By Jim Heffelfinger, Arizona Region V Game Specialist
Javelina have always drawn a certain amount of curiosity from newcomers to the state. The journals of early explorers in the mid-1800s are sparsely sprinkled with reports of "Mexican hogs" along the rivers and lowland valleys in southeastern Arizona.
Several place names, such as Musk Hog Mountain in Unit 32, record their presence around the turn of the century, however, javelina themselves are relative newcomers to the state. Archeological remains prior to 1700 show no evidence of javelina in the state. The javelina is thought to have evolved in the thick thorn scrub of subtropical South America. It's distribution has spread northward and increased from a scattered presence in low river valleys of southeastern Arizona northward to invade the Ponderosa pines near Williams, west of Flagstaff.
The javelina is also known as the collared peccary, named for the white band or collar which runs across the shoulders. Contrary to the perpetual myth, javelina are not members of the rodent family, nor are they actually members of the pig family. They have characteristics which are unique enough to be placed in a separate family with 2 other species of peccary, the white-lipped and the Chacoan.
Much maligned for their lack of intelligence, the javelina is not any less intelligent that our other native wildlife. They simply evolved a different combination of attributes to survive in their environment. Their eyesight is very poor at distances greater than 75 yards. This is understandable for an animal that evolved in the thick thorn scrub where food, water, shelter, and predators could only be seen at very short distances (which was unfortunate in the case of predators). Their sense of smell and hearing abilities, however, are very well developed. The Aattacks we sometimes hear about in the wild are probably javelina trying to get away, but with their poor eyesight, just don't know which direction that is.
Javelina travel about in large groups, or herds. These herds occupy a territory of about 1-2 square miles which is defended from other adjacent herds. In good javelina habitat, each territorial boundary abuts the boundary of adjacent herds. This makes it somewhat difficult to answer the question "Where are the javelina in this area?"; they are everywhere.
The number of javelina per herd averages 8-12 throughout the state. Herds numbering 40 or more are reported annually but AGFD researcher, Gerald Day, counted 500 herds during his 25 years of javelina research and saw only 6 with over 30 javelina and none over 40.
Javelina spend their time resting and feeding. Resting occurs primarily in traditional bedgrounds which are located in low areas of thick brush or caves throughout their territory. Bedgrounds offer soft soil to lay on and protection from predators and the weather.
When feeding, javelina concentrate heavily on succulents such as prickly pear, hedgehog, barrel cactus, lechuguilla, and cholla. The fruits and fleshy parts provide not only nutritious feed but water as well. When javelina feed on prickly pear pads they grasp the pad and pull, which shreds the pad and leaves the stringy interior fibers visible. Small cacti such as Hedgehogs are knocked over with a front hoof and the insides are eaten out so that only the tough outer skin and spines remain. Lechuguilla leaves are pulled apart and left scattered as the javelina eats the fleshy heart out of the plant. Roots and tubers are also dug or "rooted" up by javelina on occasion.
Although javelina are Aeverywhere, they never seem to be where you are (even when you've seemingly been everywhere). Knowing how javelina feed and what signs they leave behind is the key to successful javelina hunting. After you've selected the area you want to hunt, your first scouting trip should be to the local map store for a topographic map or two.
Look for an area that is more than 1 mile from any road and in good javelina habitat. When scouting, walk into that area and look for evidence that a group of javelina have been active recently.
Besides shredded prickly pear, scooped-out hedgehog cacti, scattered lechuguilla leaves, look for bedgrounds, droppings, tracks, and rooting activity. You should also be looking for good glassing locations and trails that will lead you through some good looking habitat with minimal disturbance.
One of the most important pieces of hunting equipment is a pair of binoculars. The price of your binoculars is less important than the fact that you are using a pair. The expensive ones are better; they are clearer, more durable and reduce glare and eye strain. If you can pick up a pair of Zeiss 15x60s for over $1,000 that's great, but most of us can't afford that kind of glassware because we're too busy buying other frivolous things -- like groceries.
You should spend most of your hunting time searching for javelina with your binoculars. Find a good glassing point where you can see a large canyon or basin and then systematically search the whole area within view. The best way to search the area completely is with your binoculars mounted on a tripod. The tripod offers several advantages. First, your field of view is completely still, allowing you to see that subtle movement of a javelina taking a step against the stationary background.
Secondly, the tripod allows for a systematic search of the area within view. Start at the top of the hill or ridge and scan across at the same level until you see all of the hill top. Then adjust your binoculars down one level and scan back across the hill. Continue to search in over-lapping layers until you have covered the whole hill, top to bottom.
If you are looking at a large basin or canyon, by the time you're done searching the area it's time to look again. It's common to find animals in the middle of a hillside that you have just searched. Contrary to the opinion of some Physicists, javelina do have the power to materialize out of nowhere.
Plan to glass the sunny slopes in the morning and evening. These animals of subtropical origin prefer the warmer slopes in the winter months and it is also much easier to see them there. If it is rainy or windy the herd will be found in low, protected areas out of the weather; concentrate on areas close to bedgrounds and near the bottom of the canyons.
Always carry a predator call with you when javelina hunting. The herd serves as a defensive unit, protecting the juveniles in the herd from predators. A predator call simulates the squealing of a red piglet and sometimes draws javelina out to face the source of the disturbance. (see I told you a predator call is deadly on Javelina)
Javelina meat is considered by some to be less than palatable. Some have even gone as far as to suggest this is the reason we find no evidence of javelina in pre-1700 archeological sites (during what paleontologists call the Precrockpot Period).
If properly cared for in the field, javelina provides good eating. The key is to field dress the animal immediately and skin it at your first opportunity. Don't worry about the scent gland; it is attached to the skin and will come off when you skin the animal. The hairs of the javelina are covered with this scent; make sure you do not touch the meat with the hand you are holding the hide with.
Javelina hunting is an excellent opportunity to get out into the mountains to sharpen your hunting skills and scout for next year's deer hunting areas. If you haven't bought maps for your hunt area yet, now is the time to get to the map store. If you decide to buy a tripod this year, you better get a crockpot too.
Editors note: Jim Heffelfinger completed his Masters Degree at Texas A&M-Kingsville researching the effects of coyote predation on trophy whitetails after the rut. He has also conducted a state-wide buck mortality study for Mississippi State University and worked as the biologist for a trophy whitetail ranch in South Texas. He has managed javelina and javelina habitat in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. He now works for the Arizona Game & Fish Department as the Regional Game Specialist for southeastern Arizona.
JavelinaHunter.com and JavelinaHunter are registered trademarks.