The afternoon sun was settling westward behind a bank of disconsolate grey clouds, as I worked my way across a huge flat-topped mesa just north of Texas’s famous Big Bend country. A huge javelina boar showed briefly through the short-brush. Readying my handmade Osage self bow and stone-pointed arrow, I moved to intercept him. The hunting gods must have been pleased, for the big boar continued his swaggering path directly toward me. My bow was raised, my fingers tight on the string as he crossed behind some brush. Seven short yards were all that separated us when he emerged, broadside, beady-eye gleaming and razor-sharp cutters lifting his lip in a perpetual good-natured snarl. I dropped the string and watched my stone point bury behind his shoulder. It was the second-largest archery-killed Javelina in Texas that year.
Life and Times of Javelina
Javelina (pronounced Hav-uh-leen-uh), or Collared Peccary, reside stateside only in Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona. Hunting opportunities vary from state to state. Arizona offers the best access to good public-land hunting, but javelina numbers are not terribly high, and in many areas, tags must be applied for and drawn lottery style. Texas is in many ways the reverse—in certain areas of Texas, javelina numbers are super high, and it’s possible to see half a dozen troops in a winter morning’s hunt, with 30 to 40 javelina per band. Most of Texas is private land, however, so you’ll need permission from the owner to hunt just about anywhere, and good properties may require an access fee. Licenses are easy to obtain though, and every hunter is allowed two javies each year with the purchase of a regular Texas hunting license. I’m not familiar with hunting javelina in New Mexico, so I am not in a position to offer an opinion on hunting quality and opportunity there.
Stink Pigs—so called because of the strong musk emitted by a scent gland located atop their hindquarters—are really fun to hunt, especially with a bow. Their sense of smell is superb but their eyesight is pretty bad, so as long as you keep the wind in your face it’s relatively easy to close within 10 or 15 yards of a band of pigs. Their hearing is pretty good, too, but most of the time they make so much noise shuffling about, grubbing for food, smacking their lips and quarreling with each other they rarely hear you. Only pay real attention to being quiet if you’re stalking a lone pig or a herd bedded down for a siesta. If the herd is quiet, you’d better be, too.
Peccary possess long cutters (or teeth) that protrude fang-like from both top and bottom jaws. These continuously rub against each other, creating razor-sharp edges. Javelinas are tough, courageous critters, very dangerous to dogs and even humans at times, due to their tendency to attack anything that bothers one of their own. When following a wounded javie be careful, and approach any shadowed thicket with caution. If your pig is still alive, you’ll likely hear it popping its teeth at you—a loud, rather intimidating sound—before you see it. Best to put another round (or arrow) into the pig at your first opportunity in this scenario.
Dogs can experience especial problems in confrontations of the javelina variety. A big courageous dog will likely be killed, because he’ll put up a fight and be cut to pieces by the herd. A little dog with more bluster than bite can get its owner in real trouble by picking a fight with a pig, then running to hide behind his owner’s legs when the pig’s buddies all show up with blood in their eyes.
In Texas, Javelinas are scored exactly like a bear or lion, by measuring the length and width of the cleaned skull, then adding the two measurements together for a final score. The biggest, oldest boars usually have worn or broken their cutters down short, so often the best skull mounts come from middle-aged boars that still possess long, impressive fangs. Live weight usually ranges from 35 to 55 pounds. The two biggest Texas boars I’ve weighed pushed the scales to 65 pounds. Females are usually more petite than boars, but still sport long cutters and make admirable shoulder, full-body or skull mounts. Indeed, unless you’re very experienced, it can be quite hard to tell male and female apart while hunting.
Finding javelinas is sometimes the toughest element to hunting them. If you’re new to an area, I suggest spending a day scouting for sign left by the little pigs before getting serious about hunting them. Look in dry washes and arroyos for little blunt tracks—somewhat reminiscent of deer tracks, just much shorter. Keep an eye out for chewed-up prickly pear cactus; javelina love to eat the pads, leaving bite-shaped chunks missing. The bite edges will be ragged and stringy, since stink pigs don’t have cleanly meshing front teeth. Look for water sources with sign around them, for though javelina don’t need to drink much when feeding on prickly pear, they prefer to stay hydrated, and will frequent seeps, water troughs and such. In hot or buggy weather you might find evidence of wallowing activity in muddy areas. Also, if there are corn feeders around (as are common in Texas), keep an eye on them. Stink pigs love corn, and will drive deer away and take possession of the area around a feeder.
Once you’ve located an area with plentiful Javelina sign, ready your bow or shoulder your rifle. It’s not super important to be hunting at the crack of dawn; javelinas are not very early risers, and are more likely to be moving once sunshine warms the area a little. Hunt your area from downwind so the pigs don’t scent you, and keep your own sniffer busy—many times I’ve smelled a herd of stink pigs before I’ve seen them. Keep your ears open, too; occasionally javelinas bark or huff at each other, the sound giving you another way to locate them.
If there is a mesa, ridge, point or other vantage overlooking the area where you found javie sign, it’s a good tactic to sit atop the point and let your binocular do the walking. Be patient and spend plenty of time glassing; an entire herd of javelinas can be hidden in a tiny draw for a couple hours, and you’ll think there’s not a pig for miles. Then suddenly, they stroll out into the sunshine and it seems as though there are pigs everywhere. While sitting and glassing, you can listen, too—you might locate javelina by their sounds.
Once you’ve located a sounder of peccary, it’s time to make your move. Make sure you keep the wind in your favor and approach cautiously, but not too cautiously. Javies stay on the move most of the time, and if you take too long, they may have vacated the area before you arrive. Once you’re within 40 yards, you can slow down and stalk with care. If a pig spots you, just freeze and wait till it relaxes. Then resume your stalk.
Bullets and Broadheads for Peccary
Your regular deer-hunting rifle or handgun will work fine on javelina, just make sure you use a tough bullet. Stink pigs are dense and hard-boned, as you’ll see from the story below.
I almost simply wrote the same advice regarding archery gear—that the same gear you use on deer will work on pigs—but in good conscience, I can’t. From personal experience guiding peccary hunters in Texas, I believe they are tougher to kill than deer. In my opinion you need a really tough, cut-on-contact, one piece broadhead like a Woodsman, Montec G5 or similar. Here’s a true story to illustrate my point:
A friend who guided for me had never killed a peccary before, so we went out one evening to try to get him a pig. He was carrying an archery setup with which he had recently killed a huge bull elk, shooting expandable points. I told my buddy I had previously seen expandable heads fail on javelina, and suggested he use something else, but he was confident in his setup so we went hunting. His bow pulled 70 pounds of draw weight at 28 inches.
We soon located a troop of stink pigs, with one big boar sniffing around the females. The boar crossed in front of us, stopping broadside at 32 yards. My friend is a crack shot, but javies are pretty small and his arrow impacted about an inch and a half forward of the crease, with a sound like a baseball bat hitting a light pole. We tracked the boar over 450 yards up the side of a mesa before leaving him to live another day. The arrow had penetrated only an inch and a half beyond the broadhead ferrule, stopped cold by the peccaries scapula. It is my belief that a solid, cut-on-contact broadhead would have penetrated that scapula and double-lunged the pig. The moral of the story, of course, is that javelinas are small and very tough. Choose your gear and shots accordingly.
With a firearm and a tough bullet, you can down a peccary from any angle, but with archery gear the ideal shot angle is broadside, or slightly quartering away. The vitals are small, so take your time and make a careful shot. One helpful tip to remember is that javelinas can’t flex their neck very far to the side, so anytime they hear or see anything they must turn toward the source to investigate. This usually leaves you with a quartered-to angle. That’s fine with a firearm, but don’t risk it with a bow; wait for a better opportunity. Due to the same characteristic, it’s not helpful to make a sound to try to stop a moving pig for a shot—the animal will invariably stop quartered-on.
Well-hit javies usually (though not always) tip over quickly. The same rules you’d use when hunting deer apply to any blood trail, except for one: if you believe that the pig is wounded and potentially alive, consider him dangerous. Exercise caution, and if possible, carry a hard-hitting firearm to use if he comes at you. A mad peccary is not likely to kill you, but he sure might leave some cool scars on your legs. Just be careful.
There are two very important elements to keeping peccary meat tasty: keep it clean and cool it quick. When you approach your first stink pig, you’ll wonder how anyone could possibly eat something that smells like that. Get the skin off and away, exercising real care to keep the scent gland with its oily musk off the meat, and the carcass will look and smell fresh and tasty. Get the meat on ice in a cooler and you’re all set. Grind into breakfast sausage or chorizo, or slow-cook for a pulled-pork barbeque. Bon Appétit!