Hunting Javelinas with an Airgun

Javelinas — a mid-sized member of the peccary clan — provide an exciting challenge for airgun hunters.

Hunting Javelinas with an Airgun

The author’s first javelina with an airgun arrow — effective and efficient.

I recall a big bore airgun hunt in South Texas in the early 2000s. I was sitting in a blind overlooking a sendero, hoping to get the drop on feral hogs moving through to feed. At this time Texas did not allow the taking of any game animal with an airgun, though it was wide open on nongame and exotic species. After sitting for a couple hours, I had seen a lot of deer, but still no hogs as dusk closed in. Then, in the fading light, I saw a piglike form step out of a thicket and I shouldered my rifle. Looking through the scope, I watched as more forms stepped out — a squadron of javelinas moving past me at a relaxed pace. At that moment I became fixated on hunting javelinas with an airgun.

Arizona is home to one of the major airgun shops in the United States, Airguns of Arizona, along with a substantial airgun hunting community. A grassroot movement, with industry support, lobbied regulators to allow airguns for hunting big game, making it legal to hunt javelinas in Arizona. And while there are some over-the-counter tags available, tags are primarily by draw only for specific units.

That first year, I got a tag for a good unit recommended by my friend and Arizona hunting guru Chip Perow, and he led me on a great stalk in the rugged and arid hills outside of Globe. We climbed and glassed from cliffs and hillsides until we spotted a small group of the desert “pigs” on the move. We played a cat and mouse game and finally got to 60 yards, where I took my shot and dropped my first javelina with an airgun! This hunt underscored why javelinas are so much fun to hunt with an air rifle — revolving around the hunter’s ability to move in closer than with a centerfire rifle, more like a bowhunt.

Texas was the next state to permit the use of airguns for game animals, including javelinas. In the Lone Star State hunters were initially allowed three per season, but has dropped to a limit of two in recent years, and it doesn’t require a draw for a tag. From the time Texas opened up the airgun regs, I have made multiple trips every year to fill my quota of javelinas. These have been productive outings, spending the days glassing and cruising ranch roads looking for a good boar, and my nights hunting predators. 

One thing to note: Texas regulations require that an airgun used for harvesting big-game animals must be .30-caliber or larger, using a slug weighing more than 155 grains and generating a minimum of 215 foot-pounds of energy (fpe). This is probably overkill for animals of this size, but the law is the law. Hunters can also use an arrow or bolt launched by an airgun to hunt big game in Texas.

During a recent trip, I was glassing from a hillside and saw three javelinas cross a dirt road and move into a small valley, heading in my general direction. I grabbed my rifle and pack and started down toward them. They veered off into the brush and I followed, trying to keep track of the animals, the wind and potential intercept points. This went on for about an hour, and a few times I could see this one really nice boar, but either the brush was too heavy or the animal was looking in my direction and had me pinned down. Finally, I got the shot at 50 yards, and put away one of the best javelina boars I’ve taken. By the time I got back to the truck and drove the short distance to load the carcass for the trip back to the ranch house, I’d spent three hours on this stalk. This is what javelina hunting is all about for me, getting on the ground and using all my senses and hunting skills.

What makes the javelina such a great quarry for airgunners is multifaceted. They are smaller than wild hogs, weighing 40 to 60 pounds, though a real monster can go 80 pounds. This is well within the capabilities of most mid- and large-bore air rifles, especially at the minimum performance required by Texas regulation. Javelinas can have a nasty disposition, and their eyesight is mediocre at best. But their sense of smell and hearing are very well developed. So, it’s important to consider wind direction and sneak in quietly to get close. If you get sloppy, chances are good you’ll blow the stalk.

Javelina Gun Selection

The guns I use are dependent on where I am hunting, in part determined by hunting regulations. In Arizona, I opt for a .25- to .357-caliber gun generating from 120 to 170 fpe, typically shooting slugs. In Texas, it will be a .357- or .40-caliber rifle in most cases, generating a minimum of 215 fpe, with a slug weighing a minimum of 155 grains. The guns I have used over the years are mostly single-shot models, though more recently I have used semi-auto and arrow guns as well. 

Single-shot big bores fall into two categories. I have a few .30- and .357-caliber rifles that barely make the 215 fpe mark and just make the legal limit in Texas, and a couple .457-calibers that are way overpowered, but that I can use for deer/wild hog hunting as well. These include the Air Venturi Seneca Recluse .357-caliber for the former and the Hatsan Piledriver .457-caliber for the latter.

The Recluse is a fairly lightweight traditional sporter design, with a two-position cocking lever that lets the shooter select a full power or reduced power (80 percent) energy output. There are  single air tube and double air tube versions of the rifle available. The Piledriver is a bullpup configuration, but a very large and heavy bullpup that can throw a substantial chunk of lead downrange, launched at well over 600 fpe. Both of these guns have solid field accuracy, and I have taken many coyotes with the Recluse and large boar hogs and whitetail bucks with the Piledriver out to 100 yards.

My use of semi-autos has been limited to Arizona hunts in the past, because they have tended to be smaller .25-caliber guns operating at 100 fpe levels. But at inside of 50 yards, a head shot can be effective. More recently, I had the chance to hunt with a .357-caliber semi-automatic bullpup I sourced from Airguns of Arizona called the Western Airguns Rattler .357, which is Texas legal. The Rattler is dead accurate, has a high shot count and is the most powerful semi-auto design I have shot.

On my last javelina hunt, I accomplished something I had been planning for a while, which was to bag a boar with an airgun arrow. The gun I used on this trip was the Umarex AirJavelin Pro that propels a 170-grain arrow with a mechanical broadhead at approximately 325 fps, putting it squarely in the compound bow performance range. This is not overly powerful as airgun arrow platforms go, most of which put crossbow performance to shame, but it is the right power for javelinas, accurate and easy to shoot well.

Upcoming Hunts

I already have my javelina hunts planned for this year, and while I haven’t decided on the guns yet, I do know at least one of them will be an arrow platform. My first experience with the AirJavelin resulted in one of the best stalks I’ve ever had and I’m eager to repeat it. Another tactic I will employ is to use my hunting rigged e-bike to get me back into some really rough terrain farther back off the beaten track.

For all of the reasons mentioned, if I was asked to recommend one species as a grail airgun hunt, it would probably be javelina. In addition to the quarry, gear and techniques, what makes these hunts special in my view is the terrain in which they take place. The ranches I hunt in Texas, and everywhere I’ve been in Arizona, are strikingly beautiful with mountainous desert landscapes that just add to the impact. And airguns are the vehicle to ensure you hunt smart, use your field craft and focus on the hunt rather than simply the shot.


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