Javelina: Hunting the beasts of the desert

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BY TIM E. HOVEY

In the pre-dawn gloom, we hiked along the old mining road in silence. Austin and his dad, Mitch, led the way, the glow of their red headlamps eerily bouncing in unison as we quietly walked. We were headed to an elevated turnout that would give us an amazing view of the desert floor. The plan was to be set up to glass from our perch when the sun came up. We were there to hunt javelina.

A few years ago, my friend Mitch Atkinson had invited me down for the Arizona javelina opener. Illustrating Mitch’s generous nature, he suggested that I also bring a friend. Within minutes of the invite, I was on the phone with my good buddy, Eric Frandsen. Eric and I have been hunting and fishing together for years, and he was the first person I thought of when it came to hiking the high desert of Arizona looking for game.

As the sun peaked over the horizon, our group of five was spread out waiting for the desert to come to life. Small groups of javelina would become more active with the rising sun and start to move through the terrain to feed. The plan was to locate a group, plan a stalk and get Eric and I close.

THE START OF THE HUNT — Tim Hovey (L), Mitch Atkinson (C) and Eric Frandsen getting ready to hike into the hunting grounds. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

In the U.S., the javelina is found in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Evolving in South America and eventually migrating north, their current range spans from Arizona south to Argentina. They are medium-sized hoofed mammals belonging to the group of New World pigs and are quite abundant in the Arizona desert. With two tags in our packs, Eric and I were excited to chase an animal that was new to us both.

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During the first hour of the morning, we spotted plenty of wildlife. Austin spotted a small group of mule deer grazing on a green patch near the edge of a canyon. A large covey of quail crossed my view as I searched the desert floor and jack rabbits were sprinkled just about everywhere, looking to warm up in the rising sun. Despite the absolute abundance of animals moving through the desert, no javelinas were spotted.

At around 11:00 a.m., Mitch took Eric and hiked to glass a different section of the canyon. Austin, Mark and I would stay put and keep glassing in our current location.

Shortly after Mitch left with Eric I spotted a lone black speck on a distant field of green over a mile from where we sat. Studying the image through the binoculars, I observed it slowly change locations. With some additional searching, I spotted several more shapes in the distance feeding in the area. After close to six hours of glassing, I had finally spotted our first javelina.

I pointed them out to Austin and he agreed they were indeed javelina. He also agreed that we should keep looking for closer animals and consult his dad when he returned.

SETTING UP FOR THE SHOT — The Atkinsons wanted to film the hunt for Tim and Eric. Here we are coordinating the shots. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

A little after lunch, Mitch and Eric returned after failing to spot anything on the other side off the canyon. With time running out and no other options, Mitch decided we should grab our gear and hike the rugged desert floor towards the group I had spotted.

For almost two hours we hiked old game trails and dry drainages, staying low and out of site. Maneuvering in the desert on foot is not easy and the going was definitely slow. During brief breaks, Austin would find a piece of high ground and check on the animals we were approaching; returning with an ear-to-ear grin indicated they were still there.

With storm clouds approaching and about three hours of daylight left, we found ourselves within 100 yards of the group of javelina. Once close, we were able to determine there were about 20 individuals in the group, most laying in the shade with a few grazing nearby.

We got set up and quietly discussed the shots. I decided Eric should take the first shot and I would quickly follow. Eric was shooting a rifle chambered in .308, a bit big for the animal we were chasing, but he shot well with it. I was shooting a rifle chambered in .22-250. With the target animals identified, we got ready.

Mitch quietly counted down from three to one and Eric squeezed one off. Our animals were close and I could see his shot missed low through my scope. I fired and hit my target just behind the shoulder. The javelina lurched forward, rolled to his side and died right there. After those first two shots the group started to scatter. After his initial miss, Eric’s window for success was quickly closing.

Austin spotted a large male slowly moving over the rocks to our left. The animal stopped briefly and Eric swung over on him. After steadying himself, Eric fired off his second shot and the animal folded dead right there.

BEASTS OF THE DESERT — Tim Hovey (L) and Eric Frandsen with their hard-earned desert harvest. TIM E. HOVEY PHOTO

We spent a few minutes razzing Eric on his shooting ability and he took it well. We gathered up our gear and headed over to collect our animals. Both javelina were exceptional in size, with Eric’s being a true beast for the species. With daylight waning, we took several quick photos and started field dressing the animals.

In less than forty-five minutes after the shots were taken, we had the meat packed, the skulls wrapped and two tags filled. We packed everything in our game packs and started the long hike out. It’s funny, after this successful hunt with great friends I don’t remember a single thing about that return hike.

A few months later I drove down to visit Eric. I had cleaned the skull of his javelina and wanted to drop off the European mount. We had a great visit, talking about the hunt and mostly laughing. Driving home, I thought about how I hold several things above all to maintain a happy life. First and foremost is the health and happiness of my family. A close second is the good times and camaraderie I encounter on my outdoor adventures. These amazing memories will last a lifetime and in my opinion are the true riches of life for me.

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