After the Release - Tracking Your Boar by Jeffrey N. Massie
I have bow hunted javelina and feral pigs for a long time. The most enjoyable times have been since I started helping hunters find a good place to hunt, how to hunt, guiding them to the animal, and talking them through the release of the arrow. In all of these hunting experiences, the majority of the hunters had practiced their shooting and hunting skills but never their tracking skills. This being the case, I really tried to teach the hunters that it is just as important for them to learn to find their game as it is to learn to shoot well. Tracking an animal is the final step and fantastic finish to a great hunt. In fact it is another hunt in itself. Most animals when hit or missed with an arrow spin and hit the brush in hyper drive. It happens so fast most archers cannot tell you what really happened or where they hit the animal. The excitement and the animal’s speed seem to create memory loss for the hunter or such comments as: “I shot him in the heart,” “I shot him in the liver,” or “I double lunged him.” No matter where the arrow hit the animal or where the archer thought the arrow hit, the chance of the animal falling on that same spot of ground is about one to two percent. The average javelina or feral pig will run from 20 to 100 yards with a great hit. However, a poor hit can really be a challenge even for the most stubborn hunter to track.
The very first thing I ask hunters to do after the animal is shot is place an arrow where you were standing when you released the arrow, then place an arrow where the pig was standing when hit. Next, place an arrow in the direction the animal ran and one where you last saw the animal. If you still have an arrow or marker, use it to mark first blood. By doing this you have mapped out the action that just took place. Sounds like a bunch of arrows and trouble, but once you leave the site and hit the woods, it will never look the same in the area you first shot the animal. This is important on the ranch I hunt. The hunters have a curfew after sundown and for them to track at night either a guide or I have to accompany them. The marked location and action of the hunter and animal give us great information to start the tracking, especially during a South Texas night when all roads, senderos, trails, trees, and rocks all look the same.
While tracking, the hunter can look for information on where the animal was hit, how good was the hit, and the location of the arrow. The arrow is the best clue to find out more about your animal. It will show penetration, and the blood will show where on the body it impacted. Hopefully it will be bubbly and bright red which is a good blood sign of a heart, lung, artery, or liver shot. In this case, I would begin to track within twenty minutes. If there are signs of green intestine goop or what is determined as a heavy muscle shot such as a ham shot, then I would wait two to four hours to begin tracking. Weather is also a big factor. A good rain will wash away all sign. If you can wait awhile to track a bad shot, it is best because the animal will lay down if not pursued. The longer the animal lays still reduces the chance of it getting up and running from you if you get close. It is very discouraging to see or hear your pig snort and run off another three hundred yards. Waiting patiently and then using slow and careful movements will make up for a bad shot.
Most of the time a javelina will hit the brush and cactus with its nose down pushing through anything in its way. I call them footballs with legs. They will then run in circles and figure eights trying to regroup with their families. A feral pig when hit, will bowl over anything in its way and after about twenty yards start running on cattle or game trails with a specific destination in mind. The young pigs will stop and sometimes look around for their running buddies. However, a mature pig will just keep going until he can’t go anymore or finds where he wanted to go. It will jump back and forth on different trails but will keep to a round‐about direction, rarely making a new trail. The pig will always leave you clues on the trail he takes. Look for red blood or green stomach contents on the ground, leaves, grass, cactus, etc. especially when the pig would have to go through tight places or make sharp turns. A hurt pig will leave a different track than his running buddies. He may leave a drag footprint, turn his toe, stop or fall a lot. Take your time. Use all your senses. I have found on occasion while moving slowly down a trail looking for blood and footprints and listening for movement or other pig sounds, that I have walked past the pig but smelled him. A big pig smells, especially a gut‐shot pig. So always pray for a slow soft breeze while tracking your pig.
Hunters need to be familiar with the country they are hunting. When the sign leaves a trail such as no more blood to follow, it pays to know where the bedding areas, favorite mud holes, water tanks, fence crossings, and feeders are located. I have found many wounded pigs in a ground water tank and even eating under a feeder. The pigs may leave blood on or under a fence when they strain to go under. This is where a little pre‐scouting and spending time with the guides or someone familiar with the ranch geography could sure help you get the pig. Ask questions and always listen. Most outfitters really do want you to have a successful hunt. My guides and I always try to help the hunter have the greatest hunt we can provide.
Some things that will help the tracking are a compass and a GPS. These pieces of equipment work great getting you in the woods, marking your spot where the animal is, and finding your way out of the woods. However, they will not help if you leave them in the truck or you don’t set a heading before you start the track. You can get lost or turned around even on what was supposed to be a short ten minute track, especially in the dark. Water, flash lights, rope, and whistle are a standard in my track pack. If you want to mark your blood or trail sign, use toilet tissue (the biodegradable type is best). Place a piece at each sign, and you can find your way back or create a direction. It will be gone in a month or two. Please do not use plastic flagging tape unless you intend on picking it up when you are through. Normally the hunter is too tired to go back and pick it from the trees, and everyone for years gets to see his pig trail.
Try not to ever give up on a trail too soon. Always give a good effort to find your game. I tried to always let the hunters call off the track so they would learn to keep on looking even if we stopped the trail and came back the next day. Many times on the next day, we would find the pig not even fifty feet from our stopping point the night before. It was sometimes dead and sometimes very alive in a mud hole with an attitude and the hunter’s arrow. The attitude made the whole track worth while and a very successful hunt. As hunters, we have the responsibility to find the game we shoot or give it one heck of a try. Get serious with your tracking of game, and you will open a whole new area of your hunting. Who knows you might find your pig under the next bush with an attitude.
Published in Wild Boar USA magazine: Volume 1, Issue 2 Jan./Feb. 2007