Desert Bull Scouting and Map Services
When I first moved to Arizona in 1992, I had never heard of a Javelina. Being from the Midwest, my hunting experiences consisted mostly of small game and birds. I moved to Arizona right at the tail end of the quail season and wanted to try to get in a few hunts before the season ended. It was during one of these hunts that I had my first encounter with a Collared Peccary.
As the Sun was peaking over the Superstition Mountains, I was stalking a quail that was calling to his companions on a rocky hillside, thick with Palo Verde and Prickly Pear. When the bird flushed, I swung the Winchester and caught up to him just before he would have escaped to the safe side of a large tree. He folded up nicely but was able to sail over the rim of the ridge and fell out of sight.
As all bird hunters know, finding a motionless quail on the ground can be very difficult. After spending nearly twenty minutes combing the area where I thought the bird had dropped, I decided to go back to where I shot from to make sure that I was looking in the right spot. I determined that I was searching in the right area, so I returned to look again. As soon as I topped the ridge for the second time, I saw the bird lying in sun.
I claimed my prize, and after admiring my first Arizona Quail, I started back down the ridge.
That’s when I saw him. He must have been standing there the entire time. He was probably admiring my highly tuned shooting form and game searching ability.
As soon as we made eye contact his coarse and wiry hair stood up on his back making him look twice as large as he really was. I kneeled down to get a better look at him and he started to pop his jaws together in an attempt to frighten me off. When I stood up he produced a low, short “wuufff” and he was gone.
I was exited to see him but he was obviously not thrilled with me. When I got home, I dug out my hunting regulations and discovered that the season on Javelina would start in few weeks. The disappointing part was that all of the Javelina tags were issued by drawing and a call to the Game and Fish Department confirmed my suspicions that all of the tags were taken. Oh well, I would have to wait until next year.
I got my tag the following year as planned, but what was not planned was the fact that even though I would receive a tag for each of the next three years, I would not be successful in my quest for a Javelina until my fourth try. I have been passionately pursuing these animals every year since.
For a variety of reasons, the Javelina season has become one of my most anticipated hunts. While it is true that Javelina are not as challenging to hunt as some of the more glamorous species that roam our southwestern states, do not be fooled into thinking that these little guys are a push over. In my opinion, Javelina are the most difficult to spot of all big game animals.
A large Javelina will stand about knee high and when undisturbed will stand motionless for several minutes while feeding. When they do move, it is usually just to the next cactus or bush in its path. Combining these traits with the fact that the preferred habitat for Javelina is brushy creek bottoms, grassy hillsides and Prickly Pear patches and you can see why they have the nickname of “The Desert Ghost”. I have seen them vanish into grass that is barely above the tops of my boots. I haven’t even mentioned the fact they have perhaps the best desert camouflage of any animal.
From a distance they look solid black with a white collar between their head and shoulders, perfect for blending into the shadows of cactus, large boulders, and low growing bushes. With a little closer analysis however you will see that the sparse, coarse, hair is actually salt and pepper color and closely resembles cactus spines. From beyond 30 yards they can look just like a number of cacti that are common in the southwest, most notably Barrel cactus and small Saguaros.
Glassing from high vantage points is the most popular and productive method of hunting here in Arizona. High quality, tripod mounted binoculars in the 10x – 20x range are the favored tool for this style of hunting. I prefer the cheap, aluminum, photographic tripod that can be purchased at most stores that sell cameras. You can get higher quality models that will last longer and have a few extra features but they will usually be quite heavy and much more expensive. I like to cut down on the weight I have to carry up mountains in any way I can.
Most high quality binoculars will have a means of attaching the glasses to a tripod, usually with an adapter that is purchased separately. You can also purchase universal tripod adapters that will work with almost any binocular.
One trick that I have found to be very helpful is to carry and extra camouflage shirt in my pack. When I am glassing, I will drape this shirt over my head and the back part of the glasses, leaving only the front of the glasses exposed. This will improve the quality of the image in the glasses tremendously. What happens is, light coming in through the sides of the eyepiece will have a negative effect on the image. By eliminating this unwanted light you will get better resolution and contrast with the binoculars.
In addition to the high power binoculars, I also carry a smaller pair that I can use while traveling from one spot to the next.
If I see something that I want to look at closer, I use these glasses first before unpacking the big binoculars. If it warrants further investigation, I will either stop and set up the tripod or move close enough to identify it with the smaller glasses.
One other piece of equipment I always carry is a varmint call. If you scatter a group of Javelina while hiking to your next vantage point, you can often call them back to you for a shot by wailing on the call. There is no real technique that I have found other than loud and continuous. Try to imagine the sound a piglet would make when it is being eaten by a coyote! That is what you want to duplicate. Javelina will often come to the aid of a member of it’s clan, especially youngsters.
Let’s say you get lucky and catch sight of a group of Javelina feeding on a hillside. There are several things that you need to be aware of before you start your stalk. The Javelina’s most trusted line of defense is its ability to smell a potential enemy from a great distance. If you spend anytime at all observing Javelina, you will soon notice that they are constantly checking the wind with their keen noses. They too realize that they have poor eyesight and rely on their very accurate sense of smell to protect them from the many predators that inhabit the Southwestern desert.
Rarely will you see a group of Javelina and not see at least one of them sniffing the breeze at any given time. As you know, the Javelina are short, and because of this they often stop what they are doing and lift their heads up to try and get a better sample of air. This often gives away an otherwise perfectly hidden animal. So, if you are glassing, and see something that you think might be a Javelina but your just not sure, be patient and keep watching. If it is a “pig”, it will not be long before it gets nervous and lifts its head to inhale some drifting desert air.
So it goes without saying that any stalk on a Javelina, must be from downwind. Every seasoned pig hunter has been winded by these animals at one time or another. The thermals can be very tricky in the fast warming desert. Cold air rises rapidly out of the shallow depressions and washes once the sunshine starts warming the air and can make keeping the wind in your face a very frustrating endeavor.
From my observations, I am confident that the Javelina’s ability to hear is at least as good as a human’s, probably better.
The typical desert environment can be very maddening when it comes to walking quietly. The ground is almost always bone dry and usually very rocky. Small rocks grinding against the soles of hunters boots and against other rocks are the main sounds that will alert Javelina. Other sounds that will betray you are noisy clothing, like denim or nylon, scratching against the many thorny bushes like catclaw and mesquite that are common in the desert.
Hunters that are experienced in stalking the desert dwelling animals will always wear a “quiet cloth” clothing like fleece. Not just for clothing either, but also for packs, hats, gloves, etc. The boot coverings that all of the major outdoor outfitters now carry are also becoming very popular with hunters who frequent the desert. An alternative that a lot of hunters use is to slip a pair of heavy socks over their boots when they start their final stalk to dampen the noise.
Archery Season 2001
There was 2”-3” of the crusty, crunchy snow covering the desert foothills when we arrived at our favorite hunting spot on the final day of the 2001 archery Javelina hunt in southern Arizona. Dark, heavy clouds threatened to dump even more of it on us during the day. We were optimistic that we would be able to spot our dark colored prey easily against the frosty white backdrop, but as the day wore on our optimism slowly faded.
The cold air and precipitation had evidently made the warm weather favoring Javelina take shelter in the thick vegetation that lined the large washes. Javelina are made to withstand the brutal summers. They do not handle cold weather very well and will hole up until the weather warms.
We decided to hike to a different vantage point to change our luck. While navigating the jungle like brush between hillsides, we spotted a group of pigs jogging single file down the middle of a wide wash. After they were out of site we quickly formulated a plan to circle ahead of them and hopefully get within bow range of the nervous animals. What we did not take into account was the sound of the snow crunching under our boots.
On a normal day, we would have been able to get within a hundred yards of the pigs before being overly concerned about noise. But today the snow gave us away long before we could even nock an arrow. Every time we started to move forward, the pigs would dash to the other side of the wash and eventually they got tired of being harassed and scattered into the cold, white desert. The noise of the snow even made tracking the animals a futile effort.
So, you have spotted a small group of Javelina, the wind is in your favor and you are confident that your stalking abilities will allow you to advance on them without them hearing you. You have been told by all of the experts that Javelina are practically blind and that you can just march right up and shoot one as long as you are downwind.
Like most things that hunters like to do, it’s not quite that easy. It is true that they do not have good eyesight, but do not treat them as if they are blind. Once the hunter stalks to within one hundred yards, he needs to treat the Javelina like any other game animal. The Javelina can see well enough to pick out a careless hunter at this distance. Archery hunters would be well advised to wear complete camouflage, including gloves and a face mask, if you want to consistently be a successful Javelina hunter.
At fifty yards, a Javelina can most assuredly recognize even a well camouflaged person. They will not always scatter upon seeing you but will become very nervous and probably start moving in the opposite direction. If you move while they are looking at you, you’re done. If you remain motionless, even after a suspecting animal has focused on you, it will usually go about its business after a few minutes.
It is best if you can keep some type of cover between you and your quarry. It is not that hard, even in open areas. This is because the Javelina is usually rooting at the base of vegetation, with their heads down. I once crawled within 30 yards of a group of Javelina feeding in a freshly plowed cotton field. There was literally no cover what so ever. Just by moving slowly and only when their heads were down, I was able to get remarkably close.
Although Javelina are definitely a desert dwelling animal, they inhabit a wide range of habitat types. They are most often associated with the Prickly Pear cactus. These plants can grow anywhere from the lowest desert to 7,000 feet and above, but the densest growth is usually between 2,000 ft - 5,000 ft. Another favorite food of the Javelina is Shin Dagger.
It is a low growing, succulent plant that gets it’s name from the sharp spine that forms at the tip of each shoot. These plants tend to grow at a slightly higher elevation than the Prickly Pear, typically not growing in abundance below 3,500 ft.
It is easy to tell where Javelina have been feeding. When they are feeding on Prickly Pear, they sink their teethe into the pad and pull back. This shreds the cactus and leaves long, fibrous, strands on the remaining pad.
When they are feeding on roots, they will dig around at the base of plants and shrubs, leaving behind small pot holes.
Javelina tracks are similar to deer, but smaller and more rounded. They are not very heavy animals, so the best place to find fresh tracks will often be in washes that have soft sand, around water sources, and along trails and roads.
In the pictures above you, see that the Javelina tracks are very close together. Also, notice how the track is more rounded than a deer track.
For me, the most dependable environment for finding and stalking Javelina has always been in the 3,000 ft. to 4,500 ft elevation range. In this elevation you will find a good mixture of Prickly Pear, Shin Dagger, Oaks, and Juniper. Also, this elevation is a good bet for perennial streams that give much needed water to both the animals and plants that live in this harsh environment.
Another benefit for hunting in this elevation range is that even in warm years, the mornings and evenings will be cool during the hunting seasons. Javelina will bed down early on warm days and can be next to impossible to find in the warmer, lower elevations. But up high, the cool air will allow the animals to stay active later into the morning and come out to feed again earlier in the afternoon. If it is really cool, Javelina will wait for the sun to get well established in the sky before coming out of their beds to feed, and they will most often seek out a east or south facing slope to feed on. This will allow them to take advantage of the morning sun and get warmed up from the previous cold night. Use this to your advantage when looking for Javelina. Stands of Shin Dagger and Prickly Pear on South facing slopes are a prime area to hunt on a cold, clear morning.
The best thing about Arizona’s archery Javelina season is that it runs the entire month of January. By far, the best time to visit Arizona is in the dead of winter. This just happens to be the same time frame as the Mule Deer and Coues Deer rut and you can still buy archery deer tags over the counter here. So a combo deer and Javelina hunt is easily accommodated.
The Arizona quail season is also open at this time. We have three species of quail here, Gamble’s Mearns, and Scaled. So, if you fill your tag early or just want a break from behind the glasses, you can hunt birds, varmints, and small game with no other licenses or tags needed.
Next January, when you are shoveling snow from your drive way, just think about where you could be. In sunny Arizona, stalking Javelina and deer with your bow in your hand instead of a shovel.