By Tony Martins
Excellent subjects for limited range weapons, javelina hunting is a blast!
Some may question why anyone would drive 400 miles round-trip to hunt javelina. My neighbors certainly have – particularly when the little “pigs” as they are affectionately called, can often be found rooting up our gardens and rolling bird feeders around the yard, spilling seed for a snack – Because it’s great fun, that’s why! Classified as “big game” in Arizona, hunting them in my home state requires drawing a tag in the annual lottery, and the best hunting areas are far from my home in the White Mountains. Although Javelina have a limited range, these interesting little critters can be hunted in Texas, New Mexico and old Mexico, in addition to Arizona.
Hunting the unusual collared peccary (Pecari tajacu, also known as Tayassutajacu or the more recently adopted Dicotyles tajacu) can be one of the most enjoyable hunting experiences the Southwest has to offer. I have personally hunted them with an assortment of weaponry, from modern centerfire and primitive muzzleloading rifles to handguns, bows and even airguns, and this variety adds to the enjoyment. Searching for javelina with binoculars and spotting scopes affords the opportunity to observe a number of other animals that inhabit the same areas. On a recent Arizona hunt near the mining communities of Clifton and Morenci for example, we watched groups of mule deer, Coues whitetail deer, big horn sheep, and coati the very first morning! Fresh sign indicated that predators like cougar, bobcat, coyote and gray fox were also making their home in the drainages we chose, and hunting these animals is an added bonus. In fact two days after this particular hunt, a local rancher called in a houndsman, who turned his dogs loose on the lion track found at the site of a freshly killed calf. They tracked that lion more than 12 miles – right through our vacated camp site. The 195-pound tom was treed by the relentless hounds, in the very same Sycamore on the Blue River that had provided a shady lunch break for my hunting partner and me only three days earlier!
Map showing javelina distribution in North America (left), and typical javelina habitat in the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona (right).
Javelina live in herds of up to 30 animals, and are comparatively easy to locate in many parts of the Southwest. Their range extends from south-central and southeast Arizona down the western third of old Mexico, and from southeast New Mexico across most of southwest Texas, down the eastern third of old Mexico and into northern Central America. These animals ranged hundreds of miles farther north when the early settlers began the task of taming the West. Their tasty light-colored meat, useful hides and comparatively small home areas made them a favorite quarry. The settling of the West was much harder however, on the javelina’s natural predators, like the jaguar, mountain lion and golden eagle. Thus, the little “pigs” – which are actually not related to swine at all – were able to survive. Today they typically inhabit brushy desert washes, rocky canyons, scrub-oak forests and grasslands, and arid mountain foothills. Although they are usually found at elevations of 2000 feet and lower, their expanding range now includes altitudes of 7000+ feet, in the juniper/piñon and scattered oak country of south-central Arizona and New Mexico.
Glassing for javelina with binocular and spotting scope.
Locating an area where a herd of javelina resides is not difficult, as their home turf usually encompasses not much more than a couple of square miles, and they are usually found near water. Actually spotting the little critters to commence a stalk is another matter, however. Good optics are without question, the most valuable tools for javelina hunting success. I prefer a good quality 10×42 binocular with a shoulder harness for packing comfort while covering ground. Companies like Leupold, Nikon, Steiner, Vortex, Kowa and Hawke all make affordable binos well suited for glassing-up peccaries.
For the past year I have been using the Nikon LaserForce, with its excellent built-in rangefinder. For glassing expansive vistas of cactus and scrub for extended periods, I like a tripod-mounted 15×56 binocular, like the Vortex Kaibab HD or Steiner HX, and a comfortable seat! And, for really picking apart the terrain, top-quality spotting scopes like the Vortex Razor HD and Nikon Monarch ED models are ideal.
Prickly pear cactus leaf shredded by feeding javelina (left), and the characteristic half-moon shaped bite of a deer (right).
Like many game animals, javelina are most active during late afternoon and early morning hours. During these times, they can be found roaming around their dining area digging tubers, rooting for acorns, chasing insects and reptiles, and browsing on juniper berries, cat’s claw and mesquite beans, various forbs and their two favorites, agave and prickly pear cactus. Shredded leaves of the latter are a telltale javelina sign. Their razor sharp two-inch long “tusks” slice through the succulent cacti with each bite like opposing scissors’ blades, in a feeding behavior that often deposits needles in the animal’s pig-like snout and face. This exposes the fibrous interior of the leaves in somewhat conspicuous stringy remains. If you find prickly pear leaves with clean half-moon shaped bites taken out of them, move on; as these have been made by deer – which are careful to avoid the needles – and not by javelina.
Author with a mature javelina in the middle of a large prickly pear patch.
A popular and effective hunting technique in the brushy country of south Texas and northern Mexico is sitting on stand near water holes and watching senderos adjacent to farmlands that javelina have been using. The favored technique in the desert and low-mountain chaparral of Arizona and New Mexico is to glass areas during peak activity periods where fresh sign indicates that a group has been recently feeding or traveling. I like to locate these active areas by hiking through the country midday – when other hunters are typically lounging around camp – in search of tracks and signs of feeding. Tracks of adult javelina are distinctive, as the two front hoof “toes” are typically squared-off from their digging activities. This distinguishes their tracks from those made by adult Coues whitetail deer, which appear similar in size on firm ground. Once spotted, it is not difficult to stalk to within range for an easy shot, as the vision of these animals beyond 50 yards is poor. This factor makes them an excellent subject for limited range weapons like handguns, bows and muzzleloaders, and their smallish, compact size (30 to 60 pounds) makes them uniquely ideal for the youth hunter as well. In fact, group hunting has become a family tradition in many parts of the Southwest, and an annual social event that is greatly anticipated.
A word of caution: Don’t be fooled into thinking these animals are pushovers because of their poor eyesight, however. They are wary and readily detect movement at distance. Furthermore, their hearing is quite good, and their keen sense of smell makes approaching a herd from upwind quite difficult. If you plan to hunt with limited range weapons you need to get close, and a stealthy approach with some attention to scent control will increase your odds for success. I’m a believer in scent control as a legitimate asset in the field.
Richard Smith of Pinetop, AZ with a javelina taken with Smith & Wesson Model 27.
Lots of javelina are taken with handguns and archery equipment at very close range. Most javelina handgunners out West prefer revolvers, and many favor single-action cowboy-style wheelguns, like the Ruger Vaquero in 45 Colt. The 357 Magnum is a popular caliber for javelina, and the venerable Smith & Wesson Model 27 and various S&W Model 686 configurations have taken their fair share. My personal choice is a stainless Ruger Blackhawk in 357 Mag., and Ruger Redhawks are also popular in 44 Magnum, despite their weight. I reported that Taurus introduced their new Raging Hunter in 44 Mag. at the SHOT Show in January, and I’m looking forward to giving this lightweight handful a try. Semi-automatics are also used to hunt javelina, primarily in 40 and 45 caliber. Colt Government 1911’s are perennial favorites, and modern Kimber 1911 designs are now common in the field. Several friends in law enforcement use their personal Glock and Sig Sauer duty weapons to hunt the feisty little rascals.
Javelina skull showing 2-inch “tusks” supports author’s Ruger Blackhawk in 357 Magnum.
Javelina are avidly hunted with archery tackle and crossbows, and these small animals make excellent quarry and challenging targets for stick-and-string enthusiasts. Just about any sharp blade-type hunting broadhead will do the job, but care in shot placement must be taken to insure a clean and quick kill, as these animals are tough. The vital area for a 20-inch tall adult javelina is about 6 to 7 vertical inches. Most non-fatal shots are missed high, as the top 4 or 5 inches of the animal’s profile is formed by the bristle-like mane of the loose-fitting hide – which can be puffed-up when the animal is alerted of danger. Another consideration is the javelina’s heart-lung area, which is slightly farther forward than other North American game. For broadside and quartering shots it’s best to pick a spot just behind the front shoulder at the vertical mid-point, then lower your sights another inch or two to make a clean kill.
Author poses with a javelina that was arrowed in central Arizona.
The tremendous variety of guns and loads that can be used to take javelina most certainly adds to the enjoyment of hunting these animals with blackpowder. From cap and ball revolver at twenty paces, to primitive flintlock musket at fifty yards, to modern in-line rifle shooting a saboted bullet with synthetic blackpowder at 200 yards, all afford the muzzleloader hunter reasonably good odds for success. I have taken a number of peccaries with muzzleloading rifles, from 40 to 170 yards, with a variety of bullets and powders, and both open and telescopic sights. Several years back I shot an unusually large javelina at about 80 yards with a Knght Rifles muzzleloader and a potent loading of synthetic blackpowder. Although the 200-grain solid copper, hollow-point bullet literally destroyed its heart, the remarkably tough 60-pound boar ran nearly 100 yards at full speed, blasting through scrub oak brush before piling up and quickly expiring. When hunting these beasts in thick cover, a good bloodtrail is a great asset for recovery.
A variety of opportunities to hunt this interesting animal can be found in North America. In Arizona and New Mexico – where the area inhabited is somewhat limited – javelina permits are issued through an annual lottery drawing. Although the odds for drawing some hunt locations in Arizona are comparatively slim, both Arizona and New Mexico offer hunts where obtaining a permit is virtually guaranteed; with drawing odds of 100%. Greater numbers of javelina can be found in the Lone Star State, where they range over a sizable portion of real estate. Populations are sufficient to allow a year-round open season in more than half of Texas’ counties that offer a hunting opportunity, and the bag limit is liberal (two). Spring combination hunts for javelina and turkey are popular in areas of the state where the two species coexist.
Its distinctive pig-like snout is readily apparent in this javelina image.
Javelina hunts in Texas and New Mexico are “general” (meaning any legal weapon) in type. My home state of Arizona holds both general and limited weapons hunts for these animals. The latter include archery only as well as HAM hunts (Handguns, Archery and Muzzleloader only). Hunting opportunities, regulations and restrictions south of the border in old Mexico vary from state to state, and landowner to landowner. Most javelina are taken as bonus animals during hunts for the more sought after mule deer and Coues whitetail species. On many privately held ranches for example, javelina may be taken by licensed deer hunters at no additional charge, while others charge healthy premiums from $500-$700 for the privilege of taking one.
A few words about field care and table fare quality: It’s surprising to me how many people hunt javelina, but refuse to eat them. Often referred to as “stinky little pigs,” it’s true that they carry a strong ‘musky” odor and are often smelled by hunters in thick cover before they are seen, particularly if near a communal bedding area. Javelina have a large scent gland on their back near their rump, as well as smaller glands under each eye. They use the oil produced by these glands to mark their territories, often rubbing on rocks and woody surfaces. They also mark each other, which no doubt helps to locate and identify herd members. Thus, an animal’s entire hide may be coated with the foul smelling oil, and extreme care must be exercised while field dressing to avoid contaminating the somewhat delicate meat – a single drop of this pungent oil can render meat inedible. Here’s the method I have used with excellent results: Put on a pair of latex gloves before touching the animal and if possible, hang the carcass for skinning. Avoid touching the meat while skinning. Discard gloves and wash hands and knife thoroughly if possible – if not possible, put on a fresh pair of gloves and use a different knife to break down the carcass and/or debone the meat. Transfer meat to a clean cooler as soon as possible.
The ring of white hairs around the neck that gives the collared peccary its name can be seen on these three little piggies.
When cooked the meat becomes light colored, very much like pork. It will readily take on the flavor of seasonings that are added. This characteristic can also be problematic if the meat is exposed to contaminants, like the musky glandular oil, exhaust fumes or bacteria. Properly processed, fresh javelina meat makes excellent table fare, and any favored recipe for pork will make a tasty meal. Contrary to what you may have heard, Javelina is not at all “gamy.” If the meat smells or tastes gamy it has been contaminated, and/or spoilage has started.
Whether planning a group outing with the family or hunting buddies, or simply looking for a new Southwestern hunting experience for yourself, be sure to consider the collared peccary. Hunting these engaging little critters, particularly with limited range weapons, can be challenging and rewarding. One thing is almost certain: You will have a blast!