Chasing the Gray Ghost in Javelina Country

Back when I was a kid living in Arizona, I saw javelina only one time while camping and never hunted them. As for Coues deer, the little whitetail deer had eluded me. I never once saw the little gray ghosts even though I had hunted and killed mule deer in Arizona. My hope was that this particular hunting trip to southern Arizona would provide me an opportunity to see and harvest both.

Coues deer hunt javelina hunt Sonoran desert 

                                                    Picturesque archery hunt in the Sonoran desert      

Being completely unfamiliar with the hunting territory, I spent a lot of time studying maps. While I hoped to be successful in filling my tags, I also figured that this trip might primarily turn into a scouting trip in preparation for future hunts.

It was early Sunday morning January 20th, the time had finally arrived. The four of us having preloaded our gear and ATVs, hopped into the truck with trailers in tow and headed south for the long drive ahead. After several planned stops for food, licenses and fuel, we finally arrived at a camp spot at 1:52 a.m. Knowing we only had a few hours to sleep, we quickly prepped our gear so that we’d be ready to go as soon as our alarm sounded.

glassing for Coues deer  javelina rooting in dirt

          Glassing for whitetail and javelina                           Area where the peccary were rooting around

We were up and at ‘em at the crack of dawn. We weren’t exactly sure where we might end up, but we headed west out of camp on the only road showing on our map. About 1 ½ miles later we came to the end of the road. There under a mesquite tree were seven bedded collared peccary. But before we could stop our ATVs, the javelina bolted and disappeared. We spent the next 30 minutes searching for the herd, but the only thing we had to show for our efforts were snags and tears in our clothes and skin from the wait-a-minute/catclaw brush that littered the desert. As we continued our pursuit, we finally spotted our first Coues deer, two does and a small buck! We attempted to put a stalk on the buck, but it put the slip on us. After several hours of glassing, we headed back toward our ATVs. On our way back, I caught a movement in the corner of my eye and turned just in time to see the flash of a couple of deer heading toward a ravine. The four of us spread out and quietly made our way to the gully. After 10 minutes of intent glassing, I noticed movement in the brush below. That’s when the gray ghost mysteriously appeared 40 yards beyond and was heading my way. I crouched and knocked an arrow. Slowly I peered up over the bush in front of me…the buck was at 25 yards! At that moment either the buck noticed something amiss or suddenly decided to turn, but he was now heading straight up the embankment to my right. I drew my bow. As the deer reached the top of the rise I got the break I needed, the buck paused to look back. That is when I sent an arrow flying and drilled the little 6 pointer at 47 yards!

Coues deer buck  Coues whitetail deer

          Nice little 6 point Coues deer buck!                                            Sneaky little gray ghost

The next day we ventured out into a completely new area. During our jaunt we came across quite a bit of wildlife. We saw a covey of quail, a few road runners, a coyote and several Coues deer that were unfavorably located on private property. As we continued our exploration, Dallas was the first to spot javelina. He spotted the two a couple of skunk pigs right off to the side of the dirt road rooting around in the soft soil. Our first reaction was to stop our vehicle, but instead we kept rolling and let our plan develop real time. When we finally did stop several hundred yards down the road, our plan to circle back toward the pair was put into motion. We grabbed our bows and our predator call and headed into the scrub. Eventually we surmised that we had gone far enough. We placed our electronic call out in front of us and took cover, not knowing if it would be possible to call the javelina to us. Within 30 seconds of calling we heard the grunting sounds of excited peccary heading our way. It all happened so fast, the lead javelina came sprinting toward us, got to within 20 yards, spun and ran back the way it had come. Dallas flung an arrow and shot right under its belly. Both javelina then circled up through the trees and came rushing back to within 35 yards of us. Again Dallas shot, this time barely misjudging their distance and shooting just over one’s back. Off they went. That was the last we saw of those little critters, but those few moments were thrilling!

illegal immigration smuggling  Coues deer javelina hunting

    Near Mexico, had to be careful                                           Trying to get it done

Later that afternoon we found a spot where a huge plateau loomed above a sandy wash lined with mesquite trees. We hiked to the top of the mesa to glass. It wasn’t long before we spotted a bedded Coues doe. Minutes later we spotted a group of javelina some 800 yards off. Since my son and I were the only ones with javelina tags, we went after them while Mark and Caleb continued to glass for deer. As we dropped over the lip where we had last seen the javelina, Dallas spotted a loner up ahead. We crept close but the javelina spooked and ran off. I immediately grabbed my predator call from my pocket and let out a few squawks. Within seconds a couple of javelina came running toward us, I drew my bow. As one of the javelina dashed by at 20 yards, I let an arrow fly and connected! After cleaning our quarry, we broke out the flashlights and packed it back to the truck to begin our 1.5 hour drive back to camp.

i went hunting javelina collared peccary 

                                          Decent collar on this peccary       

Wednesday morning came quickly. With only two days left in the javelina season, we hunters split up. Dallas and I went after javelina while Mark and Caleb concentrated on whitetail. A couple of hours into our javelina hunt we found a group of ten, but as we approached they winded us and disappeared. While trailing them, we came upon a couple of nice Coues deer bucks. Dallas got to within approximately 55 yards of a huge 10 point buck, but he didn’t have his range finder so he attempted to stalk a little closer. But during his pursuit, I happened to come around the hillside from below and scared off the buck, disappointing. Later that afternoon we finally found another group of javelina feeding on a ridge ½ mile away. We went after them. As we got close, I laid back about 20 yards from Dallas hoping to reduce the noise from our approach. Next thing I knew, Dallas was within 40 yards of the bunch. Dallas drew back and held. Again not quite certain of the distance, he paused. Seconds later the group abruptly scattered. We both hustled forward several yards to get a better look as the mob scampered over the small rise. I’m not exactly sure what made several of the javelina spin around and come running back toward us, but they did. Again the chaos of the snorting and grunting javelina was both intense and exciting! At last a lone javelina stopped broadside at 20 yards and Dallas smoked it! And as if all the scurrying about wasn’t exciting enough, things got even more intense. Seconds after Dallas shot, a javelina decided to come barreling straight toward him from 50 yards out. It looked as if it was going to run him over, but at the last second it zipped passed just 2 feet away!

Coues deer antler shed  javelina skunk pig

  Found this coming across the hillside                                Dallas finally has his javelina

On Thursday we decided to head to a completely new area. As we traversed the low country, we spotted a huge 30 inch mule deer buck with a bunch of does. We did our best to get close by sneaking up through the sandy washes and up over the sparsely covered juniper ridges but failed. Ultimately the deer disappeared somewhere over one of the many spurs that spread out like fingers across the lowlands. After that excursion we decided to head into the high country to see what we might find. We jumped onto our ATVs and took off. Later that afternoon we found ourselves at an impasse, the snow at the top of the mountain was too deep to continue, we turned back. Having previously seen a couple of whitetail deer out feeding, we figured there was a decent chance of spotting additional deer while heading back down.

Arizona gray fox  Arizona snow

     Spotted a gray fox on way up, didn't quite get a shot               Who would've thought...snow in southern AZ

Our final stop while coming back down was at the mouth of the canyon overlooking a huge hillside covered in boulders and brush. After thoroughly glassing the area for quite some time, we were packing up our gear when Mark spotted a couple of deer. The deer were head-to-head pushing each other, a classic sign of two bucks fighting. We set up the spotting scope again and got glass on them. Sure enough, two bucks were sparring. These deer were located down in the bottom of a small ravine across the canyon from where we stood. A stalk looked possible so Mark and Caleb grabbed their bows and were off. Dallas and I stayed back to keep eyes on the deer. Light was fading fast, but Mark and Caleb were making good time. We could now see both of the guys in our glasses and it looked as if they might actually get in close enough for a shot. The deer began to move and luckily they were moving with the wind and toward our hunters. It was hard to tell exactly what happened next, but the deer instantly scattered. Then Mark raised his bow above his head as if to say success. I watched as one deer went straight up hill and the other ran sideways. I decided to keep my binos on the sideways running buck and watched until it came to a stop in a rock outcropping 150 yards later. However, in the waning light I could no longer pick out the deer amongst the boulders, but I was able to guide Dallas to the point where I had last seen the buck. It wasn’t ten seconds later when Dallas said that he saw the flash of the deer’s long white tail through his spotting scope as it tumbled down off a ledge.

We radioed the guys and told them what we had witnessed; Mark confirmed that he had hit the deer. Dallas and I grabbed the backpack and flashlights and were off. Not unlike all the other times when we ventured into the hills, the brush reached out to snag us at about every step of the way. Once we reached the guys on the opposite side of the canyon, the blood trail leading to the deer was easy to follow. And right at the spot below the huge boulder where we had last seen the deer, lay the gray ghost piled up in the cactus and thorn covered brush below!

Arizona coyote  i went hunting Coues deer

  Just one of the coyotes along the way                           Mark with his 6 point Coues deer

We spent the next couple of days attempting to fill our remaining tags without any luck. While we did see quite a few deer, we only saw one small muley buck but never got a shot. On our last evening with an hour to go before dark, Dallas and Mark grabbed their shotguns and went after quail. They both ended up getting one quail each. That evening back at camp we had a little more time to sit back, relax and enjoy the mild Arizona winter night. A huge moon rose over the horizon and coyotes howled in the distance as our wild game cooked on the grill. We were all a little apprehensive as to how the javelina would taste, but we cooked the meat just like we would any other steak. I can tell you that our experience dispelled all the rumors that we’d heard, the meat was tender and delicious! I don’t think anyone would have known that they weren’t eating steak from a restaurant. The whitetail was equally amazing! In my opinion, it was better than the mule deer that we commonly eat. We all had our fill of javelina and Coues deer meat, with a small side of vegetables and a delicious little morsel of quail.

Arizona deer hunt camping  Full moon over Sonoran desert AZ

                Last night, back to camp early for once                                     Huge full moon, best pic I got

Our time in the Sonoran desert of southern Arizona went by way too fast. I personally can’t wait to get back to experience more of what the vast desert landscape has to offer. Don’t let the dry bleak-looking expanse fool you, there is obviously more to this desolate desert than meets the eye.