By: George E. Bowser
In the spring of 2008, Bill Gay and I had the opportunity to hunt the Gould turkey in Old Mexico with Steve Ward of Ward Outfitters. After three days of hunting the Rocky Mountains of Chihuahua, both Bill and I were able to complete our North American Royal Slam of wild turkey.
As a result of the hunt, Steve made two donations to our annual SCI Chapter “Evening on Safari” fundraiser. A 2x1 Coues deer hunt and a 2x1 javelina and coyote hunt were generously offered. Knowing the quality hunting experience Ward Outfitters offered, I was determined I would purchase both donations.
It has been just over a decade since my friend of twenty years, Carl Ackerman, and I had hunted together. So, we were overdue for another adventure. In 1998, we hunted moose just south of Fairbanks in the foothills of the Japan Mountains on the north slope of the Alaskan Range. We were successful then and we looked forward to a successful hunting adventure in southern Arizona. Actua lly, this adventure has all the makings of being a Tom Sawyer - Huckleberry Finn weekend.
A Tom/Huck weekend is one where you enjoy everything the outdoors has to offer. You don’t worry about the hunt, where your next meal is coming from or where you will bed down. Matter of fact, there are no worries at all. I think it is an essential element of life, a Tom/Huck weekend. It helps keep one young and carefree, if only for one weekend a year.
Steve Ward and his dad, Dennis, met Carl and me at the Tucson Airport then chauffeured us to Wilcox, Arizona. Wilcox would be our outpost for the next four days.
The plan was to hunt javelina until we each anchored a nice specimen, coyotes would follow and fishing for crappie was on the agenda. Through a personal invitation from Pete Shepley to Carl at the Orlando Shot Show, we would end our Tom/Huck weekend in Tucson with a guided tour of PSE Archery and, of course, a visit to the Safari Club International Wildlife Museum.
Opening morning of the javelina season was a cold one, not just by Florida standards either. The thermometer hit 21 degrees as Carl and Dennis headed towards a ground blind to wait in ambush of one of Arizona’s big game animals.
Arizona considers the javelina a big game animal. The limit is one and you have to apply for a tag through a special drawing. Steve and I headed to one of the many agricultural fields which surround Wilcox. Wilcox is a great farming area for orchards of pecans, pistachios, apples and cherries plus fields of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and corn. The javelina love to frequent these fields, make pigs of themselves and then hole up in a nearby culvert.
In the fields there was much sign of where the pigs had been but we did not find any. We did spy a coyote which eluded us and found safety in the jungle at the end of the field. The next coyote was not as lucky. Running at full speed, the coyote presented a challenging target. Steve, using a Russian made SKS with open sights, knocked the coyote down! Coyotes 1 – Hunters 1.
Javelina season is a much bigger deal in Arizona than I had originally thought. We met four other groups of hunters who had drawn a tag and even had other hunters from out of town staying in the same motel we were. One of these groups was R.J., another of Ward Outfitter’s guides and R.J.’s brother Steve. It wasn’t long until we combined forces to do a drive through a corn field. Again, there was much fresh sign but no pigs!
By the time Steve and I made it to the next grain field, R.J. and his hunter had a 60 pound hog on the ground. Javelina in this part of Arizona very often reach 60 to 65 pounds; much larger than their Texas counter parts.
While walking through the next grain field, I jumped a pair of coyotes. I quickly took my .257 Weatherby Magnum from my shoulder, found the dog in the scope, released the safety and BOOM! Coyotes 2 – Hunters 2.
Now it was time to spread out to find javelina. Steve was in constant cell phone communication with three of his friends in different areas of the zone we had drawn. Each group was searching the hill side when Dennis called and reported he and Carl had located a herd of 13 hogs up a draw in the mountain and told us to hurry.
Carl and Dennis had spent the first three hours of the hunt huddled in the ground blind on this very cold morning. By 9:30 they needed to move if for nothing else but to warm up. Dennis drove up a dried river bed to an area he had been seeing pigs since early January. He knew they would still be there. All they had to do was find them.
As Steve and I arrived, we parked our truck next to where Carl and Dennis had parked and headed up the mountain. It took longer than I had figured to catch up to their location as they where quite a piece up the ridge. Finally, as we crested another ridge, over looking a mesquite thicket, we saw Dennis on yet another ridge to our west and Carl on one to our east. We could see the javelina making their way through the thicket, some to the north and some to the east. Carl laid down his binoculars; picked up his bow and stood up. While he stood straight as an arrow, Steve and I watched as he drew his Bowtech Allegiance. He took aim at the javelina. As it stepped from the thicket at 49 yards, the arrow was loosed and flew true. Carl had collected a very nice javelina boar!
Now it was my turn. We knew which way the pigs fled, so after we joined Carl at his position, we made our way over the next ridge and spotted two javelina downhill at 80 yards. Just as I squeezed the trigger the javelina moved. A second shot was required.
By the end of our first day the field had produced two javelina and two coyotes. With a perfect forecast, tomorrow would find us traveling to the Apache Indian Reservation and fishing for crappie on Lake San Carlos.
If you have not experienced the Southwest, it would be hard to imagine the beauty of the rocky desert. To think that Cochise and his warriors called this place home, added to the mystique of the area. Lake San Carlos is encased in beautiful desert mountains and as we wet our first line the temperature still required a few layers to stay warm. It became apparent quickly we were not there to fish but rather to catch. A steady bite that lasted all day left four of us with two solid hours of fish cleaning. Carl and I just experienced one of the finest days of speck fishing either of us had had in decades.
Sunday morning found us calling coyotes. It happened just like on those hunting shows you see on television. Carl and I flanked Steve. The terrain was brushy so when the first coyote showed up, it was a surprise. By the end of the day, the score was
Coyotes 6 – Hunters 4. We left some seed for next time…as though that was necessary.
Our Arizona Tom/Huck weekend was just about over as we headed towards Tucson for our tour of PSE Archery. We saw the entire process, from when the order is received until the bow is shipped. Once you see the machinery, the tooling, the staff and the attention to detail, it is easy to see why quality bows cost so much.
It was Carl’s first trip to the SCI Wildlife Museum and Headquarters. Even if I didn’t know that, it was easy to tell by the number of photographs he took. There is so much to see and so many interesting presentations. I believe the ancient huge elk from the Scottish Highlands may have been his favorite exhibit. While at the headquarters, I met Doug Lugar of the records division and registered my javelina. The Arizona collard peccary as it is officially known completed my quest for the diamond level Pigs and Peccaries of the World.
What promised to be a fun weekend- truly was! Ward Outfitters has put together an action packed few days allowing clients to experience Arizona. The high desert provides abundant game but good hunting skills are still necessary for the harvest. The fishing is speck-tacular this time of year with specks up to three pounds not uncommon. There are numerous ways to experience the local culture from strolling Wilcox’s Main Street to attending the monster tractor pull, to the week long Tucson Rodeo or just spending time with Steve and his father talking archery. Once the word gets out about the Tom/Huck weekend, Ward Outfitters may have to petition the state of Arizona for a longer season to accommodate all those hunters back east who maybe looking for a late season winter break.