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Javelina by Canoe February 2013
Dan Martinez  

Landing on the east shore of Bartlett Lake at dawn

Since my older son Ben turned 10, old enough to hunt big game in Arizona, I've been hunting the spring rifle javelina seasons with him. But Ben is now going to school at NAU in Flagstaff, so my javelina hunts with Ben have ended for now.

My younger son Sam chose ASU for college. He lives on campus in the dorms during the week, but he comes home every weekend. Even though it is tough for Sam to take weekdays off for a hunt while school is in session, he can at least do a weekend. So for now, Sam is my primary javelina hunting buddy.

The weekend limitation also means that hunts out to the far-flung corners of the state are out of consideration as well. Travel time would eat too much into the short time budget.

As the deadline to apply for the 2013 spring javelina hunt approached, I tossed out some options to Sam. I said, "Well how about Unit 22? We could camp at Bartlett Lake and take the canoe across."

I guess that sparked the adventurous spirit in him. He said, "That sounds cool." But he wanted to hunt the HAM (Handgun, Archery, Muzzleloader) season, not the General (rifle) season for even a little more challenge. So Unit 22, HAM went down on the application as our first choice, and that's the hunt that we got.

When the draw results came out, I exchanged info with Gerhard as I usually do, and learned that he and his application-mates had drawn unit 21. I mentioned our plan to camp at Bartlett and canoe across. That got our gears turning, and soon we decided to camp together. Gerhard, his work friend Daniel, Wade, and Mike Stimens would hunt the west shore, while Sam and I would cross over by canoe to hunt the east shore. Mike's Dad, David would also make camp with us to ferry hunters up-lake by motorboat. Mike's brother Jon would also join the camp.

I arrived at the lake first on opening day, as the Unit 21 crew elected to hunt their territory on the way to the lake. They would arrive at camp in the evening. Sam had school so he would also join us later that evening. As I drove in, I found a great spot for our large contingent. It was directly opposite the area that I had planned to hunt. That would make for the shortest canoe ride across the lake.

I unpacked the truck and pitched camp for Sam and I. Just as I was finishing, Mike Stimens drove in pulling the Stimens Family pop-up tent trailer. Ok! Camp is starting to come together!

It was somewhere around noon now. After a quick lunch I hopped into the boat to begin my hunt! I had visited the east shore of Bartlett a couple of times in years past. The last time I was here was in 2007 when Ben and I had hiked up to SB Mountain. On our way back to the boat we had found ourselves surrounded by javelina. Unknowingly, we had walked into the middle of a herd! Several of them were within easy handgun range for a number of minutes. I was hoping that Sam and I would find ourselves in just such a situation.

By mid afternoon I had found an excellent vantage point from which a lot of the surrounding country could be glassed. I was high on the slope of a hill looking north across a wide valley. But better still, there were a bunch of flat rocks around me that were around 8 inches thick. I stacked three such flat rocks which made for a comfortable little stool. Thinking about Sam who would join me out here the next day, I gathered up three more such rocks and built a second seat about ten feet away.

As the sun receded in the west, I had seen some tracks but no fur. I started my hike back to the boat. When I had pulled the boat up onto the shore at camp, Mike was nowhere to be found. No one else had arrived at camp yet either. I checked my cell phone - no signal. I expected Sam to have arrived by sunset, but he wasn’t here.

After a few minutes, Mike did arrive. He mentioned that the other Unit 21 hunters had come past but had driven further up the lakeshore to hunt. But they would be joining us soon.

Tools of
the Trade

Early on, Sam decided that he was going to try bow hunting for the first time. Knowing that the Stimens’ are avid bow hunters, he turned to them for advice. David had offered Sam the use of any equipment that he needed, a bow, arrows, release, etc. Sam went out and got himself an archery target so that he could practice in the back yard. We have about 20 yards of room in the back yard. Eventually he reached good confidence in being able to put his arrow where he wanted to out to 15 yards. Longer distances were still iffy. But he figured that was good enough, because you can frequently get that close to javelina.
But just in case, Dad encouraged him to practice up with the .357 Taurus Tracker as well. That’s what he shot in the recent Handgun Hunter’s Challenge club event. He was confident about being able to make killing shots with the Taurus at least twice as far as he could with the bow.

As for myself, I am still highly in love with that little Smith & Wesson Model 632 in .327 Federal Magnum that I wrote about not too long ago. I said that it was powerful and accurate enough to take after javelina, and it was my intention to prove it! I used this revolver in the Handgun Hunter’s Challenge event and that experience left me feeling confident out to at least 25 yards. I decided to use the handload that I had cooked up that fired the 100 grain Hornady XTP at around 1400 fps.
But just in case, I packed the Lone Eagle single shot handgun in my pack. I have two Lone Eagle barreled actions. I chose to use the .260 Remington on this hunt instead of the .44 Mag. My pig load would be the 100 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip over 37.0 grains of IMR4064 powder. This mid-pressure load chronographs at around 2520 fps out the Eagle’s 14” barrel for a little over 1400 ft-lbs of energy.
The .260 is equipped with a Leupold 2-8x32 pistol scope. This gun, with this scope, with this load, is extremely accurate. My realistic reach with this rig is 200 yards, limited only by the steadiness of the rest I can get in the field.

But I was concerned about Sam’s absence. I thought that he had told me that he would be done with classes in the early afternoon, so I expected his arrival in the late afternoon. I decided to drive out as far as I would need to get cell phone service. While I was driving out, I ran into David Stimens who was heading in with his boat on a trailer. I told him that Mike was just around the corner.

When I got to a high spot on the road, my phone connected to signal and I was able to call Sam. I was relieved to hear that he was on his way. So back to camp I go. Just a few minutes after I got back, the other Unit 21 crew members came sliding into camp in three more vehicles. Soon camp was bustling! More camping equipment came flying out of trucks, tents were going up, and a fire was being built. And about an hour later, Sam finally arrived. After dinner and some good conversation, we all hit the sack.

The weather was going to be a factor on this hunt. Rain and cold fronts were scheduled to be with us this weekend. Despite the patter of rain on the tent most of the night, Sam and I slept well.

We were awakened by the hustle and bustle of the Unit 21 hunters who had gotten up about a half-hour before we stepped out of our tent. Despite that, they ended up motoring off up-lake just a couple of minutes before we shoved off in our canoe. You should have seen that boat! It was packed full of large camouflaged guys and it was riding a little low in the water!

Our smaller and slower boat took about 15 to 20 minutes to cross the ½ mile width of Bartlett Lake. Our canoe is powered by electric trolling motor, but we assisted the motor by paddling.

After pulling the canoe up onto the bank in unit 22, I led Sam directly to the rock seats. It was about a half mile hike from the shore. We took our time, diligently scanning our surroundings as we walked. You just never know!

So we parked our butts on the rock seats and pulled out breakfast and binoculars. It is our habit to just get up and get going in the morning. We pack our breakfast in our packs the night before. We eat breakfast at our first stop of the day about the time that our stomachs remind us that we haven’t eaten yet. This usually happens about 7:30 to 8:00 am. A bagel and a small bottle of apple juice is the usual fare. Maybe add to that a small package of beef jerkey. That’s enough to hold us until noon.

The National Weather Service pegged the chances for rain today at 40%. I interpret that to mean that it will rain for 40% of the day. That turned out to be just about correct. Knowing the weather report, we wore our camo rain jackets. Sam also had his camo Frogg Toggs rain pants in his pack. I had packed a cheap and lightweight polyester poncho. We needed that rain gear as we sat and scanned the hillsides. It rained on us off and on throughout the entire day.

Around 10:30 am or so, the skies opened up with a hard hailstorm. We just put up our rainhoods and hunkered down on our stone seats. Sam had already put on his Frogg Toggs pants. I broke out the poncho and just wrapped it over my legs over my cotton BDU pants. The hail only lasted for about ten minutes, but it was an awesome sight to look out over the valley and watch all that streaking hail.

In front of us were staghorn chollas. The hail balls bouncing off the cholla branches reminded me of Pachinko balls as they bounced from one branch to another to another.

Between the rain squalls, we could really appreciate the beauty of the Sonoron desert back here. Yes, there were a few old shotgun shells on the ground, but other than that and an old cowpuncher’s cabin, this backcountry seemed largely untouched by man. We’ve had some good rain in the last month, so everything was green and lush.

As noon came around, we pulled MREs out of our packs for lunch. The MREs had chemical heaters, so that was a little bit of a deluxe touch to actually be able to eat a warm meal out in the wild on this cold and rainy day.

About an hour after lunch, we grew bored with sitting and glassing. We decided to check out the saddle behind us. From there, we’d be able to peek over to the other side to see some new country.

As we made our way toward the saddle, we passed an area of large jumbled boulders. We noticed a multitude of javelina-sized trails amongst the boulders. Under many of the boulders there were little caves. I pulled the .327 out of its holster as Sam and I poked our noses into several of the caves. This was a pretty exciting find, but alas nobody was home right now.

When we reached the saddle, new vistas opened up to us. We sat and glassed for awhile over this new valley. I had brought a varmint call with me. I had always heard that javelina may come running at you if you make an awful squealing racket on a varmint call. The story is that they think it may be one of their young being attacked by a coyote. Well it hasn’t worked for me yet. I tried it over the valley we were watching this morning, and I tried it again here over this new valley. Nothing.

After about an hour in the saddle we headed back to our stone chairs. But we didn’t last long back at the chairs. After another half hour we grew bored again and decided to head down into the bottom of that first valley for a walkabout.

We crossed over to the other side (the north side of the valley) and walked this opposite slope. We ended up walking up the creek about another ½ to ¾ mile. We saw some deer tracks, and some smaller tracks that may have been javelina, or might have been some small deer.

When we decided that we had gone far enough, we crossed back over the creek at the bottom of the valley to get back on the south slopes. From here, the plan was to get back to our chairs, and when darkness approached, to head back to the canoe.

We were one side ridge short of getting back to our stone chairs when Sam looked toward that hill that we were sitting on for most of the day, pointed excitedly, and said, “There!”

Squinting over at the next hillside about 300 yards away, I was able to make out two or three javelina. Sam said that he could see more. It looked like they were moving with definite purpose toward a low saddle at the head of a long draw that eventually ended at the lake.

We quickly made a plan to cut around to the right of the high point over the saddle. Once we got to the ridge top, we would head to the high point to try to intercept them as they went through the saddle.

We hustled down the slope on our side, then went to the right to gain the ridgetop on the pigs’ ridge. But before ascending the hill, I stopped to pull the Lone Eagle out of my pack. I attached the carrying sling and slung it over my shoulder. I slipped a couple of .260 rounds into my pocket for quick access. By the time I got to the ridge top, Sam had already been to the high point. We were both too late to intercept the pigs before they went through the saddle.

When I caught up with Sam, he told me that they had all gone down into the brushy draw that leads to the lake. Since Sam had made the initial spot, and since he had the short range weapon, I told him to take point. After descending a short way into the draw, we decided to split up. Sam would follow the bottom, while I stayed up on the edge. Before we split though, I pointed to the orange cap on my head, then pointed to him and said, “Orange?” I wanted to be sure that I didn’t lose sight of him down in the brush. He put on his cap. We also turned on our FRS radios so that we could keep in voice contact.

As we were going down the draw, he called me once on the radio and told me that there were pigs about 30 yards in front of me at my level. Due to the brush, I never saw the pigs as I continued forward.

At another point, I heard some hooves clattering on the rocks below me. I still didn’t see anything! A few minutes later, I heard and spotted that piggy running up the opposite slope about 80 yards away. I ran over to an open spot, deployed shooting sticks, and plopped my butt down on the ground. I aimed the Eagle at the spot where the pig had disappeared - a hole under a large boulder with a bush in front of it.

In the meantime, Sam was still shaking out the bushes about 100 yards further down-draw from me. He said that at one point he was able to laser range a pig standing 40 yards from him. Unfortunately, this was out of Sam’s sure kill distance with the bow.

After a few minutes of waiting for that piggy to come out of his hole, I decided that he wasn’t going to. So I got up and continued dodging staghorn cholla and brittlebrush, working my way further down the draw in Sam’s direction.

I still wanted to use my .327 to take a pig, but to see the gunsights, I need glasses these days. So I put them on. My hearing is going too, so I brought along earplugs on a plastic hoop. Now imagine me trying to stalk along with reading glasses hanging off my nose (so that I could look over them to walk), and with earplugs stuffed in my ears. I was getting dizzy from the alternating view through, then over the glasses, and the pounding sound of my own heartbeat in my ears was all that I could hear!

I grew frustrated with that. I put the glasses back in my pocket. I decided that the scoped Eagle was going to get the job assignment today. But the Eagle has a muzzle brake! It’s loud! Nevertheless, I pulled out the earplugs and left the plastic hoop dangling around my neck.

But it was getting late. We only had about 45 minutes of light left in the day. Sam was most of the way down the draw, not too far from reaching its end at the lake. I called Sam on the radio. “Sam, since it’s getting late, I’m going to head back to the boat. I’ll come around and pick you up at the bottom.”

Sam radioed back, “OK.” I started hiking back to the boat which was two coves over, about a half mile away. But after I had hiked about 100 yards, and could better see how far the boat would have to travel, I changed my mind. That slow boat would leave Sam waiting for a long time.

I started heading back to Sam. I radioed my change of plan. I told him just to start heading back toward me. I hiked down to the edge of the draw so that he could see me.

But as I was waiting for him, I heard the clattering of hooves on rocks below me. In a moment, two pigs appeared walking below me at a distance of about 40 yards!

I tracked the lead pig with the crosshairs, but he kept moving until he got behind a saguaro. So then I found the trailing pig in my scope. He stopped short of the saguaro in a small opening. BLAM! The blast was heard in camp across the lake. I had no chance to put my earplugs in, but for whatever reason, my ears were not ringing. The pig dropped to the deck and started kicking! But I could tell that he was going nowhere.

“Where are you shooting?”, Sam called on the radio. “I’ve got one down!” Sam was worried about being in the line of fire. But I had seen Sam’s orange head still over 100 yards from me and at about 90° from my line of fire.

The lead pig fled the scene and actually headed toward Sam. “One’s heading your way,” I told him. Sam spotted him, but could not close on the pig before he got away.

About ten minutes later, Sam joined me at my pig and helped me with the field dressing. We were well prepared to haul pigs out of the backcountry. We had thick game bags with us, and each of us had meat hauling packs. We put the pig on Sam’s metal frame freighter, while I packed out Sam’s soft daypack in my Eberlestock X2.

We came back to hunt the same area the next day, but this time Sam left the bow behind and only carried the Taurus .357. We stayed in the same area the whole day, but the herd didn’t reappear. We’ll be back next year.

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