Published by archerchick on 11 Feb 2011
Salt Shaker Spirit Saga~By John Alley
Peccary Pursuing Is A Sometime Thing
WHAT ARE YOU doing?” I asked Tom Dalrymple
as he sniffed intently at the ground like an ambitious
“Checking for sign. What do you think!” he replied in a
low sober tone. “Here,” he whispered, pointing to fresh
droppings, and picking up a piece of shredded prickly pear
dripping with moisture. The piles were indeed fresh, and
their depositors weren’t far away.
My hand warmer bore a faint red glow, as I grasped it
tightly with my numb fingers. What a way to spend New
Year’s I thought gazing across the vast desert of the
Arizona lowlands. Normally I would be watching parade
queens and bowl games on the boob tube, in the warmth of
my living room.
However, I was pursuing a Javelina, a small animal standing
about twenty inches at the shoulders and weighing as
much as fifty pounds. I was bound and determined to
collect one of these wily collared peccaries which had
eluded me in the past.
Roaming the Southern borders of the United States, the
peccary acquired the collared name because of the broad
yellowish stripe running from the hind part of the shoulders
to the chest. Some prefer to call him the musk hog. The
musk sack looks like a second navel and is located in the
middle of the back about six inches up from the root of the
tail. When a herd gets separated, the first thing the pigs do
when rejoined is rub scent glands. The gland does emit a
strong odor which can spoil the flavor of the meat if not
handled properly. It is best to leave it alone if you are not
sure of what to do. Skin the animal completely as soon as
Others call them the grey ghost because of their ability
to vanish seconds after becoming spooked. The dark, salt
and pepper grey coloring makes them difficult to spot in
the thick brush and ravines they often frequent. Binoculars
are a must, as javelina can often be spotted in open areas
feeding, providing the hunter can gain a high vantage point
to glass the area.
Is the javelina a pig? Many hunters say they are, but
according to experts the javelina belongs to the family
Tayassuidae: Tayassu tajacu. Your wild boar belongs to the
Sus family. Only the white-lipped peccary found from
Paraguay to Mexico is of the same family as the javelina.
Several features separate the peccary from the pig
family. The upper tusks curve downward instead of up; the
hind limbs have three toes instead of four. Pigs have many
young, the peccary only two. They also have musk glands
and dewclaws. Pigs have neither. Unlike domestic pigs, their
tails are barely visible.
In Arizona, where the javelina has its heaviest hunting
pressure, the animal is considered the most popular with
out-of-state hunters and ranks second only to deer with
residents. The 1970 season saw more than 30,000 hunters
pursuing the grey ghost. This has brought deep concern to
the Arizona Commission.
To compound the problem, civilization is taking over a
good many of Arizona’s prime javelina territories. There’s
talk of going to a permit system that would limit the
number of animals taken each season as well as increasing
the license fees.
The current non-resident general license is twenty dollars
and the javelina tag, a dollar-fifty. There is a special archery
only license for fifteen dollars available only at the Fish and
Game offices. An archer does not need both. The season
runs statewide, January l – 3l for bowhunters, with the rifle
season February 20-26. Archers may hunt during the gun
season with the limit being one javelina each calendar year
with either bow or gun.
I decided to make my first try at the little desert
dwellers. Gil Smith and I were hunting near the Tucson
mountain wildlife area. We were driving out of a dirt road
after another disappointing day’s hunt without seeing any
It was cold with the wind chill factor being around ten
degrees. We noticed a half frozen die-hard archer walking
along the highway and offered him a lift to his car. That
was Dalrymple, as it turned out. His total expression told of
a day like ours. I can still remember him clasping his
Alaskan-like mittens together muttering something about
somebody and their mother behind every saguaro cactus,
and the few kind words he had for each of them!
We hunted the next few days together but to no avail.
That particular hunt ended without seeing any javelina, but
I did get an invitation from Dalrymple to return and hunt
with him the following season. During the course of the
year, I received word that my newly acquired hunting
partner had located some super hot spots and our presence
on opening day would bring the javelina festivities to a fine
A Tucson resident nearly all his life, Dalrymple had been
bowhunting for three years and had yet to collect a
javelina. His strong determination has brought him to spend
countless hours on research and study of javelina habitat.
As I learned in the days that followed, it takes extreme
patience and concentration to encounter a band of pigs.
Most hunters have their own way in which to hunt. I too
have adopted set patterns. However, in the past few years
after hunting various types of game animals, I have had to
change these patterns to meet the challenge of the species
hunted. The javelina is no exception.
The javelina comes quite easy to some. I know a bow-
hunter who has filled his javelina tag for six years straight.
and a rifleman going on his fifth year and who has yet to
see one. I know of at least fifteen archers this year who
blanked out. About one-third of them saw pigs. The average
bow kill ratio has been around one in ten. The most successful
hunters are those who familiarize themselves with
javelina habits and the area they plan to hunt.
Dalrymple and others like him firmly agree that the
most prominent areas to locate javelina are those with the
slightest hunting pressure. This was our problem with the
wildlife area the year before. Javelina are gregarious animals
and travel according to set feeding patterns. When they are
disturbed, they leave the area, not returning for days.
Finding an unspooked herd is the whole trick.
Most herds have their favorite bed grounds and feeding
areas. A herd may work an area of two square miles often
leaving beds and returning in a few days. An undisturbed
herd will often have a range of a half mile, but the area will
rotate depending on available foods and weather
Our scouting party consisted of Dalrymple, his long time
hunting partner Don Dole, and myself. We would enter an
area and look for relatively fresh sign not more than three
days old. It is always quite possible that only a short distance
will separate a good hunting area from a poor one.
lf sign is not evident, move on. Areas which have been
productive in the past are the Tucson mountain area, Santa
Catalina, Santa Ritas, Tumacoris and the San Carlos Indian
A javelina’s primary diet is vegetation such as prickly
pear, grass roots and mesquite beans. They frequently eat
prickly pear for filler and moisture, not nutritional value.
This means they can live in areas where there is no permanent
water. Preferred foods are tubers, cactus fruits like
the bisnaga pod and the roots of the Christmas cactus. Like
most animals, they will feed in the early morning and late
evening hours, particularly during the winter time. They are
not cold weather animals as was proved during the extremely
cold winter of 1967 when herds of the northern
part of the state were severely reduced.
The New Year found me rising slowly in the pre-dawn
hours. Coyotes were talking in the nearby foothills. The
temperature had been dropping for several nights. The
mercury reading was twenty degrees.
The limbs of my fifty-five pound Marauder bow
seemed a bit stiff. I drew back a tew times to warm it up. A
few shots are always helpful in cold weather. l drew back
slowly, concentrating on a small bush at twenty yards, and
released. Wham-Bam-Pow echoes my aluminum arrow
sailing three feet over the bush, striking rocks on its desent
to the badlands. After a few more shots and the killing of
the bush, my numb soul seemed ready, daring a javelina to
appear within shooting range.
Our first place of attack was a group of caves in a wash
bottom. Dalrymple’s theory says that, “in rainy weather,
with the temperature below thirty degrees, the chances of
locating pigs around cave areas are fantastically high. They
will also bed down under ironwood and palo verde trees on
the sunnyside to keep warm.”
We reached the caves only to End them vacant, with tiny
tracks scattered about. “They must have smelled us,”
whispered Dole. Peccaries do have a terrific sense of smell.
They can smell tubers six inches under the ground. Hunting
downwind of them is a must. The use of artificial scents
does not help matters much and often tends to spook the
animals. The old underarm deodorant trick seems to work
We worked about fifty yards apart searching for the
slightest indication of fresh sign. Quite often while feeding,
individual members of a herd will scatter in search of their
favorite item, ranging a hundred yards or so. This explained
why we often found tracks going in all directions. This can
be misleading, however, if followed long enough, quite
often they will join the others.
I had to marvel at Dalrymple and Dole’s manner of
tracking. I considered myself a pretty fair tracker before I
met up with these two bloodhounds.
While tracking, the prickly pear cacti became the most
evident sign. The cacti will dry quickly depending on the
weather. Most often it will form a white film over the
freshly eaten parts in about an hour. It will usually be
shredded, scattered on the ground near the plant. The
javelina bite the green fruits that are covered with clusters
of half-inch long spines. They will usually remove pear pods
by knocking them off with the front feet.
Javelina use their noses, feet and teeth to remove some
of the spines. Once they get started, they chew through
spines and all without difficulty. They can eat century
plants and Lechuguilla (shin dagger) as we would eat an
artichoke, removing the outer leaves and eating out the
heart of the plant.
We kept the pace slow, often near a stand still. “You
nearly always hear them before sighting,” mentioned
Dalrymple, pointing at his ear as though committing
suicide. I nodded, listening to the left and right for that all
important grunt or ruckus that javelina often make.
We were roughly a half-mile from the caves when we
found the fresh droppings as mentioned earlier. A few yards
farther Dalrymple stopped, pointing his finger to his ear. I
was still somewhat amazed that we could be on the right
trail. Then a faint sound ahead directed my eyes to a wash-
out twenty yards away. There they were, but only for
seconds, as ten to twelve javelina bolted from the brush and
disappeared. It had happened quickly, as many had said it
would. The grey ghosts were gone. Maybe my last step was
a bit hard, but in any case I thought I had blown it. Naturally
my first reaction was to run after the herd and try for
a chance shot.
“No” muttered Dalrymple, waving his arms frantically
to get me to hold still. Certainly this man must have a screw
loose I thought, tempted to start the four minute mile. To
my right Dole had his bow up, as though to drill my hide if
I took another step! I was out-voted! A series of woof-like
grunts sounded out from the departed animals. To my
amazement. Dalrymple began imitating these snorts a few
times and the pigs began returning! It is not uncommon for
this to happen. The trick is not to woof before the javelina
does and not over a couple of times as it will spook them.
They weren’t totally aware of what had spooked them
and were joining forces once again. Their eyesight is considered
poor, and they will often run into the hunter in
their rush to escape. This is often mistaken for being
charged by a ferocious beast. lf the animals are unprovoked.
they appear to be deathly afraid of human beings.
I quickly spotted two of them coming straight toward
me. Off to my left. Dalrymple was at full draw as a huge
boar trotted past him at twenty feet. The arrow struck the
boar through the shoulders. A piercing scream rang out and
the prized javelina dropped within a few feet. Oddly
enough the others were not distracted by the incident and
kept coming. One of the two I had spotted darted at Dole
while the other stopped behind a bush directly in front of
me. Dole shot at his pig, missing by inches.
I slowly drew back a 2018 aluminum shaft loaded with a
black diamond delta broadhead and waited for the little
fellow to step out. My arm began to tire, and I let up on the
arrow. At that instant, the pig jumped out and trotted in a
parallel line to my right. I eased the arrow back again, and
released. The arrow whizzed past the chest of my quarry in
a beautiful miss! I quickly drew another arrow from my
bow quiver, but another shot was not possible. Realizing I
had just screwed up, I moved toward Dalrymple and his
fallen trophy. It was a beautiful boar, field dressing out at
forty pounds. My victorious companion was elated to say
That afternoon found me contributing a bottle of Cold
Duck to the Dalrymple’s victory party, and toasting the
celebrated javelina woofer. In the days that followed I saw
only one other pig and did not manage a shot. I had been
back in Los Angeles only a few days after that, when the
opportunity came to return to Tucson.
Two long-time friends, Midge Dandridge and John
Crump wanted to try their luck. Neither had hunted the
elusive animal before, and they were anxious to give it a
try. I was looking for a way to get my bottle of Cold Duck
back and quickly made the group a threesome.
There is always the possibility of calling up javelina with
a varmint call. To the javelina, the call sound is similar to
that of a little pig in distress. The herd will send out
members to investigate the trouble, rushing in with teeth
gnashing and hackles up. It seems to work best with a high-
pitched call, blown about three or four blasts.
One evening as Midge and I walked back to the truck, we
decided to try to call. I consider her to be one of the finest
women varmint callers around, better than most men. Midge
blew the call twice and two javelina immediately appeared.
They quickly disappeared, apparently spooked. She blew the
call again. I could hear an animal coming hell bent for leather,
out of the brush ahead. At forty yards I could make out the
silhouette of a pig coming across a rock slide. I shot, only
to have him jump the string! Looks like my luck was still
Two days later it began to change. We met up with a
young fellow. Grant McClain, who had recently returned
from a stint with Uncle Sam. He was gung ho to do some
hunting and had access to some private land. He was persuaded
with not much trouble, to join up with us!
The following morning we drove at daylight to an area
where a cowpoke had spotted a large herd of peccaries the
day before. The idea was to work a large wash bottom, with
Midge and I on one side and Crump the other. Grant would
stay in the bottom some thirty yards behind us. I took a
couple of steps and stopped to listen. Things looked barren
with the sound of Gamble’s quail calling in the distance. I was
now in the area where the javelina had been last seen.
As I took another step the brush below shook with
frantic movement. I strained my eyeballs on a set of
nostrils, belonging to a pig pointed my way from under a
slumped over iron wood bush.
A front on shot isn’t the greatest in the world, presenting
a relatively small target. I maneuvered into shooting
position hoping for him to turn broadside. His nose in the
air and hackles up, he turned slowly. I quickly answered by
sending an arrow his way. The shot was good, passing completely
through the mid section. It is totally unreal how fast
the little critters can move. Javelina bolted in every
direction, nearly mowing down Grant who stood in their
way of retreat. I lost sight of my wounded pig among the
swiftly retreating animals.
Half of my arrow was found a short way up the wash
with small splotches of blood nearby. I was dumb-founded.
Where was my arrowed peccary?
“There,” said Midge, pointing at the wounded animal
backing into a bush. I quickly put an arrow through his
chest. He collapsed in his tracks. I had won!
As we drove back to town the sun was setting, illuminating
the once Indian-inhabited mountain ranges with one
of those never-to-be-forgotten Arizona sunsets. That Cold
Duck will sure taste good!!