March 10, 2016
Unless you're into bowhunting thick-furred coyotes, late winter is a tough time to be a bowhunter across much of the U.S.
Why? Because deer seasons are over with all across the land and spring turkey seasons are still weeks away at best.
Meaning that about all that's left to do for most archers is to retreat to the backyard shop to build and fletch a new batch of arrows; to punch paper in an indoor archery league at the local pro shop; or to try and grab a few minutes after work to launch a few arrows at the backyard 3-D target.
Provided that it isn't buried by snow, that is.
But for the adventurous bowhunter willing to make an offseason pilgrimage to Texas or other portions of the American southwest, the opportunity to chase a real game animal still exists.
What animal is that? The javelina, of course.
Regarded as a mystery critter to some, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife division director Clayton Wolf has told me that javelinas are a vastly underutilized hunting resource found in the southern and western portions of the Lone Star State.
"Whether we're talking about javelina or feral hogs, there's opportunity there for hunters looking for other critters to hunt during the offseason winter months," said Wolf in our previous interview.
In some 43 counties on the northern edge of the javelina's range in Texas, the season for hunting these animals — also known as collared peccary, bristle pigs and/or desert porkers — runs from Oct. 1 through Feb. 28 with a bag limit (and possession limit) of two per license year.
On the bristle pig's southern most range in the state, some 50 other counties have a year-round season that runs from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31, again with a bag limit of two and a possession limit of two.
One of the state's top places to bowhunt javelinas is in South Texas, a region that my boys and I have hunted before.
In addition to seeing plenty of whitetails and blue quail on such hunts, scarcely a hunting session will go by in the Brush Country without seeing a small band or two of javelinas on the prowl.
Such abundance is a huge lure to offseason bowhunters, especially those battling late winter cabin fever up north where snow and cold are still very much in command.
"I have guys that have come from as far away as Alaska to hunt javelinas," longtime South Texas hunting outfitter Troy Hardesty has told me in a past conversation about the species.
Why is that?
Considering that the javelina is found only in the southwestern U.S. to begin with, Texas certainly offers mild wintertime weather and the best overall javelina hunting in terms of pure numbers, hunting opportunity and the over-the-counter availability of hunting permits.
While the states of Arizona and New Mexico also have javelina-hunting permits, they can be either tougher or more expensive to come by than they are in Texas. But for the enterprising hunter looking for a grand mountain hunting adventure, such hunts are certainly worth considering.
While not easy to hunt anywhere across their desert range — due in part to their solid senses of smell and hearing — javelinas are indeed stalkable by archers given the critter's relatively modest eyesight.
"Because of their sight, if you've got the wind in your favor, you can stalk almost straight at them," indicates Hardesty.
What's the best time to chase Texas javelinas with a bow?
While many are taken incidentally during the autumn deer season, another prime time to do so is from February through April.
Why is that? Because these desert animals have little in the way of insulating hair or fat reserves and they don't like cold weather.
Because of that, like wintertime trout fishing can be on a Rocky Mountain tailwater stream, the best wintertime hunting for javelinas is often on up in the day as the sun works its magic and warms the air.
Where should a hunter start their on-the-ground search for javelinas? The local chow hall is a good option, as is a waterhole in the parched and arid countryside.
But don't forget another potential spot, given its attraction as both food and a source of life-giving moisture.
"Javelina like to eat cactus and cactus pears," reports Jerry Gonzalez, another Lone Star State gentleman with a wealth of outfitting experience in the Brush Country.
"You'll also find them a lot of times hanging around (brushy) thickets. Those are very thick areas where they bed; they'll actually tunnel in there."
Wherever you happen to chase them, keep in mind that javelinas are modest-size targets at best.
"The vitals area on a javelina is about the size of a softball," indicates Hardesty, noting that javelinas typically range from 30 to 50 pounds in weight.
"Most people tend to shoot too high on them, since their hair stands up when they are alerted," he added. "That makes them look bigger than they are."
If javelinas prove to be one offseason option for bowhunters willing to travel to Texas and the Southwest, then Wolf's mention of the other species (in Texas at least) is worth noting.
And that is the pursuit of wild pigs, known as feral hogs to many.
Or as Claude, Texas bowhunter and outdoor writer Brandon Ray has called the often ill-tempered, big-snouted and gnarly-toothed boars, the "Poor Man's Grizzly Bear."
Found all across the state, but especially prevalent on a number of South Texas ranches where javelinas also reside, wild hogs are an unprotected non-game animal that may be taken by a properly licensed hunter employing a variety of hunting methods.
For the bowhunter, the two primary methods used on these feral porkers are hunting over bait and spot-and-stalk hunting methods.
In fact, the latter method serves as a great warm-up for bowhunters with plans to chase pronghorn antelope, mule deer or Rocky Mountain elk out west later on this fall.
Several years ago while I was spring turkey hunting on a South Texas ranch, I was able to slip within range of a couple of smaller pigs to take home for the slow cooker.
But on a couple of other herds of wild pigs – including a few sizable boars – what seemed like slam-dunk spot-and-stalk opportunities went awry at the last second when a pig either saw me or smelled me thanks to the swirling winds.
Also bear in mind that the ranch I was hunting on featured only very light and carefully managed hunting pressure. When hunted regularly, wild hogs can become as cagey as the wisest whitetail, all but going nocturnal and burying up in the densest cover around.
While most hog stories are just that – stories – on occasion, when an old boar or sow buries up in such cover and is cornered, don't forget that they can possess a real snarly attitude at times, either charging a hunter outright or standing their ground as they look for a fight instead of a flight.
If hunting wild hogs in Texas sounds like something you'd like to try, the good news is that wild hog sign is hard to miss. Be on the lookout for tracks, smelly wallows in swampy areas, muddy rubs on fence posts or trees, coarse hair left at fence crossings and torn up turf where the swine root for food.
Find one or more of the above and odds are, you’re in the ballpark.
If a trophy boar with long and sharp tusks – or cutters as they are commonly called – is the desired goal, be sure to remember that such critters are usually relatively solitary animals.
As such, they'll often be off by themselves, preferring moist and dense cover and associating with family herds of sows and piglets primarily during breeding times.
If a shot does present itself, remember that feral hogs are tough critters to bring down too. With a tremendous will to live and a tough callused shield covering much of their vital area, harvesting one of these stout animals requires a razor-sharp broadhead and a minimum draw weight of 55 pounds or better.
Due to the cartilaginous sheath and heavy layers of fat that most wild hogs possess, take only broadside or quartering away shots on wild pigs. And be sure to make the first shot count.
But for all of the challenges of getting to Texas and hunting either javelinas or wild hogs during the wintertime off-season, it's that final thought that really strikes home.
Because the simple act of getting off an archery shot at a wild as the wind critter that is both challenging and respectable fare on the grill is the real reward.
Especially when the other offseason alternatives are fletching arrows or shoveling snow.