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by a.k.a. az_shooter Last updated: 2018-02-21 13:01:24
The Sonoran Desert is an interesting place, where people put up with scorching sun-filled days and cold winter nights, all to partake of two weeks in the fall and two in the spring when the weather is perfect. The plants all have stickers and spikes, and the animals all sting, but there are those four weeks of perfection.
Spring comes early to the desert, often starting in mid-February, and the nights become cool and pleasant, with the days turning mild and inviting. The sky is an endless azure, stretching from the sentinel-like outlines of the towering saguaro, to the barren, rocky outcroppings of the desert mountains. I love the spring in Arizona, more than anything because I get to strap my favorite revolver to my hip and spend a few days chasing a wily, little creature known as the collard peccary.
For some reason, and I believe this is universally the case, I had more time to hunt during college than I have at any other time...before or since. During my college years I hunted javelina every year, and I have not spent a spring in the desert since graduating. This particular hunt took place during my senior year in the spring of 2001. I was hunting a new unit, unit 23, and for the first time my brother joined me on a javelina hunt. He used my 15” .223 Encore with a 2x Nikon scope, and I carried my Ruger Super Redhawk .44 mag. with a 9.5” barrel. My brother and I had not hunted together since we had lived in Montana as kids, so I was pretty excited to be out with him again. The plan was for me to head up on Friday afternoon to the location my brother and I had “scouted” and spend the night camping, and my brother and dad would meet up with me early Saturday morning.
Just in case there are any burgeoning javelina hunters reading, I want to describe how we ran the scouting trips. My brother and I drove to the desert, spent the day hiking, enjoying ourselves, investigating interesting rock formations, etc., and we returned home tired and happy. In other words, we had fun. Hunting has always been about having fun to me. I don't always get an animal, but I always enjoy the experience.
Back to the hunt...
I would love to be able to say that I drove my 4x4 Chevy hauling a 5th wheel trailer to my hunting spot, but as a poor college student living at home I didn’t have that option. Instead, I borrowed my parents' 1985 Chevy conversion van and made the two and a half hour trip early Friday afternoon. I found a place to camp on a small rise overlooking a wash, warmed up a can of chunky soup on the stove, and hit the mattress. Yes, one of the beauties of the Chevy conversion van was being able to remove the back seat and fit a full-size mattress in back. My masculinity may have suffered from lack of a large truck, but I slept like a baby.
The next morning I woke up early, skipped breakfast (which I would feel later), and drove down to the rendezvous spot. My brother and dad arrived about 7:30, just after sunrise, and after a brief gearing up my brother and I set off walking west through a series a washes. My dad didn’t feel like hiking all day, so he stayed with the vehicles and relaxed.
Once again for all of those burgeoning javelina hunters, I will describe the correct way to hunt javelina, and then tell you what we did. Javelina are normally found in herds of 5 to 10 animals and have a relatively small territory. The proper technique is to begin glassing south-facing slopes early in the morning, particularly the more open slopes that have a good amount of prickly pear cacti. Then once the javelina are spotted, it is a simple spot-and-stock type hunt on the herd. My brother and I didn't do it that way. I am accustomed to hunting upland birds in giant CRP fields and hiking endless coulees in Eastern Montana. Sitting and glassing are not my strong points. Consequently my brother and I kept up a steady space, all the while looking, listening, and smelling for the tell-tale signs of javelina. At this point I believe it is okay to reveal that after four years of javelina hunting I had yet to see what I would call a real javelina. I say that because at one point my father and I were up in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeastern Arizona scouting for javelina, and supposedly a herd of javelina thundered across the road as we were driving along. If you listen to my father tell it I turned to him, asked “What were those?”, to which he responded with poorly concealed mirth, “they were javelina.” I still contend they were miniature elk, but the incident is sketchy and I have been told by my therapist that it is best not to talk about it.
Back to the hunt...
We had slowly made our way six or seven hundred yards from the parked vehicles, meandering through the washes, and over the steep, washed-out hills, and we began working west along the bottom of a sandy wash that was approximately 5 to 7 yards wide. To our west and north was a vertical embankment about fifteen feet high, and to the south was a rocky, sharply sloping wall that was heavily lined with brush. Approximately thirty yards in front of us the wash took a sharp turn back to the southeast, and as we approached the bend I began to slowly make my way up the sharply sloping finger that made up the southern wall of the wash. After moving approximately 3 to 5 yards up the slope I noticed a strange looking bush about 15 yards away. The bush was about 24-inches long, and looked like a broom head made of fine, dark brown bristles. Another step or two brought the full bush into view, and much to my surprise and pleasure, it was a javelina! I quickly motioned for my brother to stop, and drew the .44 Super Redhawk from the holster. I had installed a gold bead front sight, and V rear sight, which made sighting on the animal very easy. I quickly lined up the sights, settled down, and pulled the trigger. At the shot I learned something very important, that should have been very obvious...a .44 magnum is LOUD! I always shoot with double hearing protection, but for some reason wearing hearing protection while hunting hadn't crossed my mind. I have never forgotten how badly my ears rang, and now whenever I am hunting I always wear hearing protection.
At the shot the javelina dropped out of sight, and I saw the rest of the herd scatter. I called to my brother to follow me up to the top of the embankment, where we found the dead javelina and the rest of the herd long gone. My brother snapped a couple of pictures, and then I began the obligatory chore of field dressing the animal. The javelina wasn't very large, and so we lashed its feet together with some cord, and I slung the javelina across my back for the hike to the vehicles. Remember earlier when I mentioned that I had skipped breakfast? Well, when we were about 30 yards from where the vehicles were parked I completely ran out of energy and became lightheaded. I made it back just in time to drop the javelina next to the van and grab a peanut butter and honey sandwich from the cooler.
My strength returned within a few minutes of finishing the sandwich, and we (meaning mostly me) set about skinning the javelina. Once we finished the skinning, we took and draped the cape over a log that was near the side of the road in order to at least give any road hunters some excitement of seeing a “javelina”. We were just finishing getting the vehicles packed when a very nice game warden came up and asked all of the normal questions, checked the tag, and quietly went on his way. We packed up, and headed down the road in the same direction the game warden had left, and not too far up the road I spotted a pair of binoculars sitting in the middle of the road. I jumped out and found a very nice pair of Zeiss binoculars with an Arizona Game and Fish Department property tag on them. The game warden had either set the binoculars on top of his truck and driven off, or they had jumped out of the truck when he had driven over a particularly nasty bump. How they had ended up on the road didn't really matter, I just wanted to track down the game warden and return his binoculars. We continued in the same direction, and hoped that the game warden hadn’t turned off anywhere. Luckily we found him not more than a mile up the road, and he was very appreciative for the return of his binoculars. We continued to the end of the dirt road and turned south on to Highway 288 for the trip home, satisfied to finally be bringing home the bacon.
You know, I miss the Arizona desert in the spring. I think it's about time I freed up some time for javelina hunting.
Arizona Unit 23 Information
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