Trail-cam pics of a mountain lion on the property that winter made the rounds our first night of camp. In a good novel, this sort of stuff is called foreshadowing.
Stories followed: somebody had seen one recently in a certain location. Locals in camp shrugged it off, much as a New Englander would yawn at the mention of Hurricane-strength nor’easters. It is what it is.
Little did we know a magnitude-7.2 earthquake some distance to our south had hammered Calexico, California that Easter Sunday morning. Sure, the hunt property sat on one of many fault lines in the Golden State. We never felt it. We were too busy turkey hunting.
We had five turkeys for four guys hanging in camp by midday, Day 2, by the time I found myself on the ridge with Jim Martinez and Mr. Nessl. Glassing the canyon below, Martinez located not one, but three full-fan gobblers on a dirt road, parading for hens scattered about like energetic chickens. I wanted the strutter up high: white-tipped feathers in this land of Rios caught my eye.
“I’d swear that’s a Merriam’s, Jim,” I whispered. Some subspecies maps list Rios here; some hybrids, a common Western feature. “Oh yeah, sure, we get one now and again,” he affirmed. I needed that bird. Wouldn’t you have?
Into the canyon we dropped, leaning sideways, dragging dirt with our boot soles. Repositioning in the West is a given. We took our time, and popped up face-to-face . . . with a hen. Putt-putt! The turkeys — not quite spooked, but not quite comfortable — eased up the dirt road, and into the far ridge cover.
Martinez, who moves like a wild cat himself, motioned for me to follow. We fish-hooked below and eased up the far ridge. I called; they hammered — right where we wanted them to be. They were coming. We dropped down some, I called, and they gobbled back again. Done deal, right?
That’s when I heard crashing in the brush ahead of me (a hiding place?), between my setup and where turkeys had last gobbled. What followed chilled me: cat sounds best described as hissing, snarling, and growling, turkeys putting, and shock gobbling, all at once. Electrically-charged silence followed. Jim, quietly positioned maybe five steps behind me, hadn’t heard a thing.
A rainstorm blew through that night, but cleared by our 5 a.m. departure from camp for the final quickie hunt. Our tight roost setup yielded three gobblers and a handful of hens inside 50-100 yards on the near hillside. They flew to the other side. Through the next two hours I called in one jake (pass), some hens, and another shortbeard (ditto). I’m good with that. By midday we were motoring south to Los Angeles where I’d fly out the next day.
I still think of that phantom cat.