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

Mimosas, Texas Sage and Garden Musings

This morning I stepped into the thick sauna of the backyard garden to steep for a moment in the semi-tropical paradise my boyfriend has planted in his slice of Texas heaven. He is planning to put in another mimosa tree next to the patio, which will be so lovely.

mimosa
The mimosa flowers are brightly colored

The one we already have is something I enjoy simply staring at with its fluffy pink flowers and green fronds. It’s been raining here for weeks, spurring full-throated chortles after dark from happy toads and frogs. After a full day, watching a rosy sunset and then nightfall drop over a big palm in the distance always calms me. The garden soothes me at any time of day: with morning coffee, under the full sun (but not too long), and especially as the lazy rays of late afternoon take their dance before the onset of twilight. I’m not Southern, but I love living in the South/Texas (the latter being its own category). I love warm winters, the food, the expressions, the friendliness (yes, Northerners are friendly too, with different accents). I love the plants: hibiscus, dogwood, Texas sage, mimosas, bougainvillea, etc. When I was a kid, visiting my paternal grandparents in South Carolina was such an adventure because they had alligators, Spanish moss, cypress trees and palms as well as grits and, of course, a stack of Southern Living magazines. Now, I have lived in southeastern Texas for 10 years and it love its lushness. Well, it has been rather lush due to a rainy spring. A few years ago, we endured a drought, which inspired the planting of many drought-tolerant, native plants. The local fauna and flora are very different from the hardwoods and mammals of my New Jersey youth. Here we regularly see armadillo, toads, lizards, etc.

Elephant ears give the garden a tropical vibe
Elephant ears give the garden a tropical vibe

On hunting trips in various parts of Texas, I have seen astoundingly beautiful birds, including roadrunners, Harris hawks, caracara, great horned owl, turkeys and, one memorable afternoon, even at least 20 red-bellied woodpeckers all at once deep in East Texas woods. Our dog Higgins, a.k.a. The Sage Leopard, has an amazing eye for spotting creatures (squirrels, of course). On one early morning walk, he floored me by guiding me toward the sound of a great-horned owl. It was at least a quarter-mile from where we had originally been standing and Higgins pulled me in the right direction. When we drew close, or about 50 yards away, he nudged my sight line upward by pointing with his snout. There, on a power line pole, was the perfect silhouette of the owl. Another time, we had a great-horned owl hanging out in the trees behind the house for several nights and the hound was going bonkers. I was just relieved the dog is big enough to not be lifted by an owl.

Echinacea flowers are very happy looking and attract butterflies.
Echinacea flowers are very happy looking and attract butterflies.

Higgins loves the garden just as much, if not more, than his human. He runs around and round the garden beds and sniffs plants. He watches butterflies, doves and mockingbirds. For some reason, he won’t chase the black birds. He likes to walk the parameter, guarding his domain and checking on his favorites, including lantana and echinacea. To keep the butterflies coming, my boyfriend planted a bed exclusively devoted to milkweed. The milkweed actually hides the air conditioning unit, which hums softly near the mimosa tree. The mimosa grew to create a gentle canopy, keeping that corner of the yard in its sweet embrace.

Go outside and admire at least one flower before the sun goes down.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

How Texas Changed Me

Camouflage Crocs, a hound dog, paintings of South Texas wildlife, eating my own venison. How did this happen to me? You see, before I moved to Texas, I could have been easily characterized, or caricatured, as some kind of liberal, East Coast-educated media elite. I’m from a New Jersey suburb, went to a small private college in Virginia, and rode mass transit with the best of the urban cockroaches of Manhattan (that’s a compliment to those urbane warriors). I knew nothing of the Texas Gulf Coast waters, Buccees, kolaches, duck hunting in Katy, backing in a pickup truck, kayaking with alligators, breakfast tacos, let alone breakfast tacos with desebrada.

How did all this come to pass? By moving to Texas, I learned it is possible to change. To truly change. And just how fantastically liberating that can be. I’ve been here since 2006 and still don’t feel that I’ve fully realized the opportunities here.

Sunset over bayou in Houston
Sunset over bayou in Houston

CHANGE YOURSELF

Granted, changing yourself is possible anywhere, at any time. It just might have been easier to do so by making a gigantic geographic departure to shed some of my old identity. That is not to say I don’t retain my personal history and attributes, but I don’t let my past constrain me anymore either. When I first got here, the sky seemed bigger. It sounds so clichéd, I know. The first rain storm dropped huge torrents on my windshield. I couldn’t see and was scared. You see, I’ve been afraid of a lot of things as I tend to get anxious. If my mother asked me, “oh, what’s the worst thing that can happen?,” I would engage in a risk analysis about the very worst thing that could possibly happen. As one friend said, that’s no way to live.

RUNNING TRAPS

But, I had lived that way for a long time. Until recent years and, hey, even recent weeks and days. This risk aversion has always driven me to cover all the bases, run all the traps and prepare for any eventuality. It is also exhausting and often useless in the face of all of life’s unanticipated hurdles. How did I make this philosophical change?

For the longest time, I have taken the approach of powering through challenges. I’d pride myself on my grit. And enjoyed it. This came from childhood sports. As an adult, I’d swim laps after work and ride my bike on weekends on the trails in and around DC. Along the Mall, along the Potomac, up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. The sights were amazing. The scents of flower and fauna wonderful and relaxing. And, some of those hills in Rock Creek Park required powering through. The bike rides relaxed me and inspired me.

Then, a job transfer took me to Houston and I moved to the Galleria. I had no idea where to ride my bicycle. I did not like Memorial Park for bike riding, though I came to enjoy jogging there. A colleague told me about an outdoors club that includes group bike rides. This led to a lot of bike rides and new friendships. A couple of years later, a new guy showed up at one of our outings. I could not help but notice he was handsome, sweet and intelligent. I tried to ignore all that as I was purposely avoiding dating at that time. Once we started talking about bike rides, my intent to ignore him was doomed.

He had done the MS 150 several times and I’d been interested in the Houston-Austin route as a can’t-miss Texas experience. Six months later, he and I embarked on the MS150 training season. This guy also convinced me to get on the back of his motorcycle. Me, the girl with anxieties. Well, yeah, now I have a motorcycle license. This guy also suggested I take a day off and go hog hunting with him. I viewed this as a cultural curiosity I should explore and went. Yeah, well now I am an experienced deer, hog and duck hunter.

Growing up, swimming was always a part of life. Yet, I had no exposure to scuba. Once again, the handsome guy suggested it as well as a friend from work. Sea Sports Scuba on Westheimer – check it out. Now, this was an utterly different activity. It is dangerous, it requires skills and strength, but the old powering through approach would exhaust and potentially kill a diver. Scuba is methodical. It is careful. It is immensely relaxing. During class, it became apparent that the most efficient breathing is just like yoga breathing. Slow. Relaxed. If a situation arises with equipment or your environs, you think first, then try one thing or the other, following a set of trained procedures.

You just stay relaxed and mindful. I’ve been coming around to learn that I cannot power through challenges or any activities. That I should instead take it all in as well as solve problems mindfully.

My decision to move to Houston set off a chain of personal decisions I made to force myself expand my horizons and enrich my life. Maybe Texas did not change me. But moving here did provide the impetus for me to change myself.

The Sage Leopard