Javelina - Springtime Fun in the Desert

Updated: May 14, 2020

When I first moved to Arizona in 1992, I had never heard of a Javelina. Being from the Midwest, my hunting experiences consisted mostly of small game and birds. I moved to Arizona right at the tail end of the quail season and wanted to try to get in a few hunts before the season ended. It was during one of these hunts that I had my first encounter with a Collared Peccary.

As the Sun was peaking over the Superstition Mountains, I was stalking a quail that was calling to his companions on a rocky hillside, thick with Palo Verde and Prickly Pear. When the bird flushed, I swung the Winchester and caught up to him just before he would have escaped to the safe side of a large tree. He folded up nicely but was able to sail over the rim of the ridge and fell out of sight. 

As all bird hunters know, finding a motionless quail on the ground can be very difficult. After spending nearly twenty minutes combing the area where I thought the bird had dropped, I decided to go back to where I shot from to make sure that I was looking in the right spot. I determined that I was searching in the right area, so I returned to look again. As soon as I topped the ridge for the second time, I saw the bird lying in sun.

I claimed my prize, and after admiring my first Arizona Quail, I started back down the ridge. 

That’s when I saw him. He must have been standing there the entire time. He was probably admiring my highly tuned shooting form and game searching ability.

As soon as we made eye contact his coarse and wiry hair stood up on his back making him look twice as large as he really was. I keeled down to get a better look at him and he started to pop his jaws together in an attempt to frighten me off. When I stood up he produced a low, short “wuufff” and he was gone. 

I was exited to see him but he was obviously not thrilled with me. When I got home, I dug out my hunting regulations and discovered that the season on Javelina would start in few weeks. The disappointing part was that all of the Javelina tags were issued by drawing and a call to the Game and Fish Department confirmed my suspicions that all of the tags were taken. Oh well, I would have to wait until next year. 

I got my tag the following year as planned, but what was not planned was the fact that even though I would receive a tag for each of the next three years, I would not be successful in my quest for a Javelina until my fourth try. I have been passionately pursuing these animals every year since.

Rifle hunting Javelina
General season Arizona Javelina

For a variety of reasons, the Javelina season has become one of my most anticipated hunts. While it is true that Javelina are not as challenging to hunt as some of the more glamorous species that roam our southwestern states, do not be fooled into thinking that these little guys are a push over. In my opinion, Javelina are the most difficult to spot of all big game animals.

A large Javelina will stand about knee high and when undisturbed will stand motionless for several minutes while feeding. When they do move, it is usually just to the next cactus or bush in its path. Combining these traits with the fact that the preferred habitat for Javelina is brushy creek bottoms, grassy hillsides and Prickly Pear patches and you can see why they have the nickname of “The Desert Ghost”. I have seen them vanish into grass that is barely above the tops of my boots. I haven’t even mentioned the fact they have perhaps the best desert camouflage of any animal. 

Arizona Javelina tracks
Javelina tracks

From a distance they look solid black with a white collar between their head and shoulders, perfect for blending into the shadows of cactus, large boulders, and low growing bushes. With a little closer analysis however you will see that the sparse, coarse, hair is actually salt and pepper color and closely resembles cactus spines. From beyond 30 yards they can look just like a number of cacti that are common in the southwest, most notably Barrel cactus and small Saguaros.

Javelina Digs
Javelina like to dig for roots If you see this, you're in the right area.

Glassing from high vantage points is the most popular and productive method of hunting here in Arizona. High quality, tripod mounted binoculars in the 10x – 20x range are the favored tool for this style of hunting. I prefer the cheap, aluminum, photographic tripod that can be purchased at most stores that sell cameras. You can get higher quality models that will last longer and have a few extra features but they will usually be quite heavy and much more expensive. I like to cut down on the weight I have to carry up mountains in any way I can.

 Most high quality binoculars will have a means of attaching the glasses to a tripod, usually with an adapter that is purchased separately. You can also purchase universal tripod adapters that will work with almost any binocular.

One trick that I have found to be very helpful is to carry and extra camouflage shirt in my pack. When I am glassing, I will drape this shirt over my head and the back part of the glasses, leaving only the front of the glasses exposed. This will improve the quality of the image in the glasses tremendously. What happens is, light coming in through the sides of the eyepiece will have a negative effect on the image. By eliminating this unwanted light you will get better resolution and contrast with the binoculars. 

In addition to the high power binoculars, I also carry a smaller pair that I can use while traveling from one spot to the next. 

Glassing for Javelina in Arizona
Quality optics on a studry tripod is your best tool for finding Javelina in the desert.

If I see something that I want to look at closer, I use these glasses first before unpacking the big binoculars. If it warrants further investigation, I will either stop and set up the tripod or move close enough to identify it with the smaller glasses. 

One other piece of equipment I always carry is a varmint call. If you scatter a group of Javelina while hiking to your next vantage point, you can often call them back to you for a shot by wailing on the call. There is no real technique that I have found other than loud and continuous. Try to imagine the sound a piglet would make when it is being eaten by a coyote! That is what you want to duplicate. Javelina will often come to the aid of a member of it’s clan, especially youngsters.

Let’s say you get lucky and catch sight of a group of Javelina feeding on a hillside. There are several things that you need to be aware of before you start your stalk. The Javelina’s most trusted line of defense is its ability to smell a potential enemy from a great distance. If you spend anytime at all observing Javelina, you will soon notice that they are constantly checking the wind with their keen noses. They too realize that they have poor eyesight and rely on their very accurate sense of smell to protect them from the many predators that inhabit the Southwestern desert. 

Rarely will you see a group of Javelina and not see at least one of them sniffing the breeze at any given time. As you know, the Javelina are short, and because of this they often stop what they are doing and lift their heads up to try and get a better sample of air. This often gives away an otherwise perfectly hidden animal. So, if you are glassing, and see something that you think might be a Javelina but your just not sure, be patient and keep watching. If it is a “pig”, it will not be long before it gets nervous and lifts its head to inhale some drifting desert air.

So it goes without saying that any stalk on a Javelina, must be from downwind. Every seasoned pig hunter has been winded by these animals at one time or another. The thermals can be very tricky in the fast warming desert. Cold air rises rapidly out of the shallow depressions and washes once the sunshine starts warming the air and can make keeping the wind in your face a very frustrating endeavor.

From my observations, I am confident that the Javelina’s ability to hear is at least as good as a human’s, probably better. 

The typical desert environment can be very maddening when it comes to walking quietly. The ground is almost always bone dry and usually very rocky. Small rocks grinding against the soles of hunters boots and against other rocks are the main sounds that will alert Javelina. Other sounds that will betray you are noisy clothing, like denim or nylon, scratching against the many thorny bushes like catclaw and mesquite that are common in the desert.