In Search of the Unexpected: Javelina Hunting in South Texas

I’ve seen javelina on hunts in Texas and Arizona, but had not yet been on a dedicated javelina hunt. I had no idea what to expect.

I knew what the hunt would likely be like: gear up and sit quietly. Maybe stalk, quietly. What I didn’t know was what the meat would taste like if we were to harvest any. You can tell just by looking at javelina that the meat will be very, very lean.

Contrary to popular opinion, the javelina is not a wild hog. It’s in the peccary family. They are pretty wild looking. It’s the kind of animal that looks prehistoric and kinda bizarre in the way an alligator is amazing to gaze upon.

In Texas, there is no hunting limit on wild hogs because that is an invasive species. By contrast, the javelina is supposed to be here and hunting them is regulated. We were on a Texas Parks and Wildlife management hunt and each hunter was allowed to only take one javelina.

We were encouraged to take as many hogs and coyotes though. The coyotes eat the deer on this wildlife management area and the hogs are destructive to the environment. We did not see any hogs but heard a lot of coyotes.

The hunt was fielded by a drawing and Byron and I were among those picked. They also had a lot of standby hunters hoping to be drawn the first morning of a three-day hunt. I actually had the honor of drawing a select few from those names in a bucket.

Ultimately, there were about 40 hunters on a wildlife management area covering 15,000 acres. Byron estimates our compartment was more than 600 acres. To get around, we drove the truck over dirt roads and senderos (dirt paths). Some of the roads were pretty treacherous and as Byron maneuvered his big pickup over and through giant holes, he joked he sure wished he had a BMW. Seriously, we are not car people. I need a vehicle my dogs can jump into and I don’t worry about floods or mud.

The first afternoon we made our way around our compartment, finding old deer blinds to use and corning some of the roads and senderos. We used deer corn, which javelina like to eat.

The next morning, we set out before dawn. Legal shooting time is a half hour before sunrise. I climbed up into a blind I checked out the day before, above the road we corned. After dawn, I heard hoof steps, but it was a young buck. No javelinas showed.

I moved to another location for the afternoon and sat quietly. This may be my favorite part of hunting. Just sitting. Listening. Bird watching. I bring a journal and take notes about the nature around me. I may jot down notes for a novel I am working on. I breathe deep and let go of things that don’t really matter.

I just sit. It’s wonderful. It’s something I reflect on over and over when I am busy in regular life. It’s these small moments I can go back to in my mind and regain perspective. It is so quiet you notice everything.

It’s also hard to not notice the sound of a four-legged creature coming through brush. The stride sounded shorter than a deer. It was a javelina, I was sure. He emerged onto the sendero. I was shocked.

He moved along and I took deep breaths. I slowly raised my rifle. Slowly. Watching him through the scope, I waited to see if he would move into a broadside position. The moment came to pass. I saw I had a clean shot and took it. He dropped. I lowered the rifle and breathed.

This is a stunning moment to collect. You have taken a life to harvest the meat. Again, this was an unknown to me. I wanted to be fully thankful and appreciative of the harvest. My phone vibrated. My boyfriend texted to check if the report he heard was from my rifle. I affirmed. He said he would head my way.

I waited 20 minutes. We met and moved to the javelina. It was time to field dress it. I asked Byron for a moment and rested my hand on the javelina’s torso and cheek. My man said a prayer of thanksgiving. Hunters do not take hunting lightly. For starters, there are plenty of hunts where you do not get anything. That’s why it’s called hunting. Moreover, we eat the meat. I love cooking with venison. I was very nervous about javelina. When we dressed it, I could tell this was a very healthy, lean animal.

We placed it in the truckbed and brought him to the check station. I reported where exactly I took it and a wildlife manager weighed it and checked its teeth to gauge the age. Three years old. We placed it in a meat locker and went back out for a few hours.

Byron too harvested a javelina from the same area. We sat together in silence after I had spotted them and radioed Byron to rejoin me. I had been wondering if a coyote was going to show up to take what we had left of the javelina. I was somewhat surprised to see more javelina. Byron and I sat there a good while when they came along again.

When we returned to the check station, we joined other hunters who were also cleaning their meat. I asked them how they liked to cook it. Chorizo. Sausage. Another guy likes to wrap in foil with veggies and roast it over a fire. Byron took great care in icing down and re-icing the meat. He then was diligent in trimming any fat. He packed the back strap and tenderloin in kitchen shrink wrap (Food Saver). We also used a meat grinder and sealed up that meat as well.

The first thing I made was spaghetti with tomato and ground javelina sauce.

Javelina browning with parsley and spices.

To start the tomatoes, I sautéed diced garlic and onion in olive oil and added dried oregano and parsley. Once the garlic turned gold, I added a big can of plum tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn to low to simmer for at least a half hour. In a separate pan, I browned the javelina in olive oil with fresh parsley. Again, salt and pepper to taste. Once it was cooked, it was time to confront the unknown. I took a fork and picked up a piece. The taste? Good. Very nice. Nothing overpowering. Lean. Perfect for sauces. I think it will be great in chili too. That’s next!

The Sage Leopard

The Forest Speaks, A Tall Tale

Fishermen might tell whoppers, but hunters always tell the truth.

Last weekend my boyfriend and I went on javelina hunt on the Chap. That’s short for Chaparral Wildlife Management Area, south of Cotulla, Texas. We had driven our covered wagon there and brought our personal chef Cookie.

We set up camp with other hunters and I impressed all the guys by starting a fire by using my eyeglasses as a magnifying glass to capture the sun’s rays. Everyone started swapping tips on hunting and cooking with game. As evening settled in, one guy pulled out his phone to show us an app with electronic coyote calls.

He placed it on a piece of firewood and let ‘er rip. Sure enough, a pack of coyotes circled the fire. The big daddy coyote swooped in, snatched the phone in its mouth and confidently trotted off.

The man howled and whipped out a handgun. He shot at the coyote and the beast dropped the phone. We were impressed it wasn’t damaged except for teeth marks in the case. That was enough excitement for one night and we drifted off to sleep. I had the strangest dreams in which the trees seemed to have voices.

The scratching of an armadillo on the tent awoke me and I geared up. I reached the deer blind before dawn and climbed the ladder to await javelina. Soon enough, I heard hoof steps.

A young buck with little antlers was eating the corn I had left out the afternoon before for the javelinas. Then, I could have sworn I heard a whisper in a male voice: “Be careful.” I looked down the sendero in the opposite direction and saw a majestic old buck with a huge rack of antlers. Was it his voice that spoke? I shook my head and saw him slip into the brush, like a ghost.

That afternoon, I switched blinds. This one was a so-called tower blind, essentially comprised of two plastic molded chairs perched up on a small platform with little ladders. The seating arrangement was nestled between thick brush and abutting this area’s sendero. It wasn’t long, surprisingly enough, before a javelina emerged up the path. I took aim, but couldn’t get off a shot. I could have sworn I heard that voice again while I draw a bead on the javelina. “Be careful.”

The javelina moved forward out of view. It spooked me and I radioed my boyfriend to join me. I told him I spotted what we were looking for and went back to a crossroads of senderos to wait for his truck. We walked back and I showed him the pond where I suspected the javelina were watering.

We walked up to the tower blind and got situated. Eventually, three javelina showed up, weaving in and out of the brush and sendero like someone laying a latticework pie crust. Two emerged and started coming our way. It was laborious to watch them slowly making their way along the corn trail. Again, I could have sworn I heard something strange in the wind. Then, a fluttering and rustling as a green jay settled in a branch of a mesquite tree behind me.

The javelinas don’t have great vision and they didn’t notice us up off the ground in the chairs. Soon enough, they were walking right toward us. Then right in front of us under our boots. I could not believe it. We barely breathed. Then, they moved along passed us. Byron slowly drew his rifle up to his left shoulder and I drew in a breath.

He took aim and I saw his left finger slide onto the trigger. Suddenly, a voice screamed out. I couldn’t believe it. I recognized that voice as the same with the be careful warning. It was the green jay screaming, “Look out! Look out! Look out!”

I wrote this after a real javelina hunt for a Tall Tales Contest in my Toastmasters International club. I hope you enjoyed it!

The Sage Leopard

A Buck Named Byron: How to Prepare for the Hunt

Every hunt is different, which is why it is so exciting. One constant is the stillness of the woods or field. This morning, I was propped up against a tree looking over a glen with about a 160-degree view of fall leaves.

A little birdie climbed a nearby tree and I tried to make out his coloring as he climbed bark in shadows. I heard squirrels tromping through leaves as they foraged for acorns. I sat there almost long enough to solve the world’s problems. Checking the time, it happened to be three minutes before the appointed time Byron and I planned to rendezvous at the fork in the trails. Arriving there, I stood awhile listening to a very light wind. I decided to walk into the clearing about 40 yards up the leaf-carpeted road.Tree-lined sandy creek in the shaded woods during autumn.

Once I entered the space, crows circled above cawing like crazy. Were they talking about me or some other being in the woods? I figured Byron would be along soon and I was ready to go. My mind had left the hunt. My rifle was slung on my left shoulder (I shoot lefty) and I held my backpack and seat in my right hand. I was standing in the road, clearing on either side, admiring the flora like a dork. I had assumed the physical stance of a commuter waiting on a train platform.

The Chocolate Buck

A sound directed my attention to the road, and down the hill I saw the swish of a tree branch moving. I heard the familiar sound of a person walking on leaves, as I was expecting Byron. I redirected my attention at the clearing and some thoughts I’ve since forgotten. My peripheral vision detected a figure and I turned to ask Byron, “Did you see anything?” Instead, it was a buck. A huge buck about 25 yards away, if even that far. His eyes were cast on what he was noshing. I was stunned. His coat was a deep lustrous dark chocolate brown. He was so big that for a millisecond, I wondered how a mule deer was in Georgia. But his face was clearly that of a white-tailed deer.

The dark color of the coat was just outstanding. I wondered how I could get a shot in this seemingly infeasible situation: he was straight on, not broadside; he could hear me breathing if I had actually breathed; I was standing straight up right in front of him; I was holding items in one hand and the rifle was not on him. I decided to try kneeling down. My knee bent slightly and he immediately raised his eyes to mine. There was a flicker of surprise and then a long stare. Eye to eye we were locked. I wondered if he would move and then in a flash, he turned tail and let out a woot. His breath was visible with his alert sound and he was gone.Autumn leaves in the woods.

The point of this story is simple. Always be prepared and keep your mind on the hunt. And always be thankful for what you get to see.

Happy Thanksgiving,

The Sage Leopard

Venison Steaks, the Real Organic Meat

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Venison steaks (top plate) accompanied by drunken mushrooms, baked potatoes, grilled veggies and tomatoes.

We don’t need a label on our meat to tell us it’s organic. We know it is because we shopped at nature’s grocery. We took this meat in the field. Deer hunting isn’t easy, but it is rewarding, especially when it results in a freezer full of organic, lean meat. Venison is delicious, not “gamey,” if properly prepared. The first time I tasted it many years ago, the particular dish did taste gamey to me. But, it is really all a matter of preparation that begins in the field. A clean shot ensures the deer is humanely dispatched and there is no adrenaline rush that would impact the meat flavor. A clean shot is when the hunter is 100% certain the shot will be immediately effective. A responsible hunter doesn’t take the shot if he or she is not absolutely sure it is a clean shot. This is why it is called hunting, not taking. Hunting is not easy and requires a lot of preparation and patience. Some people take offense about hunting and yet buy meat at the supermarket. If you are going to eat meat, why not bring a healthy alternative into the mix.

Sliced tomatoes seasoned with salt, drizzled with olive oil and dressed with green onion.
Sliced tomatoes seasoned with salt, drizzled with olive oil and dressed with green onion.

It’s gotten to the point that I really don’t care for beef because my palate acclimated to the taste of venison. I think now this is what meat is supposed to taste like and love that is hasn’t had antibiotics or steroids or whatever else might be in other meats. The preparation of our venison is a simple process. After field dressing, the meat is placed in ice chests packed full of ice. Over the next couple of days, the ice water is drained and ice replenished until the ice water is virtually clear. This ensures most blood is drained and that is why our meat does not taste gamey. What we ate tonight were venison steak medallions and they were out of this world. My boyfriend seasoned them with a spice rub and butter before grilling them. Venison must be kept moist when grilling and butter or sesame oil both work great at sealing in the moisture. IMG_7469For the rest of the meal, I sliced tomatoes, including the first one from our patio tomato plant, sautéed mushrooms, and baked potatoes. I also deglazed the mushrooms with red wine. For the potatoes, I added onion dip seasoning to sour cream. Finally, I added some leftover grilled veggies. The meal was complete with the company of my boyfriend, who taught me to hunt.

Cheers,
The Sage Leopard

Field to Table: Venison Chili, Camping and Fireside Chats

If you told me 10 years ago that I would celebrate my birthday by going deer hunting in Texas, I would have laughed at you. In January 2006, a career change that was in the offing was not yet on my radar as the position I would ultimately transfer to in Houston was not yet posted. By July of that year, I moved to Texas and began to explore a bunch of new things. IMG_6049In 2009, I met my boyfriend and he ultimately introduced me to hunting. I had only tasted venison once before in Washington, D.C., and thought it was terrible. In retrospect, that meat was probably not properly prepared. The first time my boyfriend served me venison, I sliced off the tiniest piece, about 0.5 cm square and delicately took that bite. Surprise: it was good. Venison is a very lean protein and versatile as well. If you are finicky about meat and where you source it, then hunting is the best way to know exactly how it was harvested, cleaned and processed. Some people process their own venison, but we take ours to a trusted processor. As our hunt approached, our freezer reserve of meat was getting low, which provided extra motivation. IMG_6072We were drawn in a state wildlife management hunt, which specified gender and number of deer allowed to be taken. Ultimately, we went home with three does. Even if we had not succeeded in the hunt, we would have deemed it a good outing. We got to sit in the peace and quiet of the woods for hours at a time over three days. IMG_6047We set up camp next to a lake and were thankful for our propane heater as the temperature was in the 40s overnight. We realized our old non-stick skillet was rusting out so it was time to recycle it as the local scrapyard. We sat by a campfire each night, chatting with another hunter, who turned out to have a really interesting job and shared our love for dogs. We exchanged recipe ideas with a hunt volunteer. We counted our blessings and stored all our memories of this trip in our grateful minds before returning to Houston. Knowing we had replenished the venison vault, I took out the last two pounds of ground venison from last February’s hunt in Laredo and browned the meat. It was time to make chili. IMG_6096Lately, I have experimented with my own spice mix before adding tomatoes, but this time I returned to the most reliable and quite delicious Carol Shelby’s chili mix. Lest I start an argument over whether to include beans, I’ll leave that to your personal preference. We enjoyed the chili and sat around our patio firepit to recreate the warmth and happiness we took in at the campsite. In the morning, I walked the Sage Leopard on the bayou so he could pretend he was hunting too.IMG_6167