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Pig Over the Edge
February 2014
Dan Martinez

Wade topping out after a steep climb to a high overlook

Life doesn’t always work out the way you might have planned. In my story for last year’s handgun javelina hunt, I told the tale of how my son Sam and I canoed across Bartlett Lake to hunt Unit 22. I tagged a pig, but Sam did not. Despite having taken two deer and two elk in his young hunting career, Sam has still not taken a javelina.

I ended the story saying, “We’ll be back next year.” Less than a month after that hunt, Sam received the incredible news that he had been admitted to West Point. That would mean that definitely, Sam would not be back to reprise the javelina by canoe hunt.

With both sons now out of state, that left this old man without his favorite hunting partners. At the time of the draw application for the spring 2014 javelina hunts, Gerhard put out the word that his app was not yet filled with four partners. I hemmed and hawed a little. After last year’s handgun hunt at Sam’s request, I wanted to go back to a rifle hunt, but Gerhard was adamant that his app was for the H.A.M. (Handgun, Archery, Muzzleloader) hunt. So there it was, HAM or hunt alone. I decided to put in on the app and just go with the flow. The partners would be Gerhard, Wade, Michael, and Dan. We ended up drawing unit 20B, real close to home, very familiar stomping grounds.

As opening day of the hunt drew near, emails went back and forth discussing plans. Where would we hunt? What days were each of us planning to hunt? Would we camp, or day-hunt from home?

Initial plans were to set up camp at the deep-in club shooting spot off the Table Mesa Road exit. But near the last minute, we decided to try a new place in the Black Canyon City backcountry. Wade and I would head up on Thursday night to set up camp. Gerhard and Mike would show up just before dawn on opening day.

Gerhard’s hunt style is light and fast. He doesn’t really camp. He pretty much just sleeps in his Toyota. He doesn’t carry a backpack. To be out all day, he carries only a fanny pack and what looks like a shotgun hunter’s belt with two large pouches.

Wade had trouble trying to keep up with Gerhard on other hunts, so he decided that he’d tag along with me on opening day. I carry a big pack, move through the country much more “deliberately” (a euphemism for slowly), and I stop to sit and glass more often and for longer periods. I try to cover more country with my eyes than with my feet.

There is a fairly good road out of BCC that takes you into some steep hilly country. Off the main road, there are some gnarly 4x4 roads that I would rather walk than try to drive. My plan for opening morning was to walk a deep canyon bottom that starts at the main road and follow it to where it intersects another canyon bottom. Following that second canyon back up takes you back to the main road, going around a mountain in the process.

So that’s what we did, except that I’m not sure what Wade thought when halfway down that first canyon, I looked up at a high hill and said something about heading up there. I said, “It’s not that far.” Well, he agreed to go up there. It wasn’t far, but the higher we got, the steeper it got. Topping out was tough, but we got it done. But I still wonder if Wade was really thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?”

The view from up there was great. We could cover so much more country by glassing than we ever could by walking the bottom. If there are pigs to be found, careful work with the binoculars will reveal them. Then it would just be a matter of getting to them.

As the morning got later, we decided to head back down and finish the canyon-bottom walk as originally planned. Our intention was to get back to camp for lunch. The remainder of the canyon bottom walk included crawling into a horizontal mining hole (perhaps a pig den) with gun drawn, but no javelina were sighted. I’m glad that I didn’t have to shoot, because that would have been LOUD in that small space!

After lunch, we took a ridgeline walk directly out of camp. The country we were looking over on this walk was a little more heavily brushed than the country we glassed in the morning. It seemed like excellent javelina habitat. Eventually the evening rolled up on us with no pig sightings that afternoon either.

That evening in camp we learned that Michael had spotted a small herd of piggies during his day of walking the country. He said that they were one ridge over from him when he spotted them, about 100 yards away. He headed over there to try to catch up with them, but when he got to that ridge, they had disappeared into thin air. This was greatly encouraging news. At least now we knew that this country held pigs … somewhere.

But so it went for the remainder of the three day weekend. The rest of the boyz were heading back to work on Monday. I had decided to take Monday and Tuesday off as vacation days. The HAM hunt runs over two weekends. Since I’m used to hunting the General season, which runs from a Friday to a Thursday, I guess it is my habit to take a few days off on the other side of opening weekend.

So on Sunday afternoon, with no further pig sightings in the Black Canyon City outback, we broke camp and headed back to civilization.

When we were originally planning to camp west of the Table Mesa exit, one of my primary missions was going to be to get up on top of Wild Burro Mesa.

I haven’t mentioned my other hobby in these pages for a while – geocaching. If you need a reminder, that is a game where people go hide a container of some sort out in the wild, post the GPS coordinates for it up on a website, and invite other people to go find it. There is a log to sign inside the container, then when you get back to your computer, you also post an electronic log on the website saying that you’ve found it. There are three geocaches on top of Wild Burro Mesa. I had never been up there before, but in their logs online, other geocachers had mentioned encounters with javelina on their hikes on top of the mesa. So a visit to the top of this high plateau was the plan for my solo hunt on Monday.

So after a shower and a comfortable night spent sleeping in my own bed on Sunday, I left home before sun up on Monday morning, heading off to Wild Burro Mesa.

The top of Wild Burro Mesa, a sea of prickly pear, staghorn cholla, and basalt rocks

There is a “road”, if you could call it that, that goes to the top of the mesa. This road is a boulder crawl over loose rocks for the entire ride up. I have a lifted jeep that is capable of making that climb, but I decided not to torture my machine trying it. The route from pavement to the base of the mesa consists of some rough jeep roads, so just getting to the base of the climb requires a capable off-road vehicle.

I parked the jeep just before the first large roller rocks, put on my pack, grabbed my convertible shooting/walking stick, and started hoofing it up that road.

Even on foot, the loose rocks on the road bed make ascending a dicey proposition. I took it slow, carefully testing foot placement for almost every step before committing with my full weight.

Eventually I got to the top. What I saw when I topped out was a vast sea of grass, prickly pear, staghorn cholla, and basalt rocks. The mesa top is pretty flat, and is a rather large expanse. A walk from where the road tops out, to the southernmost portion of the table is a distance of about 2.3 miles. The southern “tail” of the mesa extends even further, but this is a sharp ridge, not really a plateau beyond this point.

My plan was to walk from one geocache to the next, to the next – and hope to stumble on a herd of javelina along the way. The first geocache was only 400-something feet from where the road tops out. Walking is not easy up there. The rocks and cactus pretty much will not allow you to keep a straight line. I got to the GPS zero and soon discovered the first hidden geocache. It was a plastic military surplus decontamination kit container. Inside was the logbook that I needed to sign.

As I was doing the necessary tasks with the geocache, I spotted a herd of critters approaching me. They were the animals that the mesa is named after – wild burros. I did notice their scat all over the ground on the path that I walked. They spotted me and as I glassed them, I saw at least a half dozen looking directly at me.

I continued what I was doing, and when I was done, I rehid the geocache as I had found it. Now on to the next. The GPS told me that geocache #2 was about ¾ miles away. But the topo map display on my GPS told me that I could not take the direct route. Due to some canyons between me and the next set of coordinates, I would need to make a right-hook path around the canyon heads to keep my hike on top of the flat portion of the mesa.

No problem. Since my main goal was to wander into a herd of javelina, taking a circuitous route might increase my chances. Alas, when I reached the site of the second geocache, no game had been sighted.

At this time it was about mid-morning. I had not eaten since getting out of bed, so I sat and enjoyed my field breakfast. That consisted of a bagel, some beef jerky, and a small bottle of apple juice. I really needed the fuel at this point, because the next goal was 1¼ miles away in a straight line. But again, I would have to go around some canyon heads to avoid dropping into, and climbing out of some canyons. That would make my actual path over the ground from geocache #2, about a mile-and-a-half to the third and last geocache.

Looking over the west edge of Wild Burro Mesa

Even if you are not looking for geocaches up here, you really do need a GPS to help you keep track of where you are. The mesa top is so big and lacking in significant landmarks, that the GPS is a great help in keeping you going in your intended direction.

The next leg of my hike would take me close to the western edge of the mesa, overlooking the Agua Fria arm of Lake Pleasant. This edge is very steep. It is almost, but not quite a cliff.

About halfway to geocache #3, it happened. I spotted a herd of javelina in front of me. They appeared to be walking from left to right, so I altered my course to the right so that hopefully they would walk into me. I leaned over into a duck walk as I opened up my shooting sticks. One pig about 40 yards away made me, but must not have been sure what I was. The pig did not panic.

I rested the long barrel of the Taurus on the padded V of the open shooting sticks. I thumbed back the hammer and waited for the pig to give me a broadside presentation. Because I was no longer moving, she lost interest in me and turned away (I would later learn that she was a sow). The hammer fell and the silence of the mesa was broken.

Taurus Tracker .357 Magnum

I decided that my primary tool on this year’s hunt would be a revolver. Last year I took only my second handgun javelina with a scoped, rifle caliber, single shot specialty pistol – a Magnum Research Lone Eagle in .260 Remington. This year I wanted to get back to basics, so my Taurus Tracker in .357 Magnum received the call of duty.
This Tracker is the model 627SS6. It has a 6½” barrel that is ported at the end to reduce muzzle flip. It has a seven-shot cylinder, and a very nice adjustable rear sight. The front sight has a bright orange plastic insert in the ramp. With the quality sights, long sight radius, and a nice single action trigger release, it’s easy to hit what you’re aiming at with this revolver.
In my mind, it is a near perfect javelina hunting revolver. As a matter of fact, javelina hunting was one of two primary missions I envisioned for it when I purchased it about ten years ago. The other mission was centerfire handgun silhouette at club matches. But somehow I just never got around to taking it handgun javelina hunting until this year.
You’ll see Taurus getting a lot of badmouth on the internet boards. I don’t know what that’s all about. This gun has proven itself to me to be mechanically solid and it possesses all the accuracy that I am capable of using. I know that if I miss, it’s not the gun, it’s me.
For the hunt, I cooked up a load using a maximum charge of Blue Dot under the Nosler 158 grain JHP. Now here’s the interesting thing: I had enough confidence in the gun to take this unproven load hunting without having test fired it first. During lunch on the second day in camp though, I did test fire it against two small 12 oz. pop bottles at a distance of 40 yards. Both shots were hits. Verified good-to-go.

She was hit, but was not down. She started spinning circles in-place where she stood. I re-cocked the gun, waiting for an opportunity to put a second shot into her. She momentarily stopped her spinning and I fired again.

This second shot put the herd into motion, including my pig. The pigs were running back and forth in all directions. Woof! Woof! … came from multiple directions around me. Where did my pig go?

As the activity tapered off a little, I walked up to the spot where my pig stood. After a little looking around, I spotted a pool of bright red blood. I followed the blood trail south a short distance, then spotted a pig standing off about 30 yards in that direction. I held my fire, but started walking that way. As I approached, the pig ran off, woofing. Hmm, that pig looked too healthy to be the one I was looking for.

I started heading back to the initial blood pool, casting my eyes back and forth widely to try to spot a downed pig somewhere. With all the low bushes and the numerous dark brown-black basalt boulders around here, a dead pig might be hard to spot, I thought to myself.

When I got back to the first blood pool, I tried to be doubly observant this time. I spotted more drops that I had not seen before – then more. The trail was leading straight toward the edge of the mesa! Right at the edge, I now spotted a substantial pool where the pig must have bedded while I was searching elsewhere.

As I stood there, absorbing this find, the bushes nearby shook, and I heard another woof. The pig jumped out and started heading down the steep slope! I saw her disappear behind a large boulder. I eased my way over to get on top of the rock and look over. When I did, I saw her and she saw me! Woof! She ran further down the cliff, but not too far and not too fast. It was clear that she was having trouble. She stopped again and I had a clear line of sight. I fired again and she was done. But what now?

I came upon her about 70 vertical feet below the rim of the mesa. I grabbed a leg and began to raise her up the cliff, one boulder at a time, about three feet per yank. I was finally able to deposit her onto flat ground on the top. The jeep was 1.6 miles away. It was time to get to work.

© Honeywell Sportsman Club. All rights reserved.


Timber Ridge Bull Frame
February 2014
Dan Martinez

Even though I was over 1½ miles from my vehicle, I wasn’t concerned in the least about getting the piggy out. I’ve struggled hauling piggies out of the backcountry enough on past hunts to finally get some smarts about it. I carried the Timber Ridge Bull Frame on my back for the entire hunt, and now it was finally time to put it to the use intended.

In recent years, National Forests across Arizona have been increasing restrictions on motorized game retrieval. It used to be that if you could get your vehicle up to your downed critter, you were perfectly within the law to do so. Not so much anymore. More and more, Arizona hunters are having to learn to quarter and haul their meat out of the field on their backs.

A recent experience with quartering and packing came in the fall of 2010 on Sam’s youth elk hunt. In that case, we had to quarter and backpack Sam’s elk out because of downed logs that prevented us from getting wheels to the critter. At the time, I only had a plastic pack frame from a regular backpacking pack. It really was not a meat packing “freighter” frame. It worked fine, but we had to improvise how to lash the meat to the frame.

So within a year of that experience, I purchased the Timber Ridge Bull Frame. Who the heck is Timber Ridge? They appear to be a small hunting products company based in Indiana. As I write this, you can buy the Bull Frame on Amazon.com for $67.40, but the price is constantly changing.

What I like about it is its relatively small size for a freighter frame. It has a fold down shelf for supporting an unwieldy load. The two uprights at the top allow you to hang a standard soft day pack on it. For the javelina hunt, I had my Cabela’s Whitetail day pack strapped on.

The frame alone weighs 4.4 pounds. Add to that a loaded daypack, and yeah, you are hauling around a somewhat heavy beast on your back, before you have even shot a beast. Mitigating that is a wide, generously padded waist belt, and well-padded shoulder straps.

Roomy side pouches are built in to the waist belt, plus there’s a large two-compartment pouch on the bottom attached to the load shelf. I use this bottom pouch to store game care essentials for the field. I carry a sturdy cotton game bag, shoulder-length plastic field dressing gloves and four buckle straps for lashing on the game.

Lashing straps are not included with the frame, so you must provide your own. Packing along a length of parachute cord would be another option. There are a total of five lashing points on each upright.

Sam was the first one to haul game with this frame on last year’s pig hunt. One lesson we learned from that is that after putting the game in the game bag, blood will eventually drip through the cotton and onto you. So for this year’s pig hunt I added a white plastic trash bag to the kit to put over the cotton game bag before lashing it onto the frame.

For rifle hunting, I would not hunt with this. The reason is that when you sling your rifle over your shoulder, it will constantly bang against the hard frame. The Bull Frame would be the preferred option for making a second hike in to retrieve meat, after leaving your rifle in the vehicle after making the first trip out.

But for the handgun javelina hunt, that was not a problem. I alternately wore my gun holster on the frame’s waist belt strap, where it rode somewhat in front of my hip, and on my pants belt on the side of my hip. When I wore the holster on my pants belt, I wore the frame’s waist belt a little higher on my body, passing it behind the gun’s grip, but over the holster’s belt loop.

I gutted, skinned, and beheaded the piggy right there where I dropped her off on the top. I wanted to minimize the weight I would need to carry. The whole operation went very smoothly. I used two of the lashing straps to hang the piggy from the branches of a nearby Palo Verde tree to skin her out -- very handy.

After lashing the piggy to the frame, I was still able to hang my daypack over and behind the piggy package on the frame. Thus, I’m sure that my total load was around 50 pounds, but it was very manageable on the long hike out.

© Honeywell Sportsman Club. All rights reserved.


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