California Turkey Hunt Day 1

Listen up Strut Zone foodies. Here's the recipe for success, California style:

• You need a guy who knows the land better than a GPS unit. Enter Chad Wiebe: guide, taxidermist, and hardcore turkey hunter.

• You need a base camp with comfortable accommodations for the midnight to 4 a.m. sleeping regimen, and solid sustenance at the supper table, wild pig and turkey included. That would be Santa Lucia Outfitters.

• You need a guy with the desire to chase gobblers 2,500 miles from home. That would be me.

Day 1, Wiebe put us on birds at the bottom of a canyon's deep cut; one of his leases. Yamaha's Steve Nessl was along, and his fireworks would come later that afternoon. Stay tuned. Gobbles and hen yelping came from down the lush green lane. One gobbler hammered a single time to our right. Time as they say passed. Hens came to the calling, but no toms. A bird up top hammered to our yelping, but hung up. Plan B time.

Plan B involved an end-around to slink back up the steep hill. I cold called. The response -- an ear-bleeding gobble in range -- dropped me to my belly in commando mode; mouth diaphragm in place. Gun up, elbows down, as low as a snake, I waited, yelped. Grrrrrobble. The turkey stepped up: I saw beard, found the brick-red head, and fired -- over the bird.

Been there? Scrambling up I saw not one, but four gobblers high tailing it up the incline. We waited, let things settle a bit. I called, and they hammered back, maybe 100 yards away. Soon the slow sneak into their new comfort zone would be in the offing. I used trees to hide my repositioning maneuver; clumps of this and that. I yelped softly, moving low to the ground; the birds hung tight, gobbling at every call. Time is funny in the turkey woods. It took maybe 20 minutes. A half-hour? I moved as slow as a shadow.

And then I heard it: pfft, duuuuuuuuuuuum. A strutter on the high bench. Game on. I went quiet; slipped closer; eased up s-l-o-w-l-y. Iffy shot, bird in full strut. I let him drift off. I made up even more ground then, found a tree and nearly stood behind it. Softly I yelped. The tom gobbled, minced steps back, strutting. It looked toward me, under a deadfall, then craned its neck. That was the last thing it did.

My California longbeard, pictured here in a photo Wiebe snapped (21 lbs. / 11-inch beard / 1 ½-inch spurs) was served up in camp soon enough, along with pig sausage and other hearty fare. Stay tuned for Nessl's Day 1 gobbler, plus CA Days 2 & 3 . . .