As New York Giant All-Pro defensive end Justin Tuck lined up the shot, I confirmed the yardage: "It's 35 yards," I whispered. "No wait, 40."
We had just hastily closed the distance after spotting the group of javelina feeding in a sendero some 150 yards away, and it was now or never as the largest peccary in the group nervously eyeballed the ominous figure taking aim in his direction. As the cameraman rolled video behind us, it occurred to me, and nearly made me laugh out loud, that one of the most accomplished athletes in all of professional sports was having the time of his life chasing bristle pigs through the South Texas brush country.
The introduction came months earlier when one of Justin's agents called on his behalf with an equipment inquiry. I provided some gear guidance and then asked if Tuck would like to join the Bowhunter TV crew on an upcoming trip to hunt javelina in South Texas. "What's a javelina?" was the response. A couple conversations and a few months later, and we were picking Justin up at the San Antonio airport. Joining us were Associate Publisher Danny Farris, Editor Curt Wells, cameraman and ace caller Larry Jones, plus Terry Rohm from Tink's and Mike Mattly from Knight & Hale Game Calls.
Due to his day job, Justin isn't afforded many opportunities to pursue the glamour species of fall like elk, caribou, mule deer, whitetails, goats, and others. The best fall outcome Tuck can hope for is a few days chasing deer in New York and New Jersey, or the rare bye-week schedule when it lines up perfectly with other open seasons.
Growing up in rural Alabama, Tuck was exposed to hunting early in life, but came to bowhunting late, after his days at Notre Dame. In spite of limited time afield each fall, he has piled up an impressive list of experiences including huge deer, bears, hogs, turkeys and numerous African species, including two Cape buffalo. Tuck genuinely loves archery, preferring it to all other types of hunting, and it shows in his shooting.
We split up into two groups, and our outfitter and guide Jarred Peeples started our hunt by locating animals in the distance, and then using distress calls to bring them in. When executed properly, calling is my favorite way to hunt javelina. They come ripping in, woofing and popping their teeth at breakneck speed, leading to some very exciting shot opportunities. On this trip, however, the calling went cold after a few good initial close-quarters setups, where Mike Mattly proved his mettle under fire, connecting at spitting distance while I called for him and Tuck. At 6' 5" and 280 pounds, Tuck was not nearly as maneuverable as the 5' 9" Mattly in some of the more tangled Texas brush. "Being that big isn't all it's cracked up to be, is it?" I joked to Tuck. He didn't look amused.
"We need to get out where we can spot and stalk a few," Tuck implored. Justin was heading to Africa later in the year, and he wanted to get in some stalking practice. Being the consummate host, I acquiesced, and we started glassing down long sections of sendero where we stood a chance of putting the sneak on a few javelinas.
We found a group working an old ranch road, and Tuck was ready to light out after them. I suggested easing forward carefully a bit and seeing if they would work our way first, which they obligingly did. As the javelinas neared our hide, Mattly expertly anchored another fat boar after graciously waiting for the bulk of the group to pass him by because they were headed towards Tuck and me. Then, from way out in left field, I saw Justin's arrow flash into another large javelina with pinpoint precision. I flubbed my shot, paying too much attention to javelina other than the one I had in my kill box. No worries. There were lots more where those came from.
After collecting our animals, we moved across the ranch and ran into Rohm, Farris and Wells, who had driven off in another direction when we split up in the morning. Terry had notched two boars that came cautiously to the call, and Wells killed one at long range after an interesting encounter with a malevolent raccoon that came aggressively chugging in to their calling setup, giving Curt quite an adrenaline rush. Farris later played up the encounter for Curt by hiding an electronic call in the weeds where Wells was looking for the previously ventilated raccoon. When Curt unsuspectingly walked by the call, Danny turned it on with the volume on high, causing Curt to prove that white men can indeed jump — or at least hop quickly!
Our annual spring javelina trip is truly a low-budget affair, mostly due to the overall choices available in rural South Texas: $49 hotel rooms, baloney sandwiches for lunch, dinners at locations where the priciest entrÃ©e is under $10. Initially, I was a little worried about how someone of Tuck's current means would mix in this down-and-dirty, lighthearted hunting environment. After all, he can afford to hunt any animal, anywhere he chooses. After one day in the bush, however, it was clear that Justin was all about the fun, all about the shooting, and all about enjoying a totally new hunting experience.
Trips with celebrities and pro athletes can often be a double-edged sword; everybody wants something from these folks to further their own business goals and notoriety. As a result, some of these celebrities end up being somewhat jaded and mercenary, given what's at stake, and the resulting experience isn't rewarding for either party. Our trip with Tuck proved just the opposite. In addition to being a genuine hardcore bowhunter, he's a genuinely enjoyable person — literally just one of the guys. He made Justin Tuck fans out of all of us. And he gives back to the larger community as well. Since 2008, he and wife, Lauran, have directed Tuck's "R.U.S.H for Literacy," a program that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide books and reading material to disadvantaged youth.
Entering the NFL in 2005 with the Giants, Tuck firmly established himself as a playmaker his third year in the league, after fighting through some injuries and being an understudy to both Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora his first two years. A candidate for MVP honors in the "instant classic" Super Bowl XLII due to his two sacks and forced fumble, Tuck followed up that effort with All-Pro performances in 2008 and 2010. This past fall, all of us who were on the hunt with Tuck followed his and the Giants' progress through the season. It seemed unlikely they would make the playoffs, and Justin was again working through a series of nagging injuries.
When I talked to Justin this past fall, just prior to our javelina show airing on Sportsman Channel and his live chat on Sportsman Channel's Facebook site to promote it, he was characteristically upbeat. "For some reason this feels a lot like 2007," he said, referring to his first Super Bowl experience against the Patriots.
"Well, if you guys don't make the playoffs, maybe we can do a late-season lion hunt together," I said.
"We'll see," Tuck said. "I've got a strong feeling we'll be in the fight, ready to make a run."
When Tuck pulled the trigger on his last javelina some 40 yards distant, the shot was perfect. We laughed out loud and high-fived. With the exception of a few run-ins with cactus, for a guy new to peccary hunting, Tuck made all the right moves. The rest of the group had tagged-out by the third day, and except for a few recovery issues with a Farris-stoned javelina that made a death sprint to the safety of a culvert pipe, it was as fun a hunt as we could have possibly hoped for.
As I watched the Giants improbable run through the must-win games at the end of the 2011 season to make the playoffs, and then the even more unlikely push through the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl against the Patriots, I found myself laughing on the inside once again. Finally near 100-percent health, in the Super Bowl Tuck recorded a game-altering safety and two sacks, eerily similar stats to when he won his first ring. In the pregame hype, a TV clip played of Tuck imploring his defense that winning a "ring" was the greatest feeling in the world. In the world of professional sports, he's probably right. But a perfect 40-yard shot to end your first javelina hunt isn't all that bad either.
Author's Notes: To book a hunt of your own with Jarred Peeples, call (210) 237-8450 or visit TrinityOutdoors.net. Bowhunter TV Episode #13 of the Classic 2011 Season, with special hunting guest Justin Tuck, will air the week of June 18 on The Sportsman Channel.