The older I get the more I realize it’s the overall experience of a hunt that defines success, more so than just bringing home a cooler full of meat. Now don’t get me wrong, part of that great experience is notching my tag, but I’m definitely noticing where, seeing new places, experiencing new things and enjoying time in the field with friends is equally important as “the kill”. We recently returned from a Javelina hunt down near Tucson Arizona and even though I didn’t fill my tag, it definitely qualified as a successful hunt.
This has been on my bucket list for the last 30 years or so. I remember my dad making a trip to Arizona to hunt Javelina when we were little kids and since then it has always been something I wanted to experience. A few months back we got serious about planning and the first thing we realized was that we needed to put in for Arizona’s Big Game drawing if we wanted to obtain licenses. I should note, I do some of these write-ups more as a personal journal that I’ll be able to go back and reference again, so I’ll bore readers with a few of my research notes. Arizona’s drawing deadline was October 10th so if you’re planning a trip you’ll need to do your homework and get your application in before the deadline. Here’s also a good link to start narrowing down your unit selection which includes: past survey, harvest and hunt data – https://www.azgfd.com/hunting/surveydata/
This trip morphed quite a bit from what I had originally envisioned, which was desert camping/hunting with my boys, dad, and brother, into a hybrid hunting trip/Family Vacation, as my wife and mom decided to join us. Since the ladies weren’t too keen on camping on in the desert for a week we ended up booking a VRBO – https://www.vrbo.com/439770 in the town of Oracle which turned out to be a fantastic place to stay and we all thoroughly enjoyed our time down south.
As the hunt started to unfold and get underway I was caught somewhat off-guard by the actual amount of land these three units (33, 37A & 37B) were comprised of; it didn’t look so big while staring at the computer screen but once we got down there we realized we had a several hour drive from one end of the unit to the other. I had underestimated the amount of country we had to narrow down and sort through. The other thing I realized (possibly too late) was that the information that I had obtained from the Arizona Game and Fish website – Where to Hunt while doing my initial research may not have been quite as great as I had originally thought. They have detailed descriptions of all their hunting units along with species-specific information, which at first glance I thought was fantastic (and it really is a great resource), as it described multiple spots to check out… going as far to include mile markers for where to turn off the road and very detailed information about how to get into the spots and what to look for once you were there. What hadn’t occurred to me until we were en route was that every other Tom, Dick, and Harry had likely Googled the same info. Unfortunately, I didn’t have this realization until we were hurtling down I-25, I still wasn’t terribly worried as I figured we had an entire week to hunt and basically we’d be scouting on the fly. As it turned out, it took the better part of the week to get a decent handle on things.
Once we were driving around in this new and unfamiliar landscape I quickly I realized an area I could have improved upon was my research and planning. I’ve become a little complacent about planning trips as our usual spots in Colorado and Nebraska have been cultivated over the years to the point where now it feels like we know every tree, shrub and waterhole in the area. I forgot how much work it is starting from scratch! The biggest thing I’d change if I had it to do over was get more, and better, maps. I relied too much on all the digital technology that’s out there. So while there are some truly outstanding online resources OnX maps, Arizona Game and Fish to Access Map to name a few you had better make sure you have a “no-signal” plan. What I had forgot (and should know better by now) is that most of the spots we end up have little to no cell service. If all your maps, notes, etc. are on your digital device and you’re driving around in the dark you may as well have slept in because once that signal is gone, so is your entire game plan. The hardest part of planning a hunt in a new area is narrowing down your hunting spot(s) enough before you hit the road, so you can have those hardcopy maps and this is easier said than done, since things can easily change once you step foot on a new landscape and have to make decisions on the fly.
The other thing I underestimated was the difficulty in finding and killing these critters. We spent hours on high glassing points and only turned up two separate herds in 5-days of hunting.
Once we found a group that were fairly stalkable, but they were definitely no pushovers. As with most public land critters these things are good at staying alive. One thing I’d invest in before going down again is a pair of boot covers, everything down there was rocky, crunchy, and loud! And you can’t just pull your boots off and sneak in stocking-footed because of all the cactus. Drew AKA The Goat Ninja was able to fill a tag on our first attempt as I hung back and kept an eye on the action from an elevated glassing position. Our second attempt, 2 days later ended with all the pigs escaping unscathed. Even though we swung around to get the wind in our favor, it switched at the last minute sending them flying for the mountain peaks, escaping like a bunch of Mountain Goats! (we found the wind swirls down there as bad as it does in our Rocky Mountains).
My favorite part about this trip was hunting a completely new environment. It was so foreign, I felt like I was walking on Mars. EVERYTHING down there seems to have needles or stickers and the biggest challenge for me was continually watching where I was putting my feet/legs and not grabbing things with my hands. I’m so accustomed to continually using my hands to grab a rock, branch or tree root while scrambling up a steep hillside or climbing out of a dry wash. I’d say this was a tough habit to break but you learned pretty quickly!
So, while I didn’t actually punch my tag it was still a fantastic trip. I got to spend a lot of quality time with family, in new country that was exciting to explore. My biggest complaint with not harvesting an animal is now I know I’ll have to go back down and give it another try!