An Arizona Javelina Adventure

Upon the mention of an Arizona hunt, the imagination is quickly and surely drawn to visions of cactus-choked sonoras, dry dusty ground, and flat featureless terrain.  Indeed, my first two experiences with hunting the Grand Canyon State reinforced this desert stereotype.  Having hunted in the southern portion of the State in years past, I was keenly familiar with the quintessential fauna of the region; from agave, yucca and aloe to prickly pear, cholla and and saguaro cactus.   The duality of frozen evening temperatures coupled with the relentless pounding of the noon sun had permanently forged my opinion and understanding of the region into one succinct word:  desert.

This was the stereotype I carried with me as my plane touched down on the Phoenix runway.  Dad and I had been fortunate enough to draw Unit 19 tags for a rifle season javelina hunt.  My Uncle Chuck and two adult cousins Tom and Keith (all AZ residents) had made all of the requisite arrangements for our hunt and would be accompanying us on same. 

After ensuring our bags and firearms had arrived safely, we heading for Uncle Chuck’s house for an overnight stay.  The next morning would find us heading north toward Prescott and our mountain accommodations.

As a primarily Northwestern hunter, the first offer I received to travel to Arizona and pursue javelina was met with a question I’m sure some of you are asking right now:  What is the heck is javelina?  As any good hunter would, I began to feverishly research my intended quarry.  In my education, I learned the following:

The Collared Peccary

The Collared Peccary

Though they somewhat resemble wild hogs, javelinas (or collared peccaries, as they are scientifically known) are not pigs.  They are classified in the Family Tayassuidae, as are domestic and feral hogs, but are a different species altogether.  Javelinas are primarily found in the southwest states (Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas).  They generally range in adult weight from thirty to seventy pounds.  Javenlina are gregarious pack animals.  If you see one, generally there are others nearby.
 
Did I mention their teeth?  Javelina have rudimentary canine teeth which are a cross between true canines and the tusks generally associated with their swine cousins.  They are long, sharp, and serve dual purpose in eating and defense. 
 
Back to the story. . .
 
As I’d mentioned, my previous two trips had involved hunts in the southern portion of the State.  This trip would place us just outside Prescott.  Tom had procured permission to borrow a co-worker’s cabin just a relative short distance away from the area in which we’d be hunting.  While I enjoy the nostalgia and charm of a wall-tent excursion, there are certain benefits to hunting out of a structure.  In this case, the benefits would include heat, satellite TV, showers, and a full kitchen.  Roughing it would not be the order of the day for this trip!
 
As Tom, Keith, Chuck, Dad and I caravaned up the winding road which would lead us to the cabin, one factor became immediately clear:  There was snow.  Lots of snow.  Worrisome quantities of the white stuff.  And I’m not talking about under trees, in shady spots, and lining the ditches of the dirt road which led to the cabin’s front door.  No, my friends.  THAT is not the snow to which I refer.  The road which led the final two hundred yards or so to the cabin was a solid mass of snow.  A quick jump from out of the truck illustrated our problem immediately, as my feet sank a good two feet though the stuff.  A half-hearted attempt at forging our way unaided up the driveway resulted in only a few feet of headway.  Even though we’d intended upon luxury, we would still have to work for the hunt.
 
Snow in AZ?

Snow in AZ?

Approximately five and one-half hours later and after earning each and every foot of road through the copious use of accelerator and shoveling, we reached the cabin.  The work was worth it.  The cabin (a term used loosely, as it was a log house) sat at approximately 6500′ and overlooked Skull Vally.  The view was, as my Uncle Chuck said, of the million dollar variety. 
More to AZ than deserts. . .

More to AZ than deserts. . .

Once we’d unloaded the rigs and settled in, we took the opportunity to assemble our packs, bags, rifles, and other hunting gear and to enjoy the setting of the sun and a few beverages of the adult persuasion.   And, as is tradition, Dad and I had Uncle Chuck snap a pic to commemorate the occasion.  Of course, it wouldn’t be truly tradition unless I was captured with eyes closed.
Another Hunt for the Thomsens

Another Hunt for the Thomsens

The next day found us dropping elevation from the cabin and wandering into a more “typical” example of Arizona topography.  Our hunt would primarily take place around 5000′.  Juniper, yucca, and prickly pair shared the terrain with grasses, creating a somewhat hybridized appearance across the landscape.

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Our plan was simple:  Drive the roads looking for prime javelina habitat and, ideally, tracks.  Once these factors were located, we would first glass the surrounding area.  Barring any immediate location of our quarry, we would then drive (on foot) through the areas, hoping stealth would allow us to exploit the purported poor eyesight of javelina.

Uncle Chuck

Uncle Chuck

And so we followed the formula.  Over the course of three days, we covered countless miles of roadway and pushed through cover on foot.  In the end, we had little tangible to show for the effort and time.  Each of our five tags would be left unfilled.  In an area in which three hundred rifle season tags were issued, we only observed four harvested javelina.  A bit more discouraging was our inability to put our eyes on a single peccary throughout the entire adventure. 

As I found myself taking my seat to begin the flight home, I began to think over the time spent afield on this particular trip.  As I had experienced an extremely successful big game year to date, I was minimally discouraged over the intact tag still lining my pocket.  I thought about the sights and sounds I’d experienced in a land primarily foreign to me.  I pondered the time spent with family, both immediate and extended.  I decided even if told I’d never hang my tag on an Arizona “pig”, I’d be back every year Arizona Game & Fish saw fit to send a tag my way.  THAT, my friends, is what hunting is all about to me. 

An Arizona Sunset

An Arizona Sunset

Special thanks are both deserved and awarded in vast quantities to Uncle Chuck and Cousins Keith and Tommy.  Chuck routinely wears multiple hats anytime I’m blessed enough to visit (airport taxi, resident stand-up comedian, hired gun, tow truck driver, et al).  Keith is quick to keep a cigar or drink in your hand and a smile on your face.  And Tommy. . .well, thanks Cuz, for the ten extra pounds I gained eating your “camp” food.  Seriously. . .you’re killin’ me here!   Gents, I look forward to the next one.  See you in April for a sage rat shooting extravaganza.  You boys are sleeping in a different room though. . .seriously.

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About the Author

Matt Thomsen

Matt Thomsen

Matt Thomsen routinely spends over seventy days afield each year during Oregon's hunting seasons. In addition to chasing bear, deer, elk, coyote, waterfowl, upland game, and the occasional sage rat or two, Matt was fortunate enough to draw one of seven annual tags and harvest a Rocky Mountain goat in Oregon in 2008.