for food for survival without any gun. Is it just a coincident that they are named after javelins? I bet those hard little pigs (everyone knows a pig when one sees it, regardless of biological classification) survive a hit by a gun for a while and run away to hide and die. Buffaloes sounds like such a much better hunting idea. Or that white cow, it would’ve been a trophy! And lots of beef. Did the pistol jam?

    “muzzleloaders”? Those were made to scare away the enemy by making thunderous noise, as if from God in the Heaven. A bad idea for hunting shy animals.

  • pzatchok

    Modern muzzle loaders are very different from flash pan ignited firearms of the past.

    They are somewhat waterproof, have rifled barrels, fire accurate minie ball ammo, use modern sights and scopes and are ignited with percussion caps. All added together giving great accuracy at very good ranges.

    I am pretty sure Robert knows they are not pigs and was really hunting them in the hopes of having a meal from them. Why would he hunt something he couldn’t eventually eat.

    I on the other hand would be taking all the feral hogs I could drag off the range if I had access to Texas land.

  • wayne

    LocalFluff–
    -Wikipedia says they are “New World Pigs” but they are not native to the United States. (and much like every body & every thing, they infiltrated across our southern border relatively recently.
    https://www.azgfd.com/hunting/species/biggame/javelina

    -Referencing “muzzleloaders,” – look up the Springfield Model 1861 rifle-musket. As pzatchok touched upon, they used a percussion cap, .58 caliber minie ball ammunition, the barrels were rifled, great accuracy at long distances, and practiced soldiers could fire up to 3 times a minute . The North manufactured over a million units in the Civil War at a cost of $20 each. (an ounce of gold was valued at $20.60/ounce at the start of the war.)
    -You do not want to be hit with a .58 caliber minie ball.

  • Nick P.

    wayne

    “they are “New World Pigs” but they are not native to the United States”

    They may be relatively recent but they are native in the sense that they were not introduced.

    If Bob wants to hunt them he can come sit on my porch any evening he wants…

  • steve mackelprang

    I used to hunt them with a bow. We had an average success rate, that is to say,, limited, which made for good times around the fire in the evenings.

  • wayne

    Nick P–
    yes, I stand corrected. Apparently, confined to 3 western States currently, and slowly diffusing out. “Becoming native.”

    steve mackelprang–
    Good deal. Bow-hunting is difficult!

    Been Deer hunting myself but never (ever) saw anything. In contrast, today I’m highly leery of driving at dusk/dawn. We have a State Park (1,100 acres) with a large Deer herd close by, and they don’t care about “park boundaries,” and enjoy eating my Tulips and vacuuming the yard of acorns. DNR had a special 2 day hunt in the Park last year to thin out the herd.
    (on the upside, they strongly suspect we have “6 bredding pairs” of Bobcat in the Park, and our Bald Eagle count, is the highest in my lifetime.)
    -The State recently removed about 2 miles of fencing around the Park, so the Deer wouldn’t be forced to cross into suburbia at one congested point, with a high rate of deer car-strikes.

  • I’ve never hunted, but I do enjoy shooting. I admire your ability to be comfortable with the 1911; for me that pistol is too heavy and ill-balanced to be effective. My sidearm is a S & W .40, which I find comfortable, accurate, and able to maintain a good sight picture. In hunting and other firearm activities, stopping power don’t mean squat if you can’t put rounds on target.

  • ken anthony

    When I lived in Tucson, Javelina were everywhere. They’d pass within a few feet of you if you were quiet. Probably not if they sensed they were being hunted I imagine.

  • Blair: Getting comfortable with a 1911 only requires practice, but possibly a lot more than most people care to do. When I was competing in bullseye pistol competitions in Maryland, I routinely shot about 200 rounds a week, sometimes 300, and I did that for over three years continuously. With that much practice you get very used to the gun, and find the weight to not be a problem. In addition, you modify the gun to make it more comfortable. My grip is made to conform nicely to my hand, so that the gun fits almost like a glove.

  • Gene

    Ken: I’ve seen them come close to me too. I hear that their vision is poor. When I made some noise they bolt but not until then.

    I was very surprised that they taste good. Considering how nasty of an animal they are.

    I love to eat the animals that God provided for our use.

    Wodun: when you say be a good human and talk about natural law, are you leaving out the part that nature’s God is God? As a Christian it brings me peace to know that no law existed before God provided His to Adam and Eve. My new hobby is leather work and I heard Rabbi Daniel Lapin rabbidaniellapin.com say that a few days after God evicted them from the garden, he came back to check on them. Made clothes for Adam and clothes for Eve out of leather. Showed them how to make fire.

    To make a long story excruciatingly short, we learn from that that God wants us to dress as a man should and to dress as a lady should, drive cars with twelve cylinders and burn wood and oil and gas to make the highest use of everything that He provided for our benefit in order that we may provide the highest level of preoccupation with the needs and desires of our customers. God loves it when we go into business to provide His other children with what they need. Whether that is building twelve cylinder cars or producing oil and gas to refine and make every sort of plastic known to man, we are making His other children happy when we serve them. And thereby we make Him smile. Do something for a friend and he will be happy. Do something for his kids and you will make him ecstatic. God is the Father. We are the children. We find this repeated when the Bible says in Colossians 3:23-24

    23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

    It is so much easier for me to follow the Lord’s way of living instead of putting my own plans into action and finding that they lead me to depression, anxiety, futility like Proverbs 16:9

    9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
    but the Lord establishes their steps.

    As far as not eating what you shoot, I say that’s not a problem so long as your family has enough food to eat. We have an obligation as men to provide for the needs of our families. And after providing for them, why would I bow down to a leftist scheme to worship ecology, environment, animals, you fill in the blank with whatever buzzword you want.

    As far as pistols, I want a 1911. Shot a friend’s S&W 1911 and loved the crisp trigger. My Springfield XdM compact 45 has a long trigger pull before the final pull that is annoying. Squeeze not pull.

    Went with the SA Xd because I like the clean design. No hammer, no thumb safety that I have to flip.

  • wodun

    Wodun: when you say be a good human and talk about natural law, are you leaving out the part that nature’s God is God? As a Christian it brings me peace to know that no law existed before God provided His to Adam and Eve.

    Prior to eating the fruit of knowledge, there were still natural laws that govern the relationship between a troop of monkeys or the wolf and the deer. There is no life without destruction. There is no shame in eating or in the pursuit of food. Being able to hunt and gather as our ancestors did brings us closer to our humanity, nature, and our heritage.

    Civilization isn’t guaranteed. It can vanish overnight and the best way to understand the importance of it is to understand how hard it was to live in the past.

    Humans were not perfect beings prior to eating the fruit of knowledge. The story is to show how imperfect we were. Society and religion often moderate some of humanity’s worst qualities. But hunting, fishing, and farming are not sins but rather some of our noblest endeavors, when done responsibly.

    People will quibble over what responsible means but I think in most cases today, people hunt responsibly. Poaching is a problem because it threatens to wipe out populations but the managed hunting of lions and other species helps populations.

    Perhaps one day, people will be as concerned as the well being of the plants we eat. When they get cut, they bleed. They respond to music. Some of them walk, slowly. There is also evidence that they communicate and have memories. Many vegetarians adopt the diet over sympathy for animals but they do not understand the nature of plants.

    The more we know, the more we appreciate the reality that we live in and the reality about what it means to be human. So when I say be a good human, it isn’t necessarily from a moral standpoint but from the standpoint of being good at being human, like someone is good at playing the piano.

  • Steve Earle

    Blair Ivey
    February 14, 2017 at 1:48 pm
    I’ve never hunted, but I do enjoy shooting. I admire your ability to be comfortable with the 1911; for me that pistol is too heavy and ill-balanced to be effective. My sidearm is a S & W .40, which I find comfortable, accurate, and able to maintain a good sight picture. In hunting and other firearm activities, stopping power don’t mean squat if you can’t put rounds on target.
    ****************************************

    I’m with you Blair, I could never get used to the 1911 and have had much better luck with more modern double-stack auto’s like the Sig Sauer P226, and the current issued sidearm for the MSP the S&W M&P .45, which is my favorite and what I now carry everyday.

    Having said that the 1911 (heavily modified) is one of the duty sidearms allowed for our “Stop Team”, whose job is literally to stop a threat as quickly as possible once the word is given. Or, as they like to say: “Happiness is a Green Light” LOL

  • pzatchok

    My favorite is along the CZ line of fire arms.

    The grip angle fits me better.

    My CCW is a CZ 83 and my range weapon is an EAA Witness with several conversion kits.

  • Edward

    wodun wrote: “Perhaps one day, people will be as concerned as the well being of the plants we eat.

    It can be difficult to convince the vegetarian that despite her philosophy of plants, eating them is the same as eating animals:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-41Z0zCBQYg#t=400 (watch to the end of the scene)

  • WB

    Great to have you aboard.
    I grew up in AZ. Peccary was the only abundant medium sized animal to hunt where we lived.
    If you ever stumble into a group of them be careful, they have nasty tusks and are unpredictable when startled.

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