Javelina Heartbreak

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I second guessed my decision to sleep in my pickup at a truck stop when I cruised past the 12 or so black leather clad fellas sitting on motorcycles.  Decked out in bandannas and gear adorned with demonic looking insignia, they stared at me as they not-so-discreetly passed around a paper bag covered bottle.  I doubt it was kombucha.   So I thought it wise to park and sleep on the other side of the lot, under the lights and video camera.  That is, until the flat bed truck and trailer piled with no less than 50 leaning mattresses pulled in beside me blaring the latest Tejano hit.  After 15 minutes it was clear the music was staying on.

So I eased around to the back of the truck stop where 20 or so big rigs were lined up sleeping for the night.  I parked next to the one on the end.  I was the only pickup parked among them, but I liked my odds better with a mad trucker or two than with a motorcycle gang.  With nothing but a hatchet to defend myself,  I spread my sleeping bag out in the back seat, set my Iphone to “Do not disturb,” and figured if my alarm went off, it meant I’d survived the night. Still, sleep was uneasy–hearing the strange big rig sounds during the night, subconsciously thinking I might have to make like Pee Wee Herman, and about 6 inches short of having enough room.

I was en route to hunt Javelinas with high school friends I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years.  They left Northeast Texas around 11 pm and would meet me just off I35 around 6.  My drive was shorter, right at 4 hours.  Problem was, my friends–both Caseys, one Reynolds the other Wightman– had no idea what I was driving and arrived 2 hours early.  So, walking quietly to each pickup in the parking lot, they shined lights in to see if it was me. Bold moves I must say.

When they shined the light in my cab, I startled, twisting in my bag, and fell to the floorboard.   Reaching for my hatchet– I took the laughter I heard as a good sign, since it didn’t sound like Sociopath Mexican Biker Gang laughing.  Glass wasn’t crashing in on me, another good sign, but when I fumbled for my keys I set my truck alarm off.  I then dropped the keys, making it another 30 seconds of HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK HONK.  Finally I shut it off and climbed out.

“Crap Casey, I thought you were ISIS coming to chop my head off.  Good to see you man.”

“Well, we didn’t know what you were driving. We tried to call you.  Look, we better get out of here before these truckers wake up and kick our ass.”


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And so started my first javelina bow hunt.  We were hunting the South Texas brush country, an area defined by dense thorn covered trees, shrubs and cactus.  By far the most game rich environment I’ve hunted, this desert is full of small and big game alike.  I saw blue quail and bobwhite. Turkeys gobbled along the oak lined creeks in the morning and whitetail deer crept out of the mesquite choked brush in the evening.  Tracks of javelina and feral pig  criss-crossed the senderos (Spanish for paths).  I saw a bobcat, the largest armadillo I’d ever encountered, and several coyotes.  Tons of rabbits, even sand hill cranes and snow geese could be heard overhead. Unlike many hunting ranches this part of the Texas, it was low fence.

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Wednesday we scouted a sendero where Wighty killed two javelina last year, and others in his group had shot opportunities.  Most of my research  had been for hunting them in the Big Bend, New Mexico and Arizona region.  Mountainous areas.  This was not a mountainous region, nor was it like the Hill Country.  It did have some long sloping hills, but nothing like canyon land.

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Like any animal I hunt, I focused on food, water and cover.  Yet, unlike other animals, water is not an issue as Javelinas can go ten days without water.  Moreover, they get a lot of water from the cactus they eat, mostly prickly pear.  So in short: food is everywhere, dense cover everywhere, and water though in short supply, isn’t too important. Rut is long past done.

Thursday morning found us hunting the productive area last year, but I didn’t feel good about it for some reason.  I found tracks, but the desert can hold onto a track a long time when they are made in mud.  I didn’t find any freshly eaten cactus and found no poop when I walked about a half mile through the brush.   I did nail a cottontail. IMG_3411

Doug, another friend of the Caseys, needed something back at camp and  managed to drive past a herd not 200 yards from our tents. They quickly piled out of the Rhino, but the javelina ran back into the brush.  They stalked a little ways, but never managed to come upon them.

When we met for lunch, they mentioned seeing the javelina and I said I wanted to check it out.  Doug opted to stay and hunt the prior year’s spot, but me and Reynolds went back to the spot near camp.  While easing through the brush, we both found areas we liked–about 300 yards apart.  While scouting, I ran across several impressive sheds, and a monster skull.

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The above picture is a rather open area for the Brush Country.  In a thicker spot, a cottontail tried to slip past Casey and while he was stalking it, he nearly tripped over this impressive skull.

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We heard something escape through the thick brush, and we were seeing tons of javelina sign.

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So by now it was near 2 y and Reynolds and I made our stand in the thick brush.  He hunted deeper into the brush in a dry creek, and I hunted a slight draw where he and Doug had seen the javelinas run.

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I caught all kinds of hell for wearing my sniper ghilley suit.  But I was looking at an area about 15 yards wide and figured I needed all the help I could get since I was new to bow hunting.

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Night fall came and I saw jack squat.  Wighty, Walter, Doug and David saw nothing at the hotspot from the previous year. Reynolds on the other hand, forgot his range finder, but had a shot at 30 yards.  He didn’t want to risk over/under shooting it, so he passed.  I respect his decision.

Doug did manage a trophy jack rabbit.  This might make the book for low fence rodent.

trophy jack

Though we were all disappointed in the lack of stink pig action, Reynolds excluded, we were upbeat that night in camp.camp

Casey and I decided we liked the sign we’d seen in our area and elected to return the next morning.  Wighty and the rest wanted to give the old spot one more morning, and then scout a new area.  After a huge dinner of venison fajitas, we turned in.

Daylight came and found me staring at the same 15 yards or so I had the night before.  I didn’t like it.  Fifty thousand acres to hunt, and I was looking at this well traveled but small area.  Still I hung out till 10, then texted Casey who wasn’t happy about his spot either, despite the last night’s action.  We decided to go scout as well.

Wighty and Doug left one way, we went the other.  I didn’t know if we were making the right choice, leaving an area with so much sign, but it was really close to camp and we were not a quiet camp.

We covered lots of ground in the ATV’s and the dust was incredible.   Hunting from ATV’s in the brush country, goggles and a face mask are mandatory.

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We found some likely areas, but never felt like we found anything better than where we’d been hunting.  We decided to return to the same place for the evening hunt.

At about 1:30, Reynolds and I head to the brush. Though I thought I knew where Casey was hunting, I didn’t.  So when I moved deeper into the brush, I actually moved within 60 yards of his area.  I knew the cross wind would be tricky, but I thought he was further in and the cross wind wouldn’t affect his area. Nope, blew right at him.

During hunt research, I read calling can be effective.  I practiced a few times and thought I had it down pretty well, so with 5 minutes of light left, I let’er rip.  I thought it sounded decent, something like this, but in reality Casey likened it to a pig with a smokers cough, or someone choking on a cotton ball. Only 3 doe responded.

We returned to camp, to find Wighty successful.  I asked if they got any and he told me to go look at the back of their Rhino.  This is what I saw:

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Not one, but three.  Closer inspection showed one full javelina and two extra heads.  Turns out, some dudes killed a couple but didn’t want the heads. Strange.  Nonetheless,  Wighty has a tannery and does skull mounts so he took them for display purposes.

While scouting they rode up on an empty ground blind with javelinas all around it.  After glassing for a hidden hunter, they verified it was empty.  Bows in hand they stalked within 40 yards and shot a peccary. It ran a short ways, turned and snapped its teeth repeatedly.  Not exactly a friendly sound, Wighty opted to shoot it a couple more times.

wighty stink pig

Everyone was really fired up as we turned into bed.  Me and Reynolds decided to to hunt an area near Doug and Wighty where they felt the herd they saw were bedding.  I really wanted to hunt an area where I could see a long distance, and this sendero went for miles.

Saturday morning I awoke before my alarm.  The weather up until then, had been cool to pleasantly warm.  We set up on the long sendero with the ability to glass about a half mile in one direction until the road formed a Y,  and 2 miles the other.  We could see a lot of fresh sign, like this recently nibbled prickly pear.

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I felt bad about scaring Casey with my call….I mean scaring his javelinas away the night before, so I told him to take the first shot opportunity of the day.   At 7:50 I spotted a two about 250 yards away and we began our straight line stalk.  By straight line I mean, walking up the road to them.  I thought we’d be able to weave in and out of the brush as we approached but its so thick you can’t.

Covering the first 150 yards, we slowed our pace significantly once within 100.  I whispered the distances to Casey as we crept,

“100 yards”

“85”

As we got within 80 yards, we only moved only when their heads were down feeding.  I edged along side Casey, thinking since there were two we would time our shots.

“62”

By now, we were moving really slow.  I felt good out to 35 yards, I knew Casey was good to 40 at least.  He’s been bow hunting for years.

“38”

To my surprise, Casey draws and lets his arrow fly.  Too high.  The skunk pigs, take off.  Casey sighs, pauses and then questions me,

“You sure that was 38 yards?  I don’t think it was.”

“Nope, it was.  I mean, I suppose my range finder could be broken.”

Grinning, but frustrated he says, “No way that was 38 yards.”

Never to miss an opportunity, I respond, “38?  I didn’t say 38.  I said 18.” Knowing full well it was 38.

Nonetheless, we both stuck to our stories. Later, I did apologize in front of everyone that I couldn’t get him closer than 18 yards.

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Scene of the 18 yard miss.

We resumed our positions: Casey at the top of the hill, me at the bottom, and our ATV between us. 45 minutes later a group of javelina, about 9-10, entered the road beside the ATV.  Casey was much closer, and by the time I fished the phone from my pocket, most of the group had slipped into the brush.  I recorded the stalk as best I could.

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The travelling javelina left little time for a stalk, so we saturated the sendero with corn.  The temperature rose as we watched for the next herd to come through.  The sun proved relentless.   By noon desperation crept in.   Our best efforts at shade were weak, and we needed to do something different.  Casey said,

“Lets jump into the stock tank.”

Best. Idea. Ever.  In the tank we went.

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While the rest of the country is in the grips of winter storms, I put on some SPF 50.  The water,about 70 degrees, ended any threat of heat stroke in the 94 degree weather.    Refreshed, we returned to the hunt, this time pulling out a tarp to create shade. IMG_3525

We waited.

Around 2, Casey moved to the top of the small hill, leaving me watching the Y.  Shortly, I see more javelina have appeared because Reynolds goes into full grrrrr mode.  He’s up and stalking.  He let an arrow fly, but an unseen limb sent his arrow wayward.

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I walked up to get the report.  While recounting his tale, we glassed about a mile away and there a dozen or so javelinas come tumbling out of the brush surrounding a brush blind.  Looking closer, we see a woman sound asleep.  We watched as they fed for a good five minutes until she stirred and sent them running. She awoke startled and we laughed.

I moved back down hill, and resumed my position watching the Y.

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Not the Y I hunted, but similar.

 

Another hour passed and out walks a loan boar at the end of the Y opposite Casey.  There’s about 45 minutes of daylight left.  The pig fed my direction, and my range finder said 350  yards.  I shoot pigs often, so I decided to hold out  for some javelina action.

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Another 15 minutes passes, and I decide I might as well move into position at the fork of the Y, so I can still see up the hill while I wait for the hog to feed his way to me.  The sun is at my back and the wind is blowing cross-ways, north to south.  Not the best wind, but doable.  I figured I could shoot the hog before he came through my crosswind.  He’s now only 150 yards away and will probably cross just before dark.

Suddenly, I hear lots of grunts, squeals and I look directly across from me and see about 15 yards into the brush a herd of pigs making their way toward the Rhino and corn laden sendero.  As they approach the sendero, see the Rhino, and abruptly stop.  Unlike the javelina, these pigs are not comfortable coming out right beside the vehicle.  They scrambled back into the brush.

I hustled back to the ATV, knowing full well those porkers can’t resist corn.  Just as I arrived, they burst from the mesquite and began to feed 58 yards away.  Now Casey watched my stalk from his hilltop perch.

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The closest pile of corn is 32 yards.  The pigs fed a little toward me, then a little away.  Time running out preferred a shot at javelina anyways..  So I decide on an end run through the brush at the the back of the ATV.  I eased though cactus and mesquite, closing the distance to 40 yards.  I edge around a small mesquite when the snap of a branch beneath my foot sends the pigs bolting off the sendero.  I return to the base of the sendero fork bitter.

But, I look and this fat pig continues to feed.

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Maybe 100 yards closer, but not running towards me as I had hoped.

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5 minutes later and he’s now about 200 yards away–I go for it.  Sun’s at my back and the wind, while crossing, is not blowing to him.  His head’s down feeding.  I get to 100 yards away and go into full predator mode.

I get to 75, his butt is facing me.

I get to 60….and out runs the previous herd of pigs on the other side of him.

The sow promptly looks directly at me, and they haul hams back into the thicket.

Back at the Rhino, I look up to see Casey perfectly silhouetted at full draw against the skyline, a scattering of javelina in his midst.  Perhaps the most picturesque scene in my hunting lifetime.   Alas, no camera.

Meanwhile, Doug and I have an ongoing rabbit killing contest and are tied.  Despite the focus on rabbits, he nonchalantly kills a collared peccary at less than 30 yards, claiming it as the tie breaker.  I ceded victory, returning to camp without any pork and a rabbit short.

Doug's kill

With my best friend pregnant at home, I packed up camp and called it a hunt.  Said my goodbyes to the boys and camp and drove to the skinning pole to tell Doug and Wighty adios.  They had a surprise for me.  While skinning the javy, one of natures sweet denizens crawled into the light while they processed Doug’s kill.  Of course, they killed it and gave it to me with the condition I cook it and report back.  I agreed.

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This was a fun hunt, unlike any I’ve been on.  A unique country, unique quarry and definitely some unique dudes made this a trip I plan on making every chance I get.

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