I finally got around to writing the story of my first hunt ever! Hope you enjoy.
The Miller Chill Javelina
This is a tale of the beginning and where it all started for me. It still amazes me to this day that youngsters everywhere, are asked regularly to make decisions that shape the rest of their lives. We go from the trivial questions of the high school age, where for most, our biggest decisions were who we should date, what extracurricular activities we should be involved with or what we should have for lunch. And upon graduation are immediately thrust into making pivotal decision such as deciding to go straight into the workforce or go to college, move away or stay close to home and these are all things that can really alter the course of one’s life path.
My decision was to go to college and to take the middle ground of not leaving out of state, but giving myself enough distance to explore who I truly was. Therefore, what better city was there to discover myself than in the city in which I was brought to life? So, I enrolled at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ approximately two hours north of where I grew up, on the way to the Grand Canyon, and the city in which I was born. Amongst my many reasons for selecting NAU, were that it is the alma mater of my parents as well as other members of my family, the campus, city and surrounding area are gorgeous, and giving me enough distance to explore while still being in relative close proximity to my family. Flagstaff has always been near and dear to my heart. However, little did I know, in the end these reasons would all pale in comparison to the two main reasons I now look back and deem this one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. Those two reasons which truly shaped my life, are that it is where I met my wife, and I had the opportunity to establish a relationship with my cousin / best man / the man who introduced me to archery and the hunting way of life.
That being said, my first toe dip into hunting was not in the form of an archery hunt; but rather, a rifle Javelina hunt. This hunting experience has all the makings of a great story and fortunately for you this tale is chalked full of opportunities to laugh at me/with me. I try not to take myself too seriously but I hope you are at least able to take me a little bit seriously still after you read the tale of the Miller Chill Javelina.
It was the autumn of 2009 and my cousin called me one day out of the blue and asked me if I was interested in hunting stinky pigs with him. With an offer that enticing how could I have turned him down? I hastily accepted the invite and he proceeded to do all the leg work of setting up this adventure by putting us in the draw and planning the trip. Since this was the first draw cycle I had ever been a part of, the day of the draw arrived seemingly quickly. Unbeknownst to me it would be the last draw cycle that I would ever endure without great and almost at times unbearable anticipation. I drew a February 19A rifle Javelina hunt, a unit in which my cousin grew up hunting as a kid. As I recount my cousin took me out a number of times to shoot his 22-250 to ensure that I wasn’t a completely horrible shot and with no prior experience this was about the extent of my preparations for this hunt.
Much like draw day, February rolled around rather quickly and next thing I know the hunt was upon us. I remember my cousin and me flying down Oak Creek Canyon in his lifted truck, driving way too fast, and hours before dawn even considered waking. I recall my cousin being so pumped up and enthusiastic, a joy and excitement that I couldn’t yet identify with. Don’t get me wrong I was grateful he was taking me out, and I was looking forward to camping and quality time spent together. But as for excitement towards the hunt itself, I had no basis for comparison, by which I could truly appreciate the events to come.
Flashback to a couple days before we had left for the hunt and I was talking with my cousin about what gear I needed. What items I should acquire and what stuff he had for me to borrow. During the course of this topic amongst the items on the list he asked me if I had a hunting hat. I told him no, to which he quickly replied stating that he had one for me, so that was covered. On our way down the canyon my cousin took one had off the wheel and said “oh hear I almost forgot, here is your hunting hat,” reaching behind my seat he unveiled a Miller Chill branded sombrero! We had a good laugh about this and eventually I said “yeah right!” That’s when my cousin informed me that he was serious and that I had to wear it for this hunt otherwise he wouldn’t take me. So…in good fun…I wore a Miller Chill sombrero, the entire time!
For the first leg of the hunt we drove to the high desert below Sedona and set up camp. Our camp set up consisted of a wall tent a couple cots, a table, some camp chairs and a fire, nothing better. After he taught me how to set up the wall tent, my first clue into what this all meant and why he was so excited about was revealed as we installed the stove pipe. In side of the tent next to the chimney pipe outlet hole is red and black writing, chronicling all the hunts the tent had been on, with the format of hunter name, hunt unit, method, animal, and year. Red ink for a successful hunt and black ink for unfilled tag. This was my first glimpse into the meaning, great tradition and memories gained through hunting. I immediately felt honored, one that my cousin wanted to make those memories with me and two that I had the opportunity to make my mark on the wall of fame.
The next morning we woke before the sun and set out to get to a vantage point high above the desert floor, a spot that my cousin has used many times before to spot pigs. As the sun rose we sat patiently glassing for Javelina. As I remember I was full questions. What does a pig look like from this distance? Black dot? Easy to spot? Should I be looking high on the mountains? Down in the valleys? Where should I concentrate my looking? I recall erratically moving my binoculars from spot to spot in hopes spot a Javelina at random. I remember thinking I would be able to pick one out in my field of view quickly like “oh there are some pigs.” Little did I know the painstaking process this truly is, requiring focus, thorough attention to detail, and patience. We continued glassing for quite some time until changing locations to another spot where we diligently scoured again with no pigs spotted. I could tell my cousin was surprised that we did not find any pigs, and laughed to myself thinking well it might help if more than just one of us knew what we were doing. We went the rest of the day checking a few other areas, but turned up nothing, yet it was still a joy just being in the outdoors with my cousin.
With the arrival of day two of my hunt, my cousin got a call from a dear friend of his, who knew we were in search of some of Javelina and lived near the segment of the unit we were hunting. He told us to come pick him up and said that he knew where a bunch of pigs hang out. The confidence with which he spoke ensured us that this herd was a sure thing and so we drove to the nearest town and picked him up. During a discussion on which of his spots we wanted him to guide us too, my cousins friend asked me a question, that to this day is still good for a laugh, he looked me dead in the eyes and said “well young man, do you want a sure thing? Or do you want to sting this hunt along?” I hesitated with my answer, as I tried to figure out for what profound reason he would ask me such a question, and eventually replied “let’s go with the sure thing.” Now here is the reason I laugh…we ended up trying out both of his spots, the “sure thing” and the “not so sure thing” and again turned up nothing. Despite his assurance enroute to both locations, that all the conditions were just right and the areas were prime for putting a Javelina to rest. The areas didn’t live up to the hype, but boy did we had a great time hunting them.
With one day left to hunt, my cousin called up another friend who owns and lives on a piece of land in another area of our unit and asked him if he had seen any pigs on his property as of lately. The man couldn’t recollect seeing any recently, but ensured us that they were there if you looked for them and invited us up to his property and also offered us use of his ranger. We packed up camp and headed out. We arrived and briefly chatted before he sent us on our way in his side by side. We drove to the highest point on his property and set up to glass. Using my cousins 15x56 kibab swarovskis binoculars my cousin spotted pigs, tiny black dots moving in a group, almost instantly though they were approximately 1.5 miles away. Excitedly we jumped into the ranger and took the shortest distance between two points. I remember yelling “hey I would like to live long enough to harvest a pig!” as we flew down the mountain, at times making our own road. Once again probably going way too fast, stopping only once long enough for me to jump out and grab my sombrero, which had flew off from in our haste to get to the Javelina.
Before I knew it we arrived at what seemed about a half a mile away and began hiking to where we last saw them. Moving at a rapid pace up and down over a few hills and before long we were on them. We watched them feed briefly and my cousin set me up for a shot. At this point we were a little over 200 yards away. Once I was all set up and my cousin got the camera in focus he asked if I was good, and I asked if we could get a little closer since it didn’t seem like they were aware of our presence. So we suck up to about 150 and decided that was a good point to shoot from as they were feeding directly across and away from us. Once again I situated and my cousin steadied the camera zoomed in and ready. I settled in the crosshairs on one towards the back of the herd as my cousin was discussing which one I should shoot. He began to tell me how the one in front was the biggest and I should shoot him before he goes behind…before he could finish I cut him off saying “should I shoot? I have one in the crosshairs?” My cousin didn’t even hesitate, trying to convince me and responded simply saying “go for it!” Before he could ask which one I had settled in on to refocus the camera the crack of the rifle sounded. The herd dispersed running every which way as one pig, clearly wounded ran off into nearby brush.
Ecstatic we ran over to the bush and my cousin said “well crawl on in there are claim your kill.” I looked at him unsurely and said “what if he is still alive and runs out, I will need to make a follow up shot,” further justifying this by explaining that it would be difficult to do if I was crawling around in the brush. Thought truly this was only half the reason why I was trying to convince him he should be the one to go in. I’m sure you can deduct the other reason I did not want to be the one crawling around in the brush with a potentially live, wounded and cornered Javelina.
With my convincing argument and being the awesome cousin he is, he went in wading hip deep in the thick brush. And sure enough, it wasn’t long until he flushed the pig, startling us both as it ran out from the brush and into another nearby thicket. Happening all too suddenly and all too quick to execute another shot. Though we were almost certain the animal was fatally wounded neither of us were willing to chance another encounter. Luckily this time the ticket was smaller and a little less dense to the point of where I could visibly see the animal as I stood on the outside. My cousin hollers at me, as to whether or not I know where he went. I respond saying “yeah I can see him.” He says “well shoot him!” I say “all I can see is his eye and part of his face...he is looking at me.” My cousin says “well shoot him in the face.” And…well…let’s just say that did the trick. I crawled into the thicket and retrieved the stinky pig.
My cousin taught me how to gut my first animal and we had a quick little photo session. I asked how we were going to carry it out and he quickly informed me that “WE” weren’t going to pack anything out, but rather “YOU are going to pack it out yourself” he explained. He helped me throw the Javelina over my shoulders; this was certainly the least pleasant part of the whole ordeal, but necessary. We began our hike back to the ranger. To this day I don’t know if it was just me or if the events that had transpired carried us further away from the ranger, or whether my cousin just decided to take us the long way back, but I swear we must have been 5 miles from the ranger. While packing it out the ranger was always seemingly “just up over this next hill.” Finally we arrived, threw it into the back of the ranger and headed back to the house. When we arrived back at the house we got to tell our story and show off the pig. We chatted a bit and headed back up the mountain on our way home. On the way out of town we stopped at the gas station to refuel the truck and to grab a celebratory drink. As my cousin headed into the store he looked back and asked me what I would like to celebrate with, not being much of a drinker I responded “I don’t know, I’m not really a fan of beer,” which has long since changed. This was apparently a sufficient response as he headed into the store…Shortly thereafter he emerged with the biggest Smirnoff Ice you have ever seen. He thought it was particularly hilarious and I just thought it was rather tasty, though looking back on it now I am embarrassed to admit such. Till this day we laugh about it, and after each harvest he asks me if we should go grab some Smirnoff Ice. When we got home and unpacked the truck, we unfolded the tent and I proudly recorded, in red ink, Benjamin Alonzo, 19A, Rifle Javelina 2009.