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home : features : nature April 28, 2016

2/5/2014 6:00:00 AM
Hunter takes a long shot at a 'Gray Ghost of the Desert'

Don Martin
The Great Outdoors

Mohave County has elk, mule deer, turkey, antelope, desert bighorn sheep and javelina within our boundaries, and more tags are issued for javelina - the "Gray Ghosts of the Desert" - here than for any other species.

We have javelina all over the county (except north of the Colorado River), and there are a number of different seasons offered for those who enjoy the challenge of finding and then taking these pigs - which aren't really pigs at all, but members of the collared peccary family.

Hunts are offered for archery-only, handgun-archery-muzzleloader and general hunts. There are fall hunts for youngsters and springtime hunts for all ages.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department also offers junior's-only hunts for javelina, and those are my favorites.

I enjoy going out with young hunters and their parents and teaching them how to find and then stalk these animals, which - despite some misinformation - are really good table fare.

Javelina aren't very large and are very adept at giving hunters the slip. They have great senses of smell and hearing. It is only their eyesight that causes them problems.

When it all comes together, sportsmen can get close, and archers report taking these animals at ranges from 5 to 50 yards.

There are other times and situations when these omnivorous animals are a long ways off, and hunters can't get close.

This year I had the pleasure of hunting with 16-year-old Cole Bruns, who lives in Scottsdale. Bruns is an avid hunter and has taken deer, elk and one javelina in the past.

His entire family hunts, including his sister Page and his mother and father, Renee and Dave Bruns.

I've known Cole and the Bruns family for a long time.

Dave is one of the best glassers I have ever seen. When he is not working as a firefighter/paramedic for the Scottsdale Fire Department. Bruns also works as a licensed big game guide.

I told Dave to put Cole in for one of the 100 junior's javelina tags issued for Game Management Unit 18B.

I told Bruns there were places in the unit where there would be some long-range shooting opportunities for his son, who enjoys long-range shooting and has been very successful in the past.

Cole drew a tag and showed up in camp with a Weatherby rifle chambered in .257 Weatherby Magnum. The rifle was topped off with a Zeiss 6.5 X 20 rifle scope.

This rifle/scope combination is deadly for long-range shots out to 500 yards.

I had a place to go where long range shots are the rule.

It is a series of long, deep and steep canyons, where javelinas thrive but few hunters dare to hunt.

I told Dave we would probably find pigs there, but the shots would be long. Both he and Cole said they would be up for the task.

It took Bruns less than five minutes to locate the first herd near the top of a faraway canyon wall. We could see at least four pigs, but figured there were more.

They were almost a mile away and feeding down the mountainside.

The plan was that Dave and Cole would get as close as they could before they took a shot.

I was going to videotape the action from across the canyon.

When we got closer, we set up and started glassing. But the pigs were nowhere to be found.

For 30 minutes we burned holes in every rock and bush on that canyon wall. I started to turn around and look at a different hillside when I saw Dave waving from down below.

He had already found a second herd.

There were at least eight in this group and they, too, were feeding near the top of the steep hillside. Dave and Cole started climbing while I got the camera set up.

The hillside they were on was almost vertical and was covered with brush and prickly pear cactus, one of the favorite foods of these toothy critters.

I could see the going was slow. Finally, they stopped and started to set up on a bench. It was the only semi-level ground on the hillside.

I was 687 yards away from the pigs, and wasn't sure exactly how far they were, but I knew they were a long ways off.

I watched for over 30 minutes as they tried to get Cole set up for a shot.

Cole would get down and look through the scope, and then get back up. Cole and his dad exchanged information. I figured Cole was having difficulty seeing the pigs when he got into the sitting shooting position.

Finally, I could see Cole was getting ready to fire.

The first shot echoed into the mountains and the shot hit just to the left of his targeted pig.

It was over a minute later when a second shot rang out. This round hit right over the back of the same pig.

At that shot, the herd started to move around as they tried to figure out where the shooting was coming from.

Another member of the herd jumped up onto a large rock and started looking around.

Cole found it easily in the scope and squeezed off a shot.

A perfect shot. It crumpled and fell.

I later learned that the shots had been at 400 yards and that Cole was shooting almost straight up. Between the steep angle of the hill and the tall brush, when the young hunter got down to take the shot, he couldn't see the pigs!

It actually took Cole more than 30 minutes just to reach the fallen pig, and almost an hour to climb off that steep cliff face.

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