Turkeys, hogs abound on Rancho San Julian

spectr17

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Turkeys, hogs abound on Rancho San Julian

By JIM MATTHEWS, Outdoor News Service

       Wild turkeys are an exercise in frustration. The wary birds always seem to find a way to give hunters the slip, but sometimes everything goes just right. Not often, but sometimes. Sitting on a ridge 1/2-mile away from three gobblers working across an open oak hillside I got one of those funny feelings that the planets were aligned correctly and that those birds might be in jeopardy. Maybe this was going to be one of those times.

       Brady Daniels, a wildlife biologist who is running a new hunting program at Rancho San Julian, an historic 20,000-acre land grand on the Central Coast that has been in the same family ownership for over 140 years, looked up from his binoculars and asked me what I thought. Daniels, my oldest son Bo, and I were glassing groups of birds in three directions. The place was thick with birds.

       This was Bo's first turkey hunt, and we'd already somehow spooked one big old tom, not really sure how it happened or where he had gone. We had snuck up a draw, set up decoys and called, but the bird never answered and we never saw him again. It was a mystery -- a typical turkey hunt. So we had come up to the ridge with a view and started glassing birds all up and down the main canyon below us.

       When Daniels asked me what I thought a second time. I told him I thought we should go after those three gobblers, sneaking over to a big shrubby bush in the middle of a meadow on the other side of a small draw from the big gobblers. The willows and oaks in the draw should screen our progress, but it would put us within a 100 yards or so from the birds. It took all of 15 minutes to get to the bush. Brady set up three decoys, and then he and Bo hunkered back under that brush. I set up off to the side to watch the action.

       When I was hidden, Brady scratched a few yelps out on his slate call and there was a gobble immediately. I was watching Bo through the telephoto lens on my camera. Brady called more quietly, then a moment later he made a few louder yelps again. There was another gobble, but much closer this time. The birds were moving toward us.

       The bird gobbled twice more, closer each time, and then I saw Bo raise the shotgun. I couldn't see the birds where they came up out of the small draw on a cattle trail, but I knew they were strutting and displaying for the decoys. I saw the muzzle blast before I heard it and saw feathers blow toward Bo and Brady. Brady was a blur, sprinting after the big tom. Bo jumped up and went after him. By the time I got over to the decoys, Brady was carrying the big bird back to Bo.

       Brady had tackled the bird, which had the plumbing at the top of its heart severed by at least a couple No. 6 pellets and had went into a death sprint. Bo marveled at the size of the gobbler, stroking the feathers. The gobbler weighed 22 pounds, sported a nine-inch beard, and had 1 1/8-inch spurs. He was a big, mature bird.

       Everything had happened like it was supposed to happen this one time, and Bo was hooked. He had me ordering decoys this past week and wanted to learn how to call. At 17, he decided he could drive himself hunting on those days when he didn't have school, work, or baseball -- even if I couldn't go.

       The next day, hunting with Daniels and Dean Michael Lee, president of the Central Coast Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Bo saw how turkey's generally win the battle. Every attempt -- and there were several -- was foiled by something. You'd think that on a big, private ranch, that hadn't been hunted in years, birds would be fairly easy to approach and call. Not turkeys. The only advantage was being able to see and work a lot of birds unhindered by other hunters.

       And Rancho San Julian has a lot of turkeys. Daniels, who is a wildlife biologist who has worked with the ranch for a couple of years, said they were estimating the turkey population on the property at something over 200 birds. He and his partner Scott Engblom, who is a fishery biologist, convinced the ranch owners to start a hunting operation, mostly as a way to make a little money on the proliferating wild hog population.

       The hunting camp sits right next to a small creek beneath a huge, sprawling cottonwood and equally large oak. When we were there, Daniels had two large canvas tents set up on wood platforms off the ground as sleeping quarters, and a fire ring set up in the meadow for the evening talk sessions under the stars. The camp was how I always had dreamed an African safari camp would look, and there certainly was as much game. In the short 1 1/2-days we were there, we saw hogs, turkeys, a tremendous three-point buck in velvet, a big bobcat, mourning dove, and several coveys of valley quail. Bo's ready to go back tomorrow.

       (For more information on hunting Rancho San Julian -- and there are still a couple of spots available for turkey this season -- contact Brady Daniels, Rancho San Julian Outfitting, 1527 Kowalski Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, or call him at (805) 878-5958 or (805) 560-6582.)
 

spectr17

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Turkeys, hogs abound on Rancho San Julian

By JIM MATTHEWS, Outdoor News Service

       Wild turkeys are an exercise in frustration. The wary birds always seem to find a way to give hunters the slip, but sometimes everything goes just right. Not often, but sometimes. Sitting on a ridge 1/2-mile away from three gobblers working across an open oak hillside I got one of those funny feelings that the planets were aligned correctly and that those birds might be in jeopardy. Maybe this was going to be one of those times.

       Brady Daniels, a wildlife biologist who is running a new hunting program at Rancho San Julian, an historic 20,000-acre land grand on the Central Coast that has been in the same family ownership for over 140 years, looked up from his binoculars and asked me what I thought. Daniels, my oldest son Bo, and I were glassing groups of birds in three directions. The place was thick with birds.

       This was Bo's first turkey hunt, and we'd already somehow spooked one big old tom, not really sure how it happened or where he had gone. We had snuck up a draw, set up decoys and called, but the bird never answered and we never saw him again. It was a mystery -- a typical turkey hunt. So we had come up to the ridge with a view and started glassing birds all up and down the main canyon below us.

       When Daniels asked me what I thought a second time. I told him I thought we should go after those three gobblers, sneaking over to a big shrubby bush in the middle of a meadow on the other side of a small draw from the big gobblers. The willows and oaks in the draw should screen our progress, but it would put us within a 100 yards or so from the birds. It took all of 15 minutes to get to the bush. Brady set up three decoys, and then he and Bo hunkered back under that brush. I set up off to the side to watch the action.

       When I was hidden, Brady scratched a few yelps out on his slate call and there was a gobble immediately. I was watching Bo through the telephoto lens on my camera. Brady called more quietly, then a moment later he made a few louder yelps again. There was another gobble, but much closer this time. The birds were moving toward us.

       The bird gobbled twice more, closer each time, and then I saw Bo raise the shotgun. I couldn't see the birds where they came up out of the small draw on a cattle trail, but I knew they were strutting and displaying for the decoys. I saw the muzzle blast before I heard it and saw feathers blow toward Bo and Brady. Brady was a blur, sprinting after the big tom. Bo jumped up and went after him. By the time I got over to the decoys, Brady was carrying the big bird back to Bo.

       Brady had tackled the bird, which had the plumbing at the top of its heart severed by at least a couple No. 6 pellets and had went into a death sprint. Bo marveled at the size of the gobbler, stroking the feathers. The gobbler weighed 22 pounds, sported a nine-inch beard, and had 1 1/8-inch spurs. He was a big, mature bird.

       Everything had happened like it was supposed to happen this one time, and Bo was hooked. He had me ordering decoys this past week and wanted to learn how to call. At 17, he decided he could drive himself hunting on those days when he didn't have school, work, or baseball -- even if I couldn't go.

       The next day, hunting with Daniels and Dean Michael Lee, president of the Central Coast Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Bo saw how turkey's generally win the battle. Every attempt -- and there were several -- was foiled by something. You'd think that on a big, private ranch, that hadn't been hunted in years, birds would be fairly easy to approach and call. Not turkeys. The only advantage was being able to see and work a lot of birds unhindered by other hunters.

       And Rancho San Julian has a lot of turkeys. Daniels, who is a wildlife biologist who has worked with the ranch for a couple of years, said they were estimating the turkey population on the property at something over 200 birds. He and his partner Scott Engblom, who is a fishery biologist, convinced the ranch owners to start a hunting operation, mostly as a way to make a little money on the proliferating wild hog population.

       The hunting camp sits right next to a small creek beneath a huge, sprawling cottonwood and equally large oak. When we were there, Daniels had two large canvas tents set up on wood platforms off the ground as sleeping quarters, and a fire ring set up in the meadow for the evening talk sessions under the stars. The camp was how I always had dreamed an African safari camp would look, and there certainly was as much game. In the short 1 1/2-days we were there, we saw hogs, turkeys, a tremendous three-point buck in velvet, a big bobcat, mourning dove, and several coveys of valley quail. Bo's ready to go back tomorrow.

       (For more information on hunting Rancho San Julian -- and there are still a couple of spots available for turkey this season -- contact Brady Daniels, Rancho San Julian Outfitting, 1527 Kowalski Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, or call him at (805) 878-5958 or (805) 560-6582.)
 

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